Snippet from a 1943 WW2 Field Diary

I love real-world examples of how Gregg shorthand was used back in its heyday. Over decades of doing translations, I have seen it used to write love letters, yearbook inscriptions, verbatim legal hearings, tattoos, a will … even a suicide note once.

I thought I’d share a small snippet from a looong (and terribly interesting!) WW2 field diary. For those of you just beginning to learn shorthand, you should know that the penmanship used here is very poor – stick with using Carlos’s Penmanship Practice exercises and don’t try to emulate the example I’m posting here! For those of you more experienced, don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time translating this sample – it was written under stress and extreme conditions. (Translating this diary was like having a ringside seat, in real time, to the rawness at the frontlines in Italy in 1943).

I’ll be posting the translation immediately after the image, so don’t scroll down too far if you want to practice translating yourself before you see my translation! (You’ll see some marks over the very first line, and underneath the very last line. You can ignore those – they are bits of previous/following lines of shorthand that I cropped off).

TRANSLATION:  October 1. Started to move at 9.30 and head down about 2 miles by B.
Then moved through the night with no rest. I drove part of time and over one river
Division started driving down the river. One D troop truck overturned –
otherwise OK. Naples captured.
2. Managed a couple of hours sleep in the morning. Then it poured with rain again.

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13 comments Add yours
  1. Thanks for the sharing.

    I find interesting how shorthand gives a special value to all texts, from the most mundane to the most uncommon ones.

  2. I can picture him, exhausted, scribbling in his notebook to try to capture the moment.  Most of the outlines were readable without too much effort, but I wouldn’t have gotten all of it without your translation.

    Thank-you so much for sharing this!


    1. I don’t know that it was ever transcribed before it was given to me (by his descendants) to accomplish that. It’s always very satisfying to have a hand in revealing and preserving a wee bit of history. I can’t remember his title now …

  3. Thanks for this section of the diary, Angela. I thought you may be interested in a WW1 diary which is in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was written by Charles Smith, who recorded day by day in Gregg shorthand. Being a Queenslander, he learned Gregg shorthand, as it was more commonly taught in that state than elsewhere. He was a shorthand teacher prior to enlisting. He didn’t expect to be using his shorthand as part of the war effort.  However as there was a shortage of shorthand writers, he was employed as a shorthand writer and wasn’t released from these duties as soon as he wanted to be so as to fight on the front. He transcribed the diary at wars end. He states that he was grateful to have his Gregg shorthand in order to make such a record. This is the link:

    1. Thanks so much for letting me know about this! Sometimes these are painful and sad (as this one was in many places), but war journals are my very favorite to work on. One I worked on was mostly about trench foot – a veritable treatise it was … symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, prevention … apparently it was quite the plague for soldiers in WW1 and could be debilitating. At any rate, I learned more about trench foot than I ever wanted to know …

  4. To all of you commentators on my post … I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I never received notification that there were any comments posted (probably because I didn’t tick the box asking to be notified), so I just assumed there wasn’t much interest. I am a woman of a “certain age,” shall we say, and I struggle with technology. I logged in tonight to review my post and saw all of your lovely, appreciative comments. Thanks so much, and please forgive the delayed replies.

  5. I too really appreciated seeing this.

    I loved seeing that piece of war history as well as the historical context of shorthand being so ubiquitous in that era.

    I very much appreciated seeing a “messy” shorthand piece. As a beginner I find it difficult to reconcile my shorthand in comparison to so many fine exemplars in the textbooks, etc.  To be sure, I copy as neatly and accurately as I can. But without a seasoned short-handist (is that even a word?) to coach me it really comes down to reading a lot of shorthand. And most all of the shorthand I can find is textbook or textbook like. So accepting that what I write is likely ok is a small leap of faith.  Seeing this kind of bridges the gap for me in what I study and what I produce.

    1. We cannot underestimate the importance of shorthand war diaries. They often include the history not presented by the authorities. When researching for my Australian shorthand history book I came across an amazing story. James Boyle was an Australian POW on the infamous Burma Railway. He traded food with other POWs for pencil and paper and wrote his shorthand diary. This was so dangerous as he risked death or torture if caught. When he was transferred to another camp he wrapped his notes in waterproof material, placed them in a tin and buried them. Post war, he returned and retrieved the notes. Decades later they were the basis of his book on the Burma Railway. It is graphic and confronting, containing first hand experiences of how the POW camp received its reputation of inhumanity.  I guess we are all thankful for shorthand.

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