'It was awful': WWI diaries of Saint John soldier turn up in U.S.

Knee-deep in mud, soldiers of New Brunswick's 26th Battalion tried to make themselve small through a murderous 11-hour bombardment of their trench on the night between June 15 and 16, 1916. 

When he could, a terrified Daryl Peters of Saint John jotted down a few words in his diary: "Gibb had to go out with shell shock," he noted.

And then: "It was awful and I don't know how I got through it alive."

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Peters was an 'original' with the 26th Battalion, signing up in 1914.

Over the course of the war he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery and promoted to lieutenant. He was also permanently invalided, possibly in a gas attack, spending months in hospitals in France, England and Canada.

His several diaries cover the entire span of the great war and only recently came to light when they were inherited by his relative Nita Regnier of Madison, Wisconsin.

Reading them, she was shocked to learn of the misery and terror her uncle had endured.

"Always you had a feeling of distance, of a reticent interior man," said Regnier.

'Reading it with horror'

She said her uncle had a permanent limp, walked with a cane, and loved to dress for family events in a kilt.

She says until reading the diaries she had no idea what Canadian soldiers like Peters had gone through.

"I'm reading it with horror. A boy who was 18 and one month old is a child," said Regnier.

"It was always very exposed, and mud up to their knees. He was this kid, with people in his dugout dead, killed and wounded. And him finding his way around them and doing what he could. That was three years of his life," said Regnier.

Peters' 1916 book devotes three pages to a list of friends who have been killed, wounded, or invalided out.

In late 1914, amid the early excitement of the war, the 26th Battalion was mustered at the Saint John Armoury.

It arrived at the front in Belgium in Sept. 1915 and from that point played a role in all the major battles of the Canadian Corp.

It is estimated 3,500 soldiers attached to the 26th were killed or wounded during the war.

Regnier and her daughter, Julie are now transcribing the diaries and will make them public as they become available.