My father, Colin Diarmid Campbell Dunford Wood, kept war diaries continuously from early 1939, even before the Second World War broke out, to the time of the Indian Partition. After graduating from Sandhurst in 1938, he joined the Leicestershire Regiment in India, seeing service in Waziristan, (fighting pretty much the same people we are fighting today – will we never learn?) before being posted to the 13th Frontier Force Rifles in Madras. Stuck in an Indian Army backwater (as he saw it) as World War Two raged around him, he volunteered to join the RAF. But there was a problem: his eyesight, which was less than perfect. However, as I discovered, he managed to cheat on the eye test and got accepted for 4 SFTS (4 Service Flying Training School) at RAF Habbaniya, Iraq. He went on to fight in the air across Iraq (where he trained on Hawker Audax aircraft) , India and Burma (where he flew the last Hurricane out, before the advancing Japanese) and later in Northern Europe as the Allies crossed the Rhine.
He continued to keep diaries up to the time of his death in 1971. At that time I was 11, and did not have a chance to get to know him well. These diaries, therefore, have become a way for me to get to know the man – so this is both the story of discovery of a father by his son, and also a vivid portrait of war across several continents and campaigns. Rather than follow the ordered chronology of the tidy historian, who has points to make and theories to prove, the narrative follows the haphazard progress of war on the ground – encompassing fear, boredom, incompetence, luck, romance, and horror – all interlaced with a humour that kept the man sane.
Whether these diaries are of any interest to anyone other than myself and my immediate family, only time will tell. But they certainly have a historical value, as diaries of this sort are relatively rare, not least because they were technically illegal – it was forbidden for soldiers and airmen on the front line to keep diaries.
They are also full of military expressions, slang and abbreviations, strange place names (invariably transcribed inaccurately by me and often spelled wrong in the first place by my father), and on occasion snippets of Urdu and Pashto. To help decipher these, I am building a glossary. Where I have made errors I would be delighted to be corrected, and if anyone knows the meanings or origin of any unfamiliar terms, please feel free to let me know!
The project is to publish these diaries 70 years to the day after they were written, and the modern blog seems to me the perfect way to do this. All comments welcome – especially if you find names you recognise cropping up in the story! I’m also interested in people who have similar diaries that touch on historic events, who would be willing to publish them in blog format.
Last, I would like to dedicate these diaries, on behalf of my father, to his grandchildren, who I hope will get to know him a little through reading them – to Gemma Sharp, Jasper Sharp, Jesse Dunford Wood, Rollo Dunford Wood, Pasco Dunford Wood, Aquila Dunford Wood (Aquila Rose), Ellie Dunford Wood, Rosie Dunford Wood, Tilly Dunford Wood and Joe Dunford Wood – and now his great grandchildren – Maisy, Finn, Viola, Monty, Ada and Philippa.
James Dunford Wood
201 Goldhawk Road, London W12 8EP
email: jamiedw (at) gmail.com