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 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
August 19, 1917
Working on dump from 6am until 2pm packing up shells all day.
Saw miles of infantry going up the line headed by their bands; never seen such a lot go up.
In the evening a corporal and I had a walk to Dickenbush and then to Ypres and back. Saw a balloon come down here. The occupant jumped out in a parachute with sandbags attached, so as to try it.
Landed at billet at 10pm and a little while after Jerry came over bombing and was dropping them within ten yards of where I was sleeping. Thought every minute one was going to drop on the barn. The women civilians commenced screaming, which made things worse. Directly the bombs dropped, the people in the barn immediately threw open their windows, which was a mad thing to do as the bright lights illuminated the barn.
At first I thought their house was on fire then I wondered if they were spies.
Regarding this, I did not care for them at all and the funny thing was that they continued with their work right up till the last, in spite of Fritz always shelling and bombing just within a few yards of the barn. Fortunately this place was never hit.
They used to walk about in their fields milking cows etc while shelling was in progress, yet never heeded them at all.
Jerry's airmen went back as many as four or five times to get fresh supplies. Some came so near that slates fell off the roof.
They must have hung about for two hours and were large in number.
Saw a large batch of troops going up the line this morning.
Very active in the air. Saw two of Jerry's planes brought down.
Am doing nothing today but have to be about in case I am required.
I think Fritz has the wind up, to use a popular army term. He evidently expects something great is shortly to occur by his incessant harassing fire.
Left here at noon for Ypres, stopped at the Infantry barracks. Left at 2pm and walked near our old second line.
Helped to dig a long cable trench and got back to barracks at 8pm.
Left barracks at 3.30am for same place.
Jerry was shelling the square at Ypres, resulting in us being kept back. Had not gone many yards past the end of the square when Fritz dropped a gas shell immediately in front of us, followed by salvos.
It was simply suffocating. Had to hold my breath to get on my helmet and thought I would not get it on quickly enough.
After waiting for 20 minutes to give Fritz's gunners time to have a spell, we again made an attempt to proceed to our destination, but with the same result. The first one dropped only ten yards from us, which was quickly followed by gunfire of more gas shells.
Again we had to wait a good time for the gas to disperse, as the air was full of deadly fumes. When we were prepared to advance again, we found there were very few men left out of a total of 50.
The remainder were lost for the time being and, when we eventually arrived at our post, it was found some were coming up in twos and threes. It so happened, after investigations were made, that out of the above number there were 14 casualties gassed and wounded.
The work was completed at 8am and we walked back to the barracks. On the way we saw five horses lying in the road that we had previously tried hard to pass.
The animals were terribly mutilated and had seemingly only just been killed, as I noticed there was still warmth coming from their bodies. Heaven knows what had become of the poor drivers.
There was one dead man lying in the road. He had evidently fallen as he was walking along
with a shovel on his shoulder: he was lying on his face with the shovel through his head.
I was given warning of going up the line. We are going into action again.
We were given two days' rations and were supposed to leave here at noon, instead of which it was 6pm before we made a start. Four wagons of bombs went with us.
Our destination was about two miles beyond the white chateau. Unloaded wagons and each took up a load of wooden planks.
After a lot of difficulty in trying to find our destination, supposedly a new position, we found we had got about half way there.
The man who was acting as a guide thought it would be dangerous to take us any further as he was uncertain of the road, so with the sergeant he proceeded to scour the surroundings and left the bulk of the party behind.
It was then 10pm and we were lying out in the open with the dead in scores around us that had been left for perhaps a week - as well as barbed wire that we were falling over every few yards.
The above-mentioned two men had not been gone two minutes before Fritz opened up. Just before this we had been firing a great deal, which made Jerry's SOS signal go up, hence his barrage.
We had to leave this spot where we were resting and try to find some cover, which was only a shell hole. The suspense was terrifying.
For two hours, we - about 12 men - laid there all heaped together just as close as sardines and dared not turn. Shells were bursting all around us, as close as five yards. The boys said they have never experienced anything like it and some have been out here a lot longer than me.
The shells burst so near that the sparks from them singed our clothes and would have caught fire had we not put them out.
One fellow lying next to me was wounded while the storm was at its zenith but I dared not move to bandage him up. He was cuddling up close to me and seemed almost hysterical and was continually crying out "I'm wounded, I'm wounded!" and was imploring us to leave this shell hole and find a safer place.
I told him we could not do that until the shelling abated which was what happened a few minutes afterwards. I honestly felt that if I had remained much longer under that terrible ordeal of heavy shelling, I should have gone out of my mind as it was then as much as I could possibly do to control my senses.
Can quite imagine this wounded fellow's feeling under such adverse circumstances.
We each took over to the Australian position a load of wood, then started to carry over the bed of the 9.45, which weighs over 700lbs. We got 150 yards, which took seven men an hour. We were absolutely soaked - the rain had penetrated right through to our skins.
The ground was treacherous and we were falling about all over dead men in shell holes. Because of our slow advance, we had to give it up for today and proceed to our little den at the white chateau. It was by then 10.30pm.