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Digger's diary returns to WWI battlefield

AAP logoAAP 22/07/2016 Lloyd Jones, AAP Europe Correspondent

"Poor little Sid Crow has just been shot by a sniper," reads the diary entry by Australian soldier Les Williams during the bloody World War I Battle of Pozieres in northern France.

"The Germans are still shelling heavily and I'm lying in a bit of a dug-out," he wrote in the small notebook now brought back to the French village by a proud granddaughter for the centenary commemoration of a battle which cost the lives of more than 6800 Australians.

Judy Sargeant, 73, has travelled from Bowral in NSW with her husband Ken, daughter Katherine and 12-year-old granddaughter Ava, who will give a reading from the diary during Saturday's event at the 1st Australian Division Memorial at Pozieres.

Ms Sargeant said her grandfather, who was only about 18 when he joined up, suffered foot injuries in the fighting but after the war went on to have a career as a policeman in Sydney.

"We knew him very well, he was a big part of our lives when we were growing up but he never talked about the war," she told AAP in Pozieres on Friday.

"He used to sit me on his knee and he'd sing, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parlez Vous?

"They'd obviously learned that song here. Apart from that, we knew he had sore feet but we didn't know why."

The diaries, only rediscovered earlier this year, have given the family an insight into Les Williams' war.

"He was just an ordinary soldier but we're just so proud of him," Ms Sargeant said.

"Just knowing he was here I feel really emotional about it because he may have walked on this particular piece of ground."

The diaries not only detail the horrific combat and shelling that cost so many Australian lives but the day-to-day routines away from the frontline - training, marching, attending concerts and church services and swimming in the Somme River.

On July 23, 1916, as part of the British Somme offensive, Australian units attacked German positions at Pozieres and quickly took the village.

But in the coming weeks determined German counter-attacks and constant heavy shelling took a big toll on three Australian divisions being rotated through the battlefield.

Les William's diary reports on August 7, 1916, that half of his 45th Battalion had been lost.

"I can't believe the loss of life, it's just extraordinary," Ms Sargeant said.

She said the family knew her grandfather's diaries existed but not where they were.

"About three or four months ago when we knew we were coming here I asked my cousin about it and she looked in some boxes and found them.

"I don't think they'd been opened for 80 years or so."

Ms Sargeant is extremely proud her granddaughter Ava will be reading from her great, great grandfather's diaries at Saturday's event.

"We are not here to glorify war in any way but just to honour the men who served," she said.

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