Diary of an Old Contemptible
From Mons to Baghdad 1914 - 1918
Edited by Dr P A Downham
Pen & Sword Books Ltd
ISBN: 1 84415 135 2
Edward Roe's diaries are exceptional in a number of respects. Not only do they cover active service in three major theatres of the Great War, namely Northern France, Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, but the diarist was one of the lucky few to survive the five years of conflict, albeit being wounded severely on two occasions. Yet, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of all is the fact they are written by a professional private soldier possessing the most extraordinary natural talent for descriptive writing. The fact that Roe remained a fighting man means that his diaries describe the daily life and conditions in the frontline.
Thanks to his lucid prose, the reader accompanies Private Roe on the retreat from Mons, 1914; shares the experiences of the first Christmas of the war; witnesses the early days of trench warfare and the terrifying gas attacks and bitter fighting at Ypres. Later we accompany him, after his recovery from wounds, to Gallipoli where he is with the rear-guard as the misconceived and ill-fated venture is aborted.
The record continues with Roe's battalion being sent to Mesopotamia as part of the Tigris Corps in an attempt to relieve General Townshend at Kut. Wounded at Sannaiyat, he returns in time to describe the advance to and seizure of Baghdad.
Diary of an Old Contemptible is compelling reading for both those with a detailed knowledge of The Great War and also for those who wish to gain a unique insight into the experiences of a young soldier caught up in the conflict.
Review by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment
For decades, one of the hidden gems of our museum, known only to the expert few, was the diary of Private Edward “Ned” Roe of the South Lancashire Regiment.
Ned was a rarity, a private soldier with an extraordinary natural talent for descriptive writing who kept a detailed diary of his service. And what service. He fought with his regiment right through from the first clashes at Mons in August 1914, via Northern France, Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, to the final armistice in 1918. So extensive and so varied was his active service that some modern observers have questioned whether one man could have experienced them all and survived. But he could, and he did, albeit twice severely wounded.
Ned Roe’s diary is a genuinely important first-person contribution to the literature of the First World War.
Born in 1886, his hometown was Castlepollard in the County of Westmeath in Ireland. In 1905, at the age of nineteen, labourer Edward Roe enlisted as a Private in the 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment. By the time of the First World War he had already served in South Africa and India.
Throughout his very varied active service in the war he kept a daily record, as best he could, of the retreat from Mons, the crossings of the Marne and Aisne, Ploegsteert, Xmas 1914 and the beginnings of trench warfare. Wounded at Ypres, on his recovery, he was posted to Gallipoli and finally the campaign in Mesopotamia where he was again wounded at the Battle of Sannaiyat. He returned to his unit for the campaign to take Baghdad and expel the Turks from the modern day Iraq.
With a rare gift for descriptive writing, he gained a reputation as the battalion diarist and this day-to-day record forms the basis of this book.
Not settling to civilian life Roe re-enlisted at Dover on 29 October 1919 as a private in the South Lancashires. He finished his army career, as a Private, on 12 April 1933 having completed a total of 27 years and 205 days service with the colours.
Edward Roe died in 1952, aged sixty-six, and was buried in Warrington Cemetary, Manchester Road Warrington in Plot Z937 having died on 17th June 1952. His grave is in a poor state of preservation .