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October 29, 2018
Diary of a Common Soldier
Secret Journals of a World War II Rifleman
In June 1941, 27-year-old Mac McMillan left his job as a bakers' roundsman and was drafted into B-Company of the 9th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.
After a short period of training, Mac and his companions left their camp at Tidworth and, to the sound of a marching band and cheering locals, they set sail for their tour of duty in North Africa.
Mac left behind him a wife and four daughters but as he departed, he was unaware that his wife was in fact giving birth to their next child — their first son — whom he would not see for over two years.
On the day that he left the United Kingdom, Mac started a diary to document his experiences during the war. Despite many hardships, he kept it religiously until the day he reunited with his family twenty-seven months later.
For many years after his death, Mac's diaries remained forgotten about until his daughter, Janice, discovered and transcribed them into a publishable format.
The result is 'Diary of a Common Soldier' — a detailed account of her father's wartime experiences fighting along the coast of North Africa and into Libya and Egypt. It presents a fascinating and moving insight into the challenges that soldiers had to overcome just to survive.
Throughout his diaries, Mac records his constant battle to cope with dust and sand in the equipment and the endless search for supplies, water and fuel needed just to keep the company mobile.
These problems were compounded by poor sanitation and military red-tape. Meanwhile, the terrain threw up its own challenges as ants, clouds of flies, snakes, scorpions and spiders plagued them.
This existence was only made barely tolerable by the sporadic letters that he received from friends and family back home in England and the snippets of war news that were broadcasted by the BBC.
Despite its often sad and moving reflections on army life during the Second World War, 'Diary of a Common Soldier' is not without its moments of dark and sardonic humour. It features poignant social comment from a man who often found more empathy with the POWs he guarded than he did from his own officers.
Mac has left behind him a valuable and insightful record of an important time in modern history. It is a story that will resonate with both military men and the loved ones.