Mansfield soldier's First World War diary released

NINETY years ago on Friday a young Mansfield soldier was captured in the trenches of northern France as the German Army launched a massive offensive to secure the Western Front and end the First World War.

L/Cpl Leonard Wentworth Stafford was just 20 years old on 21st March 1918 when German guns bombarded his position with one million artillery shells in just five hours.

Diary of a captured soldier

The shelling was followed by an attack by elite storm troopers and L/Cpl Stafford was one of 21,000 British soldiers taken prisoner on the first day of the assault.

And now, nine decades on, L Cpl Stafford's family has given Chad exclusive access to his diary, which gives a harrowing insight into his eight months as a prisoner of war.

The diary describes the wretched conditions as the prisoners were put to work repairing roads and laying railway to help the German war effort.

They were given little food, had no access to washing facilities and many men were 'breaking out in sores and boils all over them', while others were killed or wounded by bombs from Allied planes.

'Insight'

L/Cpl Stafford's daughter Marion Towle told Chad the 'precious' diary filled her with pride and gave her an insight into a part of her father's life she knew little about.

"He didn't really talk about it much," she said. "We knew he'd been shot and was a prisoner but he didn't talk about it in detail.

"It's so wonderful to have this book and get a glimpse of what it was like for a young man in the war.

"You can't imagine the trauma of it but to think of what he went through at such a young age, it was such a cruel war."

L/Cpl Stafford was released on 11th November 1918 and after the war moved to Blidworth, where he became estate manager for the colliery's housing department.

He was well known and well liked in the village and after his death in 1959 well-wishers lined Mansfield Road to pay their final respects.