Diary reveals a Tommy’s frontline life

A FIRST-HAND account of the fighting in a first world war battle has been revealed for the first time by a Felpham woman.

Kate Allen wanted her late father’s diary of the Battle of Gallipoli to be known as the commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the war approach.

The immaculately-written pages by Private Arthur Rayfield, of the Worcestershire Regiment, unflinchingly tell of the horrors of the fighting in 1915.

His regiment approached the Crimean peninsula in a succession of smaller boats on April 25, 1915.

They were rowed ashore amid a hail of bullets from the Turkish enemy. Two men in his boat were killed.

“We were under fire all the time and could see men struggling in the water, their equipment holding them down to eventually drown,” he notes.

“I saw many brave deeds done that day. The sea near the beach was red.”

He and his comrades managed to reach the beach. They fixed bayonets and charged the Turks defending the top of the beach.

The English soldiers reached them only to find another line of enemy soldiers in a further trench 20 yards back.

The regiment dodged their fire and stormed that trench as well just before nightfall.

“We kept up a repeat fire all night repelling their attacks,” recalls Pte Rayfield, “and I and others think that was all that saved us as, if the enemy had only but known our strength, and had the pluck, they could have driven us to London.”

The troops eventually reached the hill they were supposed to have taken on their first day after three days of intense fighting.

They were ordered forward but, to their surprise, found themselves sinking into a recently-planted rice paddy rather than marching on solid ground.

As they slithered and crawled their way through the quagmire, the Turks were constantly shooting at them.

“I and a chap next me had bullets in our packs,” says Pte Rayfield.

The scale of the slaughter can be seen from his description of burying 2,000 Turks on May 2 as the British forces battled onwards.

They got to Achi Baba Hill on May 6. And there Pte Rayfield’s war ended. He was wounded by shrapnel in an arm.

He was shipped to Cairo in Egypt and onwards to a hospital in Newell, Worcestershire, for an operation after which he wrote the diary on August 17, 1915.

He spent three weeks there before he was moved to a convalescent home. His family believe this could have been around Chichester.

Mrs Allen remembers her father being affected by shrapnel for the rest of his life, but he was able to use the affected arm.

He was accepted as a postman and spent the next 43 years delivering mail around his home in South London.

He had been a regular soldier and was believed to have been in his 20s during the first world war. A family photograph shows him in his regimental football team in 1914.

He was stationed in Burma when the war began that August and spent that Christmas in Calcutta on his way home back to England.

He arrived at Avonmouth Docks in Bristol in February 1915 and stayed in Leamington until March 20 when his journey to Gallipoli began.

“I don’t remember him talking about the war,” said Mrs Allen, 83, of Homefield Avenue.

“I found his diary several years ago among some family photographs and I couldn’t believe it.

“With all this talk of the war’s 100th anniversary, I thought other people might be interested in it.”

Her father died in January 1959. Kate later moved to Felpham when she married her late husband, Bill.

If you have memories of relatives who experienced life during the first world war, we’d love you to share them with our readers.