War diaries for sale

Growing market for memorabilia from 20th century conflicts – as first World War and Falklands War journals are auctioned

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images


First World War memorabilia is expected to feature prominently at auctions here and in Britain over the next four years as collectors respond to centenary commemorations of the 1914-1918 conflict.

Next Saturday, O’Donovan & Associates Auctioneers in Newcastle West, Co Limerick will offer the 1915 diary of British soldier, Pte William Underwood who served with the Royal Fusiliers on the front line at Ypres. The entry for Monday, July 19th, 1915 reads: “Bombarded German trenches, they bombarded back, very nearly done me in. Still A.1. though”. The estimate is just €250-€350.

A more recent war was in the spotlight this week when diaries written by a Northern Irish soldier in the British army during the 1982 Falklands War appeared at a Bonhams auction in London on Tuesday and sold for £3,125 (€3,797). Kevin McGimpsey from Bangor, Co Down, then aged 29, was a captain in the parachute regiment and one of his responsibilities as adjutant, was to maintain the commander’s diary. It provides a rare account of the conflict from the perspective of the British soldiers on the ground.

The 74-day war began in April 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and the neighbouring South Georgia and Sandwich Islands in the south Atlantic which Britain regards as British overseas territory. Prime minister Margaret Thatcher sent the biggest naval task force assembled since the second World War to liberate the islands. Merchant navy ships, including the P&O cruise ship SS Canberra on which Capt McGimpsey sailed, were requisitioned to carry troops.

After a 10-week conflict, in which an estimated 649 Argentinian and 255 British military personnel died, Argentina surrendered on June 14th, 1982 and the Union Jack was raised in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands.

The two-volume handwritten diaries provide detailed accounts of the build-up of the invasion force, life aboard the Canberra, the evolving political situation, the landing and the daily record of actual combat on the islands.

McGimpsey, now aged 61 and living in England, retired from the army in 1983. He has not personally benefitted from the sale of the diaries as the proceeds are being donated to military charities.

He told The Irish Times there were “many” other Irishmen, from North and South, serving in the British Army during the Falklands War which was “a cause worth doing, as the settlers felt British and asked for help”. He recalled his “relief and thanks” after “coming through the ordeal physically and mentally okay”.

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