By volunteer Samantha Woods-Peel
The Royal Armouries ‘First World War Digitalisation Project’ has recently taken on a dedicated group of remote volunteers from all over the country to help with the transcription and indexing of the archives. Below, one of these volunteers describes how transcribing can be a very personal experience inspiring an often unfulfilled need for closure.
Transcribing someone’s diary is an intense experience. After all, it was meant to be private. Arthur Sydney Lanfear was from Doncaster and served in the 12th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment in 1916. This is the Sheffield City Battalion, so my ‘home regiment’. Call me soft, but I felt a connection to Arthur straight away. The diary covered two and a half months of his life as he left England and arrived in France to serve his country.
It was a window on his life as a soldier. Billets were uncomfortable and there were lots of parades. I was quite surprised he had plenty of training once he got to France – for some reason I thought soldiers got off a boat and went straight to the trenches. I felt comforted there was some preparation before battle, but obviously there could never be enough.
Mon. 8th Parade 9am-12am Gas Helmet Drill
Parade 2pm-4pm and Bayonet work. Musketry
Evening listening to Band.
Tue. 9th Parade 9am-12am Bayonet, Musketry
2pm-4.30pm Field practice
Evening at Bus (1m).
Wed. 10th Parade 7-7.30am Physical Drill
Parade 9-12am [sic.] Helmet Drill and Extended order Drill. Inspected at work by General Sir Douglas Haig and staff attended by Colour bearers and six Lancers with lances.
Leisure time was important and evenings were spent in local villages and listening to regimental bands and concert parties. Arthur was also concerned about the weather, as he commented on it every day – British to the end.
Wed. 19th Parade 6am Roll Call.
Heavy hailstorm covering ground
Parade 9.30am Rifle inspection
2-5.30pm No. 2 Training Ground making
at top of Training ground.
Tea and evening at Tipperary Hut.
[Down side of entry] Hail rain sleet.
Reading his diary I felt a sense of impending doom, as I had already looked him up online and knew he was killed on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Arthur was transferred to the 94th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery two weeks before his death and stopped writing his diary at that time, however I couldn’t help doing a little more research as I wanted to know more – I wanted to know more about those two weeks. Sadly, not everything can be discovered online, and I could find no further mention of Arthur. I did find a quote from Private Bartram of the 94th Trench Mortar Battery who said of the 1st July that ‘from that moment, all my religion died’. The fighting was particularly fierce where Arthur’s battalion went into battle at Serre, but unlike many of his comrades also killed on that first day whose bodies were never identified, Arthur’s body was recovered and buried at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps, close to the front line.
The internet truly is a marvellous thing and while researching Arthur’s end I came across an organisation called The War Graves Photographic Project and it felt like a fitting end to my work on Arthur’s diary that I get a copy of the photo of his grave.
Arthur’s story did not have a happy ending, but it was a story worth knowing.