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Remembered Today:

James Beatson 9th Royal Scots


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I think someone has already posted re this but not certain, this is an artice from the Edinburgh evening News regarding the sale of the diary of James Beatson.

THE poignant and horrifying diary of a First World War soldier, written as he sheltered in the trenches of the Western Front, has become public for the first time.

In it, Jimmy Beatson recounts his experiences as a private with the 9th Battalion The Royal Scots while mired in the mud of Flanders during the bloody second Battle of Ypres in 1915.

Beatson was killed while still in his early 20s during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His diary had remained unpublished and unread outside his family.

The journal, to be sold at auction next month for an expected £3,000, has been praised by experts as being among the highest quality of First World War diaries, giving a measured but vivid account of what it was like to fight and live in the trenches.

In one section Beatson, who came from Edinburgh, describes the effects of a barrage of poison gas shells which were among the first of the war: "...stink bombs, bursting and sickening us with poisonous fumes and inflaming our eyes".

Elsewhere, he tells of the terror of going "over the top" and into enemy fire. "On Saturday night we left our trenches and moved off. Before we left the wood a burst of rapid fire ripped through the trees and accounted for a few, our corporal was hit in the groin...We saw the hideous ruins, the result of the last bombardment. Words haven't been coined to describe the desolation," he wrote.

An unusual aspect of the diary is Beatson's identification with his German enemy. According to Dr Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby's manuscript specialist and an expert on wartime diaries, this arose as a result of a piece of anti-German propaganda. He said: "He had been given a translated version of a captured German soldier's diary, which was circulated by the British Army as anti-German propaganda. But as he reads it, he changes - he identifies more and more with this German soldier."

Among the most remarkable passages are a group of entries made when his company was being held in reserve and Beatson spent several days reading the German diary, talking to the soldier, Heinrich, as a friend, and describing "Heinrich's" war, the mood in Berlin and the march through Belgium.

He relates the German soldier's account of hand-to-hand fighting: "...a man suddenly appears before you...the man who is coming to kill you...you take in every detail of his face...a boy of eighteen or so, white, with teeth exposed, and haggard eyes, like a runner in the last stage of an exhausting race." But he realises equally that he could have been that very boy.

While he distinguished himself in battle - he died a corporal - Beatson realised there was little difference between the two sides fighting. "Are you dead Heinrich? Fate has labelled you a Prussian and me British, but I would do a long pilgrimage to lay flowers on the grave that holds your body," he wrote.

The human toll was something he saw all around: "Little solitary graves with wooden crosses...alone face to face, in a little hollow...in one grave 77 French soldiers, beside it, 78 Germans in a grave half the size."

Beatson also relates the nightmare of life in the trenches: "The ground is full of dead bodies of rats...the fellows had some furious fun at night baiting the rats. There is a plague of the repulsive vermin ...slow, fat, waddling monsters."

The 149-page document, in Beatson's neat, bold, upright hand, was found in a niece's attic and will be auctioned at Sotheby's in London on 7 December.

Dr Heaton said: "In terms of its detail and the empathy he shows for his fellow human beings, the villagers who were having their homes destroyed and for the Germans he was fighting, it is amazing, and that's what makes it special. It is one of the most moving documents I have seen in my career. It is a powerful and emotive witness to one of the darkest episodes in European military history."

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It has been mentioned before on the Forum.

I would not bid for it but I find it hard to reconcile the anticipated price when you found a diary(Marchbank) in a Library which we all can access freely.

I trust Beatson's Diary will be available for all to read and research and not locked up as someone's Trophy.


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