4to.16 leaves, ruled, pencil manuscript in legible cursive hand on rectos only. Bound in blue paper wrappers with marbled spine [light wear], paper label affixed to front cover. On each of the last three leaves, a bottom tear costs 4-8 lines of text. Good+.
This is a first hand-account of the Siege of Antwerp written by John Russell Platten of the Collingwood Battalion. The Battalion was named after Lord Cuthbert Collingwood, Vice Admiral, and composed primarily of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The Diary's abrupt change of tone, from pre-combat innocence to the horrors of war, is striking.
The Battalion left Dover on Sunday, October 4, 1914, and landed at Dunkirk. They were sent to relieve the Belgians at Whybreck. On October 5th the Collingwood men occupied trenches beyond Antwerp. Bombarded for three days, they remained under fire through the night of October 8, with part of Antwerp ablaze. On October 9 the remaining garrison surrendered. Of the 700 seamen, only 22 reportedly got back to England; the rest were killed, or captured and interned in Holland or Germany.
The October 4 entry describes the soldiers' jubilation upon learning that they would be "leaving for the continent." They marched to Dover, Patten's father and brother accompanying him until they reached the pier and said their goodbyes. On their way to Dunkirk the next day, they attacked their tins of "bully beef" with their bayonets and met a French torpedo boat, tossing halfpennies to the French soldiers as mementos and laughing as the soldiers scrambled after them. The excitement lasted into the next day as they were "pressed mug after mug of lager to drink as they wished;" ladies brought them aprons filled with cigarettes.
After more cheer the Collingwood Battalion was assigned "the first blood" and headed to the trenches. Here the tone of the diary quickly changes. The morning of October 7th an "aeroplane sailed over"; a "German Taube machine," it dropped four bombs on them. They built "bomb proof shelters," raiding a nearby home for supplies. Platten describes the fallen faces of the farmer and his wife as they watched the men tear down doors, smash wardrobes, and knock the bottoms out of drawers. The men returned to the trenches and hunkered down while projectiles shrieked overhead. They expected an attack around dawn; Platten calls it the longest night he had ever experienced. On the morning of the 8th, news reached them that the Colonel had been killed, that they needed to hold the trenches "at all costs" until the following night, and that General Lawlinson would then try to relieve them. "We number something under eight thousand, they on the safe side of a hundred thousand... Major Cooreman is done & his mind seems to be giving way." The men attempted to retreat, but were ordered back. "The whole of Antwerp seems to be in flames... The trenches are falling in now owing to the shells and several men have been buried alive." A further entry: "My mind is almost a blank & I walk as if in a dream... Another man has gone mad and I don't think any of us can go much further."
The British Naval Archives lists John Russell Platten with Service Number 4/2670, a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at London; date of birth December 12, 1892; ranks of Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman (undated), and Acting Leading Seaman Royal Naval Division. He joined the 4th Battalion a/k/a Collingwood Battalion at the outbreak of war, about August 2, 1914. He was later reported as being interned in Holland on October 8, 1914. Item #33756