The Bay Museum is a friendly museum situated on Canvey Island. Based in a degaussing station, it now offers a wealth of artefacts, books and displays focussing on Military history. Open from 10am till 4pm, the museum also organises trips to France and Belgium to experience the battlefields first hand. The museum is run by volunteers who always warmly welcome visitors and are never short of a war story!
WAR DIARY Of 9th CANADIAN ARTILLERY BRIGADE
From September 1st 1916 – To September 30th 1916
Steenvoorde (Training Billet)
1/9/16 9.30 p.m. The Brigade continued to carry on training in preparation for action on a new front.
2/9/16 9.00 p.m. Training as usual. All officers attended a lecture at 5. p.m. on “Aeroplane photographs” (illustrated by lantern slides)
3/9/16 9.00 p.m. Brigade Commander inspected all batteries in full marching order.
4/9/16 9.00 p.m. Heavy rain all day greatly hampered work.
5/9/16 2 a.m. 3rd C.D.A. Operation Order No 17 received, announcing Brigade would go into action on a front between St. Eloi and Kemmel.
10 a.m. Advance party set off.
6/9/16 2 a.m. 3rd C.D.A. Operation Order No 18 received, giving details of relief of 88th Bde R.F.A. by 9th Bde C.F.A. One section of each battery goes into action tonight.
7/9/16 9.30 p.m. All batteries have reported relief completed. We are now “Centre Group”
8/9/16 9.00 p.m. All batteries carried on registration during the greater part of the day.
9/9/16 9.00 p.m. Registration continued. Gas alarms in evening, infantry requested retaliation, which was given, no gas came over.
10/9/16 10 p.m. To-day infantry reported destruction of tramway at O.13.c.8 ¼ .5. by our fire; also destruction of machine gun by our 33rd Bty. The 78th Bn are replacing the 73rd Bn in our front to-night. All batteries began to cut wire in their zones this afternoon.
11/9/16 10 p.m. All batteries registered. “Petit Bois Barrage” this morning. Wire cutting continued systematically in the afternoon. Operation Order issued by O.C. Left Group to our batteries which are to be placed at his disposal for a contemplated operation.
12/9/16 9 p.m. Further registration and wire cutting by all batteries.
33rd Bty reports destruction of M.G. emplacement and snipers post. Enemy shelled Vierstraat quite heavily in retaliation for shelling of Wytschaete by our batteries. One man in 45th Bty killed and one in 33rd Bty wounded.
13/9/16 9.00 p.m. 36th Howitzer Bty (4.5”) which has been firing with the “Left Group” under Lt. Col. A. McNaughton is back with us (Centre Group) and registering our zone.
14/9/16 10.00 p.m. Each battery has cut a substantial gap in the wire entanglements in their zones. This is part of the general operations extending along the whole British Front.
The 33rd Bty reports quite extensive minor operations at request of infantry, having demolished 4 m.g. emplacements and several snipers posts.
15/9/16 10.30 p.m. Rather quiet day, with little but registration going on. 33rd Bty continued to demolish a few m.g. gun emplacements and snipers posts at request of infantry. Ammunition shortage was announced tonight, and all batteries warned to limit expenditure to lowest possible amount.
16/9/16 10 p.m. Firing today practically nil. Ammunition is being held in reserve for tonight’s raids.
17/9/16 9.25 p.m. Last night’s bombardment was very successful. Shrapnel barrage was reported by F.O.O. in Front Line to be very effective and bursts good. 32nd Bty assisted the Right Group with one section, and with the remaining section covered the Centre Group front line. 33rd, 45th and 36th Btys assisted the Left Group. Successful raids were carried out by both Right and Left Groups; 22 prisoners being taken.
18/9/16 9.30 p.m. Operations today practically nil, and likely to continue so for a time, as ammunition expenditure has been limited to 10 rds. Per battery per day.
19/9/16 10 p.m. Very quiet day.
20/9/16 11.45 p.m. All batteries fired 10 rounds retaliation; otherwise operations nil. Operation order No 20, 3rd C.D.A. issued today. 10th Can Inf Bde also 12th Can Inf Bde to be relieved by the 4th Australian Division and the 16th Division respectively, on the nights of 20/21st Sept and 23/24th Sept.
3rd C.D.A. to remain in action as at present.
21/9/16 10 p.m. All batteries were tested with a “Denmark” last night, and got the shot off in time varying from 30 seconds to, in one case, 2 minutes, where the line seemed to be defective and some difficulty was experienced in passing the message from the Trench Station. Time is taken from the giving of the order to the moment when the shot passes over the trenches.
At 1.30 a.m. today a heavy explosion took place in the German front line opposite Petit Bois, in a place they are supposed to be tunnelling at present.
22/9/16 10 p.m. Our batteries did their first shoot in cooperation with aircraft today. The 32nd and 45th each registered one target. Also the 33rd Battery registered Omnac Farm and the 45th Battery a corner of Grand Bois, fire being directed in both cases by the Brigade Adjutant from the kite balloon at N.29.c.1.1.
23/9/16 10.30 p.m. A little further work was done with aeroplane cooperation. Otherwise the day was very quiet.
24/9/16 The 12th Can Inf Bde which we have so far been covering on this Front has been replaced by the 48th Inf Bde. Instead of 1 battalion as heretofore, we (Centre Group) are now covering 2 viz 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers and 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. These have just returned from the Somme, and are greatly reduced in strength by casualties. 33rd Bty demolished m.g. emplacement at N.18.c.9 ¼ ¾. This had been greatly annoying the infantry who had two men killed by it during the afternoon.
25/9/16 11.00 p.m. Enemy are continuing work very actively in front of Petit Bois. Strong concrete dugouts are being constructed and trenches are being strengthened.
Hostile shelling cannot reach our front line here effectively due to intervening crest, but enemy is using heavy trench mortars, his activity in this connection having considerably increased of late. Lieut J.R. Jamieson, 33rd Bty has undertaken the task of locating the enemy mortars with a view to arranging a combined action of our T.Ms, 18-pdrs and 6” Hows to shell them out.
45th Bty shelled an aggressive sniper today, silencing him with 3 rounds.
26/9/16 10 p.m. 32nd Bty knocked out an O.P. with large periscope at O.19.b.7.6. 45th Bty registered road bend O.14.a.6.6. and Omnac Farm, O.14.a.2.1. with balloon observation.
Hostile searchlights active during last night.
27/9/16 11.10 p.m. At 5.30 p.m. a hostile kite balloon adrift was attacked by our aeroplane and brought down at 5.40 p.m. in a mass of flames in the vicinity of N.31 *** at 165 T.B. from N.13 c.1.9 (Centre Group Hdqrs.) This balloon had drifted here from Bapaume (30 miles) with a German Officer clinging to a rope under the basket. *******
28/9/16 9.30 p.m. 33rd Bty fired 12 rounds retaliation at request of infantry. Otherwise no artillery activity in this group.
29/9/16 11 p.m. Remainder of this page is unreadable and the next page is missing.
On the 19th October, the French began a 4 day artillery barrage on Fort Douamont without causing too much destruction to the fabric of building. The French discussed pre-planned preparations and extensive traini, followed by an attack on the Fort. Ceasing the bombardment on the 22nd October 1916 the French troops began cheering from their trench lines. The Germans thought an attack by the French was imminent and prepared their defensive measures to repulse the coming onslaught, thus giving away their positions. The French immediately opened up another ranged artillery bombardment. Their infantry remained in their trenches for a further two days. However, on the 23rd October 1916 a massive French shell penetrated the roof of Fort Douamont. This was followed up by a second shell causing more damage. Holes were torn into the 8 feet thick concrete walls of Fort Douamont where they were penetrated by 400mm shells, killing most of the German defenders. Under cover of early morning mist on the morning of the 24th October 1916 the French attacked and re-captured Fort Douamont. The Germans had taken four and a half months to take Fort Douamont, whereas the French had taken one day to recover the ground lost.
The Battle of the Ancre Heights began on the 1st October 1916. The British army were positioned from Courcelette to Thiepval. The German army defended the Ancre Heights, by holding the Staufen-Riegel (Regina Trench), Schwaben-Feste (Schwaben Redoubt) and Staufen-Feste (Stuff Redoubt). Capturing the Heights required to be the over-running of individual trenches, rather than whole villages as before during the Somme campaign. The weather deteriorated as autumn turned to winter. Rain and constant artillery shelling had turned the ground to mud. Guns sank into the mire which required up to twelve horses to pull the guns clear. The troops were exhausted, soaked and shivering before struggling through the mud under heavy fire toward their barely seen objectives. The Germans fiercely fought constant attacks and counter-attacks which delayed the British from taking the Heights for more than a month. On the 9th October 1916, Stuff Redoubt was captured, and the Schwarben Redoubt was finally taken on the 14th October 1916. With the advantage of the higher terrain, British ground observation was now possible owing to the exposed flank position of the German forces. By the 21st October 1916, the German counter-attacks had been a series of costly failures while the British had managed to advance 500 yards (460 M) and take the eastern portion of Regina Trench. The exception being the last German foot-hold on Regina Trench. On the 22nd October 1916, the British began numerous attacks and counter-attacks, raids and trench patrolling until the 29th October 1916 when bad weather stopped all operations.
Following the Battle of Flers-Courcellette (15th to 22nd September 1916) the new British front line was under constant view from the heights of the Butte de Warlencourt. The Butte was a mound 50-60 feet (15-18 M) high and protected by many layers of barbed wire. The But is located with Bapaume to the north-east, Pozzieres to the south-west and the village of Le Sars to the south. An attack on the 7th October 1916 by the 1/8th London Regiment (London), the 1/15th London and the 1/7th London against the Butte was halted by machine gun fire. Several patrols were sent out to try to locate the 23rd Division which had in the meantime advanced along the main Albert-Bapaume road and captured the village of Le Sars.
German national hero Oswald Boelcke was killed during a dogfight over the Somme on the 28th October 1916. He crashed whilst flying his Albatros when he collided with another aircraft. Boelcke and the other pilot Erwin Boehme were pursuing the Same Royal Flying Corp aircraft. Boehlke was the first fighter pilot to be awarded The Pour le Merite (The Blue Max). By the end of 1915 he had scored 6 kills and by the end of June 1916 he was up to 19. Whilst commanding Jagdstaffel Justa 2 from the 2nd September to the 26th October 1916 he had shot down a further 11 bringing his total to 40 allied aircraft destroyed. He was buried with full military honours in Cambrai Cemetery of Honour in Dessau. The following day the British Royal Flying Corp dropped a wreath over Justa 2 for a chivalrous and honourable foe. His legacy was his example and teaching, with his star pupil being Manfred von Richthoffen the future “Red Baron”.
The weather during the month of October 1916 was appalling with it raining for no fewer than twenty days. Battlefield conditions had turned the ground into a quagmire of mud and shell holes, due to the heavy rains and continued artillery shelling. As autumn turned to winter the weather on the Somme deteriorated more. By mid-October existence for the troops, both British and German, in the open, wet, muddy trenches became a test of endurance. The troops were exhausted, cold, wet and hungry as insufficient stores were able to reach the front line owing to the terrible conditions.
The Eastern Front
At the end of the Brusilov Offensive against the Austro-Hungarian forces in September 1916, the Russia army had suffered nearly half a million casualties including 60,000 deserters by October 1916. Their army was exhausted and disillusioned by the losses. The civilian population also suffered massive deprivation, the main problem being food shortages and rising prices. Crime and strikes by the workers increased steadily, but the majority of the population endured the suffering. Government officials responsible for public order was concerned the patience of the lower class population would result in riots. The political unrest was blamed on Tsar Nicholas for the breakdown of the economy. Whatever support the Tsar still retained became disillusioned with the way the war was heading, which eventually led to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
For much of the Great War, Greece had remained neutral despite the Greek King having pro-German sympathies. His wife was the sister of the German Kaiser. At the request of the Greek government the Allies had landed in Salonika to support the hard pressed Serbians in 1915, but the Greeks remained neutral. During September 1916 the Allies had organised a major show of naval strength to the Greek King and on the 10th Oct 1916 the allies seized the Greek fleet. The larger ships were demilitarised and one cruiser and many smaller ships were incorporated into the French navy.
The Romanian Second Army, which was the main central force, attacked the Austro-Hungarian force, from the 7th to 9th October 1916. The attack was repulsed and the Romanians were forced to retreat. The Romanian 4th Army, attacking the northern part of the border, retreated without too much pressure from the Austro-Hungarian troops. After the successful assault into Transylvania and the inevitable counter-attack at the end of September 1916 the Romanian army began the retreat to the Vulcan and Turnu Rosu Passes. These passes are located on the southern section of Carpathian Mountains along the border. The Central Powers (Germany & Austro-Hungary) had massed large forces for the defence of the Carpathians, consisting mainly of Bavarian mountain troops who were ideally suited to this type of warfare. By the 14th October 1916, and faced with the threat of an attack the Romanian 1st Army offered strong resistance. Near the southern section of the border, in the region of Torgu Jiu, the town was supported by the civilian population, men, women and children. One of these citizens was Ecaterina Teodoroiu , who was to become the “Heroine of the Jiu”. By the 25th October 1916 the Romanian army was back to its original position prior to the Romanian assault into Transylvania. By the 29th October 1916, the German High Command had regrouped their forces in readiness for a renewed attack on the 1st November 1916, after the Romanian troops had halted the German advance on the Jiu valley.
Prior to Romania entering the Great War on the Allies side in 1916, Ecaterina Teodoroiu was to become a teacher. At 22 years old she initially worked as a nurse with the Scouting organisation, and as such was instrumental in moving and tending the wounded. About that time she decided she wanted to become a front-line soldier. On the 14th October 1916 she joined the civilian and reserve soldiers fighting to repulse the German attack at Jiu River Bridge, as she was deeply impressed by the patriotism of the wounded who she was nursing. On the 30th October 1916 she travelled in her capacity as a nurse to the front-line to see her brother Nicolae who was a Sergeant in the Romanian 18th Infantry Regiment.
The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign
On the 29th October 1916 Hussein ibn Al-Hashmi declared himself King of the Arab Countries. Hussein was a Hashemite Arab leader who was the Sharif and Emir of Mecca. He announced the Arab Revolt would begin against the Ottoman Empire. Despite the promise of support by the British for Arab independence, his aspirations were not accepted by the Allies who recognised him as King only of Hejaz (Modern day Saudi Arabia).
On the 1st October 1916, eleven airships left their air bases for the largest raid on London. Due to bad weather only seven actually crossed the English coast at Lowestoft. Conditions slowed six of the airships down but Zeppelin L31 commanded by Capitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy set out on a solitary course for London. At approximately 8.00 pm the ground searchlights caught L31 in their beams and to lighten the load Mathy dropped thirty high explosive and twenty six incendiary bombs over Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. The only casualty was one woman who was injured but not fatally. Three hundred houses were damaged and many glass-houses had their glass shattered. Still pinpointed by the searchlight beams and being fired upon by anti-aircraft batteries, L31 headed off toward the west. At approximately 11.45 pm Second Lieutenant Wulstan Tempest spotted L31 and closed with the airship firing his machine-gun along its length. A second attack under the tail and firing the gun along the length when he saw a glow from within the airship and flames shot out the front and the Zeppelin began to fall. Rather than burn to death Mathy, without a parachute, decided to jump. All members of the air-crew were killed. The bodies of the crew were buried in the local churchyard alongside the earlier crew of SL11 the first airship to be shot down and crash the previous September 1916.
German submarines were given permission to hunt for Allied merchant vessels on the 6th October 1916. The German authorities stressed the resumption of the attacks were on the condition the merchant vessels were warned before the attacks commenced.
Founded in 1910, the Imperial German Army Air Service entered service when the first military aircraft were acquired. On the 8th October 1916 the name was changed to Luftstreikrafte (Imperial German Flying Corp). Initially the aircraft were used for reconnaissance and artillery observation duties, but gradually air combat was established. The Western Front was the main focus of air combat and was to produce fighter pilots who were to become aces, with many serving in the Second World War Luftwaffe. Some of the well-known aces produced were Oswald Boelcke, Ernst Udet, Werner Voss, Max Immelmann, Manfred von Richthoffen and Herman Goering. After the defeat of Germany in 1918 under the Treaty of Versailles the Luftstreikrafte was dissolved and all military aircraft destroyed.
The Eighth Battle of Isonzo was fought from the 10th to 12th October 1916 and was essentially a continuation of the Seventh Battle of Isonzo. The Italians attacked the Austro-Hungarian forces in an attempt to extend the bridgehead in Gorizia. As with earlier attacks heavy Italian casualties necessitated a short, sharp concentrated initiative be employed to enable the army to recover their losses. The seemingly continuing onslaught at Isonzo was renewed on the 31st October 1916 with the Ninth Battle of Isonzo.
In late October 1916, the occupying German administration began the deportation of Belgian workers to Germany. At the beginning of the war in 1914, the conscription of German men created a man-power shortage in German factories. From mid-1915 Belgian civilians were encouraged to voluntarily enlist to work in Germany, but the 30,000 recruits were insufficient to meet demands. The military required more German troops and consequently factory labour declined leaving Germany with an even greater man-power shortage. German administration began to consider forcibly deporting Belgian workers to help solve the situation. The deportation began in October 1916 and continued until March 1917, but the 120,000 workers who had been deported proved to be insufficient to meet German needs. Economically the deportations had little effect, but politically, International widespread condemnation of the deportations helped to cause the rise of the Belgian resistance. By late 1917 most of the deported workers had returned to Belgium, influenced by pressure from other neutral powers.
THE GREAT WAR – OCTOBER 1916
19th Oct French began 4 day barrage against Fort Douamont
24th Oct French take Fort Douamont
1st Oct Battle of Ancre Heights began
7th Oct British secure Le Sars
28th Oct German air ace Oswald Boelcke killed in action
October Heavy rain and the onset of winter
The Eastern Front
October Political unrest in Russia
10th Oct Allies seize Greek naval warships
7th to 9th Oct Romania attacked Austria/Germany forces and were forced to retreat
14th Oct Romanian 1st Army had assistance by civilian population in the Jiu Valley
25th Oct Romanian was forced back to original position prior to the engagement
29th Oct Germans regroup in readiness for further advancement
14th Oct Ecaterina Teodoroiu joins the Romanian civilian and reserve troops
30th Oct Nurse Ecaterina Teodoroiu goes to the Romanian front-line
The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign
29th Oct Sheriff of Mecca proclaimed King of Arabs
1st Oct Zeppelin heaviest bomb raid on London
6th Oct Germany allows unrestricted submarine attacks
8th Oct German air force established
10th to 12th Oct Eighth Battle of Isonzo
31st Oct Ninth Battle of Isonzo
Oct Germans deport Belgian workers to Germany
Alfred George Richardson’s Diary September 1916
Friday 1st September 1916: Cold, windy day. Tons of mud in lines. Couldn’t keep warm. Weather “no bon”.
Saturday 2nd September 1916: Wet, cold day. Delivered 266 A, 38 AX to C/247 batty at 6 pm.
Sunday 3rd September 1916: Terrific artillery bombardment, followed by infantry actions. “The Glorious 3rd Sept”. 49th Divisional infantry opposed by a stubborn resistance. Failure in front of Thiepval. – Hot shop.
Monday 4th September 1916: 4 am to B/247 – 400 A. 3 pm to B/247 114 A, 38 AX. Heavy day.
Tuesday 5th September 1916: Showery. Artillery fire terrible beyond words. Went to “Tykes” at night. Splendid performance.
Wednesday 6th September 1916: 456 A, 152 AX to A/247 at 8.30 am. Many Boches aeroplanes visit us. Two (2) bombs dropped on dump. 3 men slightly wounded, 4 horses wounded one having to be shot. Got there practically first. Pieces of bomb as souvenir.
Thursday 7th September 1916: A quiet day. Fine weather; gun fire never ceases. Tremendous “straffe” at night.
Friday 8th September 1916: Delivered 304 A, 76 AX to C/247 Battery at 7 am. The Boche sent 16 balloons over our lines with newspapers containing slanderous matter etc. Got one as souvenir. Anti-aircraft fire at them. Great joke.
Saturday 9th September 1916: Rose at 7.30 am. Fine day. Heavy Artillery bombardment never ceases. Received 684 A 228 AX from 49th Dump 7 pm.
Sunday 10th September 1916: Rose at 7.45 am. Glorious day. Great artillery duels. 456 A 152 AX to A/247 at 1.30 am.
Monday 11th September 1916: Fine day. Artillery at it in early hours. Nothing doing rest of day. Busy with nominal rolls of sect etc.
Tuesday 12th September 1916: Delivered 228 A 76 AX to C/247 Batty at 1.30 am. Glorious morn up. Very fine but ghastly sight over towards THIEPVAL.
Wednesday 13th September 1916: Cold morning, early on. Received 228 A 228 AX from Dump at 6 pm.
Thursday 14th September 1916: Delivered at 11.30 am to A/247 Battery: – 228 “A” 172 “AX”. “Heavy” artillery duel. Nothing doing much at MESNIL.
Friday 15th September 1916: Awfully cold morning. 2 Boch aeroplanes over, but no bombs. Fine in middle of day. “Heavies” at it all morning, great artillery duel.
There are no further diary entries after 15th September 1916.
H.E. WITTY Sep 16
18th SIEGE BATTERY R.G.A.
1st September 1916. Friday. Stayed in trucks overnight and left for Fricourt (German 1st line before advance) 10 A.M. (Met everything *** “pertaining to war on our march). Albert Statue plainly visible. Spent day getting in stores with lorry – slept in German dug-out. This dug-out excellently constructed about 20’ underground – reached by two flights of steps. Connected with next dug-out by a small tunnel. Remains of dead bodies everywhere.
2nd September 1916. Saturday. Extra hard day near Mametz Wood (German 2nd line defence). Preparing dug-outs in chalk hill. This will undoubtedly be a long affair. Gun position being prepared near our dug-outs. German prisoners pass constantly.
3rd September 1916. Sunday. Strenuous day – turned out at 5.45 a.m. and walked with Mr. Mallins to O.P. in front line trench near Martinpuich. Present at attack on High Wood – too thick with smoke from German guns to distinguish details. Had a good view of mine explosion which was signal for the attack. Our vicinity heavily shelled. Twice hit with fragments of shell. Mametz Wood a mass of ploughed ground – also surrounding country. Contalmaison non-existent. Odour from dead bodies. Phew!!!
4th September 1916. Monday. On telephone – had my first attempt at washing. Rain in morning but fine rest of day. Fricourt Wood shelled. NO MAIL. Wrote R. Shelled FRICOURT CIRCUS. BOTTS’ visit from Albert.
5th September 1916. Tuesday. On telephone – weather variable. Very cold. Nothing doing thro’ bad weather. Letter from Douglas. ANS.
6th September 1916. Wednesday. On telephone and lines – badly broken. Walked to Becourt Wood (2 ½ miles) for an open air shower bath. Splendid. Discovered some huge “Minnies” 10” diameter in a dug-out. Good mail. Letters Pa, R., Mary and home. Papers home and Scott. Fine day.
7th September 1916. Thursday. On telephone – also on lines in afternoon. No 1 Position heavily shelled. Hit on hand with a splinter of shell. 60 Pounder got away safely. NO MAIL. Weather dry but overcast.
8th September 1916. Friday. On telephone – also on bty line. Completed dug-out and then learnt we were leaving at 4 p.m. Travelled to Meaulte and reached Maricourt about midnight. Letters R., Kathie and book from Miss R.
9th September 1916. Saturday. Worked on gun unloading shell cartridges etc until 5 a.m. Had two hours rest and then put in 4 hours laying lines. Met 45 Siege on same loop as us. Expecting a big shoot subject to good weather. First acquaintance with ”ARMADILL”. Conversation with Lors soldier – sad case of wife and girl. Weather fine. Went into action but only fired 12 rounds owing to faulty recoil buffer.
10th September 1916. Sunday. On telephone 3 a.m. – slept splendidly last night in bivouac. Laid a line to 45 to get through to H.Q. – Line to 83 broken repaired after tea. Saw remains of 9.2. Enormous crater. Neighbourhood heavily shelled. Little damage Loss of Ginchy. NO MAIL. Weather fine and warm. “The Garrisons’ Deathtrap” Maricourt.
11th September 1916. Monday. On telephone – unable to shoot owing to ineffectual observation. Received orders to pack up and depart tomorrow. Fine day – Letters R., Ma home, N.T., Humberstone and Gladys. Ans.
12th September 1916. Tuesday. On telephone 3 a.m. to breakfast – also 9 a.m. to 12. Standing by to fire 40 rounds to E. of Combles in support of French. Observation from Balloon failed. Received orders to move out at 1 o’clock. Day fine but cloudy. “Shelled at Latrine at 2 a.m.” Ugh. Moved to new siding. On telephone. Letter from Mr. Woodthorpe.
13th September 1916. Wednesday. On telephone 3 p.m. Expecting to fire 40 rounds in support of the French attack. Fired 1 rd at 7.25.6. New CB idea to fire from many bties so that shells fall at one time. NO MAIL.
14th September 1916. Thursday. A great day. Left at 7 p.m. for LEUZE WOOD O.P. (200 yds from Germans – in front of our 1st line). Passed thro’ Hardicourt and had view of GINCHY and COMBLES. Horrible sights en route. Heavily shelled all day – especially when repairing line. Hit in groin with a piece of shell – most painful. Hostile balloon brought down – in flames. Great activity. What does it portend? MAIL; Pal & letter (R.). Letters N.T. and home. Ans tomorrow.
15th September 1916. Friday. Grand attack on LEUZE WOOD front – great successes. 1st use of the “Armadill” – conflicting reports re their advantages. 3000 Yds advance. Saw many wounded both English and German. Cavalry reported in action. We fired many rounds on MORVAL and LES BOEUFS. On telephone in morning. Glorious day. Balloon breaks away – descent by parachute. NO MAIL.
16th September 1916. Saturday. On telephone most of day. Reported success at Les Boeufs and MORVAL. Grand French advance – in action all the day. Case of the Zouave and the letter to his officer’s wife. Fine weather. NO MAIL up. Case of pea-soup. (code).
17th September 1916. Sunday. On telephone Mallins at 0.P. with Caller, Gill, Candlin. Knight returned to duty. Great shoot on the quadrilateral – very dull – 92 rounds fired. Mail up. Letter R. Papers home and Scott. P.C. Gilbert. ANS. A few shells fall in vicinity of camp one just missing the telephone hut.
18th September 1916. Monday. On telephone 3 a.m. – very rainy morning – in action 5.50 a.m. Fired 9 rounds on MORVAL. Quadrilateral captured after our preparation. Heavy rains make bivouac life most unpleasant. Letter from Ira. Major idea that I should be B.C.s assistant to help him with his calculations. Thanks of the Infantry.
19th September 1916. Tuesday. Heavy showers today but mainly fine. Recover from my attack of diarrhoea which has been troubling me for the past 36 hrs. Laid a line to m.c. in French lines. Line laid to north of Ginchy. Expectation of big shoot for tomorrow. Postponed. Letters R., Peg. Ans. Saw French ammunition ‘Dump’ go up. Some sight. Laid line to M.C. in French line.
20th September 1916. Wednesday. On telephone 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. (fine & moonlight but intensely cold. Am a little better off then Scroogs clerk as I warm myself a little with the Primus. On M.C. line twice in morning & afternoon – drenched – visit of the General. No mail.
21st September 1916. Thursday. Big shoot – fired 110 rounds in preparation for tomorrow’s attack on Les Boeufs and Morval. Aeroplane observation – fine day – rather chilly but sunny. Walked down to the Loop for Kit (4 miles). No Mail. Bombardment postponed.
22nd September 1916. Friday. On telephone 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. & then on line to C.M. (in French lines). Lovely sunny day – cool. Enjoyable after last night’s bitter cold. Fired 34 rounds on”Sunken Road” near Les Boeufs. (Aeroplane and balloon observation). Fritz retaliates. One shell falls 3 yds off amn (Dud) while another just misses gun and explodes 4 yds away. Poor Stemp killed instantly. Had a narrow escape one falling just short of telephone hut and covering me with dirt. Acted as Major’s assistant today. Hope the job continues.
23rd September 1916. Saturday. Off duty today but went out to repair M.C. line. Another lovely day. Good Mail. Letters N.T., Home, Scott. Paper Scott. ANS. Inspection of gun by I.oM. who condemns it after yesterday. Camp again shelled during the night.
24th September 1916. Sunday. Expecting to move back to Loop. Very little doing. On telephone. Mail. Letters Kathie and Alice. Another fine day. 1 detachment for amn fatigues. On night duty. Moving tomorrow.
25th September 1916. Monday. Getting lines in before removing at 10 a.m. packed up and moved to Loop. Had a ride in train up to Mountauban. Letter R. Parcels R. (letter from Ma) and Mother. ANS.
26th September 1916. Tuesday. Finally settled down after a good night. . Barney goes sick with a crocked ankle. Another fine day. Saw many prisoners and wounded Huns yesterday. Reported capture of LES BOEUFS and MORVAL. Saw some 2000 prisoners – rather poor specimens. Very different from those I saw dead in the Sunken Road GINCHY. NO MAIL.
27th September 1916. Wednesday. Had a good night. Heard from French soldiers that COMBLES had been taken. Heard of the capture of THIEPVAL, GOURDECOURT and COMBLES. Neighbourhood bombed last night by two Taubes. NO MAIL. Showery.
28th September 1916. Thursday. Fine with occasional showers. Good news still pouring in. Spent day in the ‘office’. Letter from R. ANS. No further news of COMBLES. BRAY shelled with little damage. Letter from Gilbert. ANS.
29th September 1916. Friday. Spent the day with Clements in the ‘office’. Barney’s ankle broken (Court of Enquiry). Day wet and unsettled. Heavy firing up Combles way. Letters N.T. & Home. Ans.
30th September 1916. Saturday. Fine day – very windy. Another busy day in ‘the office’. Leave commences today. Turner and Cousins. Letter R. Dorothy and papers from home. Our old pn. very heavily shelled.
War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda &
The Brigade was reorganised in Six gun batteries, and became a Brigade of two six gun batteries instead of three four gun 18 pdr. batteries. B Battery was split up between A/175 and C/175, and the latter battery renamed B/175.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1916.
The weather has been truly awful this last week. For two days it rained continuously. One night I spent in the trenches, living like a water rat, and I felt like one. The dug-out or what passes for one in this area leaked badly, and my silly servant opened my bedding, and when I turned in I found a large pool in the middle. Cursing is ineffective for drying blankets.
We have ceased moving about for a bit, and after living in caves and holes in the ground the battery personnel is housed in a farm-house, and the guns in pits under the trees of an orchard, firing over a country lane much to the surprise of the unaware passers-by. Certainly the house is a dilapidated one and full of holes. But there is one fairly good room though small. One side boasts of panelling of sorts, and to cover up blemishes I am having it painted with white enamel with a blue edging. So it will look a bit more cheerful. At present we lack furniture, but looting will cure that defect.
We have returned to our old area. I have left my old battery and am now in a six gun battery, but in the same brigade, A Battery. The battery commander is an old Etonian and “shop” boy. He will now be a major. The subalterns are all regulars.
The battery is still in the line, and we do some firing when the spirit moves us; but it is very quiet. I am going into the town of A… this afternoon for tea at the tea shop.
Last night I watched the infantry rations come up. It was most amusing. The major wanted them to come up sorted ready for distribution in the G.S. wagons. But no! What has been must always be. Such is the army way. Rations must come up in bulk and the division made after dark where they are unloaded. The usual confusion followed. The orderlies seemed to chuck the rations in the air like small boys with nuts and scramble for them. Result, some men had two loaves, some two tins of bully beef, one had all the company’s salt ration. Another man looking miserable was asked by the O.C. what his trouble was, and replied that he had his dry ration of tea, but could find no water.
On the way up the relief had discovered a French civilian lying with his head on the metals of a railway which had not been used for two years. He must have been trying to wreck a train due for the next advance. The party did not know what to do with him. Can’t you imagine their consultation in the dark? And the varied advice offered? Eventually they took him along with them for some distance. At last the officer in charge discovered a civilian in his ranks. So as they could not possibly take a civilian into the trenches with them they lost him on the way. He must have been mad or drunk, the civilian, I mean.
The flies worry us a lot here too, but they are not as bad as they were in the south. There they were big and fat drunken looking blue and green things, and seemed to be every where. Here we also get mosquitoes, which love feeding on us.
The old routine has begun again, but it seems worse now after all our recent excitement.
Have you read “The Great Push” by Patrick McGill? I have sent for a copy.
September, 3, 1916.
A/175, Bde. R.F.A.
I am now with a six gun battery, and in accordance with the Colonel’s orders second in command.
At present we are living in an old and broken down farmhouse just outside a small village. There is one small but fairly watertight room which we use for a mess. It is panelled and we are painting it white with a blue border. The ceiling is also white and the beams black. Two polished cartridge cases serve as the only mantelpiece ornaments. One wall is papered with maps. We have looted some chairs, a table and a carpet.
The O.P. is quite near by, but does not afford a very good view, and is certainly not watertight. However I have had worse.
It is somewhat of a relief to get away from the south. Our artillery were there longer than most other troops.
One of my best friends, Haydon by name, an old Marlborough boy and a good officer, was killed only two days before we left while acting as Liaison Officer. He went up into the trenches and was never seen or heard of again. He was an excellent fellow. It was bad luck going through that time only to get killed at the last moment. He was in our battery for some time. Another officer, who was the Colonel’s Orderly Officer, was killed early on. Two F.O.Os were casualties on the 1st July. One, Hickman, was killed. I understand he was shot when wounded by a Boche. The other was badly wounded in the stomach, and is now in England. I suppose I am lucky. I was knocked over once and scratched, but nothing very serious. Well, it is something to have been through. Now we are out of it we can look back with some pride and say, “I was there.”
September 5, 1916.
I am now in A Battery, to which all letters should now be sent.
The weather is typical Flanders weather. It always seems to be raining. In contemplation of a winter here we are trying to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. We have removed the horrid French stove in the mess together with its iron chimney, and chopped away the plaster and exposed the brick. It looks quite nice and I hope will give a good fire. The woodwork is being painted white. The windows are a problem as the glass is all broken, and it will be difficult to find unbroken panes. We need some chairs too. But I have no doubt we shall find some in the houses in the neighbourhood.
As ornaments brass cartridge cases when polished do very well with an old enamelled ginger jar. We must do something to cover up the atrocious wall paper. On a shopping expedition last Saturday the B.C. and I bought a lamp, table cloths, and other requisites of civilization.
Today I am up at the O.P., but there is very little doing as it is pouring with rain.
Have you seen any moving pictures of the Somme battles. I hear they are worth seeing. We do not come into any, but I saw an operator one day.
September 11, 1916.
The Thatched Cottage,
(at least it was once.)
What a fuss they are making at home about the Zeppelins, and the fellow who was lucky enough to bring one down. I understand it is contemplated erecting a large monument. It would be better to use the money for other purposes, for instance the wounded and disabled soldiers after the war. When the danger is all over they will be forgotten. We can hardly expect this war to be an exception from the rule of other wars when the returned soldier stank in the nostrils of civilians.
Our mess is now furnished with a round table, two arm chairs, and four small chairs, and large oak chest, three earthenware jars, and one solitary picture.
At present things are very quiet here, but there is plenty to do as we are one officer short.
It is raining hard this afternoon again.
After our meagre fare on the Somme we are indulging our appetites a little. A little greediness may be excused. The other night we had for dinner: Sardines and olives; mock turtle soup; curried prawns; Roast beef with potatoes, cabbage and beans; fruit salad and cornflower; anchovies on toast; cheese and biscuits; your melon (most acceptable) and grapes (the contribution from home of another member of the mess); and coffee. For drink we had French red wine, beer, liqueur brandy and whiskey.
Another blessing is that we can get our washing done decently, and not by one’s servant, badly and only occasionally.
There is hardly any night firing either, and we can now get a good night’s sleep.
So you see we are in luck’s way. Of course it is as it used to be when we were first here, but the comparison after the Somme makes it so different.
My clothes are sadly dilapidated. I am still wearing the old service jacket I had when I first joined two years ago. It will be pleasant to wear mufti again.
Then the gramophone is nearly worn out and makes scratchy noises, but it still has to go on duty every evening.
SEPTEMBER 14, 1916.
“THE THATCHED COTTAGE”
We are glad to be in a “house” again. I have put its name on my letter. Some one painted it up the other day, but he was rather off the mark, as there is not much thatch left now. Other names have been suggested, e.g., “Au retour du Somme”, or “The Berkeley”, or “Porty’s Estaminet” or even “Au Reve de Blighty”. This place is not merely a house. There is the usual courtyard with the usual square brick manure pool, which we have filled in with earth, and planted with rose bushes. It was necessary. Then there is a delightful orchard full of shell holes at any rate. There are also two or three barns where the troops sleep and nibble their biscuits by way of rations. Last but not least there is what looks like a lodge at the entrance where the officer’s mess cook presides over tin plates and broken glass. These hereditaments deserve, I think, the description of park or demesne. Further description I may not give you, for you may be a German spy.
The other evening I was alone in the battery, sitting in proud but lonely occupation of our mess, and feeling more or less contented (unusual), and censoring letters (usual), when bang! A 5.9 landed right in the middle of our estate. My first reaction usually urges instant flight. On this occasion I actually hesitated. How could I leave the precious mess we were trying so hard to make decent and comfortable to the hard hearted 5.9. H.E.? On second thoughts, however, I fortunately realised that it would be better to save myself, as I could not put the mess in my pocket and run away with it. I dashed out shouting the necessary orders to leave the buildings, but the place was deserted. Even the officer’s dinner was left to look after itself. It is always best to leave bricks and mortar when H.E. is flying about. No, you are wrong, quite wrong, for after a few rounds, doing no more harm than cover the place in dirt, and churn up a bit more of the orchard, and without hitting the precious mess, the Hun left off. Delicately, like Agags, the troops came trickling back.
The cooler weather has settled the flies for us; but I would rather have flies than the cold of today. I am at present perched on two bits of wood in the rafters of the top attic of a house (Moat Farm), and supposed to be observing. The wind is cold and high. It is raining hard, and the water comes in through the roof. On my right is a 60 pdr. Observing officer using most vile language; on my left is a 4.5 How. ditto pretending he likes it. Down below whispering together are our respective signallers or telephonists and look out men. When the rain clears, the everlasting buzzing of field telephones will begin again, and the monotonous repetition of “’ullo, ‘ullo, Battry, ‘ullo, ‘ullo”, till the light quite goes.
My horses are not bad, but nothing like the chestnut I used to have, which got killed by the Boche. The old thing is buried near here. I am glad I am with the guns in this weather. The wagon lines would drive me frantic. I might take care of three or four horses in this weather, but when one is responsible for keeping two hundred in good health and well groomed and the harness clean with too few drivers to do the work it is a melancholy job. In such conditions personally to superintend in pouring rain early morning stables, the watering of horses four times a day in meagre troughs, and other wagon line work in open muddy fields is hardly exhilarating. I prefer the excitement of the gun-line.
You ask me what I think of Patrick MacGill’s book “The Great Push”. Not much. I am suspicious of all war books. It is not possible to describe for those who have not been here what the war is like because there is no common experience, and words are inadequate to convey impressions of it to another. There is also the writer’s bias, which usually tends to give another wrong ideas. The emphasis is of too high or too low. Ian Hay is cheerfully optimistic, leaves out the horrors, and writes for maiden ladies or boys. His presentation is not true. MacGill, on the other hand is realistic, but dwells on the horrors disproportionately. Certain incidents are not perhaps overdrawn but life here is not a continuous series of such incidents. While the war is on I do not see the use of writing such books, for they only upset those whose men are out here without being able to alter things in any way. The idealistic books are of far more value while the war is on. We should make the best of conditions while it lasts, and so hearten people. But I daresay he wants to make some money. Even MacGill has to be reticent about some things. “The battle line is a secret world, a world of curses. The guilty secret of war is shrouded in lies, and shielded by bloodstained swords; to know it you must be one of those who wage it, a party to dark and mysterious orgies of carnage.” It sounds silly doesn’t it? But still there is something in it. So why write about it? It is certainly a contrast to the rot journalists write in the daily papers. He describes Loos. One day stronger language will have to be used about the Somme.
For the rest he is sometimes inaccurate. By “star-shells” he means “Very Lights”; few cellars are safe; cats don’t “croon love songs”; concussion shells are usually called “High Explosive” or H.E. for short; and all soldiers do not get drunk the night before they “go over the top”. Finally gunners do not sleep all day, and they do not organise “strafes” of their own free will without being ordered to do so.
Now you see what a wet day in the line can produce.
September 16, 1916.
We are still in our Thatched Cottage. Things are getting much more lively here now. Excellent news comes from the Somme, but I always feel now that I have to discount a good deal of what one hears.
The weather is still bad, and it is much colder now. Our bedroom requires considerable renovation, especially as all the windows are out. There is no proper door either. The wheeler must do something about it.
September, 16, 1916.
The Thatched Cottage
I am told I am getting blasé and easily bored. I admit it. But I never am when I get the chance of killing Boche. It is far more exciting than killing pheasants because, I suppose it is more dangerous. But the job is not so easy. One has to keep cool and send to the battery some sort of intelligible orders, “5 minutes more right, add two five, Corrector 160, repeat.” That sort of thing.
The weather is as usual beastly, and now it is getting cold.
We had a dinner party the other night. It was as follows, Sardines and olives, bottled mock turtle soup, tinned fish, joint and three vegetables, tinned fruit sweets, savoury of anchovies on toast, three kinds of wine, fruit, coffee and cigars. We do not dine like this every night.
SEPTEMBER 21, 1916.
From Bois Grenier the Brigade moved to Houplines and came under the orders of the C.R.A. Frank’s Force.
This Force relieved the 51st Highland Division in the line.
September, 23, 1916.
We have left our happy home, and moved again. They cannot leave us alone. We moved out at three hour’s notice, and were clear in ¾ of an hour. Then we marched eight miles. As we could not move until it was dark, we were rather late in turning in. We had to leave our precious mess, and it was the staff who robbed us of it and not the Boche. We went into action in another place two nights afterwards in quite different surroundings. Still we have an excellent billet with plenty of furniture. We each have a bedroom with doors still on, which is unusual. We are short handed, one officer away and one short.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1916.
34th Division carried out a raid with the Mushroom Salient as the objective, and captured one prisoner.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1916.
There are people who write “How fine and jolly it must be giving the Germans a good hiding”. This was actually written to one of our officers the other day.
The Y.M.C.A. are doing a great work out here. Of all institutions for helping the troops they are the best.
You seem to be having an exciting time with Zepps in London now; but they seem to have a rotten time when they arrive. I suppose more heroes will be getting V.Cs and untold wealth.
The Boche after all did not deprive us of our mess. It was our wonderful Staff who did that. They moved us out at an hour’s notice. Now we are in another part of the line. (Houplines). We have a large billet (a factory), and much more furniture. I have a large bedroom to myself. Two officers are away. One was posted elsewhere, and the other is on leave as he had not been home since last November. But leave for the rest of us has now been stopped just as we were hoping to get away. Of course all the Staff and the A.S.C. have theirs regularly. Poor things! They do have such hard work and nerve shattering times in their offices and chateaux and seaside towns behind the line. We cannot grudge them their little relaxations.
The Captain is away and I am in charge with only two subs to help in all there is to do. The Colonel has been worrying on the phone all the morning; numerous notes have been arriving from various higher commands; the men are getting slack and lazy. I have lost half my kit and the rest is not fit to wear. The weather is getting much colder. I was up late last night or rather this morning playing bridge. Now I have sore ribs from falling down a big hole in the road the other night with the B.C. on top of me. We were coming back in the pitch dark from dining out (in Armentieres). No we were quite sober! But we were walking along what used to be the pavement when it suddenly ceased in a big shell hole. I fell in first. And twelve stone on top finished me. Such is my tale of woe.
But still today is fine. It is getting nearly time for the mail to arrive, which it does soon after dark.
So tennis is still going on. Heavens! I have not seen anyone in whites this year, except the B.C. in his wonderful “robe de nuit”.
One or two famous institutions run by civilians have closed down owing to the unwelcome attentions of the Boche, but the tea shop carries on though depleted somewhat of its former glory.
I have discovered a delightful old oak chest well carved. Unfortunately it has been covered with cheap varnish. This is now being scraped off by various members of the mess with bits of glass, at odd moments. How I hate varnish. It is of the same moral category as eye-wash much in evidence in H.M. Army, especially among the higher ranks.
Franks’ Force R.A. G/69
175th Bde. S/39
In future the Victoria Cross or other immediate reward will not be given for the rescue of wounded, excepting to those whose duty it is to care for such cases.
Such attempts, more often than not, result in the death of would-be rescuer and rescued. Moreover, it depletes the fighting strength of Units perhaps at most critical moments.
Please communicate this decision to all concerned as soon as possible.
(sd.) W.E. PEYTON, Major General,
to Commander in Chief.
Passed to you for information and communication to all concerned.
(sd.) J. Knowles, Major,
A.M.S., Second Army.
(175th Brigade Right Group, R.A. Franks’ Force 5-10-16
Addressee T. Smith Esq., 24, Palmerston Rd., Bowes Park London N. England
Passed Field Censor 1555. Signature unreadable.
Sept 26th 16
Just to let you know I am still jogging along alright, although still in bed. I cannot say that I feel very ill but the doctors know best. I don’t expect it will do me any harm to stop here for a bit although it gets rather tiring.
We came here last Saturday had 11 hrs ride in an ambulance train. It was packed. I had the middle bed so I had a good view of the country the first time I have had a chance of seeing much of it was we travelled at night when we went up the line.
I am very close to “Blighty” now. It is only the water in between but I don’t think I am bad enough to get over to England worse luck.
I expect I shall be convalescent in a few days & I shall probably be there long enough to give you an address to write to. I shall be very pleased to get some news again. I come off alright for new laid eggs now. Always have one for tea. They are tres bon.
Well I think I must conclude now.
I hope you are all in the best of health.
With much love from