1945 Diary of a British Lieutenant Serving in Roorkee, India and in Operation Grapeshot in Italy and Later in at the Tail End of World War 2

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On offer is an outstanding journal of an officer who was part of the spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot - the final Allied attack during the Italian Campaign in the final stages of WWII.

The diary belongs to R.J. Double, a 28 year Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Our informal research has not been able to find any additional information about him.

The Royal Engineers served in every theatre of conflict in WWII. Indeed, their motto is “Ubique” Latin for ‘Everywhere’. We know that Double was in India not only from his diary entries but also from a pass that permitted him access to the “Bombay Port Trust Docks”. This pass, dated Nov 18th, 1943, confirms both his name and his Regiment. He was stationed at Roorkee, India, on the Burma Front.

In January 1945, Double was serving in Roorkee, India. He was posted then to the Reinforcement Battalion and prepared to travel to Italy to join the British Eighth Army which was preparing for the massive assault on the German Gothic Line. On January 21st, he shipped out, beginning a long trip to Italy. An excerpt follows:

“...I caught the 10:45 train on my way to Delhi. The train arrived in Saharanpur at midnight. The train for Delhi arrived at 6:00 am. I slept in the waiting room” [Jan 21].

On Mar 14, Double arrived at his destination, a camp near Forli, Italy, south of the Senio River. For the next few weeks, he was busy with the engineering work that had to be done before the major assault could begin. Excerpts follow:

“Demonstration of flame throwing and building our trestle bridges – everything went ok” [Mar 23]. 

“SENIO RIVER ATTACK…I do not intend to write about it I shall never forget what happened It was my first time in action and I now value the experience I was more or less prepared to die or be wounded afterwards. I almost wondered why I received nothing. The attack was a success even though casualties were high…” [Apr 9].

“I returned to our H.A. about 10 o’clock very hungry and very very tired. I went to bed. I woke up for dinner in the evenings and went to bed again. The guns were firing heavily all night but I hardly noticed them” [April 10]. 

For the next several weeks, he worked in and around the battle area, inspecting bridges, clearing mines, etc.

"I tried to sleep was woken up several times for wireless heard Pollack was killed. I went up to Po to do checking…on other side of River. Found nothing…” [Apr 26]. 

He notes the Italian Surrender on May 2nd. He also notes some of the carnage:

“...There are many dead German bodies which keep floating down the river. They catch in the wreckage below the bridge and remain there together with the dead horses. It is a very unpleasant sight…” [May 11].

On leave, he takes some time to visit Rome and Assisi before he is ordered to return to India and the front lines there where the war is still raging. On June 20th, he ships out.

The next 2 weeks of his diary are filled with detailed notes on his journey until he arrives at Roorkee, India on July 11th. He notes the detonation of the first nuclear bomb, the entry of Russia into the war against Japan and finally, in an entry highlighted in red – the end of the war:

“FINAL VICTORY The day we have waited for for six long years. The Japanese surrender was accepted and arrangements were made for their complete surrender all over the Pacific. On a day like this I naturally think of Frank and wonder how long it will be before he is free and what he will be like. The day went on as usual. Dave Lang came down to dinner and we went to Cinema. Sa “No [sic] Voyager” Bette Davis” [Aug 15]. 

On August 16, Double and his peers were given a two day “victory holiday”. Double continues to record his time in India even after victory was declared, including the signing of the surrender of Singapore on September 12. He leaves Roorkee, India on September 21 and records in detail his journey back to Europe and his travels around when he returns. He finally arrives back in England on November 18, at which time he writes, “This was really my Victory Day…” He continues to write daily about his life back at home until the end of 1945.

For a historian, this is a superb, first-hand account of a young officer’s life in WWII. Not only was the author present at one of the major campaigns in Europe, but he also served on the Burma front in what some have referred to as ‘the Forgotten War’. It would be an outstanding addition to the library of a WWII researcher.

Measuring 7.25 inches by 6.75 inches, this 1945 diary contains 183 pages and is 98% complete. Tipped into the diary are handwritten notes and newspaper articles. The cover is in good condition although it shows wear marks. The binding is sewn and is in good condition as are the pages. The writing is legible. Overall G. 

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