The source of these texts is Phyllis Holmes and George Wigglesworth,
Daniel Holmes, RE. 1916 - 1919
This is a record of my father, a Derbyshire man
His three brothers, John, Cornelius (Nid) and Sam were also in the army, and John was killed in 1918. There must have been many other families which gave their sons like that, their life or their service. His mother used to say that she never locked the door at night all the time her sons were away in case any of them returned on leave unexpectedly in the early hours: my father’s diaries show that this happened to him on his leave in 1917.
These diaries are now 90 years old and the times they tell of seem remote to the modern world. But they, and others like them, I am sure, tell of simple patriotism, religious faith and comradeship. I find them very touching and I hope whoever reads these extracts will learn something from them about life so long ago. I am glad and grateful they have been transcribed for me and thus can be made available.
This booklet is compiled from the three pocket diaries, treasured by
his daughter Phyllis, which Daniel kept while a Sapper with the Royal Engineers
from 1916 to the end of the war. The originals will be deposited with the
He was born on the 6th March 1889 at
There were four brothers, Daniel, Jack, Sam and Nid
and all served, three in France, Sam in
The diaries start in ink but soon revert to the Copying Ink, indelible pencil used by the troops and in 1918 leaves only four or five lines just 2 ½ inches wide for each day. Sometimes it just indicates repetition of the previous day. Sometimes the days are uneventful or when he had "Police Duties" one supposes they are left, sensitively, blank.
Preparations, embarkation & the first month in France
This is the first series of entries and gives an impression of the times up
to seeing service in
1 Jan 16 Home for weekend to say
good-bye to mother and friends. In the afternoon I go to Matlock and come back
to Birchover, I meet CB at Winster
at 9.30. She comes to
2 Jan 16 I go to Sunday School in the morning, comes back & sees
3 Jan 16 First parade at 9.0 in full marching order. at 11.30 we are inspected by the CRE who is highly pleased with the Coy and gives us his best wishes before we go off to the front. 2.0p.m. for Coy. drill on Fairfield Common. 7.0p.m. I am on town piquet until 10.15
4 Jan 16 First parade 9.0 a.m. We
go for a route march in full marching order round by Miller’s Dale & Wormhill. Arrive back at 3p.m. I write a letter to Clara
then go up to
5 Jan 16 Parade for Billet money at 7.0 a.m. the rest of the day is spent in rifle and bayonet exercises. 3o’clock the Capt tells us we are all to have leave, later a telegram comes from the War Office "Prepare. Leave cancelled"
6 Jan 16 Parade at 7 a.m. 2nd parade at 9 a.m. finishing packing tool carts etc for the front. At 7.0 p.m. we go to Fairfield Common for night operations.
11 Jan 16 Parade at 9 a.m. full marching order for route march round by Flagg and Taddington. I write to Clara and receive a letter from Nid
12 Jan 16 Parade 7 a.m. the day spent in rifle and Coy. drill. I write to Nid & mother
13 Jan 16 Parade 7 a.m. route march. 9a.m. Coy. drill etc. break off at 3 p.m. 7p.m. we have a route march.
8.45 I go to Wes.
14 Jan 16 7a.m. pay parade 9a.m. full marching order. We go round Monyash arriving Buxton ¼ to 4 after doing 20 miles
15 Jan 16 7a.m. parade, short march. 9a.m. Coy drill. 12.30 all the RE’s are lined up to hear the sentence of a Court Martial upon a Pioneer out of the Scotch Coy.
16 Jan 16 10.15 parade to Primitive Methodist Chapel. At 3p.m. I preside at the PSA at the PM Chapel. I recite at the singsong and after a very happy Sabbath I retire thanking God for his goodness
17 Jan 16 Parade 7a.m. Capt informs
us we are to leave for
18 Jan 16 Pay parade at 7a.m. at 8a.m. I come on guard. I write 3 letters including to CB. The night passes off uneventful. I am pleased when morning arrives. [One can imagine how cold guard duty was in the early hours of the January morning at Buxton! Ed]
19 Jan 16 I don't parade till 2p.m. [having been on guard. Ed] We receive socks and scarf in the Town Hall from Mrs Bradley and Mrs Sidebotham. I attend a social evening at the Fairfield Primitive Methodist Chapel and give three recitations being encored on again. I handed in all my spare kit. Receive a Testament from Mrs Thornhill.
20 Jan 16 Parade at 9a.m. in full marching order as we shall go away at 12. We are served out with rations for the journey. At 5.45 we parade ready for off & march to the station. A very exciting day, we have a glorious send off from Buxton. 8.45 the train sets off & with a shout we leave Buxton behind. I throw my flag out at Rowsley Station addressed to mother.
21 Jan 16 We
22 Jan 16 2a.m. we arrive outside [Le] Havre but have to wait there till 9a.m. on account of the tide being out. 3.30 we leave the docks and go to the rest camp 2 miles out. I send a PC to mother.
23 Jan 16 My
first Sabbath in
24 Jan 16 We arrive at
25 Jan 16 We have a hot dinner, the first since we left Buxton. I write to mother and CB
27 Jan 16 We are dished out with an extra blanket and waterproof vest. [This was just overdue as it had been a very cold spell for the last fortnight. Ed]
29 Jan 16 Smith’s work.
The tasks of this company of Royal Engineers
The Royal Engineers are, I suppose, primarily associated with railways, roads, bridges and bomb disposal. They did many things connected with the infrastructure of war. Theoretically the Pioneer Corps was assigned to laborious tasks but in their absence the Sappers had to take on the work they needed in preparation. Daniel found himself in many different jobs. The first task they undertook was unloading timber (26-29 Jan 16) There was work on the Pipe Track, carrying pipes, laying pipes, covering pipes, erecting tanks with pipes and taps to horse troughs. The water supply was for the men but also for the horses needed for transport and moving guns. The RE however used lorries themselves on the metalled (ie cobbled) roads. They were housed in barns, stables, huts and tents.
The diary records.
2 Feb 16 Take down and build sheds
1 April 16 Sinking Wells at Albert
3 - 10 May 16 Fitting an oil engine at the pumping station
22 May 16 - 13 June Work on dug-outs
22 June 16 - 20 July Pipe track
21 July 16 Today I start a new job. I am sent to relieve Cpl Dyer for two days at the Albert well pumping station so I am in charge of the engine and pump. I am kept fairly busy all the day. The O.C. informs me that I am to be here permanently.
3 Sept 16 Sent to Albert "Town" pumping station
6 Feb 17 Pump & Engine at Haut Avesne (2 ½ miles from Ecouvres,
7 miles from
19 Mar 17 - July 3rd Ecouvres to take charge of two Blackstone oil engines
3 April 17 I have a near escape from death while turning on a tap on the big Dennis engine. My cardigan jacket is caught in the sleeve on a cotter pin on a wheel revolving at 1000 revs per minute. The cardigan was stripped right off my back & I seem to have the strength of three men and threw myself backwards. I only received bruises on my neck and arm. Praise the Lord for his wonderful deliverance. May my life be given up to Him more fully than ever before.
4 April 17 2 men are sent to me today to receive instruction on oil engines.
11 July 17 Work on Nissen huts
5 Aug 17 Work on the Prisoner of War cage
25 Aug 17 On police duty and as such cycle to Broxeele, Lederzeele, Herchegen, Milliam, Volckerinkhove, Merckeghem, Federzeel, Arneke, Esquelbecq
29 Nov 17 off police duty
18 Dec 17 Stone dump
Jan 18 Erecting notice boards
23 Mar 18 I am sent back with 12 others to charge and blow up a bridge over the canal. We have the charge laid by 9.0p.m. and stay on guard.
24 Mar 18 7.0a.m. The bridge is not yet blown up. At 10.a.m. he starts attacking again with fierceness. We are still waiting. Oh! the suspense. At 12.30 I & most of the men are sent to join the Coy. leaving the officer and 3 NCOs.
26 Mar 18
21 April 18 Bridging across a swamp.
26 April 18 Barbed wiring
1 June 18 Erecting an OP [Observation Post Ed]
9 Aug 18 Putting down an engine & dynamo for school cinema
2 Sept 18 - 3 Nov Vermand Pumping Station
11 Nov 18 The war ends today
13 Nov 18 The civilians are coming back to this village. It is heart breaking to see them return to find their homes ruined and they go scrounging anywhere to try and get a few things together.
23 Nov 18 At work repairing cottages
We tend to make little of the effect on civilians being rightly preoccupied with the lives of our troops. A hint is given here and by a remark two years before that "land being tilled and sewn at Villers Brettoneat, a few miles away the battle is raging." Ed.
The war locally
All this RE work was in the context of the fierce war across the front line and he was indirectly recording many events, here summarised to reduce the duplication.
31 Jan 16 remove two aeroplane sheds just behind French firing line. Very severe fighting is going on all night, a fierce cannonade is kept up. We fear the French are being driven back.
1 Feb 16 The Germans are driven back seven km. A strange incident; the church bells ring out & two miles away the cannons boom out.
1 Mar 16 We have a bath at the brewery.
4 Mar 16 We leave Vignacourt at 8.0a.m. on the march. We arrive at Doulens at 4 o’clock and are placed in a loft over some stables. One floor collapses & 4&5 sections are thrown down onto the horses. 16 men are hurt more or less but 6 rather badly.
5 Mar 16 We arrive at Duisans, a railway siding close by the firing line. The sky is lit up by star shells & the flashes from big guns nearby.
6 Mar 16 I witness an aeroplane being shelled [as he does next day. Ed]
15 Mar 16 Shells fall only a few hundred yards away, our first experience of hearing them whizz through the air ["whizz bangs"]
30 Apr 16 At ¼ to 8 the Germans commence a fierce bombardment & send gas over and a good few shells come very near us.
4 June 16 At 1a.m. are awakened by a heavy bombardment. The enemy sends over many shells, we have to wear our gas goggles.
25 June 16 At 10 a.m. prompt the bombardment starts proper with all fierceness, all our big guns take part & this continued all day. The German trenches are levelled, three observation balloons are destroyed.
29 & 30 Jun The gun fire cooled down to normal which could not be understood as a great advance was expected.
1 July 16 [On this day the
2 July 16 The battle continues and prisoners are brought down in numbers. Lt Creeth is arrested as a spy.
!7 July 16 We are issued with ¼ of a loaf of bread, the first for a fortnight.
15 Sept 16 Today our men make a new advance and make good progress. 1000 prisoners are brought to Albert. Tanks take part for the first time.
21 Sept 16 At 4.30p.m. the Germans start shelling our place and they fall very thick and fast. Two shells strike the waterwheel and stop the pumps. The oil engine then has to be started.
9 Nov 16 Enemy aeroplanes drop many bombs during the night.
10 Nov 16 Again we are visited by enemy aircraft. One bomb falls on the RE yard only ten yards from where I am sleeping.
25 Dec 16 Breakfast Bread and Cheese. Dinner stew I couldn’t eat. I go to tea in the meeting room. We spend a pleasant evening there. Next day he remarks on a very quiet day. How pleased that Xmas is over. F Dyer returns from hospital. What a relief it is after 6 weeks all by myself, unable to move away from the place
7 Ap 17 I see a German attack one of our observation balloons & set fire to it. The two observers jump out with their parachutes and arrive safely on the ground
8 April 17 Shells drop very close to this station, only 20 yards away from the engine house but no damage done.
9 April 17 Vimy Ridge is captured. Many thousands of prisoners are brought down the line but here where I am I see nothing of the fight.
27 April 17 About 2p.m. a huge shell pitches in our camp. Fortunately it drops on an empty hut destroying it completely & the one next to it as well. Three of our men have a marvellous escape from death. At 7.15 we have a thanksgiving servicefor the way in which God has protected us all.
3 May 17 A big attack is commenced
by our troops in front of
4 May 17 At 8p.m. an ammunition dump 300 yards away from here gets on fire. 1000s of rounds of ammunition explode, shells fly & burst all round the district. We take shelter in a cellar until 12 midnight when it has nearly burned out.
28 May 17 I put in an application for a higher rate of pay
4 June 17 Again a big German Aeroplane comes over here about ½ past 10p.m. & drops bombs in our horse lines, killing 22 horses, two men, one wounded. This is only 100 yards from our engine house.
12 April 18 I have the experience of riding in a tank over a steep bank and through a street of Pont Noyelles.
26 April 18 Firing course and gas drill
29 April 18 I see a German Aeroplane brought down by some of our machines
15 June 18 Drill and firing practice as for the next month each Saturday.
He now records far less of the war he sees.
Of course he remained very much in the
His first Sabbath in
On the 26 Jan 16 he writes I do not leave my billet all night but Harold, Jim and I have a nice bible reading. On the 27th he writes Our little party have a nice bible reading & open prayer in our corner. On the 30th Jan 16 there was a church parade in a concert room in the town.
11 Mar 16 I prepare a sermon, the Sabbath has not lost its sacredness to me.
16 Aug 16 Attend Bible Class conducted by an RAMC Sgt
18 Sept 16 60 present
24 Sept 16 80 men 30 communicants
25 Sept 16 SCA meeting
! Oct 16 103 present
15 Oct 16 120 present
29 Oct 16 about 300
13 Jan 17 I will be baptised as soon as possible
20 Jan 17 To night I am baptized by immersion in the cellar of the Justice of the Peace building in a large bath which was used for washing of prisoners. Sgt Rankin performs the ordinance rites. I receive much blessing, am thankful that God has led me this way. Oh the joy of being buried with Christ in baptism.
25 Feb 17 Not knowing of any service I am unable to attend any
4 Mar 17 Presbyterian Service in the school room
17 Mar 18 Introduced to Col Walkey who visited him 2 days leter to arrange a service on the Sunday.
It was in his diary he chose to summarise his reading of "God the Invisible King" by HG Wells, lent to him to read by Sgt Rankin.
God is everywhere and immediately accessible to every human being.
To realise God in one’s heart is to be filled with a desire to serve him.
To find God is but the beginning of wisdom.
It is when men most urgently need God that they become less patient with foolish presentations and dogmas.
Family and friends
During the three years he kept a continuous link with his friends and family
back home in the Derbyshire Dales as well as being in touch in
7 Feb 1916 I receive a letter from
mother, the first since I came to
11& 19 Feb 16 Papers from mother
20 Feb 16 I walk three miles to meet my friends in 215 Coy and learn a lot of news from Buxton. Met F Middleton from Foolow
12 Aug 16 Walked 3 miles with J Fryer and find Geo Wragg (10th Sherwoods) and spend a pleasant evening with him. He came down to us the next day
4 Jan 17 I hear that Joe Thornhill is in Albert at the 4th Army Workshops. I go to find him and am successful. He is delighted to see someone he knows. I stay for about an hour with him.
6 Mar 17 Jim and Len come to spend the evening with me and we have supper together. Pork pie, cake, parkin, chocolate etc. On the whole a very happy birthday.
13 May 17 I met Harold Wain from Stanton Lees as I came out of the Scottish Churches canteen.
His diaries record meticulously his pay (5 francs) and credits.
28 Jan 16 1st pay in
18 May 18 I make a remittance of £10 from my credit to mother
It was his leaves which were so significant though. We can discern the home comfort of meeting those left at home, depleted as it was by brothers serving and on the second occasion by Jack’s death. He regularly met Clara. The Wesleyan Reform Chapel played its part in his appreciation of being home, and the diary records his contribution to services there.
8th August 17 I leave the Coy. to go on leave Train from Popp [Poperinghe] to
Most evocative is the brief entry
18th August 1917. At
Stanton Moor with its heather-clad plateau, enhanced with the Nine Ladies stone circle and Barrows, is a characteristic piece of Derbyshire and one always to be remembered, no doubt, in the context of this walk with his future wife.
He leaves to go back on 18 Aug 17 writing:- I go to our Sunday School Treat. My last day at home. I feel it very much saying goodbye.
His second leave is more briefly recorded.
9 Sept 18 Leave Rough voyage Boulogne-Folkestone. Arrive home 12th.
15 Sept 18 Preach at Birchover
Visits were as before, the same visits but with Dukinfield,
Ashton and Hyde added. He left home to go back 24th Sept. In the margin he
writes Leave Napoo,
no bon. That is to say, being soldiers slang, Il
n'y en a plus -- there is no more, no good. He
doesn’t elaborate. The leave might well have been coloured
by his brother’s death, the disillusion after so long at war when many at home
had little appreciation of life in
It is his contact with his brothers at the front which is so revealing.
Nid (Cornelius) Holmes 39602 served with E Coy 12 TR Bn Sherwood Foresters in 1916, the 2nd Sherwoods, and later 11 Pl. C Coy. 7th North Staffs
11 Feb 16 I hear Nid is in hospital
18 Aug 16 In the afternoon after receiving a letter from Nid telling me he was only 2 miles away on my left. I start off to find him in 4 villages unsuccessfully .
9 Sept 16 I am surprised by a visit from my brother Nid. He came walking into the RE guard. I cannot describe our meeting but how thankful I am to see him and talk with him. I walk back with him to their camp. We have a good time together.
10 Sept 16 I go to see Nid in the morning. He gives me his diary to keep for him. In the evening he comes to see me and I walk back with him to Meault. He tells me they are to go over the top on Wednesday.
19 Sept 16 On my afternoon off I go to see if I can find my brother Nid. At Meault I learn that they are about to come by that way and to wait. I am told there are not many of them left. This makes me feel concerned about Nid as I know they have been in the thick of it. How my heart jumps for joy when I see him with hand outstretched. I walk with him to Ville sous Corbie
3 Oct 16 receive a card informing me Nid is wounded but I don't know any particulars [next day he learns it is slight. Ed]
His brother John William (Jack) Holmes 51753 served in 15 Pl Z Coy.16 Bn.
15 Nov 17 I receive a letter from Jack telling me he is here at the 35 Div Training Depot. I go to the camp to try & find him. To my disappointment discover that he had been sent to his Bn only last Friday
21 Dec 17 Get pass to look for Jack and find him at Schole Camp. He is delighted to see me and we spend 3 hours together.
1 April 18 I
learn the sad news that my brother Jack was killed on March 24th, age 30, shot
through the head with a bullet from an Aeroplane on
2 April 18 I go to see Jack’s pal & receive his pocket book
8 Sept 18 Day off, I walk along
Jack is recorded on the Memorial at Pozieres and
one of nine on the War Memorial at
It is clear Daniel was able and very inclined to be involved with things he
could do for a casualty from
Pte John Bernard Siddall age 20 in 1917, served in the Machine Gun Corps
20 May 17 In
the evening Jim Fryer & I go to look for & find the grave of Jack Siddall in
27 May 17 I am working all day on the cross I am making for J Siddall’s grave. Pat Brewis gives his day off to helping me and he cleand up the wood & fits the cross together. Quite a treat
31 May 17 In
the afternoon I go into
5 June 17 In the afternoon I erect the cross at the head of Jack Siddall’s grave.
In contrast are the few pleasures he found and records.
8 June 17 Harry Lauder entertains the soldiers in the evening. He performs at the HQ 9th Div, I hear him sing two songs
15 June 17 I go to the Chequers Concert Party in the evening & spend a pleasant 1 ½ hours
18 June 17 I go bathing
19 June 17 Sgt Rankin brings me that book of HG Wells "God the Invisible King" [which he finished on 22 June]
20 June 17 I go bathing,
24 June 17 I go for a swim in the afternoon with J Fryer. I am just getting a little confidence & manage to float for a short time.
22 July 17 During the afternoon and evening we have Company sports. I win 2nd prize in the wheelbarrow race
25 Sept 17 Have a day off & Tom
Millward & I go to
14 Nov 17 My first attempt to make pancakes. They are very nice.
18 Nov 17 Our Coy play two games of football and lose both.
25 Nov 17 Our football team play the 23rd Sanitary Section and win 2:1
25 Dec 17 Holiday for whole Coy. We have our Christmas dinner at 5.0p.m. A very good one but oh! what a Christmas Day, nuff said.
3 May 18 A lovely May day, I hear the cuckoo for the first time
17 July 18 After much consideration I shave my upper lip.
18 Aug 18 I go to Le Treport and spend a nice time by the sea
A feature after war ended was his hospitalisation with Spanish ‘flu which killed even more than the war itself.
30 Nov 18 I report sick and am admitted into No 12 Casualty Clearing Station suffering from the ‘flu.
2 Dec 18 Arrived in
6 Dec 18 I get up for a little while
After a long recovery with relapses
20 Dec 18 having a good time
25 Dec 18 I spend a lovely Xmas day, excellent dinner & tea, Xmas tree, concert at night.
4 Jan 19 Discharged from Hospital
Daniel had been an insurance agent before the war. After it he was employed
at Ralph Twyford’s quarry as were so many from the
village. He then became a chauffeur for that family in
After demobilisation the claim of Lloyd George
that the Armed Forces would return to a land fit for heroes proved a very sick
remark to many soldiers facing unemployment and little regard by those who
stayed at home. Nid had a reputation for being
outspoken who, when he was asked by a