Long Before Daybreak: The Story of Fusilier Albert Clayton
An unknown WW1 memoir by an art student who joined the Royal Fusiliers has been discovered and published for the first time.
Albert Clayton was known to his family as an artist and they knew very little about his war experience other than the fact he had been captured and spent time as a POW, so the recent discovery of a autobiographical account of Albert’s front line service at the age of 21, was an astonishing discovery. Clayton joined the war and trained as a reservist in the 29th “Public School’s” Battalion Royal Fusiliers, but on entering France this was merged with the 8th Battalion RF. The account details his journey through France from July 1916 to his eventual capture in May 1917.
Micah Duckworth who found the document in a box when sorting through cupboards at his mother’s house says, “It was an extraordinary moment when we discovered the handwritten script. At first, we assumed it was fiction but as we read more, we realised it was a fully narrated first-hand account of Albert’s experience in and out of the trenches. What is remarkable is how he writes in such a matter of fact and descriptive style. He describes the trials and escapades of his comrades with great affection. Despite the terrible hardships they clearly endured there is little trace of self-pity, though he was grateful for any relief from the conditions. Having gone ‘over the top’ no less than four times he must have felt lucky to have survived.”
In Alberts’s own words on fleeing the enemy:
I was progressing well, I thought, putting the distance of undulant ground between me and the rattling gun, when suddenly …. something hit my left foot with the force of a flying brick … and I rolled, head over heels, into a shell-hole. The roll probably saved my life.
Despite the horrors as he later describes waking up in no-man’s-land:
Intense quiet pervaded all. Not a rattle, not a rumble broke the beautiful stillness. The whole world lay basking in a perfect noon-day peace, needing only the waving corn and a warbling lark soaring up into the sun’s golden disc, to achieve heaven.
I turned stiffly in my little shell-hole and peeped over its edge.
“Since finding the story it has been an exciting project to get it published as a proper book. We think Albert was writing some time after the war, intending it for publication but for some reason it never happened. Perhaps his final chapters as a POW were too hard to commit to words. There are many questions we would love to ask if Albert were alive now. The book includes some of his war photos we found at the same time. Having read his story we can now piece together their true significance.”
“The narrative account appears very authentic and we have been able to trace what happened to some of the soldiers he names. Records show some died in the war, others like Albert survived, and it would be wonderful to make contact with any other living relatives we can share this story with.”
The book titled “Long Before Daybreak” is published in paperback and eBook on Amazon. Further information at www.longbeforedaybreak.com.
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