Ernest Dockray, and his WW1 diaries

This diary was written by my Grandfather, and covers four years in the Royal Engineers, March 1915 to March 1919, during which he was posted to East Africa. The text is to be published here, but the many photos illustrating the diary are published separately on Flickr. 


In World War 1, WWI, 1914-1919, many British soldiers went away to the war thinking it would last a year at the most. They went to France, to the Middle East, and to Africa, to take the fight to wherever the British could attack and divert German attention. But many spent four or more years away, and came home in a poor state, to face the Spanish flu, a changed family, and few jobs.

While the official instructions were that no diaries should be kept, for fear of them falling into enemy hands during the conflict, it is possible that many did so. On the other hand, many of them, like my Grandfather, had a lot of time spent in Hospital on their return, and decided to record their memories then. They had little else to distract their attention – he was in hospital in London, with a home in Leeds.

Many of the diaries and memoirs from that time have now been published: my Grandfather’s are the subject of this account. In fact my father did the same in WW2, in that he went away, to India and Burma, and while not being captured, he was still away for four years without a break or visit home. When he came home he had the same re-adjustments to make, and perhaps many more memories to try to put to one side, because he could not talk easily about those years, or the fighting.

My Grandfather

Ernest Dockray, 1915

Ernest Dockray, 1915

He was Ernest J Dockray, of 61 Estcourt Avenue, Leeds 6. He was born 10 March 1881, so in 1915 he was 34 years old. He became Number 1487 in the Royal Engineers, Northern Signal Company, also given a number 484124. He titled his diary “The World Crisis –The Small Part Played Therein by Nr 1487 RE”. He covers the period March 1915 to March 1919.

The whole is hand written, and beautifully written, bound into a book, with lots of illustrations, some of which have faded. It was written in green ink, presumably with a fountain pen, while he spent seven months in Mile End Hospital, on his return to the UK.

The next ten years, to 1928, were pretty awful, with problems of recurring bouts of malaria, heart problems and Spanish flu, plus his wife Sally suffered with the long term cancer that she appears to have had, as we would now call it: she died in 1926. From 1928 onwards things appear to have got better: he married Gladys Playle, whom he met during his pre-war trips to Norfolk, became the Postmaster in Leeds, and a Freemason. He was not keen on his younger daughter Freda, a telephonist in the Leeds exchange in 1939, marrying a regular army soldier in the Royal Signals, but was more respectful when he came back from Burma as a Lt Colonel! They were my mum and dad. Ernest Dockray died, still living at 61 Estcourt Avenue, in 1948.


Some of the language used by my Grandad would now be deemed not to be politically correct, but it is reproduced here as from the time it was written, 1919, when it was absolutely normal.


The typing up will probably take a year, with scans included etc. That means the story will be published backwards on this WordPress site, if I am starting from the beginning, ie the earliest date!

CONTENTS: The first few posts are written separate from the original diary, and posted afterwards, so they appear first in this Blog.

1. Grandad’s African WW1 mementoes: a Club and a Walking Stick.

2-4. Addendum: New things seen in Africa: Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Diary Chapter 1a: Introduction

Chapter 1b: Enlisting, and Posting to …..Biggleswade

Chapter 1c: Watton, Norfolk: September 15 to March 16

Chapter 1d: Preparations for Departure

Chapter 2a: Freetown to Capetown

Chapter 2b: Capetown, and then storms to Durban

Chapter 2c: Arriving in East Africa

Chapter 2d: Lindi

Chapter 2e: Cable Handling

Chapter 3a: Cable Laying and Action

Chapter 3b: Linking up with the KAR (King’s African Rifles)

Chapter 3c: Return to Camp C23, with a “Shenzie”

Chapter 3d: The Concert Party

Chapter 3e: Back to Fighting at Narunyu

Chapter 4a: Admitted to Mingoyo Hospital

Chapter 4b: In Hospital, from October 1917

Chapter 4c: The Journey to Cape Town, and Beyond…..

Chapter 4d: Home Again

Chapter 4e: Demob orders, January 1919

Nick Denbow

10th February 2013

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