The Dockray Diary 1914-1920s – Chapter 1a: Introduction

Green ink: typical page of the diary

Green ink: typical page of the diary

An introduction by Ernest Dockray

When I wrote the following pages or rather the bulk of them I lived in a ward of twelve beds in Mile End Hospital, London. There I spent about 7 months and had ample opportunity for thinking over the previous four years and the many incidents, some trivial, some important, which had so strangely altered the mode of my existence. At present I am a sojourner in a civilized life again. I should not obtrude my small affairs on any reader’s notice if enquiries had not been made by friends concerning my mode of life whilst in the Army – what I got to eat: did I feel lonesome: was I ever afraid: and the like. Moreover I found that the preparation of this book – cutting papers, arranging and binding them, together with the writing – served an useful purpose in taking my mind from my illness, and by awakening and stimulating a mentality which had grown rusty by long neglect. I will therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular interest in me to pardon me if I undertake in these notes to answer some of the questions. I should not talk about myself if there were anyone else’s army experiences I knew as well. Unfortunately I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover I on my side require every writer, first or last, to give a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives: some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land. Perhaps these pages will appeal more particularly to those who, whilst generally interested in the great war were unfortunately, unable to take an active personal share in it. As for the rest they will accept such portions as apply to them.

All I trust is that opinion will not be too critical, as these fragments were strung together often under peculiar circumstances and many distractions, and at times when the writer was moved to write them as a relief from ennui or pain.

(signed) E. Dockray, London E. Sometime after 1919

Ernest Dockray, 1915

Ernest Dockray, 1915

Two quotes:

“When a soldier is hit by a shell

Rags are as becoming as purple”

“Our ends are as obscure as our beginnings;

The line of our days is drawn by night, and

The various effects therein by a pencil that is invisible.”

–        Sir Thomas Browne.

FOOTNOTE: Some of the pictures used in Ernest Dockray’s diary as illustrations are faded photographs, others are cut out from one or more publications. One of these publications has been identified as the book: “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures”, by Lt Col John Henry Patterson of the Royal Engineers. This is described as follows, on a LibriVox audio book page –

“In 1898, during the construction of a river-crossing bridge for the Uganda Railway at the Tsavo River, as many as 135 railway workers were attacked at night, dragged into the wilderness, and devoured by two male lions.

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo is the autobiographical account of Royal Engineer Lt. Col. J. H. Patterson’s African adventures. Among them, his hunt for the two man-eating lions.”

This book, first published by Macmillan in around 1907 according to the Preface, although I have only found a 1919 copy, was also the basis for the 1996 film ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’.

Whether Ernest’s descriptions of these extracted pictures are entirely accurate is unknown, there is possibly some element of ‘adapting available images that give the right impression’.

Nick Denbow, 2013 (Editor)

1 thought on “The Dockray Diary 1914-1920s – Chapter 1a: Introduction

  1. Jean Spencer

    Hi, I came across this diary completely by chance. At the moment I am preparing short biographies on the men named on a Signal memorial in Dar es Salaam Tanzania – British, South African and Indian. Although the First World War was the first conflict in which more soldiers died in conflict than of disease, this was not the case in East Africa; one estimate I read said that for every man killed in action or died of wounds, 31 died of tropical disease. And that is certainly what I am finding when I am working through the names on the memorial. So I was fascinated to find this diary of a Signaller who survived.


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