Mr Rick Allen, of Stainburn Close, Worcester, has sent us powerfully descriptive extract from his grandfather's Word War One diary, telling of the destruction of the ancient town of Ypres and running the gauntlet of 'Hellfire corner.'

John Harwood Wilson was born and lived in Wolverhampton. After enlisting in July, 1914 he became a Corporal in the Royal Army Medical Corps, 3rd North Midland Field Ambulance, 46th Division, and was promoted to Sergeant during 1915. 

He was posted to Luton where he received most of his training until March 1915. On March 4th, 1915, he set sail for France, into active service; he was billeted and stationed variously in France and Belgium between 1915 and 1919.

The entry is dated 1st July 1915.


A pleasant route march in the morning. Two wells were dug for a supply of water for washing as all that is available is a dirty green pond far from pleasant.

At night my one ambition was satisfied, that of seeing remains of Ypres its famous Cloth Hall, & the horseshoe formation of the line.

It is almost beyond any description save a heap of ruins. Gaunt black walls, street after street are what remain of once peaceful homes. The Hall & Cathedral walls & tower are partially standing, but they are burnt out. The magnificent architectural beauty has been destroyed, never to be replaced.

A little further on is what was once a quiet & pretty cemetery. Now monuments are topsy turvy, graves have been blown open, & the whole is one indescribable chaos. The bridge over the Yser canal has been blown up & replaced by a pontoon from what I could see of it. 

A fire was raging just behind the Cathedral. The reflection in the sky could be seen for miles. Further on trees had been blown down & were lying all over the road. The cars stop & our walk up to the toe of the horseshoe commences.

What pretty & powerful illuminations are these star shells which go up every two or three seconds lighting up the battlefield with ghastly effect.

One might almost be led to think I was at home watching a firework display, but a bang behind & a ping over his head breaks the reverie. What a stench!! Ah there lies a dead horse. Let's get a move on out of it.

We reach the dump, the edge & shelter of a copse after many more 'pings'& passing galloping transports returning to safety. We have now walked a mile at least. The groans of the wounded reach us & in a few minutes we are carrying them back to the cars. 

More pings, more shells over head, a duck of the head now & again, a stumble over a loose telegraph wire, a few rests, (for a man hangs heavy on a stretcher), a bit more of the stench from the open plain full of trenches, shell holes & unburied bodies, a feeling at the pit of the stomach like when you go up or down in a lift for the first time, a sort of uncertainty as to what is coming next, & we reach the cars.

All right mate? Full up? Yes? Right away! Whirr goes the engine, off we go fast.

Hell fire corner in Ypres after jolting in a few shell holes & we are at the Advanced Dressing Station in about an hour where the patient is redressed & passed on to a Clearing Hospital.

A cup of hot tea, something to eat & bed. It is 2 to 3 a.m. dawn is breaking, the larks are up & singing & as you lie down you think, Have I been dreaming or is there a war on somewhere close by?