John Patrick Teahan was the oldest of an Irish family of twelve when World War I began in 1914. At the time he was 28 years-old and managing the family's furniture store in Windsor, Ontario. Already a member of the volunteer militia he had spent several weeks each summer honing his fighting skills.

Teahan was the first in the Windsor area to enlist and keen to embark on a new adventure. "As a member of the militia, he felt it was his duty to enlist and he convinced several other members to do so also," remembers his niece Grace Keenan Prince, "but once he got over there, he discovered that it was quite a different experience entirely."

Keenan Prince delved into her uncle's war experiences when a box of letters and diary entries from the front were handed down to her mother in the 1990's. "I got to know an uncle I had never seen better than the ones I grew up with," she says, "he wrote a very clear and detailed day to day account of his experiences during the war."

"We left (for the front lines) about 10pm. While a distance of 17 or 18 miles is itself not very much, it must be remembered that the men carry all their kit and personal belongings, such as rubber sheets, blankets, cloak and changes of clothing, soap, towels, mess tin, entrenching tool, a day's rations, 150-200 rounds of ammunition etc. - weighing between 55 and 75 pounds." - Excerpt from Diary Kid

Teahan rose quickly up the ranks eventually becoming an officer (with a rank of 2nd lieutenant) with the British Army. He was known as the 'Diary Kid' because he always kept paper and a hard pencil handy so that he could record his thoughts. "He was a funny guy with a sense of humour. He started making careful observations about war when he realized that his commanding officers were idiots," says Jason Prince, his great nephew.

Then Teahan began breaking every rule in the book. Because he was an officer he had to censor all of his men's mail before sending it overseas. Yet he found ways to send his own graphic accounts back, often disguised in bundles of newspapers. "It must have been therapeutic for him to write it all down and perhaps his intention was to publish later on," surmises Keenan Prince. Teahan took great pains to tell his family never to show the booklets to anyone. 'They were not for lending out'; he said, because there would have been a great deal of trouble had they been discovered.

"I took two men with me one night and patrolled out in front of our lines, about halfway along our front and about 60 yards in front of the German wire. At intervals lie the bodies of dead British soldiers who were killed in the advance on Fromelle on May 9, 1915. I ran across some seven or eight bodies in a very short distance; one to two (most likely officers, as they carried no packs) are covered with a thin layer of mud from head to foot, so that only the shape of their bodies can be seen." - Excerpt from Diary Kid

Teahan was wounded during battle in 1916 and returned briefly to Canada to recuperate. While he was there he confided in a friend that he was 'likely never to return'. Over half of the men he served with had been either killed or horribly maimed. "In his diary it's clear that he feels he's going to die, in fact, he would consider it lucky to be killed rather than maimed," says Prince.

"About halfway up the trench, one of the many bullets whizzing overhead stopped on catching sight of me and I felt a smashing blow. I did not know exactly where the blow or bullet or whatever it was hit me, as my face was covered with blood, and no particular part of me seemed more stunned then the other." - Excerpt from Diary Kid

Later that year he returned to the front. "He was a very disciplined man," explains Keenan Prince. "Duty, honour and responsibility were very important so to leave the military would have been unthinkable for him."

Teahan died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His body was never recovered. And his diaries remained a family secret until the 1990's when they were uncovered by Keenan Prince. She published them in 1998 in a book called "Diary Kid".

Also on CBC