‘Just a normal Tommy’ - a modern way to remember a modest man

Have your say

HE was just an average ‘Tommy’ who served King and Country and rarely spoke about his experiences ever again.

Private George Kellett’s service as a sapper/trench builder in the Great War could easily have been forgotten had his relatives not kept his 1918 diary and an archive of family photos.

A hundred years on, Private Kellett’s life in France in 1918 is being commemorated in a thoroughly modern way through Twitter, the social networking site.

The digital medium, which restricts users to 140 characters per tweet, might have suited the Yorkshireman for he was fond of succinct diary entries.

Private Kellett wasn’t afraid to record the minute details of his life in a convalescent camp with many references to his fondness for playing draughts.

His diary adds weight to the old saying that war is ‘months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror’.

One entry says: “Went out burying dead Germans and dead horses.”

In another he writes: “Brought in two wounded Jerrys.”

Almost 50 years after his death, the diary tweets have captured an audience of almost 800 people.

His great niece Katharine Luford, 71, from Ilkley, is pleased that ‘Uncle George’ is being remembered in this way. She believes his unfussy diary entries reflected his modest nature.

After being demobbed he married Emma Horner and made a good living as a carpenter.

“It was a reflection of the sort of person he was. He kept himself to himself. With that generation of men, most of them kept it inside.

“He was a very kind man, a gentleman, hard working and modest. They (George and his wife) lived a quiet life in a way, never going very far afield, only as far as the Yorkshire coast.

“Perhaps they felt very fortunate when so many men didn’t come back. I never heard anything from him about his war service and I never heard anything from my mum either.

“It’s interesting to learn from the diary what he was doing day by day at that time. He was certainly a very capable and skilled joiner-carpenter.

“The diary records faithfully, but not emotionally, the day to day life. He gets on with it, doing his duty.

“For some reason we felt we could not just throw the diary away. My mother felt it was important to keep the archives and we felt it was important too.”

Katharine and brother Steven, 68, also from Ilkley, donated the diary to Wakefield Museum, which is handling Private Kellett’s twitter account and has put the diary and photos on display.

Museum curator John Whitaker says the diary reveals the monotony and the horror of life in France for a Great War soldier.

“There are a lot of routine details which are peppered with horror.

“He has been sitting in a convalescent camp on the edge of France, playing a lot of draughts. He occasionally mentions friends in the camp getting their papers to return to the Front. It’s quite an honest diary and it’s matter of fact.”

Mr Whitaker, with help from a researcher, is piecing together Private Kellett’s wartime service.

It is known that he served with the 10th (Service) Battalion, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, which had been fighting on the Western Front since July 1915. Men from across the country we used as replacements.

He may have been gassed and had spent six weeks recovering in a military hospital in 1918.

Researcher Virginia Arrowsmith, based near Thirsk, said: “It’s been a remarkable project to get involved in and for me what has been really special is tracing one man’s story through two years of the war, including some of the key British offensives, a hospital ward and convalescent camp, across three countries and culminating with his being part of the 2nd Division which went into Germany after the Armistice was signed.

“His story gives a personal perspective on an international conflict. I’m delighted that George’s descendants are working with us to piece together his story and I hope that this research helps them to build a clearer picture of his war experience and contribution to the conflict.”