Richard Charles Graves-Sawle

WW1 soldier's diary revealed through tweets

The diary of a Cornish soldier from the Great War is being serialised through daily tweets during the centenary year of World War One. Richard Charles Graves-Sawle from Porthpean, St Austell joined and fought with the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards in 1908 until his death by a sniper’s bullet to the head near Ypres in France on 2 November 1914.

History students Ellie Vale and Emily Poole from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus have taken extracts from the soldier Graves-Sawle’s experiences and insight into war by tweeting sections of his diary 100 years to the day from when they were written. The aim of the project is to show stories that would have been common nationwide as Graves-Sawle’s experiences provide an insight into the lives of the millions of others who were killed in the First World War. He left for France six days after he married on 6 August 1914 and went through the retreat from Mons and the Battles of Marne and the Aisne.

“Had a tiring march to 1 mile south of Villiers, only about 8 miles… There are a lot of very cheerful rumours flying about today.”  This was an extract from his diary on 9 Sept and tweeted on the same day 100 years later.  This was followed the next day by “A very bad night, as I only had a waterproof sheet and straw and it poured all night… expecting a German Counter attack all day.” He wrote some days later: “This is the first night since Landrecies that we have had a roof over our heads. I feel quite uncomfortable at going into a house at all.” And then “Would have been more comfortable if there had been less animal life in the bed… I am beginning to run short of Chocolate Menier.”

Director of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, Dr Garry Tregidga said of the twitter project:“Social media is an innovative way of enabling younger generations in Cornwall and elsewhere to engage with the terrible events of the First World War. Ellie and Emily have combined detailed historical research with a sensitive awareness of personal tragedy and the result is an impressive project that explores key events through the everyday experiences of a Cornish soldier on the battle field.”

The short extracts, whether mundane or heartfelt, are all part of the soldier’s journey and on a digital platform it is all the more accessible according to Emily Poole. She explained:“By creating a website we hope to reach a much more diverse audience, and share Richard Charles Graves-Sawle’s story. Through twitter we can engage people with this Cornish soldier’s history, through short extracts which are both poignant and fascinating, as it is rare that one is given such an insight into someone’s private experiences. We aim to show that we can collectively remember the war by learning about individual stories such as Grave-Sawle’s.”

Visitors to @RCGravesSawle twitter feed can use the narrative to reflect upon their own family histories, and can read the blog on the website to learn about the research process. 

Ellie Vale was excited about discovering more about the Cornish soldier held in both the Cornwall Record Office and at the National Archives. She said:“We found maps relating to Richard Charles Graves-Sawle’s movements with the Coldstream Guards at the National Archives at Kew, London. Images show movements from the night before his death on 2 November 1914; the pencil line shows the allied front which Richard was defending, with the blue line being German. Documents such as these really bring home how Richard’s story is a personal one and should not just be remembered as a statistic.”

Cornwall Record Office was the main source for locating the information about Graves-Sawle, who was from a notable Cornish family. His father was a baronet, and, as the only son, he was heir to the Sawle family estate.

He was survived by his parents and both sisters, Hyacinth and Joan (who preferred to be called Rosemary), the latter of whom became a prominent figure in the St Austell community. She died in 1971 and left the family home, Penrice House, for the use of the community. Most of the family’s graves and memorials are located in their own private chapel; St Levan’s in Porthpean and can still be visited today. A memorial to Richard Charles Graves-Sawle can also be found there. His name appears on the Celtic cross at Holy Trinity Church, St Austell and is also on the second panel at Menin Gate in Ypres, not far from where he was killed.

Date: 28 October 2014

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