The Great War Diaries

This is an amazing podcast by the BBC about how ordinary men and women experienced World War One. Stories are brought to life by dramatizing what happened using sound effects and actors.

If you’re a fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast you may remember in Blueprint for Armageddon IV Captain Charles May’s story was told. He wrote a touching letter to his wife before he was due to “go over the top”. You can find it and other stories in this Independent post.

Captain Charles “Charlie” May, 27, thinking of his wife, Bessie, and baby daughter, showed none of his comrades’ enthusiasm to go into battle.

A member of the 22nd Battalion, The Manchester Regiment, 7th Division, he wrote to his wife on 17 June, a fortnight before the bloody first day of battle of the Somme: “I do not want to die. Not that I mind for myself. If it be that I am to go, I am ready. But the thought that I may never see you or our darling baby again turns my bowels to water. I cannot think of it with even the semblance of equanimity.”

Over the months his attitude changed to resigned fatalism. May’s final diary entry at 5.45am on 1 July, reproduced from Malcolm Brown’s history of the Somme, was among the last testaments to be written by the 19,240 Britons who would die on the Somme that day. “No Man’s land is a tangled desert,” he wrote. “We do not yet seem to have stopped his machine guns. These are popping off all along our parapet as I write. I trust they will not claim too many of our lads before the day is over.”

Suspecting he might not return, he asked his friend, Captain FJ Earles, if he would look after his wife and daughter. May led his men over the top at 7.30am that day. The 22nd Manchesters made progress across No Man’s Land, but the machine guns he wrote of cut down many of the battalion – and May was among the dead. Earles kept his promise, and later married May’s widow.

Author: Donncha

Donncha Ó Caoimh is a software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer. He posts photos at In Photos and can also be found on Google+ and Twitter.

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