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13 November 2014

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You are in: London > History > Remembrance > 90 Years of Remembrance

'For the wounded' courtesy of BFI National Archive.

90 Years of Remembrance

We look at the moving story of Private Hyram Clift. His diaries and letters detail life in the trenches during World War One and includes the harrowing letter written to his mother, to be read only in the event of his death.

Private Clift

  • Address: 7 Bridge Street, Greenwich, London
  • 1st Battalion Royal West Kent (13th Brigade, 5th Division)
  • Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in January 1916
  • Born December 1886
  • Died 19 July 1916






Private Hyram R. Clift

Private 'Reggie' Clift fought with the 1st Battalion Royal West Kent (13th Brigade, 5th Division) in France first as a bicycle orderly and then in the trenches. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in January 1916. He gives an impressionistic account of the Battle of Hill 60, and his diaries provide details of his experiences in the trenches and the surrounding villages in the months leading up to the Somme Offensive in which he was killed on 19 July 1916. He wrote several letters to his mother, including a note to be read only in the event of his death.

Diary: Near Biltey’s Ourcq and the Asine

14th September 1914
[...] I have a peculiar feeling telling me that I shall go under. My only anxiety is that you get this diary to read my last thoughts [...]. We have just been back for some ammunition to the village. The enemy have held this fiercely for 2 solid days and we can’t shift them. They are now shelling us with shrapnel. It is now 6pm and it is getting dark. I have just had the oddest tea I have ever has. 1 apple, 1 onion, and I chewed a little tea and get the taste of a cup. Oh I’m hungry. As it is getting dark I shall not write until tomorrow.

Private Clift

Private Clift

15th September 1914
[...] It was a cruel day yesterday. The British suffered awfully. 100 men out of 180 were either killed or wounded.  3 out of 5 officers were knocked out. There will not be many British Army returning to England if this war lasts three months. They talk about their S. African war where they had an engagement once in about 3 months. My regiment has had an engagement nearly every day. Yesterday’s was the most disastrous though. Actually washed my face for the first time in 6 days. It seems I have been in this hell for a lifetime instead of a week. I just get time to scratch a few lines in here while we halt. The rumour says that there is a peace conference sitting now. I don’t believe it but I wish to God there was, to put an end to this awful carnage. God has sent a nice day today. I wish he could send an Angel of peace. They talk of V.C heroes. I have seen the V.C earned a dozen times this week. Only yesterday an R.E officer worked continuously taking wounded over on my raft for 12 hours. His hands and arms were red raw, and he was under heavy fire all the time. But no notice will be taken of heroic actions in the war. The generals have other things to do. I am still working the raft bringing and taking parties from one shore to the other and under gun and rifle fire. I get a few minutes to spare occasionally though. It is about 9pm now and this battle has been raging for 72 hours. I thank god I am alive! [...]

16th September 1914
Into the trenches. As the trenches were very shallow we started to dig them deeper. The ground where we are digging is hard as rock and the work is very hard. My hands are covered in blisters and I am smothered in chalk. But is worth all the inconvenience and dirty work to be safe from those wicked shells [...].

Diary: An impression of the attack of Hill 60.

(Thought to be the first offensive of 17.4.1915)
1 minute passed. Has something gone wrong? All is silent. One loud blast on a whistle followed by an awful numbing shock which was followed by 3 more at about two seconds interval then every cannon or gun in the world, so it seemed, let forth a continual stream of shells of all calibre, from the eighteen pounder just behind the six inch guns miles back interspersed with this crack, crack, crack of rifles and machine guns. How is it going? Is the planning and working of months past to be rewarded with victory? […] Hell is let loose, for hardly two minutes gone by before the enemy’s guns were pounding and crashing their shells on every yard of space immediately behind the scene of operations. It seemed that nothing would live through it all.

R.D ‘The hill has been taken with small losses digging is in progress, operation entirely successful’.

Then commenced the long stream of wounded and prisoners which was kept up throughout that awful night. Not once did the guns and rifles stop their impossible din.

"Actually washed my face for the first time in 6 days. It seems I have been in this hell for a lifetime instead of a week."

Diary entry, 15th September 1914

At dawn this increased to pandemonium. Would it never stop would they continue till not a living thing remained to tell the tale? One found after dawn the report came through:

‘Our firmly entrenched, communication trenches have been dug. Several counter attacks have been attempted but no determined counter attack has yet been made, the hill is ours what nerve got will hold!’

Letters

You can read the letter written by Private Clift to his mother and the letter from E.Young by using the link below;

last updated: 20/10/2008 at 15:47
created: 14/10/2008

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