September 1914, and the whole of Europe was at war following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his beloved wife Sophie by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914. In France and Belgium, the British Expeditionary Force were struggling to hold back the German hoards as their casualties began to mount. Back in Britain the call went out for volunteers to join the `Pals' battalions which were springing up in the northern towns of England, and one of the first to volunteer was young Jack Smallshaw of Accrington. On 15th September 1914, Jack became an `Accrington Pal,' a member of a battalion of men who are remembered more than any other of the Pals battalions because of the appalling tragedy which befell them on the killing fields of the Somme. On that fateful day on 1st July 1916, the battalion attacked the fortified village of Serre and were virtually wiped out on the slopes in front of the village. Jack was one of the very few who survived. He continued to serve on the front throughout the remainder of 1916 and into 1917, where he took part in the battle at Oppy wood in May of that year. Shortly afterwards he was struck down by a second bout of trench fever and spent the rest of the year recovering in England. By February 1918 he was back in France serving on the front line, but Jack was never the same man. He was in the thick of the action again in March when the Germans launched their spring offensive against the allied lines. He weathered that too, and stuck it out to the bitter end. This then, is the story of a quite remarkable survivor of the `war to end all wars', whose diaries have lain unpublished, in the possession of his family, since 1919.
Steve Corbett has had a lifelong interest in military history and the collecting of artefacts from the Great War. At the age of twelve he joined the local Army Cadet unit in Hulme, Manchester and remained a member until he decided to join the Regular Army in 1969. After serving in Germany for two years - and completing two tours of duty in Northern Ireland - Steve finally left the Army in November 1974 and transferred to the reserves. He moved to Warrington with his wife Pam in 1977 and took up a career in the chemical industry. He retired early in 2001 and in 2008 decided to turn the diaries he kept while serving in Northern Ireland into a book: Belfast Diaries: A Gunner in Northern Ireland which was eventually published in July 2013 by Helion & Co. Steve still lives in Warrington where he spends much of his free time with his two daughters and two grandchildren.