And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

7 June

1638
Robert Woodford,
lawyer

‘The small pox are much in London, but the sicknesse at a very Low ebbe blessed be god though they come hether from many p[ar]tes of the Country that are infected.’

I pray increase my estate

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1665
Samuel Pepys,
civil servant

‘Thence, it being the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England in the beginning of June, we to the New Exchange, and there drunk whey, with much entreaty getting it for our money, and [they] would not be entreated to let us have one glasse more. So took water and to Fox-Hall, to the Spring garden [later known as Vauxhall Gardens, opened a few years earlier and would stay open for around 200 years], and there walked an houre or two with great pleasure, saving our minds ill at ease concerning the fleete and my Lord Sandwich, that we have no newes of them, and ill reports run up and down of his being killed, but without ground. Here staid pleasantly walking and spending but 6d. till nine at night, and then by water to White Hall, and there I stopped to hear news of the fleete, but none come, which is strange, and so by water home, where, weary with walking and with the mighty heat of the weather, and for my wife’s not coming home, I staying walking in the garden till twelve at night, when it begun to lighten exceedingly, through the greatness of the heat. Then despairing of her coming home, I to bed.

This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us” writ there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll-tobacco to smell to and chaw, which took away the apprehension.’

In celebration of Pepys

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1834
Alexander Hamilton Stephens,
lawyer and politician

‘I believe I shall never be worth anything, and the thought is death to my soul. I am too boyish, unmanful, trifling, simple in my manners and address.’

Deprived of my liberty

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1864
Lucy Cavendish,
campaigner

‘Our wedding day. I cannot write about it. I can only look backwards with loving regret, and forward with bright but trembling hope. We were married in Westminster Abbey, by Uncle Billy, and came here [FN: The Duke of Devonshire’s house at Chiswick in which both Fox and Canning died. It is now the property of the Municipality.] about 4 o’clock, into peaceful summer loveliness and the singing of birds.’

Lord and Lady Cavendish

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1944
Edward Francis Wightman,
sailor

'10.15pm

Had neither the energy nor the time to write yesterday so I’ll try and give a record of the events in chronological order.

We were at our bombardment position about 5am after passing through the minefields in the Channel, swept and Dan-buoyed by the sweepers. As we approached the French coast numerous air raids were seen and we watched pretty fireworks displays for quite a while. About 5.10am, just five minutes before schedule, we opened fire with 15” on a 6” battery on a high ridge. This battery had six guns and they were in armoured casemates, so it was no walkover. After about one to two hours firing, enemy shells landed uncomfortably close without doing damage. This went on intermittently all day. About 6.30am two enemy destroyers attacked with torpedoes. Five were fired and three came perilously close. No more than 50 yards away the nearest. A pack of E-boats was observed and the 4” and 6” armament were blazing away and were very effective, causing the enemy to retire. They attacked again later on and were again driven off. By this time we had ranged the enemy battery and put four of the six guns out of action The remaining two were quite a nuisance and some of their shells landed no more than 20 yards away.

In the meantime one of the tinfish fired at us, and hit the destroyer Svenna, a Norwegian escort of ours. She sank almost immediately and I don't think any survivors were picked up. Bodies and wreckage, rafts, timber etc floated past and we observed the bow and stern of the wreck showing above water. Must be pretty shallow here. Apparently she broke her back. Poor chaps - leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

Aircraft were now thumping the hell out of German positions ashore and at 6.30am the first wave of troops landed. Later in the day we heard they had succeeded at all points and our Royal Marine Commando battalion had taken a coastal defence battery intact! The day wore on with numerous alarms for aircraft but we saw none. One dropped a stick of bombs between a destroyer and cruiser. JU88 I believe. We carried out several bombardments in the afternoon and evening and eventually completed the obliteration of the last 6" gun of the battery. We then had orders to proceed to Portsmouth to re-ammunition. Fired 220 15” shells and goodness knows how many 6” and 4”. Not one AA gun opened fire! What a difference to 1940.

Just as we were preparing to leave, hundreds and hundreds of gliders came in, in great masses. Each one had a towing plane and they came over for an hour, solid. We estimated over a thousand, so they probably landed at least one complete division. What a sight! Just like a Wellsian dream of the future. I forgot to mention before, that as we went into battle, the captain donned the Maori skirt so how could we come to any harm? Battle ensign was flying from the gaff. Lots of fireworks displays as we left. RAF again giving Germans a bad night.

Time 6.30am: arrived Portsmouth and re-ammunitioned all day. Were we worn out! Sailed again 8.30pm and we still had our deck full of cordite to be stowed. Wonder where we are bound now.

Time 11pm: Too dark now. Write again tomorrow.’

Operation Neptune

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1944
William Henry Smith,
soldier

‘As we approached the beaches yesterday, all I could think of was one specific line in the speech General Eisenhower wrote us before we left England, “The free men of the world are marching to victory!” I felt reassured as we left in the L.C.I.’s (Landing Craft Infantry) even though I could not hear myself think because everything was exploding around me. I knew that I would fight with all my heart for my country. I would fight with pride. But now, words are jumping out at me. I still can’t describe the horror I saw yesterday as I got out of the L.C.I. and got in the water, some guys were really scared, I could see it in their eyes. Hell, we were all scared. The water was freezing. As I approached the beach, I saw my own friends a few feet away from me, have their arms shot off or even worse die instantly in front of me. Everything has a different meaning once you live through it. Right now a third of my company, a third of us are hiding out in a pit until darkness sets in so we can start looking for the others. I don’t even know where the hell we are!’

Operation Neptune

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In general, these diary extracts are quoted as given in the published (book or online) source referred to in the reference articles. Each extract may be all, a large part of, or a small part of the complete entry for that day. I have tried to indicate where text has been removed from within a quote by the use of trailing dots in square bracket.

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