First World War centenary: Valence House memoir tells of Dagenham soldier’s experiences
PUBLISHED: 15:00 07 July 2017
The 1916 Battle of the Somme typifies the Western Front for many among the public – fierce trench fighting, dubious tactics from the British Army, casualties numbering in the thousands.
But for the soldiers who made it through to the First World War’s 1917 campaigns, fresh horrors were waiting.
This month marks 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of Passchendaele (July 31 to November 10) which became known for its particularly horrendous conditions, with combatants fighting in heavy rain and thick mud.
One such soldier was John Perren, whose memoir is now held by Valence House Museum.
John, who served in the 17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, wrote about his training in Colchester, Essex, and conditions at the front, with descriptions of exploding shells and destroyed towns and villages.
John also spoke of the battles he fought in, including Loos (1915), Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres), and Caporetto (in present-day Slovenia, 1917).
An extract from the manuscript’s first page reads: “From Colchester to went to Aldershot when we were finally fitted up to take our place in the field of battle which I think every man was eager to get not knowing what warfare was.
“Shall never forget what a pitiful sight it was leaving Aldershot wives & mothers waving yes perhaps their last good bye to their dear ones, ones that had never been as much as out of their sight before.
“Everyone just then thought it would be over in a very short time. People never Estimated a war between several nations lasting long except Lord Kitchener hisself who predict a 3 years war but he never lived to see his predicament for although a soldier he died a sailors death being drowned at sea when on a Mission to Russia which had he lived I believe thousands yes millions who died in the war would have been alive today.”
John’s diary abruptly breaks off in December 1917, it has been suggested some pages are missing. He survived the war and later moved to Dagenham.
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