Diary of a Common Soldier

Diary of a Common Soldier by F R McMillan book cover

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.

4 Thoughts to “Diary of a Common Soldier”

  1. Amazon.co.uk Customer

    “My father severed in the 8th Army in the Western Desert fighting at El Alamein. Not knowing how my father lived, the diary provided an excellent insight along with the frustrations of army life as a private. Having served two years in the army can easily identify with these frustrations. Recommended for those interested in history of the Western Desert.”

  2. glend5 (Amazon.co.uk Customer)

    “Excellent book – a real life diary of a real man. Gives a real insight into the mind of a common soldier.”

  3. Amazon Customer

    “Read what the soldiers daily life was really like & his longing to get home to his loved ones. Very good account of the frustration of army life.”

  4. Dr David Evans

    This electronic book consists of the annotated diary of an intelligent young man, a socialist and thinker, in his army days criss-crossing war-torn North Africa by truck and train, experiencing a great deal of hardship and stress while separated from his wife and children, all of which comes across in his clipped, but highly descriptive and often class-conscious acerbic prose. For example: ‘once again the stupidity and vile wickedness of this war was brought home to me….moving even a mile is quite a business as our truck has to be very carefully packed so that the vital instruments of war, namely our officers’ wines, beer, spirits, table, armchairs, picnic case, etc, etc shall not suffer any harm.

    Life was hard… the gamut of stomach, skin and chest disorders that living in the desert brings, plus having to exist on minimal, and often dirty water, and ‘there are more flies than I have ever seen in my life’ plus spiders, ticks, scorpions, snakes, mosquitoes thieving fellow soldiers, the official mail censor, haggling locals, pernickety and nonsensical army regulations sandstorms, rain, heat, enemy air attacks, minefields, plus the mental strain of simply not knowing when, or if, the war would end, and what the result would be. Added in was personal pain like this “my only son is a year old today and I have not even seen him since his birth. Such is but one minor tragedy of this war, I suppose, but to me it is a very big thing indeed’.

    The despair grows over time:

    November 21st 1941- Heard the news on the radio. Quite heartened to be able at long last to see a faint glimmer of hope that the war will come to an end in possibly a matter of months instead of years.

    “(but not so much later) It is understood that the next few days will be decisive in this campaign, but I have heard remarks like that before so I am rather sceptical, having lost my illusions long since.

    “There is also humour, some of it black: dysentery has “has definitely improved my speed at running 100%”

    “And throughout the book, the very plain and decent humanity of the author shines through, such as one entry when he was on leave behind the lines “I had planned to visit the cinema this evening but it was open only to coloured troops as they are not allowed to mix with white men in public places around here. The darkie is only good enough to die with white folk or for them, but apparently our democratic principles do not allow him to live with them…. ‘Liberty is in peril’ some patriotic slogan writers told us at the beginning of the war. ‘We fight for the freedom of mankind, whatever his colour, race or religion’, say our jingoistic leaders. My, My! What a sceptic I am getting when I think maybe they didn’t really mean all these wonderful things.

    This is a chastening and informative read for anyone who is interested in micro-histories- the stories of what the real rank and file people did in war. My own father was in the army in North Africa at the same time as FR, and I have done some historical research with many WW2 veterans, so this lively and detailed book filled in some gaps in what I knew about the experience. Some editorial clarification here and there adds to the value of the text, and this book would be very useful reading for anyone who needed to understand the British military processes and daily routines of the 1940s.

    I would have liked to see some photographs and maybe some more maps, but that is a small quibble about what is a very moving book that reads in a direct, human and honest way.

    Add in the factor that sales benefit a very worthy charity and that is the icing on the cake. Everyone involved in the production should be justly proud of this book.

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