First World War soldier's diary found in Silsden house

Peter and Rosemary Fieldhouse with Fred’s First World War diary

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First published in News

A DIARY written under fire by a First World War artilleryman is to go on display in Silsden.

The pencilled jottings of Fred Gill, vividly describing life on the Western Front, were discovered in a house in the town.

And next month, after lying unread for up to half a century, they can be seen by visitors to Silsden Town Hall.

The diary will have pride of place during a weekend of First World War commemorations hosted by the Local History Group from August 8 to 10.

From late 1916, Fred Gill wrote regular entries in a tiny book that could be concealed in a pocket of his uniform.

A few months earlier the Keighley-born ironmonger, married with a baby daughter, had walked to Otley to enlist with the Royal Field Artillery’s howitzer brigade.

It was this same daughter who, many years later and then Renee Brown, packed away Fred’s diary in a bin bag full of old documents.

Renee, a widow, died in the 1980s leaving no family but the little journal was found during clearance of her house at Craven Drive by new occupants Peter and Rosemary Fieldhouse.

Fred’s diary has emerged once more, following an appeal for memorabilia by the Local History Group, and it reveals a remarkable story of endurance and adventure.

In the midst of deadly conflict, Fred Gill found surprising reminders of home. Entering a badly damaged asylum near Ypres, serving as a wound-dressing station and cemetery, he picked up a piece of cast-iron metal engraved with the name “Summerscales and Sons, Phoenix Foundry, Keighley”.

Fred wrote of his thrill at travelling by boat to France alongside one of his great Bradford City FC heroes - Bob Torrance, man of the match in the famous 1911 cup final. Bob was killed in action within months.

Fred survived the war and later became a director of Gott and Butterfield, the Keighley hardware store in Royal Arcade, as did his son-in-law Jim Brown.

For many years, Renee and Jim Brown were noted for their community activities in Silsden, particularly their work for pensioners.

The town hall exhibition is one of many events and activities which will tell "Silsden’s Story in the Great War" during the August weekend.

A series of display panels will cover such themes as under-age soldiers, Belgian refugees in the town, the role of the home front and conscientious objectors.

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