Diaries of World War II
Contemporary Diaries and Journals from World War II now appearing as Blogs
Given the nature of blogging it sometimes seems strange that there are not more people producing historical blogs – blogs that follow historical dates from a past age, day by day. There are a growing band of blogs covering some aspect or other of World War II.
In 2009 I wrote “However there are only a few sites reproducing contemporary diaries that were written seventy years ago and serving them up day by day in blog form.”
Over the past few years that has changed and I try to keep a link to all the one I come across here, with the most recent discovery at the top:
John Moore joined up at the age of 17, rather than waiting for conscription when he was 18, partly because he wanted to “do his bit” but also he said that if you volunteered you could have more choice about where you went, he chose the Royal Signals. He trained at Catterick, spent the months leading up to D Day in the South of England, sailed to France in June 1944 and was in or near Hamburg when the war ended (the letters will hopefully tell us more on this when we reach that point). The letters were mainly sent to his mother, father and sister Gwladys – these three are the “All” in “Dear All”.
The letters of 1st Lt. Richard Kelner Williams who served in the 6th Bath & Dorset Regiment to his sweetheart ‘Chotie’
Chotie kept every letter from her sweetheart Richard (‘Dicker’) Williams – they tell their story of World War II in the time that it happened, 70 years ago. Chotie’s daughter writes this compelling blog of love letters, posted in real time, accompanied by real life historical background. You don’t have to be a history buff to love this blog; the letters are an amazing window into a relationship – and a time – long passed.
The letters home of Canadian officer Edmond Blais to his wife Laurette were so frequent as to be almost a diary:
March 24, 1940
My Colonel tells me I am due to go to Scotland soon to represent the Canadian boys there. I am getting quite fed up of railroads rides, specially at night in the blooming blackout. By the way I never told you about London at night, you simply can’t see a darn thing. Everyone bumps into you and it is quite comical but lot of sore heads get quite insulted, and why. I had a studio picture taken in London and don’t like it so will take another soon when in town.
A daily diary kept by ‘Uncle Fred’ which follows a family living in south London – full of lots of interesting domestic detail as well as how the war affected everyone.
Saturday 24th August1940: Dad’s shelter door
Very mild, some nice modest sun. Air raid warning lasting an hour from 8.20 a.m.. polished the floors. Dad made and fitted a door to the air raid shelter. Another warning from 4 to 5 p.m., much air activity, and hear 30 or 40 bombs several miles away in W. or N.W, direction. Cycled round the houses in evening – did 6 miles anyway. Air raid warning before 11 p.m. and lasting till 1.20 p.m. on Sun 25th. German plane hovering overhead for what seemed an eternity. Heard two fighters go over but without seeming to make contact. Heard several bombs.
On this day: Fred’s record coincides with Vera Brittain’s Diary of air raid warnings she noted at 8.30am, 3.55pm and 11.45pm. Manston airfield in Kent was badly damaged and put out of action; Portsmouth suffered badly. German bombers missed Thameshaven oil storage depot east of the City of London and instead bombed the heart of the City, destroying many notable old buildings. The RAF lost 22 fighters and the Germans 38. Only two German bombers were lost.
Charles F. Bruns lived in the East Central Illinois town of Champaign. A local athlete, ‘Chick’ joined the Army in 1941. In October of 1942 he was sent to the European Theater. During his tour he was able to keep is daily thoughts in a journal that is presented here.
Oct 26, 1942 – Monday
We are to find out where we are going to night. We had to carry some secrete maps up today. While we were carrying the maps up, one fell open and we saw the name of Morocco. Monday night our Officers told us we were going to Casablanca. That is a town in Morocco, Africa. Nobody knows whether the French troops there are friendly or not. The sea has been fairly rough today and no excitement occurred.
May Hill’s diaries combine the domestic and the international. Follow the lives of her family as they are all affected by the wartime conditions that are imposed on her village near Skegness.
Wed Jan 21 8.45 am. 
# POLITICIANS FACE STRATEGY CRITICISM
# GUN POST PREPARED ON NEARBY FARMLAND
# RUBBER SALVAGE PROCEEDS DISPUTE SETTLED
# LARGE BATCH OF JAM MADE
Very cold and I am afraid another bitter black frost, tho’ there is not so much wind. It is barely daylight yet. The snow has gone and I hope it does not return, tho’ I daresay it would be warmer. Yesterday Japs were only 75 miles from Singapore. Mr Churchill is back from America, think he will have an uneasy time getting things into shape again. Was interested to hear how Lord Addison stuck to his previous views about Popham and Malaya. I think a good many share his views. Russ[ians] have recaptured Mozhaisk. Soldiers here are barb wiring round J. Kirk’s farm, say they are bringing a gun in or near his yard, hope it is not A.A. or we shall be in a war corner, and I do not want to move. I hate “flitting” but that is a small matter, when we think of all the homes ravaged and blitzed and burned. Sometimes when I think how well fed we are and the extra luxuries with our “pink points” from abroad, I feel like David when he poured out the water before the Lord and cried “Is not this the blood of men, who went in jeopardy of their lives.” Not yet have we plumbed the depth of Mr Churchill’s prophesy of toil and sweat and tears and sacrifice, but we may do yet. I hope not. C Parish just brought milk. Says it is colder than ever, but I don’t think it can be, at least that icy wind doesn’t blow. Snip. [kitten] came in again for new milk tho’ she had porridge and potatoes before.
A Story of War started before World War II when Colin Dunford Wood was engaged in an entirely different conflict. The British Empire still had troops stationed on the North West Frontier of India to quell the troublesome tribes of Waziristan, even as Britain fought for her survival in the summer of 1940. However Dunford Wood’s diaries make clear that he wanted to be elsewhere, preferably in the air:
June 7th 1940 Lahore
Met Appleton, joining the RAF (3 Blenheims) in Calcutta. Up again this evening for 40 minutes. Walters the pilot instructor unable to teach me aerobatics, so I go on a recce over Lahore, about ten miles away. Keep at 2000′ and try to take a couple of photographs. A bit of a haze and much smoke, but most enjoyable and finish with a perfect landing. The damn man won’t let me spin her, me who has spun at 3000′ in Madras – he says he doesn’t like chaps of only 6 or 7 hours flying throwing the planes about. What the hell’s he think I am? Met a flying British officer there and was telling him what Adams had told me about Haig going to the RAF, and found he WAS Haig, and that they had accepted him and then done nothing more about it.
Perhaps in a different league is George Orwell who records all sorts of fascinating minor detail about peoples attitudes and how they coped with the war:
17th September 1940
Heavy bombing in this area last night till about 11 p.m……. I was talking in the hallway of this house to two young men and a girl who was with them. Psychological attitude of all 3 was interesting. They were quite openly and unashamedly frightened, talking about how their knees were knocking together, etc., and yet at the same time excited and interested, dodging out of doors between bombs to see what was happening and pick up shrapnel splinters.
Afterwards in Mrs. C’s little reinforced room downstairs, with Mrs C. and her daughter, the maid, and three young girls who are also lodgers here. All the women, except the maid, screaming in unison, clasping each other, and hiding their faces, every time a bomb went past, but betweenwhiles quite happy and normal, with animated conversation proceeding, The dog subdued and obviously frightened, knowing something to be wrong. Marx [his dog] is also like this during raids, i.e. subdued and uneasy. Some dogs, however, go wild and savage during a raid and have had to be shot. They allege here, and E. says the same thing about Greenwich, that all the dogs in the park now bolt for home when they hear the siren.
Diary of Ruby Side Thompson (1884-1970) an English housewife and mother of seven sons living in Romford, London during World War Two. Her style is to combine revelations on both the general progress of the war and daily life, for example …
Monday May 12, 1941
No morning letters yet. Do not know what has happened to Mother, but presume she is all right, or I should have heard to the contrary. We had three alerts last night, and a fairly noisy night, though nothing like as bad as Saturday night. Saturday’s was another terrorizing raid on London.
In the nine o’clock news last night we were told of some of the damage. The heart of the attack was at Westminster. Serious damage was done to Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, and the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Hall were all seriously damage by high explosives and incendiaries. The abbey is open to the sky, the Lantern Roof burned. The Little Cloisters were burnt out. Five more hospitals hit, a cinema, a “large” hotel.
In the hotel one hundred and forty guests and employees were sheltering in the basement, but a bomb crashed through, and it is feared all are dead. Frightful. It is the Devil’s work.
About four o’clock yesterday Mary Bernadette came in pale and shaking. She came to bring me news o f Doreen Peel. Mary had been in her house alone all night. She had spent the evening at the Peel’s; they asked her to stay the night, but she declined. About noon a boy called in to tell her that the Peel house was destroyed, the family all safe, but Doreen was in the hospital. The Peel’s live or lived on Castellan Avenue, Gidea Park. A land mine came down just outside their house. Doreen heard it landing and went to warn the family. Before she could do so, the front door blew in on her, knocked her unconscious and cut her face open. (It is feared she will lose an eye.) The house is collapsing. Mary had come from seeing it, and described the fantasticness of the wreckage to us. The house is beyond all repairs. …
The diaries have been published but also feature as a day by day blog that can be read online at London Blitz Diary.
On the home front there are no less than two diarists from Colchester in Essex whose diaries are appearing day by day:
Mr. Garling kept a sharp eye not just on the minutiae of life in wartime Colchester – always the weather and his family’s health – but events on the local, national and international stage too. So, on October 3, 1940, he wrote:
Dull wet day. Cold still rather bad. Another bomb dropped at Colchester by lone raider Chamberlain resigns from Cabinet. 3 girls killed at Old Heath Laundry & 2 people in house.
Mr. Garling, who had just turned 30 when war was declared, noted the dates in 1940 when meat and sugar rationing began and when King George VI visited Lexden that October. He also kept a monthly air-raid tally, recording bombings at Mile End and Berechurch in Colchester, Marks Tey, West Bergholt, Eight Ash Green, Fordham, Tiptree, and further afield.
On a snowy day in Januray 1941, he recalled:
We heard that some bombs had dropped down Chitts Hill, so decided we would go and see if there was anything to be seen. We battled our way through the blizzard and when we got to the gates, we found that the railway gates’ house had been damaged and the telegraph wires brought down – a nasty mess. The gatekeeper was having a bath, but was not hurt. There was some casualties in the train which was machine-gunned – two being killed.
At times, the war came much closer to home. As enemy aircraft flew overhead, Mr. Garling, his sister Vera and parents Albert and Annie, were often forced to take refuge in the Morrison shelter built in their garden in London Road, Lexden.
Discover his most recent entries at: Alwyne Garling: WW2 in Colchester
Maurice Southgate Diary: SOE
I disembarked in Falmouth 19th June 1940, covered in a blanket and shoeless. I was taken by ambulance to a nearby camp, where I was able to take a shower and lose my watch. Then came a coach journey, a magnificent trip in the English countryside, to Plymouth RAF Station where I met with several of my squadron companions in the Sergeant’s mess. I was met with open arms, cries and lots of beer.
Next morning, in ill-fitting uniform, I left for London and arrived at my parents on the evening of 20th June 194, my birthday.
Now being updated at Maurice Southgate SOE
E.J. Rudsdale: A Civilian in the Second World War
E.J. Rudsdale picks up much incidental detail about the war:
4th October 1940
Heavy rain and high wind. Names of the dead on the Casualty Board at the Public Library, together with an incredible coincidence, the names of three evacuated children, sent to Rushton, near Kettering, and killed there in school yesterday. Amazing that two such things should happen on the same day.
Do you know of any other sites that are reproducing contemporary diaries from World War II in Blog form ?