“A bayonet makes a very acceptable toasting fork,” and other advice from a WWI diary

In 1914 my great-grandfather was part of the New Zealand Mounted Brigade who left New Zealand to fight in World War I as part of the ANZACs . They thought they were going to Europe, but they ended up in the Sinai Desert in Egypt, fighting the Turkish forces. I still have his army-issued 1918 diary. He wrote in cursive, often in pencil, and sadly I can’t understand most of it.

The journal is cool, though. It’s tiny: a smidgen over 4″ x 2 ¾”. It has a week on two pages with a Sunday start, but there’s practically no space to write for Sunday. Maybe one was not supposed to fight on the Sabbath.

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The journal is missing the cover and the end pages; it starts on page 7 with a guide to flags.
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Then there are sections on:
Headings for reports
Field Kitchen (i.e. how to dig a trench to set one up in)
Penetration of Rifle Bullets
Rifle Definitions
Rifles used by Fighting Powers
Calender for Five Years (1916-1920)
Some Useful Knots
List of Abbreviations for Military Terms
How to Set a Map
To Find the North by Your Watch
Control by Whistle
British Orders and Medals
British, French and German Guns
British and German Rifles
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Conventional Signs & Lettering Used in Military Field Sketching
V.T.C Badges of Rank
Hints for Judging Distances
Finding Your Direction by Night
First Aid in Case of Accidents (Accidents?? Not in case of, you  know, being in a WAR??)
Aeronautical Terms and their Meaning (the “enclosed shelter for the pilot of a biplane” is a nacelle, not a cockpit)
The Position of Main Arteries and Points of Compression
French, Belgian and English Money Table
Bugle Calls (Reville, Cookhouse, Lights Out, Alarm)
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Soldier’s Vocabulary. (Fancy some tea with dood and teeny??)
Semaphore Signaling
Semaphore Alphabet
Morse Alphabet
Special Signals
Station Signals
Badges of Rank
The Soldiers’ Guide to French (“La dirigible attend! Ou trouver a manger pour nos chevaux?”)
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March Discipline
Care of the Feet
Relative Rank of the Officers of the Navy and Army
Daily Wants’ Dictionary (a “load” of straw = 36 “trusses” of 36 lbs each)
Calendar for 1917
Calendar for 1918
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Each weeks’ two-page spread also contains useful field knowledge along the bottom edge – just like the way a Hobonichi has a quote;

Make a Salt and pepper shaker from bamboo
Hint to keep the head on a hatchet
How to keep eggs fresh in camp
How to cut a bottle
Make a canvas belt into a first aid kit
How to build a camp oven
How to carry a rope
Make a soap shaker from bamboo
A novel camp fire stunt (collect ashes in your kettle to light the gas for light)
Make shift trench cooking utensils from “knick-knacks” e.g. the titular bayonet, use a steel helmet as a wash basin.
An emergency pack sack (made from a sack)
How to carry safety pins
Use an old cocoa tin filled with oily rags as a lantern
How to break large sticks
Extracting salt from the sea
Pin your bedding down with kilt pins to prevent draughts at night
Make a sling from a roller bandage
Diagram for a handy bicycle kit
Protecting food in the open
Make a portable cot for a bivouac
How to sew a pocket for your signaling manual
Make a handy brazier from a petrol tin
How to trim a lamp wick
Cure squeaking boots (this involves getting “two wooden pegs” from “your shoemaker” and driving them into the centre of the soles)
Admiral’s flags
An ingenious lamp from gun oil
How a head woodman marks trees for woodcutters
Types of spurs
How to “slip” (unhook) railway carriages
The mark for condemned equipment, clothing, and stores
War department markings
Using a bucket to help a yacht beat a strong tide
Train tail lamps
Ascertaining n a vessel’s speed
The sign which indicate telegrams may be sent from this railway station
The compound eye of a beetle (I get the feeling the authors were scraping the bottom of the barrel by now)
How porters light the lamps on top of trains
That the long pennant flown on a vessel is called a “whip” and is to show that Britain – “Mistress of the Sea” – “could whip all other countries from the sea.”
 Choose a penknife with a clutch and spring to prevent slipping
How an electric bell-pull works
Signals of distress
How to keep the tongue of a shoe in place
The meaning of numbers on ladders (spoiler: it indiates the number of rungs)
If you burn a fingertip, “a good cure” is to put the fingertip on your ear lobe for “instant relief.” Apparently.
Special “India rubber bands” can be bought for bicycle handlebars to protect the metal plating
Horse chestnut trees are marked with tiny horse shoes
A skull and crossbones on a sign means people should not approach
How to pierce a coin using a cork and a sewing cotton bobbin
How to make a homemade weather glass (a barometer?)
Erect your tent like a sundial to get a “bar of sunshine that will travel round the interior”
The purpose of hoop guards on telegraph poles
Harbor signals

And you know, 98 years later, I would still love 90% of all this stuff in a journal. It could be a Just In Case survival planner, with guides on snaring animals, fishing, first aid, and field survival. Think we could persuade Hobonichi to do a 2018 centennial superflu slash zombie edition?

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One thought on ““A bayonet makes a very acceptable toasting fork,” and other advice from a WWI diary

  1. This is brilliant! And yes, so much of it is still useful – most would be on a smartphone these days, but still great to have an offline reference copy. It’s fantastic that you still have this. History in your hand.

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