BACKGROUND TO THE WAR DIARY OF ARTHUR ELIA IMPEY (1885-1954)
In December 1934 the manuscript War diary of Captain Arthur Impey was given to the archives of Birmingham Reference Library by his sister-in-law, Ethel Jane Adair Impey, the wife of his brother Francis Levitt who at that time was Managing Director of Morland and Impey Ltd, Birmingham, later to become Kalamazoo. Arthur himself was living in France in 1934 with his first wife, Lillian, where he managed the firm’s Paris factory.
The diary consists of 222 exercise-book pages and records Arthur’s experiences as a Battery Officer of 79th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, from August 16th 1918, when he returned to France after being wounded in 1917, to November 11th 1918, the day of the armistice. It covers the British advance from near Albert to near Maubeuge as part of V Corps in Byng’s Third Army. His battery was usually in support of 17th (Northern) Division.
From Ethel’s introductory notes we learn that he originally wrote his diary in a Field Service pocket book where he wrote up each day’s events. After the Armistice and, with his battery in billets awaiting demobilisation, he wrote it up from his original notes. He states that his motive in writing the diary was to record “what really happened each day and what it felt like at the time, without either exaggeration or omission”. The diary did not totally remain in private hands from 1919 to 1934 for there is a long quotation (46 lines) from it on pages 424-5 of A.Hilliard Atteridge’s ‘History of the 17th (Northern) Division’ published in 1929. This was his account of Selvigny. Impey is not acknowledged personally but is referred to as a ‘gunner officer’. On page 469 Impey’s words on Armistice Day are reproduced and the diary is used on five other occasions.
The internet copy of the diary has been completed from a typescript copy made in the 1970s for educational purposes. It has been tidied up slightly for publication given that, in the exercise-book copy, he…
Rarely used full stops
Some letters were difficult to read e.g. ‘g’ and ‘y’.
Occasional confusion of tenses – have, had – probably caused by the fact that he was rewriting something he had written a few months before.
His spelling could be slightly inaccurate e.g. ‘moral’ for ‘morale’ and ‘hugh’ for ‘huge’. Ate dinner becomes eat dinner.
His numbering of pages sometimes went astray so there are two page 46s for example. They have been renumbered 46A and 46B.
Uses common abbreviations of the time, most of which have been kept e.g. OP (Observation Post), BC (Battery Commander), CRA (Commander Royal Artillery) and Bde for Brigade.
As a great deal of action takes place in the early hours of the morning e.g. dawn barrages Arthur Impey adopts two different ways of recording such events. Sometimes he includes early morning information with the end of the day before and, on other occasions, at the beginning of the particular day.
KEY EVENTS IN IMPEY’S DIARY – 1918
As recorded in the diary:-
August 24 Joins ‘A’ Battery, 79th Brigade RFA, at Engelbelmer as
a subaltern under the command of Jimmy Glover.
August 25 Crosses the River Ancre and enters Thiepval
September 3 Advance of 6 miles
September 4 Posted to ‘A’ Battery as acting Captain
September 7 Crosses Canal du Nord
September 15 Shell kills 5 of his grazing horses
September 18 Takes over temporary command of the whole battery
September 30 He describes the Hindenburg Line
October 9 Sees a gun hit and a subaltern killed. Advance of 6 miles
October 10 Another advance of 6 miles
October 11 Posted to command ‘C’ Battery as Acting Major
October 21 Crosses the River Selle
October 25 Taken out of the line for rest (until 29th)
October 28 Flies over the front for one hour in an RE8 plane
November 3 Transferred to command ‘A’ Battery
November 4 Enters Englefontaine
November 5 Battery advances through the Forest of Mormal
November 7 Crosses River Sambre
November 11 11 a.m. Announces the armistice to his Battery
This material based on the Impey diary would not have been possible without the help of the Archives Department of Birmingham Reference Library, which holds the original, and Mr John Impey of Alvechurch, West Midlands, nephew of Arthur Impey who has been supportive of the project. Extracts from the 79th Brigade RFA War Diary are acknowledged as Crown copyright with originals in the National Archives.
Begin Reading the Diary - August 1918
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Copyright © Alan Tucker, February, 2009.
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