First World War diaries of two soldiers serving on the Western Front which include chilling entries recounting the first days of the Battle of the Somme go up for auction

  • Gunner H Belshaw and Captain John Oliver Mark Ashley wrote the journals
  • They begin on April 1, 1916, and end with the conflict on November 11, 1918
  • The Battle of the Somme, lasting 141 days, was the bloodiest battle of the First World War 

The First World War diaries of two soldiers which detail the chilling horror of the Battle of the Somme have been unearthed and are expected to fetch hundreds at auction. 

Gunner H Belshaw and Captain John Oliver Mark Ashley wrote their journals from the Western Front between April 1, 1916 right until the end of the conflict on November 11, 1918. 

The Battle of the Somme was the bloodiest battle of the First World War and lasted for 141 days. On the first day of the battle alone, more than 19,000 British soldiers were killed and 38,000 were wounded.  

The journals described the grim reality of trench warfare and were recently uncovered by experts at Hansons Auctioneers, in Etwall, Derbyshire, who believe the two artillerymen may have been related. 

The First World War diaries of two soldiers have been unearthed by experts at Hansons Auctioneers, in Etwall, Derbyshire

The first diary is written in a Field Message Book by Belshaw, who was a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery 

The first diary is written in a Field Message Book by Belshaw, who was a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery. 

He offers extensive coverage of his day-to-day activities and includes notes relating to the fateful day of July 1, 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  

The second diary, which belongs to Captain Ashley, of the Royal Garrison Artillery, begins on January 1, 1918. 

The diaries detail the chilling horror of the Battle Of The Somme and describe the grim reality of trench warfare 

Captain John Oliver Mark Ashley’s entry for November 11, 1918, written in Teddington, London, says ‘THE END OF THE WAR!’ in block capitals

It runs for the whole year and offers notes on Home Service as well as time on the Western Front. 

One entry, written for November 11, 1918, in Teddington, London, stated in block capitals ‘THE END OF THE WAR!’.  

A Hansons spokesperson said: ‘His account as an officer gives a different insight into the war compared to that of a private soldier.’

They added: ‘The lot includes a large scrap book brimming with photos, maps and papers which belonged to Captain Ashley.

‘It covers his post-First World War career in the Army, service in India before the Second World War and active service in Italy during the Second World War until December 1945 when he retired.’ 

The war memorabilia will go under the hammer on August 7 in an online auction with an estimate of between £300 and £400.    

The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916, and lasted until November 19, 1916. The British advanced seven miles but failed to break the German defence. 

 The war memorabilia will go under the hammer on August 7 in an online auction with an estimate of between £300 and £400

Militaria expert Adrian Stevenson holds up the two diaries of the First World War servicemen

Battle of the Somme: One of the deadliest fights in history

Lasting 141 days, the Battle of the Somme was the bloodiest battle of the First World War.

Around 420,000 British soldiers, 200,000 Frenchmen and 500,000 Germans were killed in the battle.

It is estimated 24,000 Canadian and 23,000 Australian servicemen also fell in the four-month fight.

A British soldier keeps watch over No Man’s Land as his comrades sleep during the Battle of the Somme in 1916

The British and French joined forces to fight the Germans on a 15-mile-long front, with more than a million-people killed or injured on both sides.

The Battle started on the July 1, 1916, and lasted until November 19, 1916. The British managed to advance seven-miles but failed to break the German defence.

On the first day alone, 19,240 British soldiers were killed after ‘going over the top’ and more than 38,000 were wounded.

But on the last day of the battle, the 51st Highland Division took Beaumont Hamel and captured 7,000 German prisoners.

The plan was for a ‘Big Push’ to relieve the French forces, who were besieged further south at Verdun, and break through German lines.

Although it did take pressure off Verdun it failed to provide a breakthrough and the war dragged on for another two years.

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