Capt John Pratt (photographs; diary; whistle; medals; trench art; postcards with drawing)



Capt John Pratt (photographs; diary; whistle; medals; trench art; postcards with drawing)


Captain John Pratt


Photographs of Capt Pratt, Lt Stueck, diary, whistle, medals, trench art, military record, Field medical card, postcards from Belgium.


Captain John Harold Pratt, 5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

On the 17 April 1915 at 23 years of age my father, then a Lance Corporal, left Newcastle by train for France to fight for his country against the invading German army along with a number of his friends. In the left breast pocket of his battle dress tunic he carried a thick pocket diary for 1915 with a metal mirror over the diary as protection in case a bullet was for him. This apparently was a popular misconception at the time.

The diary was lost at the commencement of the 2nd Battle of Ypres later in April 1915. It was then returned to my father in August 1925 by a German soldier, W. Stueck, who fought against him during the Battle of Ypres.

Letters and photographs were exchanged after the war and copies are shown below:

Arnstadt, Vor dem Riedtor 15, (Undated)

To Mr Pratt or his next of kin. (Translated from the German)

In April 1915 I was fighting in Flanders, and there was very heavy fighting going on. The Germans attacked the English positions in the vicinity of Ypres. I was with the attacking troops, and one evening, in a farmhouse we had taken, and which had previously been occupied by English soldiers found an English tommy’s notebook or diary. I took it with me and still have it. I should now like to return it to the former owner. Should he have fallen, it will be a precious souvenir for his next-of-kin. In order that you may know whether it is your book or not, I shall describe it exactly. It is leather-bound, of 9 x 13 cm external dimensions, and has in gilt letters the inscription DIARY 1915. On the first page is written in pencil Lance Corporal G H Pratt, D Company, 16th Platoon, 5th Durham Light Infantry. Home Address: 12 Lenfield Road, Darlington, England.

From the many entries in the diary it appears that the owner embarked at Folkestone on 18th April 1915. The same day he joined the ‘trooper’ for Boulogne, and left that place without delay, his unit being sent to Cassel. 19th April: Marched from Cassels at 4-15am to a place 6 miles inland, (Ville de Steenvorde). “Can distinctly hear the guns firing. About 12 miles from Ypres. Very warm. Billeted in hay shed. Passed through St Omer, the HQ of General French and the Prince of Wales. 20th April: Waiting to move at Ville de Steenvorde. Very warm.” The entries ceased two days later.

Did the owner fall, or is he still alive? Be so good as to let me know. If you can let me have the proper address of the owner or of his next-of-kin, I shall be only too glad to return the little diary. I should be very glad to know whether the owner was young or old, a student, or what. Please write fully to the above address.

With kind regards,
Yours very sincerely
W Stueck

Arnstadt, Vor dem Riedtor 15,
22nd August 1925

Dear Sir
It is to me a great pleasure to be able to return the little book to one who is still ‘in the flesh’, as, in the years that have intervened, I always feared the owner might be dead. It is good to know that the terrible battles for the lovely town of Ypres have left both of us still to the fore. Do tell me how it all came about: on what day and at what hour you had to abandon the farmhouse in which you left the notebook and greatcoat. The entries in the book go up to the 22nd April. The name of the farm was Fortuin? and I still seem to see it before me. It lay on a rise which sloped towards Ypres, and it was only gained with the expenditure of many lives. I was in the infantry, who always have the heavy end of the stick. At the time I was only a private: it was a year later that I was made a Lieutenant. At the end of the war I was serving in Russia, but now it is all over and I trust I shall never have another war to go through. I had quite enough of it, and I think the time must come when there will be no such thing as war.

I beg to thank you very much for your photo, which I shall preserve carefully. Is it a recent one? It is a small town I am living in – 21,000 inhabitants - in Thueringen, near to the lovely Thueringen forest, and I am a high-school teacher. In 1917, when I was on leave, I got married, and we have three sons who are all well. I am sending you the diary today by post as ‘printed matter’ and shall be glad to hear that it has arrived safely.

With kindest regards,
Yours very sincerely,
W Stueck

Unfortunately, I do not have copies of the responses sent by my father. I think these very powerful letters speak for themselves and are an amazing insight into mankind under such dreadful circumstances. Photographs of the actual diary and packaging that it was returned in are also shown.

A popular pastime in the trenches in the First World War was the pencil drawing of soldiers by their comrades on postcards or whatever was available. Reference is made to this in the book ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks. This drawing of my father, on a postcard, was done in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

After the war my father’s officers whistle, complete with lanyard and dog tags (personal identification tags for use in case of injury or death) was kept in the hall wardrobe at home. As a small child I used to like to put my tongue in the hole of the whistle and lick what appeared to be a toffee-like substance. The whistle itself would never blow and Dad used to say it had lost its pea! This was ever since he was gassed at the Somme in 1916 and brought home to England to recover before returning to the trenches.

Most years, around Remembrance Day, my father and I would check his medals and try out the whistle, always unsuccessfully.

On the night of the centenary of the start of the First World War I had a very vivid dream about the damage to the lanyard of the whistle. It was so vivid that in the morning I found the lanyard with the whistle and it was exactly as I had dreamed it. I tried blowing it a few times and suddenly something blew out of the hole and it made a strange noise. A few more attempts were made with more material coming out, until eventually the whistle blew perfectly, sending shivers down my spine. The toffee-like substance may well have been mustard gas residue!

Having last been used almost one hundred years ago to send my father’s platoon over the top of the trenches in the Great War, this whistle was next used in peacetime at his greatgrandchildren’s school sports day in 2014 and at a number of Remembrance events.

Michael John Pratt

Footnote June 2018 – My father survived the First World War and re-enlisted in the Royal Engineers in the Second World War and served throughout this war in the United Kingdom.




Ypres, Belgium


Mike Pratt, son

Collection Day

3 November 2018, Menston

This item was submitted on February 7, 2019