News

Diary is a window into a world at war

By McIvor Times

TOOBORAC’S John Dickinson will spend Remembrance Day this Sunday thinking of three special men who risked it all for his country.

John’s grandfather Tom, and Tom’s two brothers Archie and Walter, fought bravely in World War I.

Unlike some, John doesn’t have to imagine what his relatives went through, how they were feeling, or where they went, because his grandfather wrote it all down.

Tom’s war diary has made its way through the family, and now, 100 years later, rests in John’s Tooborac safe.

“It’s special to have it, it’s part of history, you know?” John said.

Walter and Archie were part of the 21st Battalion, Tom was part of the 38th, each of them suffering different fates.

Walter was killed in action on March 20, 1917. Archie, serving in the same unit, lost an arm at Pozieres, France. Tom came home unharmed physically, but as everyone now knows – war was so much more than that.

John said long after Walter’s death, his legacy still lived on.

“The type of man Walter was, he offered a prisoner of war a drink of water and was made to forfeit seven days’ pay,” he said.

Before Walter was killed, he wrote to his family members in Heathcote from Cairo in June 1915.

“We have reached our destination, for a time at least, and I am in the best of health,” Walter wrote.

“We had a very good trip over. For a few days we were all about exhausted on account of there being so many on the boat, about 2200 in all.

“The situation is a long way more serious than you hear in Australia. There are about 12,000 Australians killed and a terrible lot wounded. There are four of the Heathcote fellows wounded.

“We may only be here a few weeks and we may be here months.. just as the fighting goes.. and I don’t care much now. By the time this reaches you I suppose I will be at Gallipoli.”

From the outside, Tom’s diary looks worn. Its cover has slowly started to split and the ends are frayed.

But the pages on the inside are still in incredibly good condition, and each page tells a chapter of a much larger story.

“I have been over there, to where they fought,” John said.

“I didn’t realise all of the red poppies in the fields, it’s hard to believe these poor buggers went over there to face everything they did.”

Fittingly, as Remembrance Day approaches, the diary talks mostly of the finish of the war, about Tom handing in his guns and surviving what a lot of men didn’t.

Tom, Walter and Archie all have different stories to tell of the war, and like plenty of soldiers who fought for Australia, most of them will never be heard.

John is grateful he can read and listen to Tom’s stories, he knows he is one of the lucky few who know what it was like for their relatives.

“This diary means a lot to us, a lot,” he said.

“It will be handed down the lines and we will make sure it stays in our family.”