Children’s diaries charting WW2, bed bugs during the Napoleonic Wars…

Bill Kirkman and the Second World War, 1945

Bill Kirkman began writing a diary aged nine, and continued to keep one throughout his life. Here, aged 12, he describes burning a handmade effigy of Hitler on VE Day at the end of the Second World War: “Sent telegram. GERMANY DEFEATED. HOORAY.

“Tuesday 8th – Went home to celebrate VE day. Had large supper and burnt Hitler’s effigy on a huge bonfire at 10pm. Went to bed at midnight.”

World events run alongside curious anecdotes, such as the mention of his “first time in long trousers”.

Kirkman went on to become a journalist reporting in Africa, and he flew on the first transatlantic jet plane.

Top of the Pops culture, 1960s

This five-year-diary from the 1960s by an anonymous author represents the horse-riding, Bunty-reading teenager, who describes everything as ‘Fab’, and adores the glamour of Princess Margaret’s wedding and watching Top of the Pops:

“May 6th 1960: Today was HRH Princess Margaret’s wedding to Mr Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Marian and Helen came to watch it on TV. It was so fabulous that it isn’t true. Margaret’s dress was superb.”

Raleigh Trevelyan and the Napoleonic Wars, 1813

This diary was written during the last year of 13-year-old Raleigh Trevelyan’s life. It is an animated account of his time spent in an English boarding school, when he was constantly flogged, and suffered outbreaks of bed bugs.

Raleigh’s diary is packed with details that give you a rich sense of the time he was living in, as he sends supplies to the Duke of Wellington’s armies during the Napoleonic Wars. His lively personality comes through strongly, with detailed descriptions of food and his attempts at jumping out of windows to escape from school.

The diary ends tragically with an account of his declining health, and the unsuccessful attempts to cure him with the application of leeches to his temples and rhubarb drinks. His illness is unknown:

“Sunday 4th April, 1813: About 300 soldiers were in church. Took a walk – Had new potatoes.”

“Monday 5th April, 1813: Had a half holiday because of Lord Wellington’s victory over the French at Vitoria in Spain. Took 151 pieces of carrion, provisions (to) ammunition wagons…”

Working in the coal mines, 1838

This bleak diary entry was written by RR Maddison, a teenage apprentice coal miner working in the pits of Ouston and Pelton, northern England, in 1838. He describes how a fellow miner was killed by a falling block of ice, and later how he shot a blackbird.

The understated style in which the diary is written offers an insight into the poor working conditions of young people at the time:

“Monday January 15th: Went down Ouston Pit…a great deal of ice in the pit shaft which made it very dangerous riding…There was a man killed in the King Pit – by the ice falling upon him while riding in the shaft. Very frosty.”

“Thursday January 18 th: At home shot a blackbird. Very frosty. People sliding and skating on the Tyne.”

Read the full piece on History Extra

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