Ulster Division soldier’s war diary published, 100 years on

Young Citizen Volunteers at Finner Camp
Young Citizen Volunteers at Finner Camp

The war diary of a soldier who fought with the 36th Ulster Division has been published, just over a century after he started recording it.

Jim Maultsaid had kept a journal for much of his young life, and when he joined the military to fight in the First World War, he used a pocket book to record those experiences too.

Private Jim Maultsaid of the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles

Private Jim Maultsaid of the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles

As well as depicting the heat of battle in words, he also sketched images, including comic book-style illustrations of a gas attack and of shells bursting in mid-air above the trenches.

Some of his work is replicated in the mural-covered Thorndyke Street in east Belfast.

His writings and sketches have been divided into three volumes of work, and the first – titled Star Shell Reflections – covers the period from 1914 until 1916. It was published last month.

Its publisher, Pen & Sword Books in Barnsley, describes it as a book which “offers a rare insight into the thoughts of the ordinary soldiers, and are filled with untold stories from the Great War”.

Troops making their way through a landscape of frost and sparkling stars in one of Jim Maultisaid's diary drawings

Troops making their way through a landscape of frost and sparkling stars in one of Jim Maultisaid's diary drawings

Mr Maultsaid was an American citizen, born in Darby, Pennsylvania, in 1893.

His parents were Irish, and later returned with him to Co Donegal.

His grand-daughter Barbara McClune said while he was living in Donegal he published a magazine.

Called The Emerald, it contained articles on everything from scouting and football to aircraft, and retailed at one-and-a-half pennies per monthly issue.

Barbara said: “He mentioned in his diary that he always wanted to be a comic artist, for a newspaper or something like that, from his early days onwards.”

A Presbyterian, he later joined the Young Citizen Volunteers (a militia linked to Carson’s UVF) in Belfast.

He then became part of the 14th Royal Irish Rifles, which went on to form part of the 36th Ulster.

He was wounded on the first day of the Somme – something which is expected to be described in the second volume of his diaries.

He also went on to serve with Chinese Labour Corps – a body of labourers recruited from overseas to perform support work for the Allied war effort (this too is expected to be covered in a later volume).

After the war, he worked for the Belfast Steam Ship Company. He died in April 1971, aged 77.

“I think he coped maybe by doing the diaries, to be honest,” said Barbara.

He tried unsuccessfully to have some of the work published during his lifetime.

As well as capturing the horror of the conflict, Barbara said his diaries contain humorous accounts of the day-to-day grind faced by the soldiers.

The 58-year-old retired education board worker from Newtownabbey, who helped transcribe his longhand notes and wrote a foreword to the first volume, said: “I’m very, very proud.

“You’d need to see the diaries and the amount of work he put into them. I’m just delighted people will get a chance to read the accounts.”

The book is available from www.pen-and-sword.co.uk .