Secret Journals of a World War II Rifleman
By F R McMillan
In June 1941, ‘Mac’ McMillan then aged 27, left his job as a baker’s roundsman and was drafted into the B Company of the 9th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. Following a period of intense training, Mac and his fellow companions left England and to the sound of a marching band and cheering locals they sailed off for their tour of duty in North Africa.
Mac left behind him a wife and four daughters but, as he departed, he was completely 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 Mac decided to start a personal diary through which to catalogue his experiences throughout the war. This he kept religiously until the date of his return to England some twenty-seven months later.
For many years after his death, Mac’s wartime diaries remained forgotten about until his daughter, Janice, happend to discover them one day,
The result of her edited and stranscribed work is the remarkable Diary of a Common Soldier – a true and detailed record of her father’s wartime experiences first fighting along the coast of North Africa and then onto through Libya and Egypt.
Challenges of War
Diary of a Common Soldier offers a fascinating, unique and often moving insight into the hardships and challenges that soldiers needed to overcome just to survive on the battlefield.
Throughout his diary, Mac records his unit’s constant battle in trying to cope the problems created by dust and sand in the equipment and describes the endless search for basic supplies, such as water and fuel that were needed just to keep the company mobile.
Very often, their problems were compounded by poor sanitation, military red tape; whilst the terrain threw up its own challenges in the form of ants, clouds of flies, snakes, scorpions and spiders.
This was an existence only made barely tolerable by the sporadic air mail letters that he received containing news of his friends and family back at home in England along with the small snippets of war news that were broadcast 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 that he guarded than he did from from his own officers.
Mac has left behind him a truly valuable and insightful record of an important time in modern history and a pivotal time in World War Two. It is a story that will resonate deeply in the minds of both military men and the loved ones that they left behind them.