Exmouth soldier's Somme story revealed as diary published

PUBLISHED: 06:30 07 September 2016

Sergeant James Littler.

Sergeant James Littler.

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A soldier's personal diary has given a new insight into the horrors of World War One, 100 years after he survived the Battle of the Somme.

Sergeant James Littler's World War One diary, which has been published online.Sergeant James Littler's World War One diary, which has been published online.

Sergeant James Littler, who moved to Exmouth following the war, arrived at the conflict’s deadliest battle in July 1916, aged 21.

Fighting lasted for four-and-a-half months, after which the Allies had only advanced seven miles and the British Empire had suffered 420,000 casualties.

Littler, summing up the battle in a diary published online by the National Army Museum, calls it ‘a mass of dead’ with a rotten smell that ‘makes one hate war’.

The diary tells of the effect the battle had on the men’s morale, with Littler observing: “Everybody seems to expect to die. The Somme shakes the best.”

In October, after his ‘dear pal’ Alf Fishwick was ‘badly smashed’, Littler wrote that he felt ‘as though all is lost’.

Those who survived the fighting relatively unscathed still had to face minimal rations and injury in the trenches, and the diary also reveals Sgt Littler’s experiences of trench foot, and thoughts of his family back home.

After the war, Sgt Littler married and had a daughter in Manchester before moving to Exmouth. He died in Exeter in 1961.

Dr Peter Johnston, of the National Army Museum, said: “Sgt Littler’s diary provides a rare detailed account of day-to-day life in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme, adding insight to our knowledge of the war. His account of his experiences highlights the horrific nature of battle, with the fear of death constantly around them. Limited food rations, injuries and thoughts of those at home compounded the melancholy feelings of troops during battle.”

To read the diary online, visit www.nam.ac.uk/ww1.

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