#Onthisday: Diary of a tank driver
A week excerpt of a young Australian tank driver, published #Onthisday in the Brisbane Telegraph on 18 October 1916, reveals graphic details about the day to day life of soldiers fighting in WW1. Although the location is not revealed in the article, the scenes could be imagined anywhere along the Western Front.
The diary entries were originally printed in the Guardian, known then as the Manchester Guardian newspaper. They paint a gruesome picture; the soldier writing about death in terms of wins and losses, signalling the attitude necessary to endure the perils of warfare.
The article highlights deep divides. Divides between home and battleground; living and surviving and peace and chaos. Even in our unshockable, 24 hour news cycle environment, an article of such starkness would make waves if printed today and that this diary excerpt was printed in a widely circulated newspaper raises broader questions about the century of change between how soldiers of Second and Fourth generation warfare communicate.
It would be interesting to see the data on how many soldiers still kept diaries in 2016, or to what extent blogs have superseded the form, as letters and postcards now take the form of Skype and FaceTime. A layer of distinction that exists between blogs and handwritten diaries however, is the audience. A blog may be utilised as a central, public online space for family and friends to converge, but a diary is characteristically subjective and uncensored, with no intended audience.
Reading these entries that definition rings true, for this soldier keeping a diary seems to go beyond writing a record of these events. The details of his hellish week tell of a man keeping them for no other reason but to process the events he is living, as though otherwise, they would be unbelievable.
State Library of Queensland has long been collecting diaries and letters that survived and were written by Queenslanders who served in WW1, with many of them now digitised and accessible online as part of the Q ANZAC 100 legacy initiative.