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Remembrance Day: A soldier's diary - part 2

A soldier's diary - part 2

Themes: Remembering the victims of warfare. The anniversary of WW1.

Synopsis: 1915. Walter Bush continues his diary from the trenches. Walter had told his mother that the war would be over by Christmas.

But now, a year later, there's still no end in sight. Walter and Harry pass their time cleaning their equipment, doing guard duty and wondering what the Germans soldiers are doing in their trenches nearby.

Then come rumours that there will shortly be an attack. The big guns start shelling and Walter spends an anxious night, knowing that in the morning it will be their turn to 'go over the top'.

Walter's diary continues from a military hospital back in the UK. He can't remember much about the attack - only that the whistles blew and that he started running across no-man's land towards the Germans. Walter's part in the war is over, but he still has an important job to do.

Walter visits Harry Parker's mother to tell her that he was with Harry at the last and that his friend died without suffering. But in reality Walter doesn't have any idea how Harry died, only that his friend also went over the top and never came back. One things he is sure of though: that he will always remember Harry Parker and all the other comrades he served alongside.

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A soldier's diary - part 2 - supporting resources:

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Text of story

Wednesday, 6th January, 1915

I had told my mum that this war would be over by Christmas, but I was wrong. Christmas has been and gone and the war still ain’t over. It’s a new year now and there’s no sign of the end of it. Everything’s gone quiet. Nothing’s happening. Every day we just clean our rifles and stand guard. Dig more trenches, carry equipment about, but most of the time we’re just waiting.

We spend a lot of time listening and trying to guess what the Germans are doing. They’re only about the length of a football pitch away from where I’m sitting writing this now and when things are quiet you can hear them, really clearly. And d’you know what I reckon they’re doing? I reckon they’re doing exactly the same as us. Cleaning their rifles, digging trenches, carrying equipment about. The rest of the time it’s just waiting.

Harry’s doing his nut. He says he can’t stand waiting. Wants to get on with it and do some proper fighting. Me, I don’t mind waiting. I can wait for ever, me. Just as long as I never have to climb up that ladder.

Monday, 11th January

Everyone’s saying there’s going to be an attack. Everyone’s saying it’s coming soon. Any day now. Harry asked Sergeant Burton when it’d be but Burton wouldn’t say.

‘Let’s wait and see, shall we? They’ll tell us soon enough,’ he said.

‘But are we attacking them or are they attacking us?’ asked Harry.

‘Like I told you,’ said Burton. ‘Wait and see.’

I’ve noticed something odd. Lots of the men have started writing letters home.

It’s started. We’re on our way! First thing this morning the big guns started shelling the German front lines. Sergeant Burton said that means we’ll be attacking them tomorrow. All day the shells have been whistling over our heads and exploding in the German trenches.

But now it’s midnight and suddenly everything’s gone quiet. Everybody knows what this means. This is it. Tomorrow we go over the top. We’ve been told to check our equipment and get as much sleep as we can. ‘Course Harry’s sleeping like a baby as per usual but I know I won’t get a wink. I keep looking up at the stars and wondering where I’ll be this time tomorrow.

In the morning we’ll get breakfast at six. And then we’ll wait for the whistle.

Sunday, 16th May. Military Hospital. Hampshire

Can’t remember much about the morning of the attack. Standing there in the cold trench as light came up. Breathing heavy. Guts churning. Never been so scared in all me life.

Harry standing beside me. He’s yawning and scratching his chin like he was just waiting for an early morning bus and smiling at me and saying, ‘Don’t worry, mate. You’re going to be alright. Piece of cake this.’

And then we hear the whistles; hundreds of them all the way down the trench. Hands on the ladder and up I go over the top and out into the morning air and I run towards the Germans...and I run and I run, then suddenly - whoosh...

All the breath goes out of me. I feel like the ground has just picked me up and thrown me through the air and then everything goes black.

I wake up two weeks later in a field hospital. At first I think I’m dead but then I see a nurse and she give me a sip of water and tells me I’m going to be alright. ‘You’re one of the lucky ones,’ she says. ‘They won’t be sending you back to the trenches, that’s for sure.’

I tried to ask her what she meant, but I think I fell asleep before the words came out.

Saturday, 17 August, 1915. London

This afternoon I had to sit down on a bench near Harry’s house. I needed a rest before I knocked on his front door. The new leg is much better than the first one they give me, but I still haven’t got the hang of it and it hurts all the time. I can’t wait to unstrap it at the end of the day. I get tired and angry.

Mum says I have to be patient. Says I’ll get used to it. I don’t know if I ever will. ‘At least you came back,’ she keeps saying. ‘At least I’ve still got you.’

Harry’s Mum looked a lot older when she opened the door. And a lot sadder. We sat in the kitchen. She asked me if I was with him at the end. I said I was. She asked me if he’d suffered. ‘No,’ I said. ‘It was all over in a second.’

If you want to know the truth, I don’t really know how he died. I just know he went over the top with me that morning and he never come back. But I never told her that. ‘He never felt a thing,’ I said.

It’s not a nice thing to tell someone a lie but I had to.

I got up to go and she said, ‘You won’t forget him, will you, Walter? Promise me you’ll always remember him.’

And I promised I would. I told her I would remember him for ever. And this time I was telling the truth, ‘cos I won’t ever forget Harry Parker or any of the other blokes I served with. Some of them like me came home, some of them are still out there doing their bit and some of them...some of them ain’t never coming home.

But I remember them all ‘cos we was part of something together, something big. And I won’t forget a single one of them. Not ever.

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