First World War centenary: Valence House memoir tells of Dagenham soldier’s experiences

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Battle of Passchendaele). Two pack mules carrying she

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Battle of Passchendaele). Two pack mules carrying shells struggle through the mud near Ypres, Belgium, August 1, 1917. Picture: Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons - Credit: Archant

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.

John Perren (right) wrote a memoir during the First World War which is now held by Valence House Mus

John Perren (right) wrote a memoir during the First World War which is now held by Valence House Museum. He is thought to be photographed with his friend Ken Rodger. Picture: Valence House Museum - Credit: Archant

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.

The first page of the manuscript memoir of John Perren, a soldier who fought in the First World War.

The first page of the manuscript memoir of John Perren, a soldier who fought in the First World War. The memoir is part of the collections at Valence House Museum, Dagenham. Picture: Valence House Museum - Credit: Archant


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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.

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“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.”

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres). British troops loading a pack

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres). British troops loading a pack horse with wiring staples. Note the horse's gas mask. Near Pilckem, Belgium, July 31, 1917. Picture: Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons - Credit: Archant

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.

If you would like to share a family story relating to Passchendaele, email bethany.wyatt@archant.co.uk or call 020 8477 3988.

Men of the 4th Battalion, Coldstream Guards sitting on a captured German howitzer (possibly 10.5 cm

Men of the 4th Battalion, Coldstream Guards sitting on a captured German howitzer (possibly 10.5 cm Feldhaubitze M.12) outside a German concrete blockhouse on the outskirts of Houlthulst Forest during the Battle of Poelcappelle, October 9, 1917. Picture: Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons - Credit: Archant

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Battle of Passchendaele). Pack mules passing a wrecke

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Battle of Passchendaele). Pack mules passing a wrecked artillery limber and dead mules of the 36th Division on the road at Saint-Jean, July 31, 1917. Picture: Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons - Credit: Archant

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