Getting to know one First World War soldier’s unique experience.
Within Lowewood Museum’s collection are a set of five diaries written during the First World War by Stephen Warner, a soldier whose family came from Hoddesdon. The diaries offer a first-hand perspective of war, in a field hospital and on the front line. There are stories, drawings, pressed flowers, photographs and much more in them, which bring Stephen’s experience to life. Many quotes and images from the diaries have been shared on this blog in the past.
At Lowewood Museum we are working on a research project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, based on the diaries.
In May 2018, as part of our First World War centenary celebrations, we will be launching an exhibition and series of events focusing on this unsung hero and his war diaries.
Look out for more in the coming months and in the meantime keep reading to find out why Stephen is such an important character.
Local Connections and Family Importance
Stephen Warner was the great grandson of John Warner, who owned Lowewood Museum when it was a domestic residence. The Warner family were well known locally and there are several institutions named after them, such as John Warner School and the John Warner Sports Centre.
John Warner also had a bell foundry and famously cast the first ‘Big Ben’, the bell in the Elizabeth Tower at Westminster (it was later recast at Whitechapel in London).
Stephen served the majority of his time in the First World War at the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples, France. He then went on to serve with the Essex Regiment on the front line. Stephen joined the 3rd Battalion and fought on the front line in France, going on to receive the Military Cross for his gallant and self-sacrificing work.
Thursday. 28 February 1918 “I have had a proud day. A letter has just come from the adjutant telling me that I have been awarded the military cross! I do not feel that I did anything very wonderful, but I suppose the standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be.”
He survived the war but was reported wounded in April 1918. After the war he graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford with an MA. He had a keen interest in history and architecture and later published books on various historic buildings in England including Lincoln College.
In 1928 he moved to Alton, Hampshire and became the honorary curator of the local museum. The museum still has a significant number of artefacts and books that were donated by Stephen and by his wife after he died in 1948.
His diaries offer us a personal interpretation of life in the war from a unique man. Stephen had a keen interest in the flora of his local area and pressed specimens in his diaries.
Throughout the war and especially when he had days off from the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Stephen wandered through the countryside and villages, talking knowledgably about the landscape and flora. He also showed an interest in the local agricultural practises, comparing them to those in England.
Stephen was an intelligent man and took an interest in everything he came across. He describes in his diaries, detailed articles and notes about operations, infections, illnesses and treatments that were being carried out in the hospital. He had a close-up view of these things when he worked in the surgical theatre as an orderly.
Thursday 13 January 1916 “The chief feature is the church, which had a finely vaulted chancel and transept of late 1450. Nice carving on the pillar capitals including acanthus leaves and ivy with berries.”