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Published on July 1st, 2016 | by Perrin


Different times, different men

By Michael Taylor

Many young men passed through Crowborough’s military training camp, all too often on a one way ticket on their journey to the horrors of war. Usually little is known of their personal experiences after the training ended and the fighting suddenly became very real.

Tim Elliot was no different from the countless others before him. Born in 1895, he was just 19 when the Great War shuddered into existence. What set him apart was that he secretly wrote a diary each day, documenting his experiences as they happened. Ranging from the declaration of war to the signing of the Armistice, his diary throws a light down a dark tube into history.

Tim’s entry upon the commencement of the Battle of the Somme includes the passage detailing the first time he ‘went over the top’ – the perilous order to leap out of the trench and charge the enemy’s position, often in the face of lethal fire. He recalls he was “one of the few who came back alive”. Despite such horrendous ordeals, Tim’s diary contains little negativity or gripes about the lot of an ordinary Rifleman, save that his French counterparts received better home leave terms from their Government.

Although the diary contains the brutality of warfare, it also offers an insight into the lighter times of Tim’s service. He includes the episode where he was fined at Woking Police Court for riding his bike without a light, as well as the numerous times he enjoyed taking girlfriends out to the cinema during the time home he did receive.

Moving through the progress of the war, Tim recounts each movement of his regiment and how hard-fought ground was either gained or lost. He was subjected to severe shrapnel wounds to his face and eyes, but still managed to fill in his diary each day. As a recovering but able-bodied soldier, he had limited duties during his convalescence, including burying his dead comrades, assisting the army surgeon in theatre and acting as a guide to reinforcements. It was different times for different men.

After the Armistice was signed, Tim was discharged. He had been a promising actor before the war and tried to make a living at this in civilian life, with some success. He eventually became a psychiatric nurse, caring for the Queen’s great uncle, Lord Athlone, at Kensington Palace. Tim Elliot died in 1967 at the age of 72.

Tim’s son in law, Robin Gregory, published the diary when it was found in 1978 under the title ‘Tim’s Wars: The Psychology of War and Peace Through One Man’s Eyes'(available at Amazon).

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