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

February 25, 1918

Were told to 'stand to' from 5.30am until 6am as Fritz was expected to come over. No attack was made by the enemy and everything was quiet.

Going down to Arras today.

February 28

Today we drew stores from the Royal Engineers signals unit: three miles of wire and telephones, etc.

Was told to see the captain at his quarters at 8.30pm and he said he was giving me a job to take charge of a relay post. This is an exchange situated on a hill between our position at Monchy and the one at Roeux. I am in direct communication between these two places.

There are three men with me who take messages to either of the above places.

This is a splendid concrete dugout, just like a fort and it used to belong to the enemy. The little portholes, level with the ground, are encased in very large heavy steel doors, 3in thick. Am also in touch with the Officer Commanding at Arras and the Heavy Artillery headquarters.

Two reports came through, one for the officer at each position. I have to write them out on official forms and send one man to each place. This is not all honey for these men, because if anything comes along during the night it has to be taken and the men have to find the best way they can to get there.

Sometimes they have to wander miles over barbed wire and trenches and sometimes it is so dark that the very idea is enough to make one inclined to hesitate. There is no landmark whatsoever to guide one; not as much as the stump of a tree. In fact, we put a tall stick with an old tin on it to act as a guide for them coming home.

There is an old soldier here who acts as cook and the breakfast we had gave him credit - bacon, sausage and meat.

I have to keep awake each night in case anything comes through and then to wake these men. It is just like being out in the wilds of Australia as nothing can be seen at all.

Last night I lay down at 10pm and another fellow and I were talking about religion, science and several different subjects until we found it was 3am - we had been talking for five hours. This chap was an extensive reader and his conversation was very interesting.

March 4

Was relieved at 3pm and went across country to Cordide. Left sector - there were no landmarks at all and it was like a large plateau.

Walked through heaps of barbed wire and found that we were walking towards the enemy's lines. Luckily we came across three officers who directed us in an opposite direction.

After a little walk I saw the Scarpe in the distance and knew I was on the right road. Had to avoid the lagoons and marshes. Jumped across the former where it was narrow and under-estimated the distance and went in up to my knees.

March 5

Went off with an officer to our position at the quarry. The officer came round at 2am while we were on guard and told us to fire five rounds. We were to synchronise with our own artillery the infantry were making a raid. I had a grand view and it was a fine firework display to see Fritz's lights go up - SOS.

We made another raid at 5am and all had to 'stand to'. I lengthened the officer's wire to reach his bed so that he can ring me directly if he wants us to fire.

March 21

An intense bombardment woke me at 5am and continued until 11am. On enquiring, I heard that Fritz had taken our front line. On the right, the King's Own Scottish Borderers have gone over.

The noise of our artillery from here was terrific - the report of the heaviest guns was like an earthquake. It was the biggest bombardment since July 31 last year. Arras has been shelled continually and is still being shelled now.

We have a fresh signaller with us, making it five in all. He has come from a 12in battery on the road between Blangy and Feuchy.

An order has come through that no man is to leave billet until further notice.

March 22

Going up the line today.

Arrived at 2.30pm.

Fritz has been observed massing his troops here. There is 'wind up' of his coming over soon. Heard that he lost 7,000 men yesterday in his attack.

Yesterday, two of our corporals were killed in an estaminet [small café] in Arras. There were 28 killed with the one shell - a direct hit.

March 23

Being shelled extremely heavily on the right sector - Monchy - and numerous numbers of the enemy's aircraft are about.

At 2pm we were ordered to get all guns out as quickly as possible. Nearly all the battery were up here helping. We worked relentlessly until 7pm then carried the guns in parts to the river's edge. Loaded them on to the barge and pulled them down to Fampoux Lock.

Another part of the gun was in the village. This was also carried into the barge and the whole pulled by hand with a rope as far as Athies Lock. Unloaded everything and stacked it in a shed, then walked to our billet, where we arrived at 1am.

Had a good hot supper, which had been well earned, and turned in for a good rest. We had more than good luck in our favour as all the above was completed without a single casualty.

During the time we were working so hard, the officer was continually giving us encouragement and telling us that we would have to hurry as Fritz was almost on top of us and that we did not want to be taken prisoners. The medium battery, in getting one of their guns in action, had 10 casualties.

From 7pm until we got home, not a single shell did I hear come our way. It seemed fate was taking compassion on us.

March 27

Left here at 9am for a 9.2 position on the railway at Feuchy. Packed up 280 of these shells and took them to Arras.

At 2pm we went to another old position at Fampoux and loaded up 200 into trucks, which were taken to the same place as the others. Every day we are collecting all the old shells that are lying about where the batteries used to be before Fritz started advancing.

Another deafening bombardment ensued all night and I could not sleep for the noise. Have heard that Fritz came over and advanced to Feuchy but is being kept in check by the 15th Division, who I believe are 'specially mentioned'.

We left here at 11am. Arras is still being shelled and the civilians are leaving. One fellow I saw pass had been wounded by one of the enemy's airmen coming down low and opening out on the troops with his machine gun.

The artillery reserves were tearing up to reinforce. Saw the wheels come off one wagon but he kept going. Eventually he had to stop but it was quite exciting.

We had orders to burn all letters, papers, or anything that may be useful to the enemy. Arrived at Duisans at 1.30am. Walked all the way with a full pack.

Some civilians were coming from Arras, pushing their few belongings along and some elderly women could hardly walk. I felt so sorry for them and it is not the first time they have had to make a quick exit.

Visited the village of Maroeuil and had a good meal.