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Book Review: Some Desperate Glory

The WWI Diary of a British Officer Lt. Edwin Campion Vaughan

“A treasure”…Wall Street Journal

“Harrowing and searingly vivid”…Sunday Express, London

“A major new literary discovery…brilliant and harrowing“…Max Hastings

“An officer’s war diary to end all others.”…Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

“It felt quite pleasant to be dead. There was such utter quiet and peacefulness”…Lt. Edwin Vaughan

Book review sections historically are promoting new books. But I am going to break the mold by sharing some of my library favorites, old, unreviewed, out of print gems.

The goal here is to honor those who have done fabulous work by preserving what they experienced and learned for the rest of us, hoping that it might  save us some learning curve pain. We also want to serve our busy readers, many on information overload, by sharing out best finds with you.

Jim W. Dean

"Some Desperate Glory" "WWI" "Diary" "Jim W. Dean" "Vaughn"

Published in 1981…hidden for 40 years

Hidden for forty years, Lt. Edwin Vaughan’s detailed battlefield diary transports us into life and death in the WWI trenches. The Imperial War Museum has several thousand Great War diaries, a lasting testament to the rule that forbid them was circumvented by soldiers seeking life after death via their journals.

We are grateful to the professional historians who collect, condense and make readable sense out of the vast complexities of war. They are great time savers for the busy casual reader. But I learned many years ago that personal diaries hold the key to feeling what it was like to be there, versus learning about it. You can discover the difference in Vaughan’s journal.

The 19 year old second lieutenant has left us not one, but many messages in a bottle about the horrors and butchery of WWI trench warfare. The General Staff’s also made journal entries, like…’losses on the first day of attack, 50,000.’

Commanders who lost control of battles as artillery fire kept cutting their communications wires impatiently waited as runner after runner was dispatched to bring back a report from the lead attacking units. Most never returned. And when one finally did, only to report, ‘they’re are all gone, they’re are all gone’…the same generals who refused to believe it would send him to the shell shocked ward.

Back in England these disappearing 50,000 blocks of men had to be replaced. In the classic Colonel Reppington’s two volumes of diaries (1921) we have a top war correspondent’s first hand reports of how the grim reaper roamed the hillsides, factories and townships looking more young men to feed the awaiting graves of no mans land.

Col. Reppington’s work gives us a collective experience on the business of war, like factory owners and the draft commissions fighting over whether a factory worker would live or die. But Lt. Vaughan takes us right into the trenches, in an ethereal way. I had never read a diary like this, and you probably haven’t either. It is truly, a journey into hell.

Here are a few excerpts that show a young soldier sipping his life like the last glass of a good bottle of wine, and wanting to share the memory when it is all gone. He wanted us to know what it was like, what he saw…what he felt. When his dugout took a direct artillery hit and he thought he have been killed in the explosion:

“It felt quite pleasant to be dead. There was such utter quiet and peacefulness. Just a light singing in my ears, restful blackness around me, and a sense of absolute freedom and abandon…”
 Vaughan did not die during the war. A doctor killed him in 1931, mistakenly injecting him with cocaine, rather than Novocaine. But he did loose his men, a lot of them, in the most unpleasant ways:
“A mine had exploded here two days before in a house used as the HQ of the 4th Gloucesters. The CO, adjutant, second in command, padre, doctor and all the staff were killed.”
 “At the Epehy crossroads, we found a huge cat squatting on the chest of a dead German, eating his face. It made us sick to see it, and I sent two men to chase it away.”
“Descending again we found the skeleton of a kiddie about eight years old blown out of his grave. The dear little white skull was lying near the church steps and we picked it up and laid it with the other bones in the open grave.”
 “ The track we followed skirted Lagnicourt, which is out of bounds to everybody owing to there being 2,000 dead lying in and around the village.

Walking through a barrage: “We continued to move steadily across that muddy waste until I realized that we were walking into a curtain of fire…With my head just over the edge of my shell hole I lay blinking into the shrieking, crashing hail of death 30 yards in front…and fascinated I stared at that terrible curtain through which we must soon pass…I hoisted myself out of the mud and gave the signal to advance, which was answered by every man rising and stepping into the barrage. The effect was so striking that I felt no more that awful dread of the shellfire, but followed them calmly through the crashing, splitting hell until we were surrounded by bursting shells and singing fragments, while above us a stream of bullets added their whining to the general pandemonium. The men were wonderful!” 

“ From the darkness on all sides came the groans and wails of wounded men; feint, long, sobbing moans of agony and despairing shrieks. It was too horribly obvious that dozens of men with serious wounds had crawled into new shell holes, and now water was filling rising about them and, powerless to move, they were slowly drowning…Dunham was crying quietly beside me.”
“ We sent the 16 prisoners back across the open but they had only gone a hundred yards when a German machine gun mowed them down.”
Vaughan’s part of the Passchendaele battle, the Springfield farm, decimated his command:
“At about 9 am, I dragged myself wearily out to take a muster on parade on which my worst fears were realized…and out of 90 men, only 15 remained. So this was the end of D Company. Feeling sick and lonely I returned to my tent to write out my casualty report; but instead I sat on the floor and drank whisky after whiskey as I gazed into a black and empty future.”
After Vaughan died in 1931, his brother found his journal but hid it away so the young ones would not learn about ‘his drinking‘. God save the good soldier from family censors, the worst of the worst. And there it remained for 49 years.
 So seek out the old war journals. Do not let them be buried alive by becoming lost as they are living things and deserve a better fate. When something that could live forever is allowed to die, is it not a crime against humanity.
Our American soldiers were cruelly used in WWI. The European powers would have been forced to work out a peace when they ran out of men and money.  But the hapless leadership here at home with President Wilson, the treachery of the Zioinist Lobby, and the skill of the British propaganda
machine all combined to create a bigger disaster. 
The bastard child of WWII was the result of that illicit affair, but that was not the soldiers fault. It never is. But they had to die again  just the same, and then again, and again. 

View the original article at Veterans Today

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