Pop's two diaries from the First World War cover the period June 18, 1915 to May 20, 1917. During most of this period he was in action in Belgium or France. After this period, he moved from field to staff duties.
Pop's diaries rarely mention his feelings or mood. Reading between the lines, I can detect no fear, depression or nervous exhaustion, in spite of the death of friends and his own discomfort and danger over long periods of time. Pop once told me that he enjoyed the First World War because he was always busy and hated the Second World War because of the idleness of prisoner of war camp. I think that the diaries bear this out.
From the diaries, Pop obviously enjoyed the company of his fellow officers and had warm relations with superiors. On the other hand, he rarely mentions the men under his command and never refers to any of them by their first names. This was the manner of officers at the time. They were trained to maintain a distance between themselves and their men.
Many of Pop's diary entries mention the weather. Weather was very important because it determined not only the level of comfort for someone spending the whole day and often the night outside but also because it determined the kind of fighting likely to take place. Wind direction and force allowed or disallowed gas attacks by one side or the other. Poor visibility prevented aimed mortar or artillery attacks. Soggy ground or high wind prevented use of mortars. Without artillery or mortar cover, infantry attacks were unlikely.
During all of the time that Pop was in action, the Canadian army was involved in static or offensive operations. He was never attacked by infantry or involved in a retreat. The diaries mainly describe the artillery and mortar war in the trenches. This is the kind of fighting which went on most of the time in the First World War. It was mainly a gunner's war.
Pop was awarded the Military Cross, which is a high award for bravery. The diaries do not mention this decoration. It may have been awarded for Pop's actions on January 3rd and January 5th, 1917. On the first date, his guns maintained fire while under an artillery bombardment which had driven everyone else into their dugouts. The diaries mention that he and his men were thanked for this by a brigadier general. On the second date, also while under bombardment, he organized and participated in the rescue of several men who had been buried in a dugout by an artillery hit.
Almost all of the cities and towns mentioned in the diaries can be found on Michelin map 236. Where I have been unable to find one, I have followed it with '(?)'. Other place names are code names on military maps. Except for a few of these which I found on a map of the Somme battlefield, I was unable to find any of them.
In addition to strictly transcribing the diaries, I have replaced abreviations with full text wherever possible, altered spelling to current Oxford dictionary and Michelin Map spelling, and added punctuation, capitalization and a few small words here and there. '(?)' indicates that I am not sure what the word was. My comments are in italics.
May 12, 1998