Extracts from the diary of a Sheffield soldier who describes the horrors of war during the Somme have been published by the National Army Museum.
Second lieutenant Eric Hall’s description of the Battle of Le Transloy in the last weeks’ of the Somme Offensive give a striking insight into the state of mind of British soldiers pushed to the limit during the First World War.
In the diary - published on the museum’s website www.nam.ac.uk - Hall describes going over the top of the trenches as like a ‘bad dream’.
It also describes how he took part on the assault of the German lines near Guedecourt in October 1916. His unit stormed an enemy trench and then had to hold it when the Germans counter-attacked in the evening.
He later describes coming across a dugout ‘which had been blocked up by German dead’ - a chilling example of the awful physical and emotional toll of the battle on both sides.
As the Battle of the Somme dragged on into October and November, many soldiers reached their breaking point. Army records show an increase in the number of court-martial cases in Hall’s brigade in this period.
Several men were charged with shooting themselves in the foot in a desperate attempt to escape the horrors of the battlefield. One desperate man resorted to desertion, only to be captured and sentenced to death by firing squad.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme Hall had seen half of his division killed going over the top, an experience he described as like ‘a bad dream’.
In August 1916 his battalion was transferred to Ypres, where 101 men and officers were killed during a gas attack. When they later returned to the Somme, they were exhausted and under terrible strain. Hall recounts how two lieutenants were so affected by ‘nerves’ and shell shock they were unable to go on.
Hall also described the appalling conditions: “One of the worst days of my life. Was out in mud and pouring rain, sopping wet through all day, stretcher bearing.”
Dr Peter Johnston, head of collections and development review at the museum, said: “His account reminds us of the importance of the human stories that shaped the course of the war.”
The Somme Offensive was finally shut down on November 18 when the Allied advance faltered. For an advance of seven miles, the British Empire suffered 420,000 casualties, the French 200,000 and German losses were at least 450,000.
Hall survived the conflict and returned home to marry his sweetheart Nellie. He later returned to fight in the Second World War and was granted the honorary rank of majoy. He died in Bakewell in 1967.