One hundred years ago today, Britain was at war. Young men all over Britain rushed to enlist to support their Queen and country. During the Great War, six million British men were mobilised, 700,000 men were killed, and all lives were changed. The whole nation was invested in the war, and this included the residents of Oundle.
One Oundle resident and former Oundle School pupil, Arthur Forbes Elliott went to France in 1915 to contribute to the war effort, and served as a Medical Officer to many battalions during the war.
During his time in the trenches, Arthur kept a diary of what he saw and what he experienced, and subsequently left the diary to his son; the diary was then passed on again, this time to Arthur’s grandson Chris Elliott, who decided to publish the diary’s entries on a website to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war and the battle of The Somme.
Arthur Forbes Elliot was born in 1877, son of Charles Nelson Elliot, who was a doctor living on North Street in Oundle from the late 1880s until his death forty years later in 1923.
Arthur was a day pupil at Oundle School. Although he was a member of Laxton House, a boarding house, he lived at home in Oundle. In 1896, Arthur left Oundle and went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he studied medicine. He then continued his studies at St Mary’s Hospital, London.
In 1903 Arthur returned to Oundle to join his father’s practice, where he looked after many pupils at Oundle School. Twelve years later in 1915, Arthur joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, to support the war effort.
Arthur started his diary on November 29th, 1915, when he first got orders from his superiors about his service.
To those who are interested in reading the actual diary, it can be found online at www.afelliott.com.
This website was set up by Arthur’s grandson, Chris Elliot, to pay tribute to the memory of Arthur Elliot, and to the memory of all those who sacrificed so much in WWI.
Mr Elliot said: “I was inspired by the art direction of War Horse and the way they used handwriting of the day, Edwardian style, to float across the top of the stage (projected) and also the war artist style sketches of landscapes. One thing led to another and I approached a web designer who agreed to do the project for ‘pocket money’. He loved the subject and he loved the fact that I wanted it to be a very special tribute.”
Every time a diary entry coincides with the current date (e.g. Dec 12th, 1916 and Dec 12th, 2016), Elliott posts the diary entry on the website. The diary is uploaded to the internet as events unfurled during the war.
“The diary project is a work in progress, a living project, and is researched and uploaded 100 years to the day, so I can be as close to the experience as I can be.”
One of the most interesting and unique aspects about the diary is that Arthur met old boys of Oundle at the Front. In one example in the diary he notes the name of a captain he met in a dug-out.
“The fact that a young soldier could meet his former school doctor at the Front must have given some comfort,” said Mr Elliot.
After the war Arthur returned to Oundle and carried on as before, a GP in the town, and doctor to at least six of the school houses.
Mr Elliot recounted one of the family stories handed down alongside the diary. When Arthur was dying in a hospital in London in 1947, he remarked to a nurse: “Nurse, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before”.
The nurse answered: “What’s that?”
He replied: “I’m going to die.”
Arthur was fortunate to survive WW1, and we are fortunate that his diary has lived on to this day. This really is a rare opportunity for all of us, a chance to experience the Great War through the eyes of an Oundle resident. The diary speaks of brotherhood, sacrifice, and teamwork in its pages.
Perhaps, ultimately, we would all benefit from taking a glance at the diary online and let it remind us all of the power that lies within unity, and the dangers of breaking away from a strong union.