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  1. ITV Report

Diary of a soldier - Private George Kellett

Several hundred yards and 100 years separate a small terraced house from a community school in a Yorkshire city. But bridging the two are the contents of a battered, hard-backed diary.

Eager pupils from Sandal Magna Community Academy in Wakefield listened intently as they learned of the life of World War One soldier George Kellett through the diary he kept detailing the final year of the Great War as he fought in the trenches.

George, who it is believed attended the school with his sister Ada, from his nearby home in Bowman St, Agbrigg, wrote about daily life on the front line, recording the mundane to the heartbreaking.

Today, George’s diary is a regarded as a valuable historical record of life as a foot soldier during World War One.

His family gifted it to the city’s library so George’s reflections about life in the trenches can be appreciated by today’s generation.

George’s great niece Katharine Luford, of Ilkley, said of him: ‘The diary was a Christmas present from his family. He was a quiet, modest man but would be thrilled future generations of people from his old school and home city would learn what life was like in the dying months of the war from a man who was simply an average Tommy.’

George, born in 1894 and a joiner by trade, fought with the 10th (Service) Battalion, the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, on the Western Front between July 1915 and 1918.

Hospitalised at the end of 1917 then sent to France, he penned the diary through 1918, writing of practical events such as building trenches, attending church services and receiving gifts of parkin and newspapers from home.

However, other simply-worded entries reveal harsh military life on the Western Front: “Parade for work at 9pm. Digging new trench task….8ft wide, 6ft long and 3ft deep, to be 5ft 3”at the bottom.’ he wrote on 17 June, 1918.

Two days later, he detailed: ‘Jerry put the wind up us with some new shells which none of us heard before.’

On 6 September 1918, his responsibilities were more brutal: ‘Went out burying dead Germans and horses.’

Five days later, four members of his platoon were killed and several injured in battle.

He also suffered heartbreak on a personal front as his beloved sister Ada, Katharine’s grandmother, fell victim to the Spanish flu pandemic that swept the country just six days before the war ended. ‘Our dear Ada died at 12.10am,’ he stated.

One simple sentence records his thoughts on 11 November: ‘We heard that an armistice had been signed but we keep hearing explosions and cannot tell whether it is gun fire or not.’

Sandal Magna’s assistant head teacher Kirsty Shepherd said the pupils loved learning about George and seeing his diary: ‘They were fascinated to see the writings of someone who lived over a century ago in a street they know well yet fought in this horrendous war.

‘It made history come to life for them.’

Wakefield Museum curator John Whitaker says the region is lucky to have a first hand account of a soldier from the bloody four year war. ‘While some entries may seem a bit boring, it shows life in the trenches as it really was - one day playing tug of war, the next burying comrades and enemy troops.’

George, like many of the military, returned home and simply got on with life. He married but never had children. Working as a joiner for a city company, he helped build D Day landing craft for the Second World War.

After his death in 1967, Katharine found the diary in his garden workshop. ‘We believe it should be seen by future generations of the city. It belongs to Wakefield and the country. George would have liked that,’ she said.

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