For more than 50 years, Reg Stanley’s diary lay in the darkness of a cupboard at his Cambridge home, its pages telling a terrible story he did not want his family to read.

Even when he died, in 1971, the journal did not see the light of day, but sat there for another 16 years, unopened, gathering dust, silent.

But Reg’s daughter Heather Brodie and his grand-daughter Juliet Brodie knew of its existence – and after the death of his widow Eileen in 1987, when the house in Cambridge was sold, the diary finally yielded up its secrets.

The two women began to read it and discovered an amazing and moving chronicle of Reg’s life as a young soldier on the bloody battlefields of France and Belgium during the First World War.

Reg Stanley

As a teenager in 1909, Reg had joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment Territorials, having served as a drummer boy with the Cambridge University Rifle Volunteers. When the war began, in August 1914, he was mobilised to serve with the regiment’s 1st Battalion and, early the following year, having risen to the rank of sergeant, he was off to France.

Juliet, who lives in London, said: “We knew there was a diary, but the family were not allowed to read it. When we did, my mother and I felt that it was a remarkable account of the events that took place between 1914 and 1918.

My grandfather had a sharp mind and, as well as a notebook, went to war with a secret camera – soldiers were not allowed to have them – with which he took lots of photographs, scratching notes on the sides of the negatives.”

The two women felt the diary should be published, to let people find out more about what it was like during the dark days of the Great War, and that is what they did a few years ago, although Heather died before the book - Grandad’s War – made it into print.

Soldier drummer boys, with Reg Stanley in the front row, right

Reg’s arrival in war-torn France soon opened his eyes to the horrors that awaited him. As he and his fresh-faced comrades headed across country to the front line, they came across a platoon of British troops digging a row of graves. A corporal explained a battle was due – and that it was best to get the graves ready in advance for the corpses.

Later, winding their way through a small town in the dark, they were rounding the corner of a brasserie when Reg heard what he describes in his diary as a “weird sharp phut, a sound like driving a nail into a soft brick.”

Then there was “a ghostly moan followed by a gurgling long-drawn out groan of pain and the word passes, ‘man hit.’

“I remember now the smell of warm, steaming blood and as the stretcher bearers lifted him the blood can be heard dripping to the ground like rain dripping from a broken gutter.”

Reg and his unit were soon on the front line, facing the withering gunfire of the German troops. He wrote: “Trees crash to the ground, some falling across the trench, trying it seems to crush us. The noise is deafening. The effect of concussion gives a pain in the eardrums and the trench crumbles and weak spots fall in.

“Nearer and nearer creeps this terrible inferno which can only end in death. May it come quick and mercifully. Some poor wretch has the side of his skull blown away and it is obvious that nothing can be done for him.

“We are trapped like rats, we cannot go forward, the way is barred, and even if we could machine guns and rifles are waiting to mow us down.”

Cambridge News Armistice report in 1918

Reg was transported back to England due to illness after 125 days in France, but when he recovered, he joined the Army Ordnance Corps and was soon back in the thick of it. He saw more harrowing action on the Somme, yet somehow survived until the ceasefire on November 11, 1918. His gallantry led to him being mentioned in dispatches by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig.

Before the war, Reg had been employed by the Cambridge Gas Company and after demob, he returned to the firm, where he continued working until his retirement in 1958. For many years he and his family lived above the company showrooms in Sidney Street.

Tragically, his elder brother Frederick, who was called up in the spring of 1918, only a few months before the war ended, was killed almost immediately.

Grandad’s War, by Juliet and Heather Brodie, is published at £11.95 by Poppyland Publishing, details at www.poppyland.co.uk.