Treasure 32: the wartime diaries of Maria Gyte

This treasure is nominated by two former members of staff, who have prepared the text used in this post.  Firstly, let’s hear from Glynn, officer for the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project:

I am nominating these diaries, not just because they have relevance to my role with the First World War, but because it is what archives are all about. They are a reflection of real life that cannot be understood so well through history books written by someone years later.

Maria Gyte was at the centre life in the village of Sheldon through war and peace. She suffered the greatest loss a mother could with the death of her son, Tony, in France. The diary covering 1917 records the way in which she learned the terrible news through a third party and her repeated sadness that Tony ‘now lies in a foreign grave’.

Treasure 32 M Gyte diary.JPG

Despite the obvious grief and some hardship, one of the great things about the diary is the comic contrasts. After recording the dramatic world events, village life intervenes with the news that ‘Ben Naylor killed Ed Brocklhursts pig (18stone 10lbs)’ and a few days later that they had roast pork for dinner.

Phil, formerly our Caretaker, and latterly a volunteer on the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project, writes:

Words have always been very special to me- they convey not just facts, and detail but emotion, subtlety. I love to write as much as I love to read; I garner facts and squirrel them away….

In its awfulness, the Great War was unparalleled in the futility, suffering and loss that it generated. Men, through their sense of duty, freely gave themselves for King and country; they accepted all they were asked to do. That duty ended in ‘No man’s land’ for countless thousands- lives, mostly young- cut short by a bullet, shell, gas or shrapnel. Human beings were cruelly used for such little gain.

Lives in the trenches were often brutally short; so many men simply disappeared into the mud and mayhem of the battlefield. Some so badly wounded, even when brought back to the dressing stations for treatment, survived only to die soon afterwards. One such, a young Private; a farmer’s son, honest, quiet, loved! Tony Gyte; died of wounds one grey November morning in 1917. Passchendaele! One of the by-words for muddy, bloody horror.

We know about Tony because of the love, grief and passion of one woman- Maria Gyte, Tony’s mother, who kept a diary of her thoughts, her day to day trials and tribulations; the mundane the highlights of a hard, but eventful life in the tiny Derbyshire village of Sheldon. The published compilation ‘Diaries of Maria Gyte: 1913-1920’ is without doubt my ‘treasure’ to contribute towards the ’50 Treasures’. It is a book with no equal!

Tony’s final resting place is in one of the very many military cemeteries in Flanders- a fact that distressed Maria immensely for the rest of her life. Maria and Anthony, (Tony’s father) ‘rest’ under the trees in the churchyard of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Sheldon. Tony’s short life is commemorated on the gravestone, along with those of his parents and one of his four sisters. The inscriptions and carvings on the stone tell their own moving tale. It was worth the 50 mile round trip to see this most moving of tributes, to feel the connection with the Gyte family, and sense their overwhelming loss….

Two short extracts: 

Aug 4th [1914]

Rather gloomy at times. Men working on the hay (Waterlands).  W[ilia]m mowed croft heads.

Nothing can be talked about but the war. This has come so suddenly…….England has fought for peace but it is feared that she will have to fight as Germany is proving very aggressive…..W[illia]m also mowed Little Butts.

England declared war on Germany.

 

Nov 13th [1917]

Fine. The dreadful news came (officially) that our poor Tony had died in the field ambulance on Nov: 2nd. We are all in a sad way. poor lad it is only six months since he went into training and now killed in the beauty of his manhood……..My poor dear Tony, gone for ever and we shall never see his face any more on this earth.  How shall we bear it?

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