The World War 1 Diary – The Days Before France

The World War 1 Diary of Lance Corporal Charles Robert Nicholson

It’s almost 100 years since my Great Grandfather gave his life for King and Country. I always spent Remembrance Sunday with my Gran, his daughter, we watched the service at the Cenotaph and we had a ‘posh’ lunch.

Although she was only 7 when he died she kept his memory alive and I feel it is my duty to do the same, for both of them. So over the next few weeks I shall be sharing pages from his diary, factual records from the Historical Record of his Battalion, photos from the Great War, postcards he sent home etc.

Here he is with his wife and daughter Lizzie, who was my Gran, you can read an earlier post here
charles r nicholsonI have followed his journey from enlisting in Jesmond to his death on 14th July 1917, and with the aid of a scanner I have been able to read parts of his diaries that were illegible before. There’s a typical page from his diary here

Let’s start at the beginning:

C R Nicolson photo1Lce. Cpl. Charles Robert Nicholson.

No. 2, A Company, 19th Service Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.
Enlisted at Newcastle on Tyne on 16th November 1914.
Age 34 years 7 months.
For the declaration of the war.
Born in the parish of Middleham, County of Yorkshire.
Trade- miner.
Last permanent address:  Ivy Terr
Height: 5’ 71/2”
Religion: NC
Wife : Lily Nicholson
Child : Elizabeth Nicholson




He kept diaries throughout his training and during the war, they aren’t extensive but I am able to pad out the facts he has given using a copy of his Battalion’s Historical Records.

C R Nicolson ww1 diaries

Historical Records 19th Battalion Ntld Fus

The Days Before France

Transcript taken from Historical Records of the 19Th (Service) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers

Chapter 1.

“On 17th November 1914, sanction was received from the War Office to from 19th ( Service) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, and recruiting was completed within a few days  on 24th November headquarters were set up at 20 Osborne Ave, Jesmond. The issue of uniforms began, the long company parades in Osborne Ave and Holly Ave were a sight never to be forgotten, and much humour was associated with civilian clothes and the odd splash of khaki. Throughout the whole existence of the Battalion verbal parodies of orders could be heard in billets, camps and bivouacs or on the march. Much pungent satire sparkled in a brief effort to relieve the monotony. This was a time of enthusiasm and ambition, parades were held and a band was formed.

The whole Battalion was entertained that Christmas by a variety show at the Hippodrome. Several choruses learnt that day relieved the tedium of many route marches around Benton Gosforth and the North Road.

The 12th January 1915 was a memorable day. Most men lived at home and travelled daily to Newcastle for training. This was their last day in Newcastle as thet moved to Morpeth on the 13th. The route march had finished and the men waited for the reading of Battalion orders for details of the move. They had expected to be dismissed early for their last night at home for a while, but a hitch had occurred. Discipline held the men and they stood fast. Within 2 minutes of the end of orders being read Osborne Ave was deserted.

The Battalion marched to Central Station via Jesmond Rd and Northumberland St, the men were all in good spirits. The Battalion entered billets A company occupied council schools, B St Georges church and Catholic church. C the Drill Hall, and D the grammar school, and lodging house.

Morpeth and Cottingwood commons were used for drill purposes. The as yet rifle-less companies were given musket training.

From 8th February the Battalion was converted into a Pioneer unit with the title 22nd Tyneside Pioneers” Orders to work on the land north of Morpeth were frequently given. The miners came into their own in digging and general pioneer work. There was keen competition amongst sections and a healthy rivalry persisted. Night operations were frequent despite chilly nights.

On 28th April, a hot day, all companies marched to Seaton Sluice to take over rifles from the 5th Battalion N. F. 600 rifles were selected and the troops were very proud of their weapons as they marched back to Morpeth. But the weapons soon became very heavy.

Sports played an important role, and inter platoon matches were frequent. At Easter Battalion sports were held. Relatives journeyed for to see the program of events.

During their stay in Morpeth all ranks were made welcomed by the locals, who later sent parcels to France as a tribute of good feeling that existed.

On 14th May the 19th N. F. moved to Cramlington. Parades were strenuous training. Concerts were held in camp to relieve training.

On 16th June the Battalion entrained at Cramlington enroute for Masham, Yorkshire. Training continued including building a bridge over a stream near the camp which was prone to flooding. The operations by day and night continued, although constructive there seemed a lack of energy in the troops, probably due to the humidity of the valley, especially after the bracing air of Cramlington, or this could have been due to the vaccinations.

The company lettering was changed from ABCD to WXYZ respectfully.

In August training moved to No 1 camp Perham Down near Tidworth. The barracks at Perham Down were very comfortable and passes were freely issued and a social life developed. Much pioneer work was done entrenching, constructing roads etc. Training for maneuvers continued. Orders arrived to prepare for Egypt, but soon afterwards this was changed to France. Many men were on leave at Christmas but a concert and special dinner were provided for those who were left. Succeeding weeks were spent on intensive training with trench warfare the chief object.

On 28th January the journey to France began.”

Here’s a page from his diary during training, it’s about how to write orders.
C R Nicolson ww1 diary 010
 11th – 17th October 1915
Writing of orders all names to be printed in blocked capitals & where they book for etc also region town etc.
BEAUVOIS 200yds north E
Block letters BEAUVOIS

Out Posts
No. 1 Every body of troops when halted will be protected by outposts
No. 2 First duty reconnaissance 2nd Resistance
3rd Out Post infantry divided into piquets & supports. The piquets furnish sentry groups. Supports reinforce the piquets.
Lewis guns to sweep approach.
4th Least number of men possible used on out posts.
5th To see without being seen.

May 12/17
Capt. Cook
1st standing orders
2nd routine orders
3rd Operation orders
Standing orders are mapped out & liable to be slightly altered.
Routine orders noted for discipline, paying our ration, alterations
Operation orders. Mapping orders for divisions to move to if wanted, given by the army Co. Dates later issued & other divisions acquainted to the move, all copies of operation orders must be numbered and signed for, on immediate arrival as acknowledgement.