Joe Snell

(1882-1938) – War diarist

Between 1914 and 1938 Tamar Valley resident Joe Snell kept a daily handwritten diary of his life. He wrote one sentence a day, except on Sundays. In 1916 he recorded: ‘Went to Liskeard…to appeal against Army service’. Thanks to growing cherries, apples and gooseberries – a reserved occupation - Joe did not have to fight.

Credit: Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Beauty

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Joseph Snell was a market gardener who lived at Radland Mill in St Dominick Parish in the early twentieth century. He wrote a diary entry every day (except for Sundays) between 1914 and 1938. The diary entries comprise of one line, or a few very short sentences, highlighting the one thing that stood out to him that day. They are fascinating, personal and often poetic, and provide an insight into life in the Tamar Valley during the First World War.

Joe carried on his work as a market gardener during the war, and entries reflecting on news outside of the Tamar Valley punctuate a record of crops sown, trips made and changes in the seasons. His diaries not only provide a record of the local men enlisted, and reference to world events, but a feeling that ‘life must go on’ during this tragic time. 

This is just a selection of extracts covering the First World War period:

August 5 1914: War declared against Germany

August 14 1914: Parkins, Congdons and Kelly’s horses gone for war

November 3 1914: Apples sent for North Sea troops

May 8 1915: News of the Lusitania sunk by submarine off Ireland

July 5 1915: Picked 1st cherries

Nov 16 1915: W Congdon, A Martin, H Wadge, N Grills, Mitchell, Ede, Ryder and P Bridgeman and S Mutton enlisted

Dec 10 1915: Received notice to appear at recruiting office to be attested and to come under Lord Derby’s recruiting scheme

March 6 1916: Went to Liskeard in snowstorm to appeal against Army service

June 15 1916: Sent off appeal papers

Sept 19 1917: Started picking apples

Nov 5 1917: News of Captain Vanstone killed in action

Mar 23 1918: Heard news of great attack on Western Front

Nov 11 1918: War ended Church bells ringing everywhere

Feb 4 1919: Went to meeting to decide what form of memorial to erect for our boys who have fallen in the war

In 2012 a community project was devised to bring Joe Snell’s records into the 21st century. The ‘Diarykeepers’ project involved almost 90 people writing short diary entries during June 2012 (now publicly available at the Calstock Parish Archive) and resulted in a performance. 

Key words: home front

Credit: Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Beauty