WWI Diary Project, Part 3: Transcription, Letting the Mistakes Speak

DTP portraitWelcome back to the WWI diary journey, in which I’m transcribing the war journal of David Thomas Percy III – my great great uncle. Click here if you missed the first two entries.

I’m a bit obsessed, as any artist is when tackling a new project. This week, the scanning is done and I’m typing out the poems and entries.

As an editor, I am stifling every instinct to add commas and fix spelling errors. At this point, I’m determined to keep his original text completely authentic.

The journal is richly wrought and descriptive, pensive, and clearly comes from an engaged mind. He makes reference to the published letters of Victor Chapman, the first American pilot to die in WWI, and to Mildred Aldrich’s A Hilltop on the Marne, which was published in 1915. He was well aware that he was a part of history in the present, and he did his homework. He was also a talented sketch artist, and many pages contain drawings of dugouts, soldiers, and structures that were eventually destroyed in the course of the war.

Clearly, he knew his grammar, but because he was writing ‘in the moment,’ sometimes as planes were shooting at each other in the skies above him, it comes out in an authentic stream of consciousness style. There are very few commas or periods, many dashes, and many abbreviations.

As I continue to type out each entry – and some entries blend into each other with no visible barriers – I am slowly adapting to his style. Here I am saying “style” as if he was making artistic choices. I can’t help it; I think it’s my poet brain picking up the torch that my editor brain has to set down.

Fortunately, great great uncle Percy was considerate enough to have excellent penmanship. He writes in lovely, slanted, left-handed cursive for most of the entries. Toward the end, it gets messier. (I couldn’t have asked for a better allegory.)

And where does the search for his kids and grandkids stand? My cousin, David Linder, has been helpful. (David is a VERY popular name in my family.) This David discovered that Percy’s son took his mother’s name, making him “David Percy Wakeling.” Cousin David also tracked down Percy’s draft card, shown below.

So keep sharing, retweeting, and forwarding this on – if it reaches the west coast, maybe we’ll get lucky and find his direct descendants!

draft card


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