In this article, you will get all the information regarding Grim life in First World War trenches emerges in diary of 19-year-old soldier
Like many Canadian soldiers in the war, he didn’t live to see 20. Douglass was killed in action in Vierstraat, Belgium on July 21, 1916.
His death was announced on the front page of the Aug. 12, 1916 Calgary Herald, along with three other “Alberta Heroes Who Have Died For The Empire.”
“Private Douglass was only 19 years of age, and born at Millarville, Alberta,” said the Herald. “He leaves both his parents, three sisters and a brother to mourn his loss.”
His effects were sent back to his family. One hundred and six years later, his grandniece Janice Hope and her husband Michael Wale found some of them in a box in Vancouver, including a diary he had kept during the war.
It’s a moving document, a first-hand account of life in the trenches.
“It was quite interesting reading it,” said Wale, who transcribed the diary and sent it to Postmedia. “You get an insight into the personal experience of someone who was alive during that time in the war.”
Douglass was excited when he first came near what he dubbed the “firing line.”
“Had a fairly good sleep last night,” he wrote on Sept. 26, 1915. “Great fun watching them bombard aeroplanes.”
But life in the trenches quickly turned gruelling in the heavy rain and constant German shelling with “Jack Johnsons” (a heavy black shell that left a deep crater) and “whiz bangs” (shells soldiers could hear whizzing toward them, before they heard the bang of impact).
“The Jacks when they explode make an awful concussion, just rock the air,” he wrote on Oct. 5. “The whiz-bangs are really shrapnel; it just goes whiz-bang!”
He marked his 19th birthday with a note to himself: “Many happy returns of the day Deane Douglass, if you don’t have anybody else to wish you it, you might as well congratulate yourself.”
But life at the front had become terrifying. On Oct. 27, the Germans unleashed an ungodly artillery barrage.
“About 6 o’clock this evening they sent over some bombs of all descriptions,” wrote Douglass. “They are most demoralizing, one of them nearly got me. There were three of us in the bay when I saw a trench mortar coming straight for us. I tried to dodge but my equipment got hung up on a peg.
“I knew it was getting close then, so just fell flat down and then what an explosion, blew a lot of the parapet away. Half-burying us, filling your eyes ears and mouth with mud. This was about all I remembered for a minute or two, your senses leave you from the force of it, my equipment got all twisted from it too.
“It was a miracle because none of us got a scratch, although I am very deaf in one ear. The bomb had come fairly straight for the bay alright but had bounced off the sandbags about 5 feet from my head over into the main trench, where it went off wrecking three dugouts.
“Although nobody was hurt everybody got an awful shaking up. Then the reaction, you are powerless for about an hour until your nerve returns.”
The “fiercest bombardment” came Dec. 19, “just one roar it was so intense.”
“This lasted until about 7 o’clock, then just at breakfast time we all began to cough … we got the tail end of the gas which the Germans sent over,” he wrote.
“ It was very uncomfortable while it lasted, a lot of the fellows had to put their gas goggles on, it has been a very active day. Both sides strafing each other’s lines … the guns are getting more intense all the time and is now practically a roar.
“We go up to the front line again tonight for 48 hours. I expect we are going to have a lovely time.”
On Christmas Eve, he noted “I can’t realize it … the only thing that makes me think at all are the Xmas parcels.”
New Year’s Eve was a nightmare, as the Germans launched several whiz-bangs into the Canadian trenches.
“All of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion about 20 yards from me … I hugged mother earth like a shot with one word in my head — sausage!” he wrote. “It certainly shook things up, (I was) trembling like a leaf.”
Sausage was the nickname for a German mortar shell. For the next two hours, the Canadians scrambled around the trenches, peering into the sky to try and figure out where they would land.
“My neck was sore from looking heavenward for them,” he related.
“Acting under the general rule, we ran up the trench towards it when it was at its height. (But) somebody thought it was coming straight towards us and started to run back again then, there was a general mix up and we all got down in the mud.
“We could see by this time that it was passing over our heads so just waited for the explosion which followed as soon as it hit the ground. Then all got up and watched for the next one. The suspense of the thing is the world and absolutely gets your goat.”
The diary is written in pencil and is small enough to fit into a pocket, which is probably why it managed to survive as Douglass struggled through the mud.
It was found with several letters he’d written to a woman, and an old leather case that contained the letter from the army saying he’d been killed in action.
His parents retired to Victoria and the diary and effects were passed to his sister Mysie. When she died, they passed to Mysie’s son Donald Hope.
When he died in September 2021, his daughter found the diary. And a century after his death, Charles Deane Douglass became real to relatives that previously knew next to nothing about him.
Excerpts from the Diary of Charles Deane Douglass, who was born Oct. 21, 1896 in Millarville, Alberta and died July 21, 1916 in Vierstraat, Belgium. He is buried at the Ridge Wood Military Cemetery in Voormezeele, West Flanders, Belgium. All dates are from 1915. His diary was transcribed by Michael Ware, who is married to Douglass’ grandniece Janice Hope.
September 18, 1915: Marched from St-Martins plain to wharf, got on boat directly. Arrived in Boulogne 9 p.m. Went to first base, chilly that night.
Sept. 19: Took train from Boulogne to Cassel, marched from Cassel about 6 miles where we bivouacked in a farmhouse.
Sept. 20: Still bivouacking, helped the farmer around with daily labour, milked two cows tonight. We are around 20 miles from Ypres, but fighting is going on 16 miles away. Can see the shrapnel bursting also hear the guns roaring incessantly. Got a bad cold in the head.
Sept. 21: Stayed in our billets all today. Move out tomorrow towards the firing line. The Germans were all over this country last October 1914 as far as St. Omer but retreated before the British.
Sept 22: Marched from our bivouac to the Canadian resting base about 4 miles behind the front trenches. Very interesting this evening seeing the different engagements with aircraft, the guns bursting shrapnel all around them. We are not very far from Bailleul, about halfway between Ypres and Lille. We are just in Belgium, practically on the border. No blankets tonight, transport broke down, have to sleep in our… very cold.
Sept. 23: Very cold last night. We are just lying around today, heavy bombardment to the south of us. Nothing particular happened today.
Sept 24: It rained to beat the band last night, arriving to heavy bombardment. We all got in an old barn where it is quite warm but not very clean, it’s very hard to get water around here to drink and even to wash, heavy bombardment to the south of us all day.
Sept. 25: Rained to beat the band all day. Got orders from General Plumber for the 6th Brigade to go up to firing line. Had a hard march though a village which was absolutely all shelled to pieces, arrived at our trenches and we happened to strike the supports and went in and got us sleep in the dugouts.
Sept. 26: Had a fairly good sleep last night. Great fun watching them bombard aeroplanes. Nothing much to do all day. We were just reserves and had to keep ready. We all get our food raw and everybody does their own cooking in the billycans.
Sept. 27: Last night we all went down to the headquarters to take up stuff to the firing line but hung around waiting for the transport till 2pm… midnight, they never turned up in the end and we came back. Whenever the star shells go up, they light up the country for a mile around and believe me we get pretty smart in the art of ducking because they shoot at you. Marched back to billets and went to bed.
Sept. 28: Last night we had to do the same thing, but the transport turned up about 9 o’clock and we each got hold of a sort of ladder used for the bottom of the trenches and started off. It was awfully muddy in the communication trenches. It was the hardest piece of work I ever did running and falling down with this heavy ladder with your rifle slung and ammunition like a deadweight hanging to your shoulders, and believe me a fellow wastes no time in getting into the mud when bullets start in whistling over your head. Anyways we all go back safely after a few shells had burst quite close to us. You get sort of used to rifle fire, but those shells can sure bark. They are shelling the second line of the trenches, as I write this about 200 yards in front of us. The shrapnel is bursting to beat the band.
Sept. 29: Last night we had an awful time of it. It rained so hard the all got soaked to the skin, went out about 6:30pm to take rations up to the 29th battalion who are in the firing line after plowing through mud and water and miles of communication trenches we got back to our dugout at 12pm midnight it was very cold and we just had to sleep in wet things, nobody knows what it is to be miserable until you are about frozen to death soaked through and absolutely no means of drying yourself, but such is the life of a soldier.
Sept. 30: Was on guard last night, it rained a lot more, the dugout leaked all night. Harris and I built a stove in the wall, it works fine and it wasn’t quite so cold as before. We are going up to the font line to the trenches tonight to relieve the 2C. Its finer today, no rain thank goodness. We get our first dose of real trench life tonight when we go to the firing line.
Oct. 1: Arrived up here last night under a heavy …. of bullets amid the roar of trench mortars and whiz- bangs. Stayed up all night, gave the enemy a few rounds of shot a piece. You can’t see anything but just blaze away at their trenches. Rained quite hard in the night and awfully cold. All came through safely however.
Oct. 2: We sleep all day and fight all night – just leave one man on guard in the day while the rest sleep its very quiet but a lot of smoking at night. Is very cold at night a lot of us have got a touch of … and I haven’t eaten a thing for about 48 hours.
Oct. 3: Very quiet all last night. We got a big ration of rum last night which keeps you warm a lot. Have just waked up 3pm, stand to at 5pm.
Oct. 4: Gave us a few Jack Johnsons as whiz-bangs this afternoon, the Jack Johnson landed about 30 yards from our dugout, nobody was hurt though.
Oct. 5: Yesterday they really gave us a real shelling for about 15 minutes. Jacks and whiz-bangs all mixed up. The reserve trenches caught blazes from the shrapnel, one casualty in A Com. Pte. Lorve, wounded by dugout caving in on him. The shells were coming particularly fast when one of their Jacks landed right in the middle of their front line of trenches which shut them up pretty quick. The Jacks when they explode make an awful concussion just rock the air. The whiz- bangs are really shrapnel; it just goes Whiz-Bang!
Oct. 6: Nothing particular happened today so far, we get relieved tonight, so they say. Just at 6 o’clock tonight a regular bombardment started, lasted for about 2 minutes, shrapnel bursting everywhere, but no damage was done. Came up to our rest camp at Locre, about 6 miles from firing line, came into some fairly comfortable huts. Lost all my private belongings, razor and everything, no chances of ever seeing anything again.
Oct. 7: Did nothing all day but lay around the huts. The roads here are absolutely congested with traffic transports going up to the firing line.
Oct. 8: All got a bath this morning and a change of clothes which were very acceptable. Things are very cheap here more so than England. Received our pay this afternoon 45 francs… it was good to be able to buy stuff yourself and have a feed.
Oct. 9: Did nothing all this morning slept all afternoon, have to go on all night fatigue to the trenches leave
Oct. 10: Went down to Kemmel made two trips to the trenches. It’s about 4 miles to Kemmel from Locre then two miles from there to the trenches we carried corrugated sheet iron and trench floors each time. Had a man by the name of W. L Woods wounded in the thigh buy a stray bullet. Got back to rest camp 2:45am all very tired, nothing to do all day.
Oct. 11: Did practically nothing all day had another bath going to the trenches again of fatigue tonight. Mine has been exploded in the 28th trenches killing and wounding a lot.
Oct. 12: Had a very hard fatigue last night although we got back earlier carried down 2×4 for a …. Went along way up last night and it was some job packing it. Going to the trenches tonight for a little spell.
Oct. 13: No. 2 platoon as holding the strong point for 6 days it is pretty comfortable and ‘quiet’. Big artillery duel this afternoon it was an awful din for about two hours but no casualties here although several coal boxes landed quite close.
Oct. 14 : Very quiet today quite different from yesterday. Fatigue every night to the trenches taking rations up.
Oct. 15: Nothing doing all day little engineers fatigue in the morning very foggy all day.
Oct. 16: Very quiet all day still foggy.
Oct. 17: Heavy shell fire to the left this afternoon, a few coal boxes over on our supports but no damage done. Received 5 letters tonight.
Oct. 18: Nothing happened all day moved to Kemmel shelter tonight very comfortably fixed in a dugout.
Oct. 19: Marched to Locre and had a bath did nothing all day.
Oct. 20: Reveille 5am this morning went to trenches on all day fatigue go back 4 o’clock. Nothing particular happened.
Oct. 21: Many Happy Returns of the day Deane Douglass, if you don’t have anybody else to wish you it you might as well congratulate yourself. Did fatigues all day on S P 10 communication trench. Mud up to your neck. Everything very quiet.
Oct. 22: Everything same as yesterday, nothing new.
Oct. 23: Went to Locre and got two of my teeth filled two more to be done when we next go there for a rest.
Oct. 24: Went on guard today to relive men who had not had a bath, got finished about noon, came back and got ready to come to the firing line for 6 days.
Oct. 25: Come into the trenches last night and A Coy is right in “The Bull Ring” about 35 yards from them. Rained all last night and today and very cold and wet.
Oct. 26: Just a miserable night I never was so cold in all my life. Stand to all night and soaked to the skin. Saw a good aeroplane fight today the British beat the German and he glided down just inside his own lines. Quite a lot of artillery firing this afternoon, two of our men being wounded by some of our shrapnel falling short.
Oct. 27: About 6 o’clock this evening they sent over some bombs of all descriptions. They are most demoralizing, one of them nearly got me. There were three of us in the bay when I saw a trench mortar coming straight for us. I tried to dodge but my equipment hot hung up on a peg. I knew it was getting close then so just fell flat down and then what an explosion, blew a lot of the parapet away. Half burying us filling your eyes ears and mouth with mud, this was about all I remembered for a minute or two, your senses leave you form the force of it, my equipment got all twisted from it too. It was a miracle because none of us got a scratch although I am very deaf in one ear. The bomb had come fairly straight for the bay alright but had bounced off the sandbags about 5 feet from my head over into the main trench where it went off wrecking three dugouts although nobody was hurt everybody got an awful shaking up. Then the reaction you are powerless for about an hour until your nerve returns.
Oct. 28-30: Rained practically all the time, dugout fell in, very cold and everybody very miserable but no more bombs thank goodness.
Oct. 31: Came to Locre last night. I never saw anything as heavenly as the huts did when we got in. Raining again and very cold, had a bath today.
Nov. 1: Rained to beat the band all day, roads in an awful state, trenches all caving in, was on fatigues last night we were on fatigue until 2 this morning water up to the neck in the trenches.
Nov. 2: Trenches are in an awful shape, last night the mud was up to the knees.
Nov. 3: Dug a trench tonight; refused to obey an order from Ferrie.
Nov. 4: Got soaked 3 days C B this morning with four other boys in the section. I have sure got it in for Ferrie.
Nov. 5: Nothing worth mentioning today did quite a lot of fatigues also at night.
Nov. 6: We relieve the 28 Batt tonight.
Nov. 7: Relieved the 28 last night trenches were in very poor shape didn’t get our own blanket last night. Had a good wash this morning in hot water, always have to do so on a Sunday morning just on principle anyway very foggy today. They are sending over a few rifle grenades and trench mortars.
Nov. 8: Artillery very active on both sides today several whiz-bangs came very close and showered us with mud, nobody was hurt in our company.
Nov. 9: Very clear today. Thunder artillery have been very active the last two days. Engineers fatigue all day getting our parapets all fixed up.
Nov. 12: The 28th Battalion relieved us last night. It rained to beat the band all night. When we got to Kemmel shelters we struck a tent that was all mud no fire or straw or a thing. We raised suck a kick that No. 8 section got one of the ‘tents’ reserved for the officers. We … a brazier and some coke so made it fine and comfortable.
Nov.13: Simply pouring with rain. We have to go on fatigue this afternoon. I dread the idea it’s so wet.
Nov. 14: Many happy returns on the day; it is the anniversary today what a lot has happened in the last year. (Ed. Note: it was the first anniversary of Douglass joining the army.)
Nov. 15: We are having a very easy time this time out, just one fatigue a day.
Nov. 16: Went to Bailleul, to a concert this evening the whole company went down… it wasn’t too bad something to break the monotony anyway.
Nov. 17: Relieve the 28th Batt. tonight. Very frosty this morning.
Nov. 18: Back in the firing line once again. Germans sent over lots of whiz-bangs today, most of them fell on the supports. It has started rain again, very cold rain.
Nov. 22: Came to our last night, it has been very quiet. We bombarded their line last night, it was very cold, freezing hard and we are at Locre.
Nov. 20-30: Stayed at Locre 3 days went to Kemmel for one day from there No. 2 platoon went to SPIO 4 days, bombarded daily with whiz-bangs one hit the top of my dugout but failed to come through. Came out to Kemmel on the 29th reported sick on 30th, came to hospital at Locre.
Dec. 1-3: Am still in the hospital have seen Eddie Bruin in the same ward. Batt. goes in tonight.
Dec. 3-10: Came out of hospital on the 9th. The Batt. came to Locre last night.
Dec. 10-14: We all got paid 65 francs will spend about 35 on xmas cards. Brudenell came out on the 14th Dec. Came to the trenches just as we came to the top of Kemmel Hill they start all shelling Kemmel with coal boxes, we had to wait until they were through.
Dec. 14-16: We’re in G for 2 days very quiet lots of wet and mud.
Dec. 14-18 : Came out to siege farm very comfortable have just a ration fatigue at night, still very quiet.
Dec. 19: In the night some time began the fiercest bombardment we have yet experienced, just one roar it was so intense just north of us at Ypres. This lasted until about 7 o’clock, then just at breakfast time we all began to cough and … we got the tail end of the gas which the Germans sent over. It was very uncomfortable while it lasted a lot of the fellows had to put their gas goggles on it has been a very active day. Both sides strafing each other’s lines … the guns are getting more intense all the time and (are) now practically a roar. We go up to the font line again tonight for 48 hours. I expect we are going to have a lovely time.
Dec. 19-21: Very quiet in front line, different from what we expected, still lots of artillery firing to the north of us. Dec. 20 I was on guard the whole time flying sentry.
Dec. 22-24: Was on day fatigue on the 22nd on Regent Street, gave us a certain amount of work to do, as soon as we were through we could go, luckily for me it didn’t take very long.
Dec. 23: Yesterday we all went down to Via Gellia on digging party. They shelled suicide road which was parallel with Via Gellia none of our boys were hurt although two 28th men got wounded with high explosive shrapnel. They put over quite a number of whiz-bangs and shrapnel. Got paid 30 francs.
Dec 24 Xmas Eve: I can’t realize it. The only thing that makes one think at all about it are the Xmas parcels. No mail for 2 days. Rumour that the shrapnel is blocked with mines. Going on carrying party to the trenches tonight. Had a tremendous amount of rain last night; it came through the roof of this shack and drenched half of us.
Dec. 25: A Merry Xmas at Kemmel huts, we all made the most of the day, dinner was steak … and gravy. Plum pudding and condensed milk. Some dinner or what! The day was spent in cards and smoking and drinking. A few went out on fatigue in the evening, … anyway we all had a good time…
Dec. 26: More rain again last night. We have had a lot of rain this last week.
Dec 27: Came to the school last night. They sent me off on a wood fatigue yesterday morning to Locre, we got there too late and came back. Was on fatigue all this morning, very muddy up in the front line. Last night they sent over some aerial torpedoes into the Glory Gate, raised blazes killing two and wounding three…. They are pretty bad things, same kind that nearly got me.
Dec. 29: Come into trenches tonight, nothing to report.
Dec. 30: Last night they sent over 3 torpedoes into G 4. Killed two men and wounded 8, caved in the best dugout in all the lines, several of the boys were buried alive. Harvey in the MGS was wounded in the leg. Kurke Louekas had the most miraculous escape of all, he was buried alive for 4 hours and got out without a scratch, of course his nerves were shot… several platoons walked over him before they dug him out. The only man I ever pictured dead and came to life again he was very numb when they got him out but quite conscious. The sausage blew up a machine gun and the C S was blocked up for quite a time as they were carried out on stretcher. It certainly was a disastrous bomb.
Dec 31: Today the artillery was extremely active, our guns sent over a tremendous amount of heavy high explosive shells the enemy never replied at all until about 2 o’clock when they started in sending a bunch of whiz-bangs! I had just found a pair of gloves and knowing Brudenell was out of them I went done the line and gave them to him.
On the way back I stopped to watch the whiz-bangs busting up in our part of the trench. All of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion about 20 yards from me… I hugged mother earth like a shot with one word in my head -Sausage! It certainly shook things up, trembling like a leaf I … round the corner to go up to my bay further away on the left. I didn’t take very long to get up there as expected another one very shortly.
Sure enough as soon as I got there we heard the pop of the gun as they fired the next one and everybody yelled, here comes another. They take sort of a diagonal course from the German trenches they go to a least two hundred feet into the air and it’s practically impossible to tell where they are going to land.
Anyway acting under the general rule, we ran up the trench towards it when it was at its height somebody thought it was coming straight towards us and started to run back again then there was a general mix up and we all got down in the mud, we could see by this time that it was passing over our heads so just waited for the explosion which followed as soon as it hit the ground. Then all got up and watched for the next one.
The suspense of the thing is the world and absolutely gets your goat. They sent over 8 all together, all practically falling in the same place. This took about 2 hours before they stopped. My neck was sore form looking heavenward for them.
Well, A Co. is lucky, may it continue so not a man was hurt. After the first three everybody kept their heads and did all they could to dodge them. The only trouble is they are very hard to judge as they go up practically straight and come down the same.
Well we have come out to “The Farm”. It’s night, being relieved by C Co. joining M on fatigue tonight to take up rations.
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Grim life in First World War trenches emerges in diary of 19-year-old soldier
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