Come on over, Fritz! WWI British soldier's hidden diary reveals amazing trench truces


Blackleaf
#1
With Remembrance Sunday approaching and people throughout the Commonwealth wearing red poppies, this is a time to remember the brave soldiers who fought for our freedoms in the world wars and other conflicts.

Now a diary, written by a British soldier, Sapper John T French, a tin miner from Redruth, Corwall, gives an insight into life in the trenches between 1915 and 1917.

It details how the British and German trenches were so close that the opposing sides were able to call temporary truces and hurl friendly banter at each other across No Man's Land. Remember, the soldiers were only following orders and had nothing personal against each other (on Christmas Eve 1914, the British and German armies even called a truce and played each other in a football match which, needles to say, the Germans won).

In one incident, a British soldier stood above the parapet to shout: 'Come on over, Fritz' in a comedy German accent. One of the enemy then called back - in a perfect English accent - 'No blooming fear'. Both sides then put their heads above the trench for half an hour to 'laugh and shout' at each other before 'heads went down and the war went on the same as usual'.

The three volumes were discovered among the possessions of Mr French's sister Emily following her recent death at the age of 99.

The diary also describes the horror of the trenches, such as removing 'piles of men' killed in action and 'shifting and ducking' bullets which scream 'like ten thousand devils on the loose'.


Come on over, Fritz! WWI soldier's hidden diary reveals amazing trench truces soldiers would call to yell names at each other

By Cher Thornhill
29th October 2009
Daily Mail

With shells screaming overhead and German snipers only 75 yards away, just staying alive was a remarkable achievement.

Yet huddled in the mud-filled trenches, Sapper John T French found the time to compile a remarkable diary.

Its pencil-written pages, in immaculate copperplate, give an astonishing insight into life on the front line between 1915 and 1917.


Remembered: A photo of John French beside his war diaries and medals

It details how the opposing trenches were sometimes so close that the two sides would call a temporary truce to exchange friendly insults across No Man's Land.

In one 'rather curious' incident, a British soldier stood above the parapet to shout: 'Come on over, Fritz' in a comedy German accent.

One of the enemy then called back - in a perfect English accent - 'No blooming fear'.

Both sides then put their heads above the trench for half an hour to 'laugh and shout' at each other before 'heads went down and the war went on the same as usual'.

The three volumes were discovered among the possessions of Mr French's sister Emily following her recent death at the age of 99.


Immaculate: An entry in one of John French's pencil-written war diaries


'Lost' journals: John's daily log of experiences on the front line between 1915 and 1917 have been discovered after the death of his sister


Post war: John French's family photo from 1918. Top row: Jim, Leonard, John, Dorothy, Harold, Eddie, Hyelma. Seated: May, mother Emily Anne, father John Hayne, Audrey. Front row: George and Ernie

They describe the horror of the trenches, such as removing 'piles of men' killed in action and 'shifting and ducking' bullets which scream 'like ten thousand devils on the loose'.


The 1914 Christmas truce

On Christmas Eve 1914, an amazing thing happened between the British and German armies near Armentieres, France.

A temporary truce was called by both sides and the soldiers sang Christmas carols.

British and German troops met each other in No Man's Lands, exchanging handshakes, cigarettes and showing each other their photos of their wives and girlfriends.

The two sides then played each other in a football match in sub-zero temperatures in No Man's Land.

The Germans won 3-2 and the truce gradually came to an end in the same way it had begun - by mutual consent.

But Mr French, a tin miner from Redruth in Cornwall, also writes about the enticing smell of frying bacon, the relief of a good 'sing song', and discovering watercress growing in a stream which 'went all right with bread and cheese'.

The sapper, who was awarded the Military Medal and the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery, even says the war is 'rather exciting' because 'you never know what's coming next'.


'Immensely proud': John's niece Wendy Dawe found three volumes of the journals after the death of his sister

Mr French was eventually promoted to second lieutenant. Although he was wounded in action, he survived the war, but developed TB and died in 1929 aged 37.

He married a young pianist named Eve during a spell in the U.S., but they are believed not to have had any children.

The diaries are now on display at the Redruth Old Cornwall Society Museum.




In the running: John pictured winning a half-marathon before the war

Mr French, one of 11 children, was born in 1892. He was a keen runner and before joining the Army was pictured winning a half-marathon - for which he was awarded a trophy worth five guineas.

He was sent to France in 1915 as a member of the 254th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers.

Strengths of World War I forces

Russia: 12 million
British Empire: 9 million
France: 8.5 million
Italy: 5.6 million
United States: 4.3 million
Japan: 800,000
Romania: 750,000
Serbia: 707,000

Number of killed

Russia: 1.7 million
France: 1.3 million
British Empire: 908,000
Italy: 650,000
Romania: 336,000
United States: 117,000


British machine gunners during World War I

His diaries describe some of the bloodiest battles of the Great War.

He spends his days and nights 'up to my knees in water' digging trenches just 75 yards away from Germans who throw a hail of bombs and grenades which 'go hizzing' around his head.


Vivid memories: John describes mortars which look like 'big sausages'

The men are forced to work in whispers as their tunnels weave between those of the Germans and they flee when chemical weapons descend like 'thick yellow fog'.


Award: John French, here pictured in his uniform, was awarded the Military Cross for Conspicuous Bravery

Enemy snipers, including one particular 'smart and hot' shooter, regularly kill his comrades.

Mr French describes the 'awful mess' of limbs sticking out of the ground and times when he is called to dig out men who have been trapped in mud and collapsed trenches.

Three days after the 'come on over, Fritz' incident, he writes: 'Up in orders today that any German looking over the parapet is to be shot and any man found talking to them is to be placed under arrest.

'This is the result of the affair a few mornings ago.' Mr French served at Ypres in 1917 - where one battle saw half a million men die - and he talks of the regular 'big pushes' and how 'there won't be many of us left at this rate'.

His entry for August 16, 1917, reads: 'Had a rather narrow escape.


Shell hit me full in the left side, ripped through my tunic but was stopped by my thick leather belt.

Escaped with nothing worse than a bruise.' Yesterday his niece Wendy Dawe, of Illogan, near Redruth, said his journals make her 'immensely proud'.

She added: 'It is in diaries such as this, made by men trying to do their bit, that we see how brave they were and what it was like trying to fight and survive.'

dailymail.co.uk
Last edited by Blackleaf; Nov 1st, 2009 at 02:05 PM..
 
gerryh
#2
it all means nothing..... it was all for naught..... "remembering" is meaningless. We still send our young to slaughter, even after all the slaughter that we are suppose to remember.
 
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