And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

4 September

1663
Samuel Pepys,
civil servant

‘Thence Creed and I away, and by his importunity away by coach to Bartholomew Fayre, where I have no mind to go without my wife, and therefore rode through the fayre without ’lighting, and away home, leaving him there; and at home made my wife get herself presently ready, and so carried her by coach to the fayre, and showed her the monkeys dancing on the ropes, which was strange, but such dirty sport that I was not pleased with it. There was also a horse with hoofs like rams hornes, a goose with four feet, and a cock with three. Thence to another place, and saw some German Clocke works, the Salutation of the Virgin Mary, and several Scriptural stories; but above all there was at last represented the sea, with Neptune, Venus, mermaids, and Ayrid on a dolphin, the sea rocking, so well done, that had it been in a gaudy manner and place, and at a little distance, it had been admirable. Thence home by coach with my wife, and I awhile to the office, and so to supper and to bed.’

In celebration of Pepys

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1666
John Evelyn,
writer

‘The burning still rages, and it is now gotten as far as the Inner Temple. All Fleet street, the Old Bailey, Ludgate hill, Warwick lane, Newgate, Paul’s chain, Watling street, now flaming, and most of it reduced to ashes; the stones of Paul’s flew like grenados, the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness, so as no horse, nor man, was able to tread on them, and the demolition had stopped all the passages, so that no help could be applied. The eastern wind still more impetuously driving the flames forward. Nothing but the Almighty power of God was able to stop them; for vain was the help of man.’

10,000 houses in one flame

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1666
Samuel Pepys,
civil servant

‘Up by break of day to get away the remainder of my things; which I did by a lighter at the Iron gate: and my hands so few, that it was the afternoon before we could get them all away. Sir W. Pen and I to Tower-streete, and there met the fire burning three or four doors beyond Mr. Howell’s, whose goods, poor man, his trayes, and dishes, shovells, &c., were flung all along Tower-street in the kennels, and people working therewith from one end to the other; the fire coming on in that narrow streete, on both sides, with infinite fury. Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir W. Pen and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things. The Duke of Yorke was at the office this day, at Sir W. Pen’s; but I happened not to be within. This afternoon, sitting melancholy with Sir W. Pen in our garden, and thinking of the certain burning of this office, without extraordinary means, I did propose for the sending up of all our workmen from Woolwich and Deptford yards (none whereof yet appeared), and to write to Sir W. Coventry to have the Duke of Yorke’s permission to pull down houses, rather than lose this office, which would much hinder the King’s business. So Sir W. Pen he went down this night, in order to the sending them up to-morrow morning; and I wrote to Sir W. Coventry about the business, but received no answer.

This night Mrs. Turner (who, poor woman, was removing her goods all this day, good goods into the garden, and knows not how to dispose of them), and her husband supped with my wife and I at night, in the office, upon a shoulder of mutton from the cook’s, without any napkin or any thing, in a sad manner, but were merry. Only now and then walking into the garden, and saw how horridly the sky looks, all on a fire in the night, was enough to put us out of our wits; and, indeed, it was extremely dreadful, for it looks just as if it was at us, and the whole heaven on fire.

I after supper walked in the darke down to Tower-streete, and there saw it all on fire, at the Trinity House on that side, and the Dolphin Taverne on this side, which was very near us; and the fire with extraordinary vehemence. Now begins the practice of blowing up of houses in Tower-streete, those next the Tower, which at first did frighten people more than any thing; but it stopped the fire where it was done, it bringing down the houses to the ground in the same places they stood, and then it was easy to quench what little fire was in it, though it kindled nothing almost. W. Hewer this day went to see how his mother did, and comes late home, telling us how he hath been forced to remove her to Islington, her house in Pye-corner being burned; so that the fire is got so far that way, and all the Old Bayly, and was running down to Fleete-streete; and Paul’s is burned, and all Cheapside. I wrote to my father this night, but the post-house being burned, the letter could not go.’

10,000 houses in one flame

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1915
Douglas Haig,
soldier

‘The CGS (Robertson) arrived . . . He came to let me know at once, very secretly, that the operations had been postponed by the French for another ten days. The reason given is that Castelnau’s Army is not ready. This extra delay may well jeopardise the success of what I am undertaking, because at present we know that the Enemy’s troops have no further protection against gas - only small ‘respirators’. They may hear of our getting up the gas cylinders and issue effective ‘gas helmets’. On the other hand it would be foolish for a portion of the Allies to attack until the whole are ready for a combined effort.

General Gough came to see me about the amount of gas available. I told him to arrange to provide the whole of his front south of the Canal with sufficient gas for 40 minutes’ attack before giving any cylinders to the Givenchy section; and that his Corps, and IV Corps, would attack simultaneously along the whole front from the ‘Double Crassier’ on Rawlinson’s right, up to the Canal on the left.

Later in the morning General Rawlinson arrived and asked me regarding the front on which the 1st Division is to attack. After discussion I agreed that one brigade should move east with its left on the Vermelles-Hulluch road. All the Enemy’s communication trenches run in that direction, so that the troops would, whether they were ordered or not, move against Hulluch! That another brigade of the 1st Division should advance against Puits No. 14 and the north end of Loos, so as to maintain communication between the attacks against Hulluch and Loos . . .

I motored to La Buissiere (HQ of IV Corps) as I had arranged for Lieutenant Colonel Foulkes (gas expert) to meet me there. The gas cylinders had not yet been off-loaded at Bethune Station, so I was able to send them back to Boulogne at once. The ‘gas companies’ also went back to St Omer without having mixed with our troops, so I hope the fact that we are able to use gas will remain a secret from the Enemy . . .

We arranged for several officers of the Cavalry Corps to go forward to our lines and reconnoitre the country with a view to advancing.’

Haig’s ‘unique’ WWI diaries

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1939
Nella Last,
housewife

‘Today has been an effort to get round, for my head is so bad. A cap of pain has settled down firmly and defies aspirin. I managed to tidy up and wash some oddments and then, as the neatness did not matter, made two cot blankets out of tailor’s pieces. I’ve nearly finished a knitted one. I have a plan to make good, warm cot blankets out of old socks cut open and trimmed. It breaks my heart to think about the little babies and the tiny children being evacuated - and the feelings of their poor mothers. I’ve got lots of plans made to spare time so as to work with the W.V.S. - including having my hair cut short at the back. I cannot bear the pins in now, and unless curls are curls they are just horrid. My husband laughs at me for what he terms ‘raving’, but he was glad to hear of a plan I made last crisis and have since polished up. It’s to keep hens on half the lawn. The other half of the lawn will grow potatoes, and cabbage will grow under the apple trees and among the currant bushes. I’ll try and buy this year’s pullets and only get six, but when spring comes I’ll get two sittings and have about twenty extra hens in the summer to kill. I know a little about keeping hens and I’ll read up. My husband just said, ‘Go ahead.’ ’

Carrying their gas masks

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1942
Robert Wyse,
airman

‘At noon today informed of another move, don’t know where but think old English to be sorted out and confined together. Trying to sell my lighter at any price, sorry I didn’t take the five guilders, am stone broke. The Nippons had allowed us to keep some of our English iron rations. Now the C.O. is giving us each a share. I had a share in a can of apples, a small spoonful, a half a can of bully beef and an eighth of a tin of potatoes - that, with my noontime ration, à la Dai Nippon, made one good bellyful. [. . .]

There is damn-all charity between the British prisoners of war. Never in all my life have I seen such examples of selfishness. There was a riot over a case of corned beef, several boys injured. [Just] a spirit of ‘the hell with you, jack, I am looking after myself.’ Officers and men alike sit in front of others and fairly gloat over food that they have been able to purchase. When the capitulation came, huge impresses were handed out to officers for disbursement and the common good, [but] large sums of it remain in their own pockets and those of their friends. Tonight I sold a pair of socks, a gift, which I do not need, for 2; also a half cupful of petrol for 1. Our atap huts present a lively spectacle tonight as the Dutch come from all over to buy up the few remaining possessions of the English. I don’t know who wins. Our lads need the money for food, they certainly don’t need many clothes in this climate, but we have been at great pains to issue them with shirts and shorts to cover their nakedness, and the minute they get a new shirt off they go to see how many guilders they can get, guilders of course representing food.’

Goose Lane Editions

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1947
Nettie Palmer,
writer

‘N. tinkering with diaries and fitting persons in like mosaic. N.B. must write some of it . . .’

N. tinkering with diaries

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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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