at Brent Cross.
wanted to buy some lights at John Lewis. The assistant said he would put
the chosen ones aside, could he have a name?
funny", he replied, "that's mine as well, I don't suppose it's
"It is, as
it happens ".
wonder if we're related", he pondered aloud.
actually it would be my husband. Were any of your relatives from
Nat and Auntie Ray lived there." said Mr Foreman.
stemmed from that performance in coincidence. We were invited to the
Foreman's house. Such nice people. They had kept a box in their
'archives' of memorabilia from the Foreman family. Did we know that his
Uncle Mark, his father's brother (my grandfather's brother), who
had died in the trenches of the First World War, had left a diary with
his personal effects? Did I want to see it?
was, a hand written soft-back 6" by 3" half inch thick notebook
turned diary with its attached pencil holding loop.Thirty odd pages
detailing six months, the last six months,of Mark's War and Mark's life. It was hand-written by Mark in the months between
receiving the diary in October 1916 "as a birthday present from
Alma Harris" and the final entry in May 1917.
I started to
read it, at first without too much difficulty, the pencilled cursive
script was surprisingly accessible after eighty years although it was
soon clear that the place names and military terms would have to be
explained. Had it been transcribed, had it been published? Had any one
else read it, has it been offered to the Imperial War Museum? I had so
newly found cousin kindly lent me the book so that I could photocopy it
and would send it back ASAP. I determined there and then
that this tome deserved a wider audience. The work of transcribing the
3,000 or so words started in 1996 and was complete two years later. I'd
gone to the Imperial War Museum and spoken at length to the archivist,
Simon Robbins who was very helpful with the military terms. I'd poured over the Michelin guide map to sort out most of the place
names and worked over and discussed each doubtful transcription until it
was ready for publication.
word-processed my friend, Brian Minkoff, helped me set up a website
devoted to the diary so that as many as possible could gain
access to Mark's words. Mark, I hope, wrote it for others to see - never
other than plain words and clauses of description; nothing
edited in the name of poetry thereby losing important detail, nothing
changed to predict an outcome or to take a reader to a conclusion or to make a political point, simply a record recalling that
day's mundanity, monotony and mayhem.
study Mark provided was perfect as a tool to understand a conscript's
mindset - to retell a timeless story of a civilian dragged
into war trying to survive whilst serving king, country and colleagues. Useful links on the website to the BBC FWW web pages, to the
sites set up for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Imperial
War Museum insured that many more had access to the diary and the visit
counter soon mounted up - people started to leave messages
in the guest book.
from a certain Mark Foreman, no relation, was interesting enough but
then unbelievably a couple from a New York University
professor - I emailed and then we spoke on the phone. It
transpired that the discovery of the diary, now mentioned in some guides
to places on the web for FWW diaries, inspired Marlene
Grover to want to use it to teach the FWW to her students as part of
their History Module. She insisted it was the closest
insight to what really went on in the war; not filtered through 80 years
of fame and commentary - just a raw report in plain English
of what happened. The course has now been running for three
years. It's truly amazing to think that dozens of US
graduates are informed by Mark's words written amongst the trenches of
up a whole page in the diary about half way through and seemingly out of
context there's a short poem in another's handwriting, it
was most probably copied into the diary by Alma for Mark to discover as
a surprise when he got to that page.
When you marry him -
After you marry him -
When he is sad -
When he is talkative
- Listen to him
When he is
quarrelsome - Ignore him;
When he is noble -
When he is
confidential - Encourage him;
And, when he deserves
it - Kiss him.
Will I go far wrong .
know of Alma (née Harris) from the East End born I would guess around
1893?For some time I wanted to visit the Arras Memorial
where Mark is commemorated. His body was never found - two weeks
after he wrote his last words on the 16th June 1917 aged 26, his own
battle with the war ended - there are no real details of his
death - just the general reports of others in the regiment who survived. We visited all the places mentioned in
the diary in his stomp through the killing fields. They are
just picturesque and peaceful - not trampled and troop marched as then -
yet something of the surreal remains in comparing the road signs with
the place names in the diary. Before and after the bombs,
the barbed wire and bayonets these places were beautiful.
saw 19th Century barns, inns and churches that Mark would have seen
giving us a sense of architecture but without any context
for the horror and hell that those buildings and he witnessed. We
tripped in and out of a succession of F.W.W. cemeteries that
peppered the countryside. Each giving a sense of local nationality as
the young dead of the regiments of Ulster, Newfoundland and Wales were
respected. We visited to pay our respects to these buried souls. So many
cut down at the ages of my own young sons. The vast majority of the
stones were crosses, just occasionally a Mogen David could be spied and
we made a bee-line to stand over a Jewish combatant. We read the
inscription aloud and thought of his parents getting the news of his
death we placed a pebble on the stone and moved on.
enormity is only driven home by the relentlessness with which the
geometric patterns cross into view as stone after stone reveals itself as you walk down the perfectly kept aisles and rows of
gravestones.The people who lovingly cherish these sites for
a pittance are today's heroes and are a true fitting tribute to the
fallen - we should reward them better that they can gain and
keep the respect they have earned in tending the flowers, lawns and
gravestones so well. So our journey to France was complete where
Mark's own journey ended; at Arras Memorial. His name, one of five
thousand, etched at eye level onto a light grey stone panel and his
diary are all that is left to act as a testament, to keep alive how
terrible war can be - that he should not have died in vain.
15/9/98 SJF visit to the
Imperial War Museum.
According to the Commonwealth War
Graves Commission a Mark Foreman is recorded as having died 16/6/1917
but with no known grave and commemorated at the Arras Memorial. The age
given is 26 and the address as 2 Coleman (should be Colmar) Street, Mile
End, London. His regiment is the 2nd/1st London Regiment of the Royal
Fusiliers with service number 204325.
Thanks to Simon Robbins at the
Imperial War Museum (020 7416 5221) and the Commonwealth War Graves
Commission (2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berks. SL6 7DX ( 016286 34221)
for their assistance. And, of course, to cousin Raymond Foreman of
Kingsbury, NW9 (Mark's nephew) who lent me the diary to copy and who has
donated the original to the Imperial War Museum.
Other points of reference
Office for National Statistics
(Death Certificates), Smedley Hydro, Trafalgar Road, Birkdale,
Southport PR8 2HH
( 0151 471 4469. Birth
Certificates - Cardiff - extn. 4816. )
Public Record Office,
Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond TW9 4DU (020 8876 3444).
The Family Records Centre,
1 Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UW (020 8392 5300).
The Imperial War
BBC Online: The Great War-80 years on.
War Graves Commission.