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Until recently James Beatson was one of the millions of forgotten soldiers of the Great War. But after 90 years his diary has been rediscovered, perfectly preserved, and his story can now be told. It is a moving, intensely personal and beautifully written narrative by an extraordinary young man who witnessed one of the darkest episodes in European history.
His experience gives us a telling insight into the thoughts and reactions of a self- educated, patriotic and religious individual confronted by the horrors of warfare on the Western Front. Indeed, after reading the diary of a dead German soldier, Beatson begins to identify more with the thoughts and fears of his enemy than he does with those he loves at home.
Reminiscent of some of the greatest of the First World War authors, the diary is also the record of a gifted writer whose potential was tragically curtailed. For, shortly after marrying his childhood sweet heart, he was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme in one of the many failed attacks on High Wood.
For this, the first publication of Beatson's diary, Shaun Springer and Stuart Humphreys have edited and illustrated the text and provided an introduction, describing Beatson's family background and the campaign on the Western Front in which he took part.
James Beatson was the eldest of nine children. He was raised in Scotland by working-class parents. He was a civil engineer until, as with so many, the declaration of war offered him the chance of adventure. He enlisted in the first days of the war in the Royal Scots and was an eyewitness to the first poison gas attack by the Germans in 1915. Despite the horrors he experienced, Private Beatson never lost his love of humanity nor his faith. He now lies buried, lost somewhere on the Somme when in July 1916 he breathed his last in that infamous battle.
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