The rediscovered WW1 memoir of an art student’s survival in the trenches
*AVAILABLE NOW ON AMAZON – PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EDITION*
In 2019 a box was discovered containing a handwritten account of a soldier’s life at the front line in WWI. Albert Clayton’s remarkable autobiographical story in 20 chapters remained hidden for decades, unknown to his family, until its chance discovery along with several photographs from the same time.
Albert’s story takes us with him through the ravaged landscape of northern France from July 1916 to May 1917 when he was drafted into the 29th (Reserve) which later joined the 8th (Service) Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers. He details the vivid scenes of front line warfare, the banter of his comrades, and the raw intensity of ‘going over the top’ – which he did on several occasions.
Despite all the hardship and adventure, including several brushes with death, his was an experience that many on the front line of war have lived through but few have recorded with such comprehensive narrative. We are thankful he did, for his rediscovered legacy is a personal and engaging story that brings sharp focus to places and events, with an artist’s eye for detail, and Albert’s own wit and perspective. The food they ate, the conversations they held, and everyday events in the many quieter times behind the front line are some of the most interesting and enjoyable insights.
This aim of this website is to support the book and provide a platform for readers to take Albert’s story further, a forum for further research helping to fill in more detail on the lives of those he served alongside, what happened to him in the years after.
There is now also a Facebook page to support the book:
I have just finished reading the book, a Christmas present to me from my wife Ruth, who heard about it somehow through your Mum Mary. I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative and, as you say, it transports the reader very readily to life on and around the battlefields of a century ago. However, as you suggest, it is the incidental detail and observation which is particularly engaging in the account.
Like other reviewers, I was sad to reach the end and wished that the account continued into Alberts time as a POW.
However, we must be grateful for what there is and that you discovered it in time, before any of it was lost to the ravages of time.
As an occasional visitor to the church at Finchley with my family, it intrigues me to think that I might even have seen or met Albert in my youth: I will never know. But I certainly remember you, Micah, and your brother Gabriel, Richard Grange and others from that time. Thanks so much with your perseverance in getting this fascinating manuscript to publication.
Hello Barry, great to hear from you after so long! Yes there is a good chance you may have attended a church event when Albert and Greta were there. It was obviously a remarkable discovery to find his memoir, particularly as the details of his war service were unknown to the family. Since publication, it has been an ongoing pleasure to hear that people like yourself have discovered it for themselves and appreciate what he wrote. I have since been researching as much as I can to corroborate his narrative and I am amazed at the accuracy of his recollections. The battalion war diaries and even the published trench maps confirm much of the detail. I may look to republish with some this supporting information as some point – or see if there is a publisher that could take it further. Thanks for your interest and all the best to you and your family. M
A beautifully written account of a true hero’s life during the worst of wars. I finished this book in record time as is was unputdownable. Graphic, and realistic, one of the finest accounts of ww1 I have ever read….thank you for publishing it.
Lee, thankyou for your wonderful comments. It is really rewarding to hear such favourable comment from people liek yourself who are well read in WW1 literature. Since publishing I have continued to research the historical record around his memoir and I am constantly amazed at what an acute memory he had for the details of his experience – the official war diaries, soldiers records, trench maps all coroborate his narrative. I am considering republishing with some of this information appended at some point. Thankyou.
Roger, thankyou so much for your enthusiastic review! It so good to hear that Albert’s memoirs is being discovered and appreciated in this way. Yes I think one of its real strengths is the way his writing makes us feel so engaged with his everyday experience. The way the men relate to each other and their conversations give us that personal connection. We get the factual account from the Battalion diaries but the personal stories add so much more, especially for anyone like yourself that had relatives serve in similar circumstances. I appreciate you promoting the book, as the book is self published we are reliant on word of mouth and personal recomendations. Thanks again, Micah
A wonderful book, a born writer. Does anyone know more about Bert Swigart? The surname is unusual.
Hello Carole, so pleased you have discovered Albert’s book and its wonders! Have you seen the potted summary of info I have on Bert Swygart on the “Comrades and Characters” page of this site? I probably have some of the original records that this was based on which I can send by email if you like. I did a bit of research into the names in the book shortly after publication. It seems Bert had more military records than most due to his long role in the catering corps and the fact he was regular army rather than a recruit. Do you think you may be related? Micah
A wonderful, wonderful read. A superb insight into the role of the PBI – long periods of boring routine interspersed with what must have been moments of terror. I am keen on the Arras vicinity during the Great War, with my GF having served there with the RFA for quite a time in two different spells so this gave me added interest. I have strongly recommended the book through my twitter account, including the @GreatWarGroup . Thank you for bringing Albert’s story to the wider world.
Great book, and only sorry it was not longer!
I have so enjoyed ready Long before Day, I have laughed and cried, so emotional. My paternal grandfather ” Blackall ” as mentioned in the book, Oh how I miss him and his stories of the WW1, my regret is not listening to him more. I have a few of his things and writings and going through them now. I grew up around him, such a big part of my life, a proper granddad to me and my sisters.
Jacqueline I am so pleased you have found the book and what an amazing connection to make! Albert and your grandfather obviously got to know each other really well and lived alongside each other. Of all the commrades mentioned in the book I was hoping to find some one who may be related to Blackall especially as there is the photograph of them both and the story of how they had it taken by the French photographer when they were there. So pleased you have enjoyed the discovery and I’m sure there will be many more.
Very rarely start and finish a book but I could not put this down. I felt utterly bereft when the book came to an end. I really wanted a second book on his time in the POW camp at Ingolstadt. So sad that there is no chance of a sequel! I’m now reading it to my 10 year old son who loves it. This book really deserves to be widely read.
Thanks Peter, I share your feelings! I hope this website will be an opportunity to pool research and help to add some detail to his life as a POW.
A truly fascinating book – packed with tiny details of the lives of WW1 soldiers that might otherwise have been lost.
Albert Clayton is a natural storyteller, with an eye for telling detail and writes about terrifying and terrible experiences without a shred of self-pity.
Perhaps that is the book’s greatest strength – capturing a sense that for many soldiers it was simply a job, that were just doing while hoping to see the end of each day.