The diaries of a former First World War signaller who survived the horrors of trench warfare before spending years recovering from shell shock in Epsom have been published for the first time.

At the outbreak of World War One, Bernard Brookes, just 21, he volunteered for the Queen’s Westminster Rifles.

After his basic training, he was sent to France as a signaller, carrying messages around trenches for the next 10 months in Flanders Fields.

While he was there he kept notes about his experiences documenting the terrible conditions endured by soldiers, which he later wrote up as a diary.

Almost a century later, in the run up to the centenary of the start of the conflict, his family have realised their long-held dream to publish his letters and diary. 

A Signaller’s War is now on sale, with all proceeds going to the British Legion.

His daughter, Una Barrie, explained it was a long process, which took more than a year and involved the whole family.

She said the diary wasn’t too sentimental or gloomy. She said: "He hasn’t written too much about the macabre stuff.

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"He wasn’t a terribly disciplined soldier and wrote rather rude messages about the Germans as well as cunningly obtaining food from nearby farmhouses - all of these tales are in the book."

The diary includes a vivid description of the incredible ceasefire between German and British soldiers on Christmas Day of 1914.

On Christmas Eve he wrote: "Towards evening the Germs became very hilarious, singing and shouting out to us. They said in English that if we did not fire they would not, and eventually it was arranged that shots should not be exchanged.

"With this they lit fires outside their trench, and sat round and commenced a concert, incidentally singing some English songs to the accompaniment of a bugle band.

"A German officer carrying a lantern came slightly forward and asked to see one of our officers to arrange a truce for tomorrow.

It was a beautiful night and a sharp frost set in, and when we awoke in the morning the ground was covered with a white raiment."

The next day both sides sat around and sang carols together and the German soldiers asked in vain for the truce to continue on Boxing Day.

After 10 months at the front, in August 1915, Rifleman Brookes' war was ended by an event so traumatic it left him shell-shocked and unable to speak.

After he watched two signallers get blown apart on open ground he was told to go over the top in their wake to carry a message forward to the advancing infantry.

Against the odds, he managed to deliver the message safely.

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But on the way back, covered in mud and under constant artillery bombardment he took refuge in a shell hole which contained the shattered bodies of a number of fellow soldiers.

Some time later he was found by friendly troops still in the hole, trembling and unable to talk or walk, and was evacuated back to Britain.

The move almost certainly saved his life. He notes in his diary that from July 1916 none of the letters he sent to friends at his old unit were answered because they were either dead or missing.

He was initially sent to convalesce at a home near Dover, where he regained the ability to speak and was ‘much improved,’ according to his daughter, before he was moved to the Military Convalescence Home in Woodcote Park, Epsom, on land now occupied by the RAC.

Here his slow recovery continued. He remained there for a further two years, and was promoted to sergeant, eventually taking charge of the orderly room at the hospital which contained more than 4,500 wounded troops.

While at Woodcote Park, Sgt Brookes befriended many of the recovering soldiers and published a magazine, The Monthly Tonic, which proved hugely popular. It was in Woodcote he found the time to write up his notes into a diary.

During his time at the hospital, he escorted King George V around the premises to meet the soldiers. Awe-struck, he described this task in his diary as, ‘by no means to be envied’.

The diary ends in 1915 with the words: "Although it may not seem noble, I must say I am quite willing to finish my soldier’s career in this campaign, midst the beauties of the country around the famous Epsom Downs," a sentiment which clearly stayed with him as he remained in the Epsom area for the rest of his life.

A year after the war ended he married Lora Cole and the couple started their life together in a caravan in her parents garden Chessington. They later moving to Bolters Lane, Banstead, where they raised five children.

After moving to Warlingham, Mr Brookes died in 1962.

Mrs Barrie said: "When we were younger the diary was there but none of us really wanted to read it. I can remember it didn’t make much of an impression on me, but now it is fascinating."

She added: "If he had been killed in the war none of us five children would have been here or any of his 17 grandchildren.

"We were very lucky. With the 100th anniversary of the start of the war approaching, I think that the diary is an interesting and relevant read.

"I hope that as many people as possible buy a copy to help raise money for the Legion's work with Service and ex-Service men and women in need."

Sir John Kiszely, ex-president of the Royal British Legion, who wrote the foreword for the book, said: "Bernard Brookes’ first-hand account of life in the trenches on the Western Front in 1914-15 is particularly graphic. You really feel that you are there alongside him."

A Signaller's War costs £8.99 in paperback format on Amazon, and £4.99 for Kindle. It is also available via online bookstores via