On April 28, 1916, grocer STUART CHAPMAN signed up to the Royal Garrison Artillery and began more than two years' service fighting in the First World War. The young gunner kept a diary of his struggle to survive on the Allied front, which has been published by his daughter MARGARET, from Stanmore. In the last of a series of extracts exclusive to the Observer, this is a unique insight into one soldier's perspective of a war that shook the world
October 19, 1918
One of Fritz's exchange switchboards is being used here and, like all things, it is very original.
Our infantry went over at dawn and the bombardment opened out at 2am. Have to leave here at 1.30 for the next advanced position.
The civvies tell us that before we took this town, they were forced to walk in front of the enemy's guns, both women and children.
Arrived at this new place, St Aubert, five kilometres away. The mud and slosh about here is awful, mostly due to the continual flow of traffic going towards the line.
There were only two non-commissioned officers and myself to unload a lorry of signalling stores and, in doing so, a chap knocked an airline pole in my eye - at the time the pain was excruciating.
What with that, the pouring rain, and ankle deep in mud and no place where I could rest quickly, I felt more fed up than ever I have been before. I was absolutely helpless: could do nothing. I was blind as a bat and I felt I hadn't a friend in the world. What with the noise of the never-ending stream of vehicles and the whizzing of shells overhead, I thought at the time I should go crazy.
The worst of it was that I was left by the two NCOs in a dirty little room, the floor covered with mud and hardly sufficient shelter from the concussion of a shell, let alone a small one landing on the roof. This was at 9pm and I was all on my own until breakfast the following day.
They said they were afraid to stop here all night and went to find a more suitable shelter. I was not afraid but felt terribly lonely and I shall never forget that night.
If Fritz had concentrated his fire in the same area as I was in, I don't think I could have budged. Fritz was shelling intermittently all night, which was not very comforting, especially under the circumstances.
After a most horrible night, I reported sick in the morning. I was told to go back for all my belongings as I would be going down the line.
I arrived at the main dressing station near Cambrai at 3.30pm. There were also wounded civvies there. After having tea I left for the Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) near Bapaume. After getting into bed thinking we would be settled for the night, we were called out to go further. Landed at another CCS a few miles the other side of Bapaume.
I was in two different wards at the above place. Left here at 4pm and entrained but did not move off until 8.30pm. We finally arrived at Abbeville after a 13-hour run to No1 South African general hospital.
The staff are all South African and there are three eye cases all together. We sat in the front seat of a car, which was driven by a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, the hospital being about two miles out of the town. After a good bath I got right into bed. At the above station they had the aid of German prisoners to lift the stretchers from the train to the cars.
The doctor here seems a very considerate man. The sister in this ward has a military medal and the matron has quite a string of decorations; she must have at least half a dozen, including a Victoria Cross from the Boer War.
Still in bed but believe I have to get up tomorrow. A convoy of wounded have come in today from the line.
The nurses say that there is to be a big evacuation for Blighty today. Had the bandage taken off my eye and replaced by a shade.
All in the next ward are going to England, but only one from here.
Got up today, the first time for six days.
There is a Paddy in the next bed to me who told the nurse that his clothes were walking away from him so the nurse got her torch and had a look. She soon found there was some truth in what he said and he was given a change. She threw the dirty ones on the floor and was told to walk to the other end of the ward and call them.
The nurse came round early this morning and told us that Austria had thrown in.
The doctor came round, examined my eye and said: "I see you belong to the Royal Garrison Artillery. You can be marked out."
On the way to this hospital, we passed over the Scheldt Canal and through Cambrai. I saw a lot of civilians carrying their little bits of odds and ends. I felt so sorry for them, although they were overjoyed at their deliverance.
Yesterday I drew all my belongings out of stores, made up deficiencies and today I am off again.
Left at 8.30am in a nice bus with glass all round. Every seat is inside, even the driver's, and the engine keeps it very warm.
Passed through the town of St Valery and, going up by a cemetery, we saw some 50 French women who had been attending the graves of their loved ones.
Arrived at Cayeux at noon. We immediately had dinner and were put in tents. This is an extremely large camp and there are supposed to be between 8,000 and 9,000 troops here. There are 12 or more large refreshment huts and a picture palace.
I have seen some large dining halls but this one is huge and can seat nearly 4,000.
For the last two days we have had continual rain and no parades. Have passed the time away
reading. Was on physical training this morning, the first parade since my arrival here.
There was a tremendous row this evening: it is thought the war is over - the cheering was terrific. Seemed as if there were thousands of voices. The band was playing, whistles were going and lights being sent up.
This is supposed to be the Armistice. Everyone appears to be going mad. The canteen - expeditionary - was raided and the damage estimated at £300. In the town the French were giving away free drinks.
The Colonel gave us a lecture about looting and told us what would happen if there was a repetition.
On fatigue at the quartermaster's stores.
Last night I saw the picture David Copperfield; it was very good.
We were told that a telegram is to be read out to the troops between 9am and 2pm, a confirmation of the Armistice and were told to control our excitement.
Have just come off parade and heard the peace terms read out by the Colonel. It was quite an auspicious occasion. We are given a complete holiday for 48 hours.
There is a list of sports and entertainments prepared for us and everything is free. We are allowed to go anywhere in France; no passes are required as long as we get back at the end of the given time.
An effigy of Fritz is going to be burned tonight on the square.
A short church service for all denominations is to be given in celebration of the victory.