Diary recounts experiences of Larne First World War veteran

James McRoberts pictured in the autumn of 1914. INLT 24-614-CON
James McRoberts pictured in the autumn of 1914. INLT 24-614-CON

A FASCINATING new book has been launched detailing the experiences of a former Larne Grammar School pupil who went on to serve in the 36th Ulster Division during World War One.

Young Citizen, Old Soldier is the eagerly-awaited diary of James McRoberts, who as a 19-year-old enlisted in the 14th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles and was shipped off to fight in the trenches of France and Belgium.

From a farming background, James was educated at Larne Grammar School for five years before going on to study at Queen’s University Belfast. But he set aside his engineering studies in 1914 to answer his country’s call to arms.

James was exceptionally intelligent, an expert chess player, a top athlete and proficient French speaker. These traits lend colour and structure to his first-hand account of the horrors of war.

Having lain unopened for 60 years, the diary discloses graphic experiences of the young Ulsterman. From rigorous training in Antrim and Brighton to the battalion’s posting to France, James compares social conditions in Ireland, England, France and Belgium, the nightmare of trench warfare, and his role in the Battle of the Somme and a slow recovery from serious injuries sustained in Belgium. Throughout these observations, James does not glorify war but instead cites officer conduct and senseless loss of human life on both sides.

After recovering from his extensive injuries, James resumed his studies at Queen’s University and once qualified, he secured an appointment as County Surveyor with Armagh District Council. Marrying into the family of local woman Elizabeth Isobel Emerson, he established a new life within the city.

The launch of the book took place at Market Place Theatre, Armagh, on Friday and publisher Helion Press expects Young Citizen, Old Soldier to outsell all its previous publications.