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Rare diaries of Scots WWI soldier rescued from skip

Lance Corporal Robert Stephen's diaries were almost lost after being dumped in a skip.

Rare diaries from a young WWI soldier have been rescued from a skip 100 years after they were written.

Lance Corporal Robert Stephen, who was born in Peterhead in 1894, kept a daily record of his wartime experiences.

Three of his diaries were found by chance alongside photographs and a military document dumped in a skip in Kent following a house clearance.

The diaries reveal what life was like in the trenches, telling of the "awful sights" Lance Corporal Stephen witnessed.

"Poor fellows all lying where they had been struck" read one entry, while another notes "being 'crammed in like herrings in a barrel in the dugout".

A member of the Highland Division of the Royal Engineers, he wrote of his anxiety as he prepared to leave Aberdeen on September 15, 1916 to join the troops, "asking God to bring me safe back to all of this".

"A sight met our gaze, the dead and wounded all lying about.
Lance Corporal Robert Stephen

There are references to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where "a sight met our gaze, the dead and wounded all lying about".

Stephen writes of the moment a bomb dropped within 50 yards of his unit "which put the wind up us all".

The diaries have been described as "an incredible find" by Ruaraidh Wishart of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archive.

"It is a remarkable set of diaries and we are very, very lucky to have them and we very nearly didn't," he explained.

"It was thanks to someone who was passing by and thought, 'that looks old, I'd better take that'."

The journals were handed in to a local museum in Kent who passed them on to Aberdeen.

In another entry he tells of hearing the bells as hostilities halted at 11am on November 11, 1918.

"When you read through the diaries you get flashes of his character coming through and you start to identify with him and there is a feeling of you hope he makes it through," Mr Wishart added.

"To see that last entry saying yes he did make it through and live to see Armistice Day, that's very moving,"

Little more is known of Robert Stephen's life. It's believed he moved to the south of England, where he died in 1980.

But 100 years after he wrote them, these newly discovered pages from the past have gone on public display, bringing the horrors of WWI to a new audience.

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