Into The Unknown, The Secret WWI Diary of Kiwi Alick Trafford No. 25/469

“….. a war diary which ranks among the best.”Jim Sullivan, Otago Daily Times.

This read must rate in my top five percent of all time and I highly recommend it…..the closest Kiwi touch to The Great War that I’ve seen.” Steve Atkinson, Deals on Wheels

To this local author, I commend and thank you for sharing with those who have no idea of what was endured — and also with us, the ones who lived alongside the darkness that our fathers kept hidden.– Marie Te Aho

You can dive inside and read chapters or purchase the book or ebook at this link:

Link to Extra photos below. (Sensitive content and spoiler alert).

World War I (and its aftermath) in the words of a young soldier fresh off a remote New Zealand farm, written with immediacy, emotion and clarity.

My grandfather Alick Trafford survived World War I by the skin of his teeth, and thus so did his illicit diaries, and hence my book.

Sometime during his retirement, Alick sent my father to his ceiling cavity to retrieve a secret package for burning – the diaries of his private war. No son could resist a peek into his father’s hidden past. They never reached the fire.

Alick’s deeply hidden mysteries began to weave a moving tale, too personal to intrude upon but too good to be destroyed. They would become hallowed documents, revered and often read. My father Harvey became kaitiaki of the family secrets.

Four decades later, as I studied the diaries, moral dilemmas shouted from almost every page – how to honour this enigma of a man? Alick gave his all but he took to his diary sometimes as a heretic. He was always honest and immediate, often very personal about his mates – many of whom were blown to pieces metres away from him – and his lady loves. What would my family say?

In his own words, upon confession of the diaries’ existence, his story was “dynamite”.

Thanks to Alick for writing the diaries, the generous people who contributed to my Givealittle page, Penguin Random House NZ for picking it up, and everyone who helped along the way.

“More and more dead men congest our sunken road. In the afternoon, at periods, I get the chaps to move some of the bodies or roll them and their deathly faces over towards the ground.”  – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin. Photo source; Gisborne Photo News.
“He lies near the top of famous Hill 60, a little way from where he was killed. On one side of him is Sergeant Whitelock, 8/500, and on the other Private Jenkins, 40009, all killed together.” – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin. Photo source; Tairāwhiti Museum.
“The scene of wounded beasts and men floundering in the slop is an absolute havoc of hell.” – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin. Photo source; Tairāwhiti Museum.
“…..preparation is crucial to the upcoming New Zealand attack on the fortressed town of Le Quesnoy. This is not a good sector. We are out on a pivot front with enemy machine guns surrounding us on three sides.” – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin. Photo source; Tairāwhiti Museum.
“The army has more to worry about winning this war than men yearning for the comfort of women.” – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin. Photo source; Tairāwhiti Museum.

“…… the old problem of VD is rather epidemic. The battalion’s quota in the lockup joint is quite serious and I have to give the platoons a lecture on the subject. They listen and take it all right. Thanks to the unpopular agitating by a New Zealand woman, the army has prophylactics available and the naive men need some education.” – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin.Photo source; Auckland Libraries.
Matawai, after the war.
“After four hours’ travel, a homeward-bound Trafford saddled up a horse, rode under looming Mount Misery, forded or swam the Motu River, then negotiated the treacherous bridle trail and bluffs over Trafford’s Hill to home” – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin. Photo source; Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19120725-13-5
After the war.
“Alick’s friends remembered ‘Traff’ as a ‘tough bastard’, but a man too sensitive for war. A new theatre was now set for a further series of strung-out battles — the long war getting to grips with financial hardship, and the unseen forces of suppressed memories and re-emerging emotions.”  – © Into The Unknown, Ian Trafford, Penguin. Photo source; Peggy McConnell.

News and Reviews


New Zealand Herald article. Below is the pay per view link.

Videography by Judith Mittermeier. Editing by Ross Trafford – embedded here from his youtube channel.
Bob Davies, Army News, Sept 2020.

Mat Tait, Goodreads. It’s a vivid, visceral, frank account of an intelligent and thoughtful young man’s experiences in and out of the trenches of WW1.

What’s presented here are excerpts from the diaries Alick Trafford wrote while trying to stay alive in the midst of an unimaginably grim situation, and they have the shocking immediacy of day to day dispatches desperately striving to find sense (often very eloquently) in singularly horrific events right as they occurred.

It’s clear that the act of writing these diaries (in secret as soldiers were forbidden to keep personal accounts on the front lines) was crucial to Alick’s mental and spiritual well-being; both a link however tenuous to the ordered, peacetime world he’d left behind in New Zealand, and a kind of valiant mapping of the bottomless absurdity, tragedy and chaos he now found himself struggling to survive in.

But there’s light as well as shade here, and his entertaining, good-humoured and sometimes equally frank accounts of his adventures on leave in England, show a man who despite the unrelenting grind of the front, and periodic episodes of depression, was determined to snatch any happiness on offer.

The final chapters of Into The Unknown are probably, for me, the most affecting. In them Ian Trafford, Alick’s grandson, picks up where the diaries leave off, piecing together family stories and his own memories of his Grandfather to give us a picture of the man who came back from the war, and in doing so provides a powerful context to the book as a whole. Just as Alick wrote to try and make sense of his traumatic experiences, so Ian it seems writes to try to understand Alick: damaged by the war, he was a man who was sometimes unpredictable and difficult, and difficult to know, but who left in his diaries indelible traces of himself. The book becomes not only an invaluable ground-level record of enormous historical events, but an attempt to reach out towards a beloved and complicated family figure, who loomed large and is now gone. All of this is of course deeply personal to the writer and the Trafford family, but there’s a sense in which Ian is also writing for all those who had or have loved family members who returned from war changed, and inevitably silent. It’s a very generous thing to have done.

One of the first people to order the book – Thanks Reremai, my old classmate from Waikohu College, Te Karaka.

Yes a fantastic story… one of those books you think about long after you’ve read it.

Such a well written account – incredibly honest, personal and horrifying.

This book is a fabulous read folks, don’t miss out!!

Brilliant read. Highly recommend!

Glimpse into a young boys life without the Hollywood spin. Real.

Fantastic read, and a compelling story based on fact. Loved this story. Highly recommended.

One of the best books I’ve ever read!!! Well done Ian and well worth a read. Can’t say more than that.

Brilliantly written. Totally realistic.

Very important New Zealand story. Extremely well written. Gripping history that should be read.

Such an amazing moving story Ian. Read it x2. Still captivated me. Felt at times I was right there. Tears & humble gratitude for everything all these soliders went through for our freedoms today. This book is a must read – captivating and moving sums it up for me.

Brilliant book !! Absolutely brilliant.

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