The horrors of war in the trenches are brought to life with a rare immediacy and power through the diary of soldier and artist Len Smith. Enduring battles such as those at Loos and Vimy Ridge, Len survives with a mixture of whimsical humour, bravery and sheer good luck.
Len enlisted as an infantryman in the City of London Regiment on his 22nd birthday, 22 September 1914. During the war years he kept a journal on scraps of paper which he hid in his trousers to smuggle home at the end of the war. At the same time, he added to his thoughts with colour sketches of the people and places he encountered.
His drawing skills were also put to good use to gather and record intelligence on German army positons which he did under great personal risk; they were later used to help plan military strategy. One of his many ingenious contributions to the war was to camouflage a watch tower in no man's land as a living tree. He had crept within yards of an enemy headquarters and drawn a tree so accurately that a hollow steel replica could be created. In the dead of night the real tree was removed and the fake one put in its place, with the enemy none the wiser. He also spent four days avoiding enemy fire to produce a two-yard long panoramic view of enemy troop lines at Vimy Ridge.
Len, who was never honoured for his actions during the war, was extremely humble about his adventures - after delivering a message through heavy fire a General remarked that his efforts were worthy of a VC. With characteristic good humour Len writes, "I'd like to have assured him in that ordeal a WC would have been more appropriate."
The diary as a whole creates a tremendous sense of being at his side during his extraordinary experiences.