The poignant diary that reveals the war journey of County Durham soldier

Thomas Pascoe's diary, photographs, and his letters and postcards home, were donated to Beamish Museum in the 1980s by his daughter Mary

Thomas Pascoe
Thomas Pascoe

What has emerged from the First World War centenary is that behind the thousands of names on the thousands of memorials are thousands of personal stories.

Often dramatic, tragic, inspiring and poignant, they have remained untold and only now, with the anniversary a catalyst, are some surfacing from a century ago.

Thomas Pascoe is a case in point.

When war arrived, he was working at a County Durham mine as an engine planeman and was married to Elizabeth.

They had a daughter, Mary, and lived at Wood Row in Beamish.

Thomas was a member of Beamish Methodist Church and St John Ambulance.

In March 1915, he joined the 1st Field Ambulance of the Royal Naval Division, a land-based naval unit.

Thomas began keeping a notebook diary.

That diary, photographs, and his letters and postcards home, were donated to Beamish Museum in the 1980s by Mary.

There could not have been a more apt place. Thomas grew up in Eden Terrace, Urpeth, near Beamish, and his church has been rebuilt at the museum.

His diary has featured as part of a three-day programme of events, which continue today, at the museum to mark the centenary.

It provides an insight into the lives of men suddenly uprooted from job, home and family and pitched into unimaginable circumstances.

In Thomas’s case, it was the fighting at Gallipoli and then France.

Thomas had resolved to create a positive by sending postcards and coins back to Mary.

Thomas Pascoe's diary (left) and daughter Mary (right)
Thomas Pascoe's diary (left) and daughter Mary (right)
 

In one letter he wrote: “Enclosed is a Turkish sixpence. I think you will be getting quite a collection of coins by now.”

On another card: “Dear Mary, Just a line to let you know that I am keeping in the pink. The drawing on the other side represents Tommy chasing the Turk around the tree with hand grenades. It is drawn by the same young man who drew the others.”

Page one of his diary begins: “We left Beamish station on Wednesday morning on the 24th March 1915 for Newcastle to be examined by the doctor.

“We had to be at the station at 10.30 and left at 10 to 11 o’clock for Blandford (camp in Dorset) we travelled all night and arrived in London at King’s Cross at 6.30. We then went and had breakfast, we had to go and catch a train at 10 to 9 o’clock for Blandford.

“There was about 20 of us who left Newcastle together and we kept together all the way, we arrived at Blandford at 12.30 tired out. When we arrived there was no one to meet us, so we had to enquire our way up to camp about 4 miles walk.

“When we arrived they gave us tea and bully beef and bread my first experience of bully but not the last.

“We then were put into a hut to sleep each hut holding about 50 men we had each 2 blankets and a bag of straw and 3 board raised 6in off the floor to lie on.

“We thought it was very hard to lie on I can tell you.

“On Good Friday we had our first route march and we went about 10 miles and we all had new boots on we knew about it.”

After training they left the camp by train for Exeter.

“We reached Exeter where we each received a bottle of tea and a packet containing a swanwich (sic) and a piece of spice loaf and an orange and a packet of tabs.” They set sail on the Ascania for the horrors of the invasion beaches of Gallipoli. The voyage had its high and low points.

“At 10 o’clock we arrived at Gibraltar. I thought it was one of the finest sights I had ever seen when we entered the harbour. “

Then: “I thought that Gibraltar was grand but it could not be compared with the sight in Malta harbour, the great man of war ships lying and the great guns, well it was a sight in a life time.

“ We lay in the harbour all day. Our ship was surrounded by small boats selling all kinds of things. There were several large French warships came in we all stood to attenshon (sic) and their bands were playing. It was one of the sights I shall never forget.”

But it was a hungry journey.

“We received a very small loaf of bread and nearly every day it was sour and we could not eat it and margarine for breakfast and weak coffee at dinner.

“Our first course was supposed to be soup but it was only coloured water then we had potato and meat we could not eat.

“We had fish which we threw out of the port holes. We could not bide the smell never mind the taste. Twice we had liver, once I was able to eat it and the other time I had to throw it away.”

After landing in Gallipoli, Thomas writes: “I had not arrived in camp when I saw a Pelton Fell man.

“The Turks started firing into our camp and one of the shells went into a dugout and killed one of our men belonging to South Moor, (John Jeans born at Brandon, husband of Isabella of Pine Street, South Moor). “It cast a gloom amongst all our men. A Turkish shrapnel burst above our heads and wounded our officer and 3 of our men.

“Our officer Ser Steward (seems to be Surgeon Thomas Louis Grenet Stewart died 4/6/15, aged 27, Royal Navy) died of his wounds which he received that afternoon.

“The stray bullets and the shrapnel were flying all around us when we left the dressing station. On one case we took away we got safely down to the next station, as we were coming back a wounded man was walking down just as we got up to him he threw up his arms and we found that he was shot in the back,

“We had to carry him away and as we were going back again a young man was following me up when I heard him give a groan and we caught him before he fell shot through the head.

“We had to dress him and take him back, it was awful we had 17 of our men wounded and our officer and I heard some of our men say that they prayed more at that time than they had done for many a year. We kept wondering who would be the next to fall.

“On several occasions Turkish airplanes came over and dropped bombs about our camp.

“July 7th. R Ellison (Richard, Corporal, Royal Marines, Medical Unit, born Birtley, wife Lily of Standerton Terrace, Craghead) died belonging to Craghead.

“On July 12 a heavy bombardment took place. The bombardment was awful in fact it was hellish, we were carrying cases down for 71 out of 77 hours. We had about 1,400 wounded cases through our hands.”

One of the cards from Gallipoli sent home by Thomas Pascoe
One of the cards from Gallipoli sent home by Thomas Pascoe
 

On January 1, Thomas and his unit were pulled out of Gallipoli and thankfully boarded their ship.

“We set sail from the peninsula about 12 o’clock which I do thank God for. “

They arrived at the base on the island of Mudros. “I cannot describe to you our feelings when we found ourselves clear of shot and shell after over 7 month under fire.

“We were allowed in the village. We did enjoy ourselves, it was a sight to us seeing the children playing in the streets and when we got among the stalls we were like a lot of boys let loose.

“The villages are very old fashonest (sic) they are all built dry and plastered with mud and the people are dressed old fashion, you would just say they had dropped out of some bible pictures. They plough the fields with oxen. I also saw lambs running about and chickens and it the beginning of January.”

Then it was by boat to France and a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

The diary recounts a series of marches from one location to another. The unit served at the Battle of the Ancre, the Arras offensive, the Second Battle of Passchendale, and the Third Battle of Ypres.

“On Monday morning the R or D went over the top at 10 min to 6 o’clock, we were kept busy we had over two thousand cases through our hospital wounds and shell shock. Every patient that went through had as many sandwiches and cocoa to eat and drink as they wanted.

“We had a heavy casualty list in our ambulance. One officer and 2 corporals and 4 men were killed and 23 injured, one of cooks were killed and 4 injured so the cookhouse suffered heavily.”

The last entry describes eight days of marching.

On December 23, 1917, Thomas was wounded by a German bomb. He died on January 4, 1918, at hospital in Rouen. He was 36.

A report in his local paper, the Chester Chronicle, said: “He has given his life in the service of his fellow brothers. He did his work wholeheartedly in the service of mankind.”

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