Published: October 26, 2010
Soldier's forgotten war diary auctioned by grandsons

The forgotten diary of a First World War soldier was sold by his Burnham-On-Sea family during a special historical auction in Bristol on Tuesday.

Private Bert Camp survived Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme and was wounded twice and once reported as 'killed in action' - yet kept returning.

In lulls in fighting, the Royal Horse Artillery gun carriage driver wrote of the horror and heroics and in one early diary entry he tells of a battle near Ypres.

He wrote: "At about 8am, the cavalry reported a large force of Germans was coming in our direction, so we 'stood to' by the guns. We saw them in thin grey masses coming along, a fine target for artillery."

"We started, opened fire on them and as soon as we had got the range, we started sending shrapnel into them as fast as we could fire."

"It was murder, as we could see the shells bursting from where we were and they were tearing holes into the ranks of the German infantry. Still they came on."

The next day Bert saw fierce fighting at Passchendaele when the British and French cavalry charged.

He wrote: "The Germans started shelling... and for two hours we had a lively time of it. Horses were getting killed and wounded, also drivers and gunners."

"One team of black horses and the three drivers were smashed up into a pulp as a shell burst in amongst them."

"I shall never forget the sight when the smoke cleared away, you couldn't recognise anybody as the flesh of the man was mixed up with the horse."

"My riding horse had his nose blown off and was still alive. I shot him and put him out of his agony."

Bert was sent back to Britain for treatment to a leg wound after his horse was shot from under him at Zonnebeke.

Six weeks later he reported back for duty - only to be told he had been listed as 'killed in action'.

He returned to the frontline in 1915 but was hit in the leg and spent nine weeks recovering. Bert's war ended in 1917 after his wounded leg got infected.

He left the Royal Horse Artillery in 1920 and worked as a market porter, and died in 1971 aged 83.

His grandsons Roy and Stephen Smith, from Burnham-On-Sea, found his yellowing diary rolled inside a cardboard tube. Roy said this week: "Our grandfather was a wonderful man. He was a fun-loving character who liked a drink, a smoke and a regular bet on the horses."

"My brother and I were absolutely captivated when we discovered his diary because his descriptions of the horror and heroism of the First World War are so vivid it seems as if you are almost there on the battlefield."

Auctioneers Dreweatts sold Private Camp’s items in Bristol during a militaria auction for £1,400 to a trade buyer.


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