WW1: An exceptional diary written over 93 pages including sketches of trenches and enemy emplacements by Second Lt. John Oxenham Lawson, second in command of Z Company 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers covering the period September 1st 1914 to June 1915. Lawson was born in June 1895 and attended Uppingham School from 1910-14. He joined the army shortly afterwards and was seriously wounded at the Battle of Bellewaarde, which took place on the 16th June 1915. He is featured in the definitive book of the battle by Carole-McEntee Taylor The Battle of Bellewarde June 1915, a copy of which accompanies the lot. This handwritten diary contains Lawson's first person account of his war from arriving in France culminating in Bellewarde and the ensuing carnage where over 1000 men died within a 12 hour period on a battle field approximately ½ mile square.
The diary also contains transcript copies of letters by Lawson that he sent home (69 pages). The entries include his account of the Battalion in action at Pernes, Bes Plomeran, Herlies, Petre, Bailleul Neuve Chapelle & Hooge, Hermitage Chateau, Kemmel and Rosendaal Chateau (1st Battle of Ypres). Most importantly it gives a most detailed daily description of trench life warfare which include his comrades being killed in front of him, a sample of which are below:
7th October "Warned at 3am that we were to proceed to join the Battalion".
Monday 26th October (First Battle of Ypres) "About 2.45pm we were shelled most furiously for about half an hour, about 345 Germans began to advance and soon after 4pm we had to retire up a communication trench, The Royal Fusilier's were on our right had also retired. Only six men of 13 Platoon got back and Barnsley was left severely wounded in our trench. Germans continued to advance from here I lost all count of time and Captain Gordon worked the machine gun on them himself. Nummley attempted a counter attack but his men got caught up in the wire fence and he was shot before he could get out. It was dark but we could see hundreds coming out of the orchard and the communication trench, hundreds must have been killed and wounded.
Sunday 1st November 1914 (Battle of Messines) Marched off soon after 5am, halted at Wytschaete road. We were to attack village with Lincolns, Y and Z Company in support. We advanced and halted , wounded men began to stream down the road, we started to dig in but were told to retire as the attack had failed, Lamb killed, Capt. St John badly wounded, London missing.
Sunday 15th November Called to HQ at 330 am, told Z Company was to retake trenches lost by KOYLI which consist of some stables with 30 yds. of trenches either side. A gun was brought up to within 100 yds. of the stable with Z company forming behind. Sgt Major Gilburn with 30 men charged the trenches and retook them, Sgt Major was killed and awarded the DCM.
4th December The King was here, a party of 50 men who had been here long and an officer had to be present, as Captain Gordon was on leave I was the officer who took the party. Before he gave the medals he walked around the ranks of men accompanied by the Prince of Wales and a tremendous staff. The Prince of Wales walked at the rear eating chocolate all the time, very bad form I thought.
The diary then goes on to describe a further six months of Lawson's war in great detail showing the endless mud & rain, informative notes on other units in the Brigade etc. 'billeted at Rosendaal Chateau, whole place shelled to pieces . . had very fine Louis XV chairs to sit in & lovely china . . . a strange contrast!' to first person accounts of some of the most important battles of the first part of 1915. The final entries surround Bellewaarde and Wednesday June 16th 1915, that fateful first day.
Wednesday June 16th 1915 (Alongside a sketch of the area) in part reads: Bombardment began at 2am and lasted practically without stop till 4am. A stop of about a minute and then the intensive bombardment began. This lasted till 4.15am and then W,X and Y Coys went forward, all of the Huns came in without any attempt to resist. When the others went in we "Z" went forward. There was a sunken road halfway to the German line and this caused a lot of trouble as machine guns were laid down on it. We soon went on again got up to the communication trench C to Trench B (See Opposite) We then went across the open trench C which was only 2 feet deep and no good. We got to work on that and I then went along the left behind W. I passed Sloper at X, very dizzy having just been hit through the nose. Going along the back of the trench at Y I got hit through the arm, Sandilands and Scrutton took me up, an orderly then took me back to the dressing station.
Lt Lawson's injury was so severe that he left the army, after the war joined the Colonial service, he died in September 1981 aged 96. This lot is without doubt on the most important diaries we have auctioned due to the phenomenal detail that Lt Lawson has chronicled his time in the trenches.
£8000 - 12000 Click here for details of BP and other fees payable on this lot.