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North Devon in 100 Objects: 53. Herbert Algar’s Diary

A handwritten First World War diary.

These First World War dairies were found in an attic in Plymouth.  They were written by Herbert Cecil Algar, a Trooper in the Royal First Devon Yeomanry.

Herbert Algar was a farm labourer from Cornwall.  His diary begins as he joins 6,000 other troops bound for the Mediterranean in September 1915.  They landed at Gallipoli, scene of some of the worst conditions of the War, where hundreds of young men were lost to dysentery and frostbite.

‘1915: Nov 27th

Awful snowstorm & frost during the night & all this day.  Our Squadron (D) had orders to hold on the first line at all cost.  Parapet & traverses fallen in.  Busy fitting them up again.  Good job too as it kept our circulation going.  Dreadfully cold I am.  Our men going off to Hospital in scores.  No sleep tonight.  Mon Dieu!  I am feeling absolutely numbed.’

The Regiment was evacuated to Egypt, and later fought in Palestine.  As a good west country chapel boy, Herbert knew his bible, and took the opportunity to visit some sights during this unexpected trip to the Holy Land.

‘1917: Nov 24th Resting. Went over & had a look around Gaza & Ali El-Muntar, the former place where Samson took away the City Gates & the latter where he dropped them on the hill – a distance of two miles.  Orders for a 15 mile march tomorrow.  Had overcoats & two days extra rations to carry.’

As his diary continues, Herbert records the disaster of El Foka, where his Regiment suffered 286 casualties, and their later movement through France.  It is a remarkable document.

‘1918: June 23rd

Had a big mail awaiting me. Had lovely parcel of pasties from Home.’

Herbert’s son, Eddie, gave us the diaries in 2014.  His father never spoke to him about the war.

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