Grandad’s diaries, part I

My Dad recently discovered a whole box of my Grandad’s (his Dad’s) diaries, and we’ve been enjoying reading them.



I’m currently reading Grandad’s 1918 diary, containing writings from when he was in WWI.

No, that’s not a typo. That does say “World War ONE”.

My Grandad was born in 1895. He was 60 when my Dad was born, which means he was 83 when I was born. Thankfully, he lived to be 93, so he was part of my life for 10 years.

July 1917. At the age of 22, and not long after he had married his first wife, Grandad’s name was drawn by ballot to serve in WWI. He had taken the oath of allegience when he joined the NZ Army as a young man, but refused to take the oath to bear arms because he didn’t want to kill anyone. Instead, he was enlisted to work as a Medical Officer in a British hospital, looking after NZ soldiers injured in the war.

On 31 December 1917, Grandad’s ship left the shores of NZ, bound for Great Britain. This journey took them almost 2 months.

He wrote in his 1918 diary from January to April, and then stopped (we don’t know why). Obviously, the war ended on 11 November of that year, so at most he would have served less than 12 months.

I want to record Grandad’s diary entries here on my blog, so they are preserved for future generations to read. I will do this in installments.

So … here are some of his entries during his first fortnight at sea:


Tuesday 1 January, 1918
Rose at 6AM.
Was obliged to go right up on deck and there to stay all day. Unable to take any food.
Will (a friend) waiting on me as though I was his wife. I was so ill I could not take much notice of his kindly help, although I appreciated it greatly.

Wednesday 2 January, 1918
Reveille 5AM. Hammocks to be rolled with blankets and placed in racks.
Physical drill on deck from 6 to 7AM.
I took courage and went below and had a little breakfast. Feeling a lot better.
9-45AM. Stretcher drill, fireman’s lift, etc. This was a bit sore on a weak stomach, and made me feel a little squeamish.

Thursday 3 January, 1918
Not well enough to write.

Friday 4 January, 1918
Same as Thursday.

Saturday 5 January, 1918
Rose 5-45AM. Went right up on deck.
6 to 7AM. Physical drill. Still feeling sea sick, didn’t attempt to go down for breakfast.
Gun practice on with 6″ gun astern. Threw out a target and had 3 shots at it, firing remarkably close but did not strike it.
At 4PM there was an alarm sounded, and men went nearly mad rushing after life belts. One had to be careful to not get downed and trampled on. When all got to the boats and rafts, the men were numbered and then dismissed.
False alarm, which is enough for me.

Sunday 6 January, 1918
Reveille as usual. Sea a little rough, still feeling crook. Reported sick and got a dose of medicine.
1st week at sea spent very miserably.

Monday 7 January, 1918
Better morning, sea a good deal more calm. The sea looks nice and blue, showing no white tips. Still, I enjoy a motor ride better than this trip.
Had a lesson (by one of the Sisters) on how to make a bed for patient. Also how to sponge patient.
The thought of 5 or 6 weeks on water is not a nice one.

Wednesday 9 January, 1918
Wakened by sailors washing down the deck at 5.20AM.
Had a good night’s rest, sleeping up on deck, getting plenty of fresh air, feeling very much better today, and getting some appetite.
Had some stretcher drills as well as lecture by Captain.
Sports this afternoon.

Thursday 10 January, 1918
Beautiful morning, after a very warm night. Came out very hot about 7-30AM.
Put in an hour and a half at bandaging.
No drill this afternoon. Tropical showers, heavy at times.

Saturday 12 January, 1918
Fine morning again. Sun hot but atmosphere nice and cool through breezes. Sea very calm. A few flying fish beginning to put in an appearance above water.
This day ends another week at sea, and takes us one more week nearer home, if not on earth.
Praise the Lord, it is one week nearer our heavenly home.

I was amazed to read about how sea sick he was, and how little he ate during his first few days at sea – it must have been hard for him! Later on, he doesn’t mention it as much, so I assume he eventually got used to it, or else the weather conditions improved a lot as they got further north!?

I feel so privileged to be able to read Grandad’s diaries. Reading them makes me happy, makes me feel closer to him, and makes me wish he were still here today. I miss him. I know he would have loved my boys, and they would have loved him. But I look forward to the day when I will see him again, in heaven.

Next time I will share some of the funny things that happened on the boat. The way Grandad wrote about some things really made me laugh!

21 thoughts on “Grandad’s diaries, part I

  1. That is so fascinating, Hannah, and what a family treasure.

    My grandfather (Dad’s father – was in his mid 40s when Dad was born) fought in France in WWI, but he didn’t appear to keep a diary. He also shipped out in 1917. He fought in France.

    You know how I research family history? Well, did you know that you can get your grandfathers whole military history/records from Archives NZ?

    When I sent for my grandfathers you were allowed one free one per year. Not sure if that is still the case.

    Well worth checking out.

    Think it would be interesting to compare the official records with what he has recorded in his diary.

  2. What a gift you have been given! This gives me hope that someday my kids and grandkids might give a hoot about what I write🙂

    I look forward to the next installment.

  3. wow what an amazing keepsake…
    i recently looked at my gran’s albums and was impressed by all the details inside… that for me is also gold!!!!

  4. What a treasure! I am so happy you are sharing them with us.

    Wow a baby at 60? Several of my grandparents had kids in their 50’s (even one of my grandmothers), but 60! The old rogue!

  5. That is an excellent surprise. Treasure it, as it is something many of us don’t have. I remember I found some small flags from my Granddad, which I had never knew about. It was really unearthing.

  6. Pingback: Grandad’s diaries, part II « Blairs Boys

  7. Hi Hannah, we have not met yet, but I’m Delwyns husband!

    Is there any mention of the name of the ship that your Grandad was on?

    This is a great piece of history for your family and thanks for taking the time to post it!


  8. Pingback: Lest we forget … | Blairs Boys

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