This book follows the story of a Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment on the Somme during the First World War. Captain Raymond Hepper, from Leeds, served as a Captain of snipers and, later as Brigade Intelligence Officer. The diaries have been copied from the original by his son, F. Nigel Hepper, who has also drawn some of the maps and illustrations.
Captain Hepper's Great War Diary is edited by the author's son. This is a much more conventional war diary - and it's none the worse for it. Hepper has no intention of becoming a soldier, but as a public-school educated chartered surveyor in Leeds, he volunteers for and is commissioned into the West Yorkshires in 1914. He arrives in France in 1916, but while we are told that 'we have been in the battle area for nearly three weeks and lost half our men,' such trials are hardly mentioned. Instead, in a series of almost lyrically written letters and diary entries, he concentrates on the beauty of the land and the bird life and, with a gifted hand, illustrates many flowers and plants, all with their Latin names attached. The casualties that his company inflicts are never discussed whilst only once or twice is the same stoical mask that the Elmhirst wear allowed to slip. Hepper reveals so much when he writes, 'The barrage continues to fall all along the trench. God, this is awful. Shall we ever get out alive?'
A lot has been said about the Great War but very little of it with the delicacy and humanity of this book. It neither dramatises nor trivialises ware and there's not a shred of self pity. Rather, it is an account of good and steadfast people enduring Britain's gravest test without complaint. Patrick Mercer, review in 'The Oldie', July 2011.
One of the best things about this fascinating diary is that the acquired familiarity of the routine and "normality" of life in the trenches with occasions of fearful, tragic, personal drama are so well-recorded by a perceptive and quite evidently likeable observer, an officer in the 17th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. Captain Hepper fulfils all the responsibilities one might expect from billeting, artillery observation, sniping, Lewis Gun and intelligence before becoming a Brigade Intelligence Officer.
Unusually in such published works the diary continues beyond the Armistice to great advantage as Hepper's battalion marches into Germany for the Occupation but the essence of his experience is wonderfully expressed on the date he lost an especial friend: "Those who read this diary, if any there be, will know how we lived together not only in France but throughout our training in England, have known our faults, likes and dislikes and have been true friends." Peter Liddle, First World War Historian.
Raymond Hepper's diary is a fine example of the kind of personal war record that the Imperial War Museum is most keen to preserve. The account of his experiences with the 17th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment continues to be of considerable interest to historians studying the life of a regimental officer on the Western Front during the First World War, and remains an important part of our ever-expanding holdings on the conflict. This publication of Hepper's war diary makes the account even more valuable by its inclusion of biographical information, historical notes and a most useful index. It will undoubtedly prove of great benefit to future historians. Anthony Richards, Imperial War Museum
I have no record of a published history of the 17th West Yorks, which makes this diary of considerable interest... it is a worthwhile addition to the history of two battalions of the West Yorks. Lt Col. R. J. Wyatt, MBE, TD, writing in 'Stand To' the magazine of the Western Front Association