August 26, 1916, Guillemont, Somme region, northeastern France:
"In front of my hole lies an Englishman who fell there yesterday. He is fat and bloated and has his full pack on and is covered in thousands of steel blue flies."
July 1, 1916, Monchy, near Arras:
"In the morning I went to the village church where the dead were kept. Today there were 39 simple wooden boxes and large pools of blood had seeped from almost every one of them, it was a horrifying sight in the emptied church."
March 22, 1918, Vraucourt
"... there was a bang and he fell covered in blood with a shot to the head. He collapsed into his corner of the trench and remained there with his head against the wall of the trench, in a crouching position. His snoring death rattle came at lengthening intervals until it stopped altogether. During the final twitches he passed water. I crouched next to him and registered these events impassively."
Shortly ahead of the 92nd anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918 armistice that ended World War I, one of the most graphic and comprehensive descriptions of the conflict has been published for the first time -- the war diaries of the author Ernst Jünger, a lieutenant in the German infantry who fought from shortly after the outbreak in August 1914 until August 1918, three months before its end, when he was shot through the lung. It was his seventh wound. Jünger only died in 1998, at the age of 102.
The diary written in 15 notebooks -- Jünger wrote later that he couldn't remember if the stains on them were blood or red wine -- were the basis for his book "In Stahlgewittern," or "Storm of Steel," a deeply controversial reminiscence first published in 1920 that glorified the war as purifying test of individual and national strength. He became an icon for conservative nationalists after the war and the Nazis celebrated him as a hero. But he kept them at a distance and declined to join the party.
Jünger kept on refining "Storm of Steel" with increasingly poetic passages to satisfy his literary pretensions. But the newly published diary is a raw, factual record of events written down hours or days at most after they occurred. It offers a clear view of life and death in the trenches seen by a soldier who was in the thick of it for most of the war that shaped the 20th century. Jünger's widow, Liselotte Lohrer, only gave permission last year for it to be published. She died this year.
"I am not aware of any comparable diary, either in German, French or English, that describes the war in such detail and over such a long period," Jünger's biographer Helmuth Kiesel, who arranged its transcription and publication, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "All other diaries are usually far shorter and span just a few weeks or months."
That is because the average infantryman had a slim chance of surviving even one year intact, let alone the entire conflict. And most weren't inclined to relive the misery of life in the trenches by writing it down, day after day, in anatomical detail.
Jünger, 19 at the outbreak of the war, joined up immediately, like millions of young men across Europe who thought it would be a quick adventure. But while the dreadful reality of the fighting quickly cooled most men's ardour, Jünger appears to have been gripped throughout by a glowing fascination for war as trial by combat.