Diary from the Battle of Passechendaele

Battle of Passchendaele
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA: Lydia shared her great-grandfather’s story with Victoria Derbyshire for her BBC2 show this week and BBC World Photo credit Lydia Lobb

LYDIA LOBB is the great-granddaughter of John Butcher, who served Australia for the Allied forces in World War 1.

John was wounded three times in action, at the battles of Pozieres, Bullecourt and Passchendaele. The latter’s 100th year anniversary is this year (July 31st 1917 – November 10th 1917) and it is also where he was severely wounded. He was subsequently sent back to England to receive an honourable discharge and returned to Australia where he married the following year and fathered four children. His eldest daughter, Lydia Butcher was to become the mother of six children. Lydia Lobb is the eldest child of her youngest daughter, Pam.

To mark the 100 year anniversary, Lydia has shared with us some excerpts from John Butcher’s diary and says:

‘It’s an incredible privilege to have this 100-year-old, first-hand account from a brave, but ordinary Australian man, without whom, of course, I wouldn’t be alive. 

Throughout my great-grandfather’s diary, I was particularly struck by his seeing beauty in his surroundings. Despite the hellish circumstances which brought him there, he is constantly remarking on the friendliness of the local people, the flora (he later became a great home gardener) and the wondrous sites of the places he was sent. 

I have been able to learn about his thoughts of his family – in particular his younger brother Rob who he talks of twice in the context of wishing that he never has to be involved in war. 

I also learned a little more of the timeline – or, his personal timeline – of World War 1. He was injured first in the battle of Pozieres and was sent back to the UK. After recovering and being sent back to the front, he was then injured again in the Battle of Bullecourt. Once more he came to England to recover and finally, was sent back again to fight – this time in the Battle of Passchendaele. He then suffered a severe head wound which would subsequently leave him with partial paralysis on one side for the rest of his life. Despite this injury, he refused to take a veterans pension and worked for the rest of his life at the Melbourne Board of Works. 

My family have told me that they feel very lucky that he returned able to still have a laugh and remained a kind, patient man. You hear so many stories of returned soldiers who were, justifiably, never the same. My family have said that they’re sure he had his demons but yet their memories are all of his warmth.’

JULY 12TH 1916
Hope that Rob will never be in the same tonight that I was (Rob being the younger brother whose birthday fell on 12th July). Colonel Fethers tells us we will soon be in it. ”For King and Country” not so nice as it sounds. Looks well in books and on paper, honour rolls etc, but should be tried first.

JULY 27TH 1916 – during the battle of Pozieres, just prior to John being injured for first time:

Slept in shell hole. Country ruined with shell holes. German dugouts very deep and well made. Dead bodies and pieces of same lying about. Artillery all around us, 18 pounders 4.7 and 5 inch guns galore. On ration fatigue to 22ND Battalion through shell fire. Tommies, Australians and Germans lying dead all along the road. Shall consider myself lucky if I get through.

AUGUST 1ST 1916 – the day John was injured during battle of Pozieres:

Back from fatigue at daybreak. Had a good breakfast and also some rum. On fatigue again at night but got hit on the way up. Crawled into dressing station and waited for stretcher bearers.

MAY 3RD 1917 – the second time John was injured during Battle of Bullecourt

Over the top. A great sight. Fritz’s barrage ahead of ours. Our guns splendid also men. Enemy’s barrage solid also his M.G’s. Men dropping but we push on to barbed wire which is blown to pieces. Get a crack and make back through a hellish barrage. Notice effects of enemy bombardment etc. Fine to see the manner in which carriers, stretcher bearers and others advance. Reach Casualty Clearing Station about noon and depart for Rouen, arriving there in the morning of the 4TH.

After he recovered, John writes:


Warned for draft to proceed overseas. Raining like the devil. Read of another big battle on the Western Front

Note – this warning above referred to Battle of Passchendaele

Took over line from 7TH Brigade. Wounded about midnight.

Lydia highlighted the next entries as the most stirring for her – they were her great-grandfather’s final entires

Starting the new year well by going home. Last year nearly frozen, this year dodging the sun as far as possible. No late train this time.

Noticed the Southern Cross for the first time since the last time!!!!

Land sighted about 3PM. Disembark on Tuesday (12th February).
Oh. Happy. Day.


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