Miles Barne's Diary : A Suffolk Countryman at War 1915-1917
Miles Barne, then aged forty one, who lived at Sotterley, Suffolk, rejoined the Scots Guards in June 1915. He began his Diary on 23 July as he left for the Western Front and, apart from when on leave, recorded life with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards almost every day in the most straightforward, but vivid, way. That included everything that he saw and heard within his own immediate sphere.
Often it was far from military. So he noted the countryside and crops, farms and villages, flowers and plants, woods and trees, animals and birds. While his accounts of his more terrible experiences such as Loos, some of the trench tours in the Ypres Salient and of the dreadful Somme winter of 1916-17 catch the attention immediately, those of other events elsewhere and away from the fighting are of just as much interest.
He died after being mortally wounded on 17 September 1917 by a bomb inadvertently dropped by a British plane, well behind the line near Ypres. Miles Barne never intended that anyone beyond his close family should read the Diary, which is open, direct, detailed and unvarnished, as well as being very humble, very much reflecting his own personality. It has been lying almost untouched at his home for a hundred years and is supported now by contemporary documents, which he saved because of their personal importance to him.
One of the Diary's most distinctive features is the very large number of people whom he mentioned meeting, including many individual soldiers, as well as officers. Notably, whenever there was a battalion from Norfolk or Suffolk in his neighbourhood he was quickly off to see who he knew already and meet others. Quite apart from East Anglia, his range of relations, friends and acquaintances from before the War was wide and then there were all the many others he met.
It has been possible to identify a very large proportion of them. Miles Barne commanded a company at Loos in the most daunting circumstances on the lower slopes of Hill 70 during and after the failed later attacks. His men requested in writing that his exceptional conduct and bravery be drawn to the attention of the Brigade Commander.
The aftermath of Christmas Day 1915 stands out. Miles Barne, temporarily commanding the Battalion, was the victim, though fully exonerated, of the attempt by the military authorities to carry through the full process of law after the 1915 Christmas "truce" at Neuve Chapelle. In addition to what he wrote in the Diary there are included here Miles Barne's own copies of court martial documents.
He was defended by Raymond Asquith of the Grenadiers, the Prime Minister's eldest son. Miles Barne was naturally at ease with one and all other than those of high military rank. That in the spring of 1917 he twice dined as a guest at Headquarters Fourth Army and found it daunting sheds an interesting light on what such a headquarters looked like to an outsider.
There are other intriguing vignettes of people, including the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill and observations about what he saw well away from the line in the base areas, some of which impressed him, such as the bakeries, others not, such as the infantry base depot at Etaples. Amid the tragedy and sorrow, which included the deaths of his brother in law Tim Orr Ewing and his brother Seymour Barne, as well as many others he knew well, there were times of joyful entertainment, as when he rode a winner in the famous race meeting on the beach at Calais. Everything that could be enjoyed was enjoyed and everything ridiculous immediately seen as such, wherever it occurred.
Miles Barne was intelligent, observant, conscientious, humane, gently witty, completely honest, enthusiastic, very interested in his fellow men, and morally and physically brave. Rightly he was very well liked by all ranks. His flaws as an officer were being too self-effacing and unassertive out of the line.
He expressed himself with a certain naivety, because there was no guile, no calculation and no artifice to him. So he was very slow to spot it in others. His warmth, charm and kindness leave a memory touched with nobleness.