War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda &
January 3, 1916.
“Even though it was for so short a while I was very glad to get leave and see you all again. I arrived back at the battery this morning. We expect to be off at any time now.
Tomorrow I am out all day on a Divisional Field Day.
JANUARY 4 1916.
D, 175th BRIGADE R.F.A.
No 4 CAMP CORTON
“We are nearly ready to move now and expect to go any day. All leave for men and officers had been stopped here, so I am afraid I shall not be able to get away again.
The weather down here is really awful, and the mud. I have been out with the infantry to-day, getting to know the officers with whom I shall have to work at the front. I shall be a forward observing officer, and shall sleep one night in three at the Headquarters of the 4th Battalion Tyneside Scottish. My job will be to direct artillery fire over the telephone to support the infantry.
We drew all our first lot of ammunition on Saturday. 704 rounds of 18 pdr. shrapnel shell. I wonder how many Germans we shall kill with that little lot.
I had a good day on Sunday. I left camp at 10.30 a.m., arrived at Finchley at 5.15 p.m., left again at 8.15 pm, and got back to camp at 8.15 a.m. on Monday morning. Some travelling for three hours at home. Au revoir.
BATH 7.57.p.m. 7th January 1916
Payne, Christchurch Vicarage, North Finchley, N.
We leave early Monday letters to France. au revoir.
January 8, 1916.
“I wired yesterday to say we were leaving early on Monday morning. If you did not get the wire it was stopped by the Post Office. Please send letters to France.
Now we are in a muddle and rush to pack and clear up. I have tied all the Horses’ tails in my section with Cambridge blue ribbon to distinguish then during transhipment. I have one train for my section alone, two guns, horses, men wagons and baggage. Au revoir.
MONDAY JANUARY 10. 1916.
“The Left Section of “D” Battery left the camp at Corton at 11 a.m., and marched to Codford Station. As this was my section I was in charge, but Hopkins came with us. It was a fine morning. Several people came to see us off. While Hopkins superintended the loading of the vehicles, I entrained the horses. My mare was very stupid and gave a lot of trouble. We travelled via Salisbury, where we dropped a R.A.M.C. Colonel who had asked for a lift. We arrived at Southampton at 3 p.m., and immediately detrained. I inspected the horses and discovered no casualties. After signing the embarkation book we went on board the S.S. “North Western Miller” of the Furness Line. We sailed at 8 p.m. for Havre. I was lucky in getting accommodation in the Chief’s cabin. After attending to the posting of stations and seeing the horses fed and life-belts served out, I turned in and wrote a letter home. I had already sent two wires from the docks. My wristlet watch, a luminous one went wrong; my first casualty. We sailed without lights.
The appearance of the horses closely packed between decks in the flicking lamp-light was most weird. All their heads swayed with the motion of the ship.
At Codford we entrained in 25 minutes.
TUESDAY JANUARY 11 1916.
“We had a smooth crossing, and arrived off Havre about 4 a.m. Then we anchored, and waited for the tide. I was up at 4.30 a.m., a bit tired but not much. It was a beautiful morning. We remained at anchor until 11.30 a.m., when we entered harbour. All the officers were on the bridge. After a long delay the ship was tied up to the proper hangar. We saw Hopkins and Freeman-Cowan waiting on shore with sixty of our gunners. They had preceded us in an old paddle-wheel steamer.
The Landing Staff caused trouble by interfering with our arrangements. The Staff as usual gave us a job of work to do and then worried us by all sorts of ridiculous suggestions. Why cannot they leave us alone? We are quite capable of disembarking.
The horses were turned loose in the ship and driven down a gang-way to be caught by the drivers at the bottom. My mare did not like it at all, and again caused trouble. The hairies, however seemed glad to be on firm ground once again, and there were no casualties.
As at Codford and Southampton I again had charge of the horses. We sorted them out as best we could on the quay side. After a lot of trouble in finding our guns and vehicles and watering the horses we hooked in and moved off to No. 5 Camp on the Havre-Harfleur Road about 5 p.m. In the dark we marched through the wilderness of the docks to the camp. There we found good hard horse lines under cover. The officers and men slept in tents. It was quite a warm night.
We had dinner in the officers’ mess at the price of 3 fr. 60 cs. each. After dinner Freeman-Cowan and I stood coffee drinks to all the men of the battery at the Y.M.C.A. Canteen as no arrangements had been made for a meal for them.
Then we went to bed on the floor of our tent by candle light.
My impressions of the place are few and seem to include only acres of dirty water, miles of dirtier quay-side in the wildest confusion with a population of English ladies selling coffee and German prisoners, guarded by a few French Territorials in grubby uniforms, working on the railway and making camps.
I posted a card home.
On Board a Transport
January 11, 1916.
We arrived safely, although the Ship’s officers tried to frighten us by saying there were submarines on the look out for us. We had an escort of two destroyers.
We left Codford by train yesterday morning about 11 a.m., and arrived at Southampton Docks about 3 p.m., so you see we did not hurry to leave England. My section got on board quite safely without any mishaps. I was lucky in getting the chief’s cabin to sleep in on the way over. There were 16 officers with us and accommodation for only 10. so six had to sleep on the floor.
The crossing was quiet and without incident. I do not know what awaits us on shore as we have not yet landed.
The B.C. is walking up and down outside my cabin at the moment making sundry rude remarks, or jokingly pretending he is the skipper of the ship, ordering us to weigh anchor, hoist the mainsail, water the horses and such like.
The poor horses have had a bad time, and my mare gave a lot of trouble. She is so nervous, and had to have a separate compartment, and even then I thought she would kill herself.
We have started our battery mess, and I am in charge of ours. In order to get these arrangements going and to get accustomed to messing by batteries on Friday last we eat in our bedrooms and slept in the Brigade Mess Room.
One night I went into one mess and found some sausages hanging out of the window by a string to keep them cool. My first effort was breakfast of porridge, eggs and bacon, and marmalade and toast.
I ran into Bath on Friday night to make some last minute purchases, among them a luminous wristlet watch, but it has already gone wrong.
The men had a bad night as they were so crowded. Last night we all put on our lifebelts and paraded at emergency stations in the dark, for we shewed no lights. It was weird. Not far from the ship we could just make out the forms of our escorts.
As I write I can hear the bells of Havre though faintly. But I cannot see much yet.
My kit is cumbersome and wearying. It consists of a revolver and thirty rounds of ammunition, field glasses, flash lamp, map case, haversack full of toilet articles, gas helmet, water bottle, knife fork and spoon in a case, a megaphone, compass wire cutters, and what not. I am sure I shall lose half of them before long.
Did you get my wire from Southampton?
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 12 1916.
The first sounds of the early morning I heard were made by a Company Sergeant Major shouting in a raucous voice for “B Company”. We had breakfast in the Officer’s Mess at two francs a head. The morning was occupied in “stables” and arranging the guns and wagons in the roadway. It rained heavily the whole time. Detachments paraded at 1.15 p.m., hooked in at 2 p.m., and moved off to the Gare des Marchandises to entrain. I had considerable amount of trouble in getting the horses into the wagons. They were boxed in eights, four aside and facing inwards, and fastened by breast ropes and by roof rings. A fussy little Railway Transport Officer interfered and made confusion worse confounded. He did not show much knowledge of horses.
Two companies of the Tyneside Scottish travelled with us. Before leaving we obtained some hot coffee served to us by English ladies in the station. I had our mess boxes placed in our carriage, and brought four large French loaves, the Illustrated London News of December 25th and La Vie Parisienne. Captain Longhorne and Hopkins were in one carriage, and Freeman-Cowan and I in another. The men were in cattle trucks.
We commenced our journey about 6 p.m. Twenty minutes later we had dinner of bully beef, bread and jam, with tea to drink. The train was tediously slow, and took us through Rouen and Boulogne to Calais. Hopkins was ill. I slept moderately well on the seat of the carriage under my Burberry. I was very tired and a bit stiff, caused by the weight of my equipment, which I had worn all day, and to which I was unaccustomed. Late at night we had some coffee and cake.
THURSDAY JANUARY, 13 1916.
I was awake before dawn, and saw we were passing through Calais. For breakfast we had bread, bully beef and tea. I gave the men two loaves.
Our train consisted of about fifty wagons and carriages propelled by two engines, one in front and one behind. It seemed that when one wanted to progress with some speed the other desired to stop or save coal, thereby neutralising one another’s efforts and considerably delaying our progress, which was accompanied by shrill and almost continuous blasts from their whistles.
After leaving Calais we passed through Audruicq. Later we arrived at St. Omer, where we thought we should detrain; but we passed through. G.H.Q. is at St. Omer. Finally we arrived at Wizernes, five hours late. We were glad to detrain, and did so quickly. Again I had the horses to see to, and detrained them by means of two moveable ramps. We watered at the river Aa, and six horses fell in. Finally we got away about 5 p.m., and marched for Herbelle, which is about four miles due south of Wizernes. It was a dark but moonlight night, cold and with a high wind blowing.
I had to bring up the rear, and had great difficulty with one wagon, which the horses refused to pull up hill. One man was thrown and trodden on. We actually marched about five miles and parked in a meadow with an inconveniently narrow entrance.
The Battery Headquarters and B.C’s billet were in a farm in the village. Cowan and I managed to find a bedroom over the village schoolroom at the top of the village.
There were no casualties to the horses, and after watering and feeding we issued horse rugs. After dinner of soup, three eggs each, bully beef and a very tasteless village loaf, Cowan and I turned in and sought our beds. There was no water, so we had to search for it in the dark, finally procuring it from a pump in a farm near by, and carrying it in our canvass buckets to our room.
BRIGADE WAR DIARY.
Billets. A,B, & C Batteries at Clety.
Headquarters and D Battery at Herbelle
The Ammunition Column at Inghem.
FRIDAY JANUARY 14 1916.
I had breakfast at 8.30 a.m., of porridge and eggs. Then we went to stables and I saw to the erection of incinerators, latrines and cooking places. “C” Sub-section was 35 minutes late for early morning stables. An aeroplane went over, and contradictory to orders every one stared up at it.
It was a beautifully fine day. In the afternoon I took the horses for water over to Therouanne some two miles away. The river Lys flows through the place. I also did some shopping but could not get much, and I was done over change. I tore my breeches and damaged my leg.
Later we changed the horse lines.
We heard that the 176th Brigade had lost over a hundred horses in a stampede caused by a hail storm, and that A/175 were seven hours wandering about looking for their billets. The telephone was installed in our billet and wired to Headquarters at the house of the village cure. Our first mail arrived.
January 14 1916.
D/175, Bde. R.F.A.
We arrived, and the weather is now beautiful. Fortunately we had no casualties on the journey, except very minor ones. Disembarking the men, guns and horses took some time, and we were not ready to move off till dusk. Then we had some way to go through the streets and other camps, before we arrived at our lodgings for the night. The officers got dinner for three francs per head in the mess, and slept in tents. It was not very cold. Next day we left camp for the station at 2 p.m. All were on the train by 5 p.m., the men and horses in cattle trucks. The officers of our battery had a compartment in the carriage at the end of the train to accommodate two. The journey started at 6.30 p.m., and we travelled all night. It was very slow. There were two engines, one at each end. When one wanted to stop, the other did not, and the result was a snail’s crawl.
We arrived at our destination at 3 p.m., the next day. For meals on board we managed to get a primus stove going so we were alright.
After we had detrained we watered the horses, six falling into the stream. At dusk we took the road, and marched five miles to our billets. On the way one wagon would not go up a hill, so I had to obtain spare horses and see it going again. One man was thrown and trodden on, so I put him in the mess cart. The roads are not too bad here, but the cars move at such a rate that they frighten the horses. My mare as usual gave a lot of trouble and was full of life even after the long journey. I felt rather tired, and my equipment was heavy, and I am unaccustomed to wearing it.
We finally got into billets about 9 p.m. The horse lines were in an orchard. Then we dined on fresh eggs, and bully. My bedroom is over the village school-room, and I share it with Freeman-Cowan. The mess is in a farm a little way away. The men are in barns in the village. Our two troubles at present are sanitary and drawing rations and forage. The water for the horses is also a long way away. This afternoon I had to take the horses four miles for water.
However it is better that Corton.
JANUARY 14 1916.
D/175 Bde R.F.A.
34 Div. B.E.F.
Somewhere in France.
Our first post has just come and I got five letters. At last we are here. We started last Monday at 10.30 a.m., and arrived last night Thursday at 9 p.m., As we are not allowed to mention places I will only say that we came by the usual route for troops. We marched from camp to station by sections. My section had a train to itself. We had 1 ½ hours to entrain and we did it in 25 minutes. The train being troop, moved as such, but it eventually got us to the port of embarkation. It took some time to get all the men, guns vehicles and horses aboard. We started at night, escorted over by a war boat of sorts. I was very lucky and managed to get the Chief’s berth on board, as he was on duty on the bridge, so I slept in comfort. Some of the officers slept on the cabin floor. It was a large boat and took a large number of horses. The poor brutes did not relish it at all. It was amusing to see all their heads swaying to the movement of the boat. The Ship’s officers tried to be funny, and told us that there were three submarines on the look out for us. However we arrived at our port in safely; but it took us from 4 a.m., till 1 o’clock to get into dock. Then more trouble and worry until about 5 p.m. we got clear, and watered the horses and hooked in. My mare was very restless and fooled about a lot. We marched about three miles to our camp, and slept in tents. We managed to get a fairly decent dinner at 9 o’clock. The next day we entrained for a long railway journey. One long train took the whole battery, horses, guns and men, in cattle trucks, and one carriage behind for the officers, two officers to a compartment. We loaded up with our mess box, primus stove, 5 French loaves, bully beef, jam and tea. I got the loaves from a stall where English ladies were doling out food to the men. There is a story of a man who came down after behind in the trenches for a long time, and went up to one of these stalls, and said “’Ere, miss oi’ve bin told as ‘ow yer are Hinglish.” Assured he went on “Good Gawd, lets ‘ave a look at yer.”
Our journey started about 6 p.m. Two engines helped us on our way, as much as in them lay, one to the front and one behind. When one got tired, or wished to economise in coal, the other wanted to go full speed ahead and whistled like fury. The net result was a snail’s crawl full of jolts and jerks. I managed to sleep fairly well on the seat covered by a Burberry; but I could not get a wash for 36 hours, and I was black. We passed through many well known places, and arrived at our destination at 3 p.m. We detrained and watered our horses, six fell in the river. We marched 5 miles from the railhead to our billets in a small country village. The battery headquarters are in a farmhouse, horses in the open, and the men in barns. I have a
room is over the village schoolroom. One man was thrown and trodden on during the march so I shoved him in the mess cart.
On one wagon caused trouble as the horses refused to pull up a steep hill. I did not wish to leave it behind as it had my kit on board. The village people are most hospitable, and we are busy learning French with a Yorkshire accent.
I like these old French villages but they are dirty.
My mare gave a lot of trouble coming across, but she has arrived quite safely. In the train she had to have a partition put up for her, and she objected very much to the ship.
We have developed into thieves out here, by what we call “collecting”. We have already one cart, two horses, hay, oats, and harness to the good.
SATURDAY JANUARY 15, 1916.
I was up early and took stables and also the exercise. The day was spent in cleaning harness and vehicles.
Why is it that no one troubles about lights in France, as they do so strongly in England?
A large post arrived. Censoring letters is rarely amusing and generally boring. It is our evening’s occupation. I wrote home. I felt tired and out of sorts. The village is getting frightfully muddy.
SUNDAY JANUARY 16, 1916.
Today I felt very ill. I had a bad stomach ache similar to the one I had last summer. It must be the bad food or water. Consequently I was very dull and dismal, and also bored. I laid telephone wire, paid the battery in francs. Later I wrote letters in answer to the three I had received today.
MONDAY JANUARY 17. 1916.
It was a fine morning, but later it turned to rain. I was still feeling rotten, but occupied myself in gun laying, sight testing, and telephone laying. That together with stables fully employed me. More letters arrived.
We heard that one of our transports when returning was torpedoed.
TUESDAY JANUARY 18 1916.
It was a wet day, occupied in dull routine. I was orderly officer, drew rations in the morning, and took stables. Watering horses here is a perfect nuisance. We have so far to go.
Could not our wonderful Staff find a more convenient place for a horsed unit in all this waterlogged country?
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 19 1916.
We again changed our horse lines to a field next the farm. The old were already hock high in thick mud. Of course we had a frightful row with the inhabitants, who strongly objected to our spoiling their land. What else can we do? We must keep our horses as fit as possible.
The evening turned in wet again. No doubt the new horse lines will be just as bad tomorrow.
THURSDAY JANUARY 20 1916.
I took long exercise in drill order, passing through among other places Therouanne. This place seems to be an interesting road junction of several quite straight roads, which meet here to cross the river Lys. Doubtless these roads are of Roman origin. One running in a north westerly direction may have joined another in the neighbourhood of Lumbres which runs straightly in the direction of Boulogne. Perhaps Roman legionaries went these ways journeying to Britain. On this occasion we had a hail storm and I got thoroughly wet as I had no coat. It was very cold too. I took stables, and after lunch laid some more telephone wire. I received a box of cigarettes from M. Later I wrote home.
This country side is not prepossessing. Why is it that the French are so dirty. Is it because there is no better class to set a good example? But then why is there no better class as there is across the channel? There is a great distinction between the chateau and the village. There is the cure, but he usually does not seem to be better than he should be, at least in cleanliness and his habits.
The numerous signs of their religion are curious. Every where giant crucifixes and wayside shrines, which the troops call “Jesus boxes”. Their religious decorations and observances are almost grotesque, and the power of priests great, but the inhabitants of the villages do not seem to be more moral than the English, while their practices are certainly more superstitious.
Upon them descends the British army! With its curious little ways. The General curses the C.O., who curses the B.C., who curses the Section Commander, who curses the Sergeant, who curses the gunner, and all because the rifles are dirty. But then how could it be otherwise, seeing that there is no oil to clean them with. How can we make bricks without straw? So the gunner goes and consoles himself in the village estaminet and spends the few francs which a grateful country allows him on bad beer and the village women. Who can blame him? Still I am surprised how few there are who live riotously.
Living among the people here is very different to spending a holiday in Paris or Brussels. I remember my former visit with my Father to these parts, when I got very different impressions.
JANUARY 20 1916.
Thank you very much for the Cigarettes, which are much appreciated. Up to the present we have been existing on packets of nasty Will’s cigarettes called “Scissors”, really terrible things. Things are much the same here as in England only worse. The mud is terrible. Apparently you did not get a wire I sent you from Southampton. I gave two to a dock hand to send for me but neither seem to have arrived.
FRIDAY JANUARY 21 1916.
I rode in to meet new officers at Refilling Point, which was at a place 800 yards south west of the “h” in Pihem, but they did not turn up. So I rode into St. Omer with six horses and the mess cart. We arrived there at 1 p.m. I went to the station and saw the R.T.O., who informed me that they had gone. Thanks to Captain Simmonds of the Artists Rifles, I was able to water and feed the horses at the cavalry barracks. The Artists are G.H.Q. Guard. I had lunch with him at the infantry barracks. Then I went to the Field Cashier and drew 75 francs for myself. I bought a Morning Post and a Nash’s magazine. We started back at 2.30 p.m., and rode home against a head wind. I was very tired when I got in.
I heard that D. d’ A Clarke (18th Division) had been killed, and also General Fitton, G.O.C. 101st Infantry Brigade.
Our new officer is one Cheadle, an Australian just out from Colchester.
SATURDAY JANUARY 22 1916.
In the morning I took exercises and watered at Therouanne. In the afternoon the officers of the Division went in motor busses and wagons to Divisional Headquarters for a lecture on Gas Attacks and Gas Helmets. We arrived so late that we returned immediately without being instructed. So the army works. We arrived back at 7 p.m., too late to do anything.
We heard that Baugh Allen, Adjutant of the 152, Brigade had been sent to the Base suffering from D.Ts. What a noble exit! Also Fletcher of B Battery is under arrest for neglect of duty, and Newnham of the Ammunition Column as well for drinking in an estaminet with a French poilu.
On the way I saw a British officer try to jump his horse over the high iron foot-bridge at Arques. The horse caught its foot in the iron bars and tore its foot badly. This officer was put under arrest by Harvey Coomb, the A.P.M. We went by Herbelle, Bientques, Wizernes, St. Omer, Arques, Fort Rouge, la Crosse, le Nieppe. All arrangements, of course, by the staff, with the result that all officers, Colonels to junior subalterns were kept away from their units from noon to 7 p.m., without profit, with a considerable wastage of time and petrol.
The difference between the English and French soldiers on guard is very striking. The latter slouch about anyhow.
I received a parcel of cigarettes and writing paper from home. The evening I employed in writing home.
The telephone communication in the division is shockingly bad, and the Staff consistently inconsiderate, which I suppose is the nature of Staffs.
I am very glad we are leaving our dirty and smelly billets.
19-23 Janvier 1916
Lait, 3 frs.50
Beurre, 5 frs.
Oeufs, 5 frs.50.
Pommes, 3 frs.60.
Pommes de terre 0 frs.80.
Oignons et carottes 0 frs.70.
Charbon pour faire la cuisine et
chamber chauffee, 12 frs.
Groceries, Maison Klob-Royer,
19, Place Victor Hugo.
Expeditionary Force Canteen, 100, De Reske Cigarettes, 7 frs.
Madame for mess room 36 frs.50.
SUNDAY JANUARY 23 1916.
The day was fine for our move from Herbelle. I paraded my section without undue confusion or loss. We marched by Inghem, Ecques, Roquetoire, Wittes, our destination.
On the way the two horses of the baggage wagon gave up. I had to get men on the drag ropes, send for leaders. As a result I got left behind with the wagon. I put two men under arrest for buying in shops on the line of march against orders.
We left at 11, a.m., and arrived at 3.30 p.m.
Our new billet at Wittes is much better and cleaner than the last. We have a mess room, two bed rooms, a servants’ room and a kitchen. Freeman-Cowan, Cheadle and myself are in one bedroom, which is certainly an arrangement which suits me.
At Roquetoire we passed the 54th Territorial Division, which had been out some time but made no move.
Here we can hear the guns firing quite plainly.
We are near the railway and also a stream. There are no stables and the horses are on open lines. The mud is worse than ever, and the sergeants are disgruntled because there is no room for a mess.
BRIGADE WAR DIARY.
The 34th Division was attached to the 3rd Corps, First Army. The Brigade moved into billets at Wittes.
January 23 1916.
We have moved our quarters today, and are now in much cleaner billets. We are also near a stream, so it does not take us such a long time to water.
I have been to G.H.Q. twice in two days. Once by car and once on my horse.
The mud is the worst I have ever experienced, so I wear gum boots all day.
MONDAY JANUARY 24, 1916.
As it was my turn for Orderly Officer, I was up early. The whole of my left section was late for stables.
After breakfast I rode into Aire to shop. I went to the Expeditionary Force Canteen for groceries, and then to a greengrocer. I spent about thirty francs. In the Square I bought the Sunday Times and Pictorial and La Vie Parisienne. I delivered letters at the Field Post Office. I had much trouble purchasing nut-meg, as I could not remember the French name. There were three people in the shop, whom I completely mystified, but at last a girl understood. I also bought two sacks of coal. My mare cast a shoe, so I had to send her home and rode back in the mess cart. I got back in time for stables. After lunch it came on to rain, so I rugged up the horses at once. One horse in C Sub-section died in some agony from pneumonia. I had it dragged by two of the farm horses through the yard and buried in a hole or rather pit dug with considerable labour by the troops.
After tea there were prisoners for trial. Captain Towel came for dinner at 8 p.m. I received a letter from Reg. Went to bed late very tired.
TUESDAY JANUARY 25, 1916.
I changed the Left Section’s horse lines to a place nearer their billet. I took exercise of the left section. A driver went up to an overworked and much harassed storeman and asked,”Where are the latrines?” The reply was, “Dunno which wagon they were packed on.”
A dog arrived and was duly taken on the strength. His name is Chirgwan, the white eyed kaffir. He becomes the battery mascot. He is a small black dog with the aforesaid eye.
I have a bad cold and felt very ill and rotten.
BRIGADE WAR DIARY.
Orders were received that the 34th Division should relieve the 23rd Division in action at Armentieres, the 175th Brigade relieving the 104th Brigade R.F.A.
WEDNESDAY JANUARY, 26 1916.
I was ill and in bed all day, with a bad cold. The doctor visited me, and told me to remain in bed. I read “In the Firing Line”. I received a letter from Father and a parcel of two books, which were acceptable.
THURSDAY JANUARY, 27. 1916.
I felt much better and got up. Later the doctor came and saw me. I did not go out at all, wrote five letters, and went to bed fairly late. Captain Langhorne went up to the front to visit the battery we are relieving shortly.
FRIDAY JANUARY, 28. 1916.
I felt rotten again, but took early morning stables. The weather was very bad. Marching drill started in the afternoon, and I took some gun laying.
Lice troubles among the men begin.
SATURDAY JANUARY 29, 1916.
I turned out my section in marching order. We were inspected by Colonel Stevenson, who was in a very bad temper. He said my harness was disgraceful. This was quite untrue. It had never been so clean. C, gun team was exceptionally good. At the end even the Colonel grudgingly admitted it. He was also annoyed because the blankets were rolled on the saddles instead of overcoats. We had a short route march to Boeseghem, followed by stables. A bad morning.
All afternoon was occupied with harness cleaning as a result of the cursing. It was quite clean this morning, but even the Colonel could not find a speck now. The trouble is that these pre-war regular officers expect these new troops to keep their horses and equipment as clean as they did in peace time in barracks. They forget that the horses are standing in fields, and sometimes the equipment is never dry. The conditions cannot be compared.
In the evening there was a lecture on gas-helmets at Brigade Headquarters. The scene was weird. The interior of a smelly village schoolroom, dimly lit by three guttering candles. Officers sat at desks suited for infants of three.
The Doctor took up his tale. He explained that the Germans had used a new and deadly gas, which had put the staff at their wits’ end. It travels low and quickly, and though apparently not at once noticeable, it is effectively deadly enough up to 9000 yards. At first it causes lassitude, and then is lethal.
This was most interesting and cheering news!! Especially as this is the worst time of year, and we go up into the line in a week. It was a strange sight to see all the officers sitting solemnly in this tiny schoolroom in the dim light with their gas-masks on, looking like members of the Spanish Inquisition holding a midnight sitting hatching some horrible plot.
After dinner I had a bath and was in bed by nine o’clock.
SUNDAY JANUARY, 30. 1916.
Hopkins, whose turn was next, departed this day for the front line, and I was left in charge of the battery. Cheadle was Orderly Officer, and took rough exercise at 7 a.m.
The battery paraded at 9.30 a.m., when I gave them a lecture on gas and gas-helmets. I rubbed in what I heard last night. The whole battery put them on twice under my directions. Then I inspected mess-tins, bandoliers, ammunition, water-bottles, field service dressings and identity discs. We are all wearing gas masks slung in new satchels. I inspected rifles and found them dirty. After stables I changed my left section horse lines for a better place. I thought I had better make hay while the sun shone, the battery commander was away.
The day in reality was very dull, a moist, cold foggy day.
My mare is lame. She was pricked in shoeing.
The Captain returned.
MONDAY JANUARY, 31 1916.
The battery went out under Captain in marching order. We left at 9.30 a.m., I got cursed because the harness was not as clean as it should be. I had not had harness cleaning the day before because I considered it more important to do what I did, viz, inspect the mens’ equipment and teach them about gas. We marched by the main road Wittes to Racquinghem, turned right at Belle Croix for Wardrecques Station, and so back by the outskirts of Blaringhem to Wittes.
In the afternoon we did harness cleaning, and stables.
JANUARY 31 1916.
A large bundle of magazines has just arrived. Four other officers wish to convey their thanks also, for here we have all things in common. It is extraordinary how the arrival of the Post is the event of the day. It arrives about 1.45 p.m., and is delivered in an enormous mail bag, full of parcels and letters for the battery.
We are five in the mess. There is the Battery commander Captain Langhorne, who was for about four years A.D.C. to General Willcocks in India, then there is Hopkins, who has been in the army for ten years. The next in seniority is Freeman-Cowan, an “enfant terrible”, fresh from the “shop”, and quite a good sort. The other is Cheadle, who has only held a commission for 8 weeks. He is a better sort of Australian.
I am Mess President. We live chiefly on our rations, which consist of Beef, bread or biscuit, tea, sugar, bacon, jam, tinned butter, salt, pepper, mustard, and sometimes potatoes. Everything else we buy, such as eggs, fresh butter, milk and vegetables. But the mess cook is the limit, slack and oily, and half asleep, assisted by one who is even worse. So you can imagine my trials. It is a red letter day when we get a clean cloth for the table and clean utensils.
Gas. Now why on earth can’t the Boche – strafe them – wage war like gentlemen, as in old days when the doughty knight rode forth clad in armour and all that, and the troops were drawn up on either facing one another. Then some one called out “Are we all present? Then let the fight begin”. Now if you please, we wander about like with satchels slung over us carrying two gas-helmets – just like school boys. These things have to be inspected once a day by N.C.Os and three times a week by Section Commanders, and once a week by the Battery Commander, besides numerous returns saying all is correct, or indents asking for more. But the sight for the gods is to see us in these things, for we look like the Spanish Inquisition let loose.
There has been a good deal of artillery activity lately and the guns have been making a bit of a row. The French do not seem to mind the Zepps a bit. And they do not darken their towns at all as we do in England.
Yesterday we received boxes in black and gold containing chocolates from the colonies of Trinidad, Granada and St. Lucia. The colonies have turned up trumps. They have at least done more than was expected of them.
An officer wrote home the other day for some photographic chemicals. His letter was promptly opened by the censor, and court-martialed for having a camera in his possession. It is just as well I did to not bring mine out.