Private James Beatson was a Scottish civil servant, who enrolled in the 9th Royal Scots on 19 August 1914, and served on the Western Front from the start of 1915 until his death on the Somme in 1916. During 1915 he kept a diary in which he recorded the events of the year, in a literate style that suggests they were intended to be read by others.
The diary was owned by Beatson's niece May for ninety years, before in 2006 being auctioned at Sotheby's. At auction it was bought by Shaun Springer, while Stuart Humphreys was one of the defeated bidders. Nine months after the auction Humphreys got in contact with Springer and the two men agreed to publish the diary, with the proceeds going to Starlight Children's Foundation and St Dunstan's, a charity that supports blind ex-servicemen.
The diary covers the period from Beatson's departure from Edinburgh at the end of February 1915 and his arrival in the trenches, to the last days before his return to Scotland on leave in December of the same year. Sadly Beatson did not survive the war. After his return to the front he probably started a new diary, but this was lost when he fell during the battle of the Somme, taking part in a pointless attack on a strongly defended German position.
Beatson is a very literate diarist. His own style is clear and very readable, and he includes quotes from a wide range of sources, from Jerome K. Jerome to John Milton. What makes the diary so interesting is that Beatson was a very humane person, who could sympathise with the French and Belgian villagers whose homes were in the middle of the fighting, and with the individual German soldiers he was fighting. At the same time he had some fairly strong opinions about the Kaiser, the Prussian element in German society, and the rural French!
The result is one of the most impressive pieces of writing to come out of the trenches, a thoughtful piece of work that hints of a remarkable potential talent lost on the Somme.
Foreword by Henry Allingham
Part I: Arrival and Life in the Trenches
Part II: The Second Battle of Ypres and its Aftermath
Part III: The Conversation
Part IV: Rumours and Rats
Author: James Beatson
Editors: Shaun Springer and Stuart Humphreys
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military