In clearing the house of a deceased relative in Stony Stratford prior to it’s sale I came across the diary tucked away between a lot of other old books which were to be thrown away. Something made me look a little closer and, discovering that it was written by hand in pencil, I took it home to read.
It turned out to be the diary of Private Leonard Lewis Kilcoin of the first battalion of the Irish Guards. He describes his experiences day by day, from his call up to Wellington Barracks through his actions in the first months of the war. He describes vividly his part in the battle and retreat from Mons. He stood in the market square of Ypres as the shells rained down on the Cloth Hall and describes the “Ruined town” . He suffered the trauma of shell shock and repatriation – unable to speak or hear.
I have spent many hours researching this man whom I feel I have got to know . I have visited the battlefields near Ypres where he fought , stood in the sunshine at Polygon Wood, the scene of so much horror and suffering all those years ago. It’s author has no known connection to our family and there is no clue as to how the diary came to be there.
No matter, it has allowed us to share the first few months of one mans experience of the Great War, It has been a privilege to hold it and read it and to have the opportunity to share it on a media that in 1914 would have been pure science fiction. Further research has told us a little more of the man who wrote it, but there are still many unanswered questions. It is my intention to commence publishing the daily entries on 14th August – one hundred years ago exactly after the day he made his first entry and the war to end wars began . I hope to publish each entry on the 100th anniversary of the day he wrote it so that you can share his experience. The latter part of the diary describes his recovery from shell shock and the individual days are (unsurprisingly) not identified. I will therefore publish those in larger sections.
The question then arises – Where should the final resting place of the diary be ? I was anxious that after surviving for a hundred years it should be protected for all time. I visited Ypres earlier this year and stood in the market place admiring the rebuilt Cloth Hall. This is the same building that Leonard Kilcoin saw being shelled and which now houses the magnificent In Flanders Fields Museum. The nearby fields are where so many of Leonard’s friends died and where he so nearly lost his life. It suddenly seemed absolutely the right place for the diary to be. I have therefore decided to present it to the museum and I am delighted to say that they are hoping to include it in a special exhibition which will be open from 4th October 2014 to 4th January 2015. Please visit their web site for more information http://www.inflandersfields.be/en