War Diary of AA Laporte Payne March 1916.
WEDNESDAY MARCH, 1, 1916.
This day I was ordered to go to the 34th Divisional Bombing School for a demonstration. I went. I rode my mare through Croix du Bac. I witnessed an attempt to work the following instruments of torture:
“P. Grenades” for smoke.
Pain’s Candles for ditto.
- in Mortar for smoke bomb.
It was a rotten show. The ammunition was faulty or wet, and half did not go off at all.
I returned at 4, p.m., and saw Beal, the Staff Captain.
On my return to the Wagon Line I took stables, and then censored letters. It was a finer day, but I felt cold and tired. The work of wagon line officer is not to my liking.
THURSDAY MARCH, 2, 1916.
I went to Croix du Bac to call on D.A.D.O.S., and the C.R.E. with regard to bills. I saw General Kirby. Then I went to Erquinghem for cash, but could not get any as the cashier was not there. I returned for lunch.
In the afternoon I rode to Steenwerck to find the R.O. After searching for hours I found him in a side lane. No. 1 Company, A.S.C. Then I could not get my bills passed. They must be on A.F.W. 1303. A lot of damned red tape. We spend more time fighting the staff than the Boche.
On my way back I saw Mollindinia of the 160th Brigade. his wagons are in a fine condition. I suppose they do no work.
The 9th Division are at Steenwerck, and the Divisional Band was playing! I suppose it plays for the G.O.C.’s dinner. Why don’t they transplant the Ritz for these red-hatted gentry?
I got back about tea time, and censored letters. There were about 150 of them. The men here have too much time to write. I must make them work harder. Why do the men at the Wagon Line write more than those at the Gun Line?
It is lonely at this place. I have all my meals in solitary state, if they can be called meals.
I saw Brough the General’s groom today. He told me about Captain Waller and the new A.D.C.
This is the address on one of the letters I censored:
Mrs. Joe – 30 Squirrel Ditch Huddersfield.
Where do the men get this formula form?
“I hope you are quite well as it leaves me at present in the pink”
I think they must learn it as a copy book exercise at school; it occurs so frequently in the same terms.
FRIDAY MARCH, 3, 1916.
I got up rather late this morning. It was a wet day. I rode through Croix du Bac to Sailly-sur la Lys to get the money for pay from the Field Cashier. I arrived in the morning, but found he was not there until the afternoon. The 8th Division is at Sailly. It is in the same Corps as ours, the 34th, and the 39th. somewhere behind.
I met the Compensation Officer, and had lunch the Headquarters No. 2 Mess with the following gentlemen, A.D.M.S., A.D.V.S., D.A.D.M.S., D.A.D.O.S., C.O., The Salvage Officer and such like.
I then went to get the cash, but there was a fuss about the number of our Imprest Account.
I rode home in the wet, wrote and censored letters, and despatched ammunition up the line.
To day the Compensation Officer told me of the disgraceful way the French are claiming compensation from the British Government. He told me of a case in which a claim was put in for damage done not by our troops but by the Boche. I should have sent it back endorsed “Apply to Berlin”. The Germans, sensible people, do not compensate anyone.
Here is another case. Some wood was urgently required for cooking purposes, and our troops cut some down, not a great deal. Unfortunately a well was also broken in use. The infuriated farmer put in a claim through the interpreter. The troops were docked of half a franc each from their pay to meet this claim.
The French howled loudly when they thought we were not sending the Expeditionary Force to defend their dirty farms; but when we do come they make us pay for every rut we make in their roads. Considering the enormous amount we pay in compensation and billeting money, and the large sums men spend in the villages the French inhabitants must be making fortunes.
French lower class farmers are a filthy, greedy lot. They appear to be much worse than the corresponding class at home. But we may have no corresponding class. I hope not.
This evening it is wet and cold. I have no lamp tonight only candles. I am eagerly awaiting the mail.
March 3 1916
Dinner to night, cooked by my servant, consisted of the following, soup made from small packets issued in rations, tough steak fried with bacon and potatoes, toast and tinned butter, arrowroot made with tinned milk, tinned fruit salad, and ration cheese, and for drink tea.
My billet is of one room, quite small, in a farm house. The floor is made of tiles, and the furniture consists of a large bed with a box mattress, a chair and a rickety table with two candles stuck in turned-upside-down-glass-potted-meat jars.
In the outside room an old French farmer, his fat wife and a small boy sit continually when they are not wandering round their filthy farmyard. The two adults smoke and spit on the floor.
My bedroom is in the next room. The bed is a large four poster. Over a mattress I have spread a waterproof sheet in case there are any creatures in side. I sleep in my fleabag with army blankets and my old school rug on top.
Outside the mud is black, very smelly and inches thick. I have 130 horses here and luckily they are on brick standings, which prevents them from disappearing in the mud completely, but they are very tightly squashed. The harness is hung up in two empty and dilapidated barns. The men live in tents. There is a wooden cookhouse and a small drying shed which is very necessary. Along the side of the road are parked the ammunition wagons and gun limbers.
Not far away there is a Heavy Battery, which periodically lets off at the Boche.
Pearse writes to me and gives his position in the line: “Two thousand three hundred yards north of the map reference you gave me, and six hundred and fifty yards west of the first R of a long word.”
SATURDAY MARCH, 4, 1916.
It is snowing hard. I rode to Refilling Point at the station, Bac St. Maur, south of the high road. The congestion of wagons was something extraordinary. There was filthy black mud everywhere and over everything. The rations, good and plenty, were spoilt by snow and dirt. I wonder the Boche do not bomb or shell this large congregation of men horses and wagons. It was very cold waiting for our turn. I wonder anything ever gets sorted out.
I got back to the Wagon Line in time for lunch. Then I went to the Brigade Ammunition Column, and drew ammunition. The Captain came down and visited us. He saw round the Lines and appeared satisfied. At least, he did not find fault, which he would have done if he had spotted anything.
The evening was dull as usual.
March 4 1916
The weather is much colder again, and it has been snowing for the last two days. The road outside is flooded with about 4 inches of water.
There was another gas alarm one night. But it was nothing.
This morning in the snow I rode to Railhead, which is Refilling Point. The whole of our Division sends there for its supplies. Imagine a dirty goods yard, ankle deep in black smelly slush, rows and rows of G.S. wagons with horses and mules in hundreds, all in a muddle on congested roads. Piles of Hay, oats, bacon, meat, tea, salt, sugar, tinned milk, straw, bread, jam, et hoc genus omne, all in a jumble getting splashed with mud sodden with snow. I was superintending the issue of the Brigade supply, that is ten wagon loads. There was plenty of it this morning. Our battery got 90 loaves. But sometimes there is a shortage, and then the men at the rear help themselves before the men in the line get anything. So an officer has to attend, but some of them are not too scrupulous. The wagons got there at 8.30, a.m.; but I knowing the ways of the A.S.C. did not arrive before 10, a.m. We finally drew rations and forage at 11.30, a.m. Occasionally the place is shelled by the Boche. Drawing rations is a game of grab with indents as court cards but trumps are “pinching” and played very slowly.
Enclosed I send you a sketch by Bairnsfather which appeared in the Bystander of February 23. he is in our Division. It represents what ones’ feelings makes us think we must look like (when we think about it afterwards in retrospect and safety so humorously) if on duty at either end of a telephone when a “S.O.S.” is sent through. It illustrates the trials in the life of a telephonist.
It is a struggle to make the drivers clean harness here. I had 6 prisoners up before me this evening. I put them on extra duties for an indefinite period and threatened them with a transfer to the infantry.
Tomorrow I send 40 of the men to the baths, and not before they want it.
MARCH 4 1916
It has started snowing here again, and has been hard at it for two days. The road outside is under four inches of water, I almost said feet, and the mistake would have pardonable, as I have just mistaken the ditch for the road, and suffered accordingly. The horses manage to remain above ground, thanks to the narrow brick standings we have managed to make for them.
See the Bystander. Captain Bruce Bairnsfather’s drawings are most amusing, especially the one entitled “S.O.S.”
I am having a treat tonight. I am actually going to have a hot bath. I have collected all the clean water I can find, and I am really going to enjoy myself, and then turn in. I hope they don’t call me up in the middle of the night for more ammunition, or ask for a return of the numbers of men of the Jewish faith in the Battery.
I had lunch at Headquarters of another division yesterday, and heard some amusing stories. Half I forget, and the others are unprintable. The British Government are spending thousands in compensation for damage done or alleged to have been done by our troops in France. we have to pay for everything here, wood, bricks, use of land, billeting, and the smallest bit of damage done, everything. The French howled enough when our troops were not here, and now they make us pay and pay again for being here. It is nothing else but trouble with the inhabitants. I hear of a claim yesterday put into our military authorities here by some wretched Frenchmen for 10,000 francs for damage done by the enemy. It was returned to the French authority, endorsed “Apply to Berlin”. The Huns are sensible, they take what they want and never compensate. No wonder it costs five million a day for us to run the war.
Tomorrow is Sunday but it won’t make much difference. Last Sunday I was in the trenches at midday, and I suddenly said to an infantry officer “Major, it is Sunday today.” “So it is. I ought to have known as the Boche are so noisy.” There is one thing we miss out here, and that is Sunday, whether one is religious or not.
SUNDAY MARCH, 5, 1916.
I got up late, as I felt unwell, suffering from an attack of diarrhoea. It was exceptionally severe.
I had lunch at the Brigade Ammunition Column with Morton, Jacks and the Veterinary Officer. Afterwards I rode with Morton to Croix du Bac to get cash for Freeman-Cowan. I met Major Locke, the D.A.A. & Q.M.G., and Captain Parkin, the D.A.Q.M.G., of our Division. Then I rode into Armentieres with Jacks, and had tea at the tea shop. Afterwards I rode on to the Officers’ stables, and walked to the battery position. I saw Captain Langhorne, Cheadle, Hopkins, Captain Spain, Macdonald and others. Later I rode back with Jacks in the dark to the B.A.C., where I had some supper. It was very cold.
I heard of the severe shelling of Armentieres, in which the casualties were 4 officers and 31, other ranks.
It snowed hard.
MONDAY MARCH, 6, 1916.
I was still feeling bad, and got up late. I had to try a man for insubordination to a N.C.O. I gave him Field Punishment No. 1, and had him tied to a tree.
The doctor visited me and gave me pills. I felt better at night, in spite of the pills. It is still very cold, and snowing again. I am fed up with this weather. The doctor also saw the Battery Sergeant Major, who says he has rheumatism badly.
I have made a Compensation Report called for with regard to the damage done to a coat by Sergeant Griffiths, who let off a rifle in an estaminet: forty francs.
I got a government issue of a pair of Norwegian boots.
This evening I censored about 150 letters.
TUESDAY MARCH, 7, 1916.
I am still feeling bad. It is also very cold and snowy. I rode to Erquinghem to sit on a Court Martial at “C” Battery’s Wagon Line, 152, Brigade, to try a sergeant for being drunk on guard in the gun line. It is a serious crime; but he got off lightly, thanks to me. He was reduced to the ranks, and sentenced to 28 days imprisonment with hard labour.
I rode back with Major Dalby of the Divisional Ammunition Column, President of the Court.
After lunch I drew ammunition from the Brigade Ammunition Column, and later sent the wagons to the gun line.
I dined at the B.A.C., and spent the evening there.
WEDNESDAY MARCH, 8, 1916.
Today I felt very bad. The General visited our lines, but I did not see him, as I was in the latrine. Just my luck! The Sergeant Major told him that I was not well.
I censored a large quantity of letters, and had tea with the doctor, who came to see me. Then I visited the B.A.C., and returned for dinner here alone. Then I read a book, which I borrowed from the Vet.
THURSDAY MARCH, 9, 1916.
There was a very sharp frost this morning, and in consequence the roads are bad for the horses. I rode to Refilling Point at Bac St. Maur, and supervised the issue of supplies. On my return I saw to the repainting of the wagons and to the painting of the new divisional sign. There are all sorts of silly signs now. The Boche will know all about them in a short while.
I received from headquarters a map of the roads in this vicinity, upon which are marked certain roads prohibited by order for the exercise of horses. As all the roads around us here are so marked we shall not be able to get the horses out on exercise at all. The marked roads circle us about! What is the use of issuing such an order?
All the men had baths today.
The day is dull and very cold; but there is no snow. It will freeze again this evening.
I called to see Colonel Logan of the Heavies, and also D.A.D.O.S. I am sick to death of the whole job at the wagon line. The army system is rotten. I hate the staff more than I can say. The only thing necessary here is to keep the harness clean, and render returns correctly and punctually, or indent on the proper forms. Then you are a good soldier, and will be suitably decorated. The staff make the life of the troops hell out of the line. In the line it is not so bad as the staff do not go there.
The French family, increased by several friends, are kicking up a tremendous row, jabbering as hard as they can go all at once, punctuated by spitting. They are a beastly lot. I have to go through their kitchen every time I want to go to my room.
Here in the line there is nothing much doing. There is better news from Verdun.
I am feeling very low. I suppose it is my sickness.
However, “On n’est jamais si heureux ni si malheureux qu’on s’imagine.”
FRIDAY MARCH, 10, 1916.
It is a cold and snowy day. I had the tents cleared and sprayed with paraffin oil to kill bugs, but the small was fearful.
The doctor came to see me. Corporal Booker was sent away with a temperature of 1040.
After evening stables I went to the Column for tea. Then I came back here for dinner. I received letters from Captain Langhorne. There is trouble about a missing indent for bursters. I am quite certain that the indent never came down here, in spite of what he says.
SATURDAY MARCH, 11, 1916.
To day I ordered a route march. Everyone and all wagons turned out. Afterwards the painting of wagons was continued. I sent the G.S. Wagons for material for screens. There is more trouble about the indent for bursters. Captain Langhorne wanted to know why the bursters had not come up, when he had himself marked the indent, “to come up on the 12th.” such are the trials of a wagon line officer!
I shall be glad to go back to the gun line, even to Lille Post. When is this beastly war going to be over so that we can be free agents again? It seems strange to ask the question when I am at the wagon line, where I am comparatively safe, and not at the gun line. It is illustrative of conditions out here. I am sorry for Cheadle having to relieve me at the wagon line. But I am thankful to get away.
March 11, 1916.
I have managed to obtain a large fur coat, and I now look like a Teddy Bear. Also a pair of Norwegian boots. There have been several cases of frost-bite and trench feet. The latter is a very extraordinary thing. It is not caused by frost-bite. I think that it is due to wearing putties when they are wet, and thereby preventing proper circulation and also having constantly wet feet.
I am still at the wagon line, but hope to go back to a more exciting existence shortly. The guns are making a noise tonight, and the windows rattle in an irritating way.
The French have had a bad time at Verdun. I hope they can hold on. These Germans are a wonderful people. They seem to have unlimited reserves to draw on.
To day I managed to get Thursday’s Daily Mail. The paper seems to be diminishing in size, which is perhaps a good thing as the reporters cannot include such a lot of rubbish as padding.
Our drivers here are in tents, which is very cold for them. But the best of them appear very cheerful.
SUNDAY MARCH, 12, 1916.
It was a fine day. I packed and cleared up my billet for Cheadle upon my release from this prison. I handed over to the Sergeant Major, and rode up through Steenwerck to the Requisition Officer, No. 1 Company A.S.C. to get bills paid, but found him out. Then I rode back to the Wagon Line, and remained there until Cheadle arrived. Later I rode up to the line for the first time on my chestnut mare.
First of all I called at the R.E. Company in Erquinghem Factory to get bursters for Lille Post, then to the R.E. Dump, Armentieres, for poles.
I had tea at the Tea Shop in Armentieres. There I met the Machine Gun Officer from the Tyneside Scottish, quite a boy. I walked to the battery, where I found Captain Langhorne, Captain Spain, Hopkins and Freeman-Cowan. I was quite tired, but was cheered up by Cowan’s gramophone, which he had won in a raffle.
I got to bed by midnight.
MONDAY MARCH, 13, 1916.
Another fateful thirteenth!! I was up at six, a.m., and went to Lille Post, arriving there by 7.15, a.m.
The place is now very different. In side the rear walls two dug-outs have been constructed, one for the O.P. Officer, and one for the telephonists, and made of sand-bags and bursters. The place looks stronger, but I fancy it is not so strong as it looks. One hit would knock it in. there is a ladder at the back passing up through a hole in the wall.
At first it was too misty to observe.
This new work at Lille Post is being done by some D.A.C. men under the supervision of two R.E. personnel. They are now building up inside.
I have heard that a Major and a subaltern of the Yorks and Lancs. were killed yesterday by one bullet.
At midday I was lucky enough to spot that offensive battery, which has caused too many deaths already along communication trenches. It is to the right of the Estaminet de la Barriere. The brutes! We must have them out.
I had lunch of sandwiches. The Captain came up in readiness for a strafe by our division. Heavies, Trench Mortars, Machine-guns, Field Guns wire cutting, enfilading and bombarding, and what not; and the Boche answered never a shell or a sound! They were all probably at the bottom of their dug-outs grinning at the waste of our ammunition and waiting until it was all over. All died away, and it was peaceful once more. Now, what had we gained by all the expenditure?
It was a beautiful day, and I felt the sun for the first time, and it was welcome, as I felt warm for the first time. The birds were singing, and there were a spring feel and spring sounds in the air. War seemed out of place.
Hitherto my garb here has included fur coat, fur gloves, mittens, woollen scarf, leather waistcoat, service jacket, woollen underclothing, two pairs of socks, and heavy leather boots, and yet I have felt terribly cold. Now Lille Post is much more comfortable in more ways than one. I wonder how long it will last.
I returned to the battery late as it is much lighter now. As I approached I heard the gramophone going. It was strange to hear music again, the first since I left England excepting for the whistling of the troops. It seems years ago.
A sketch of the battery in 1988.
The road way is a thicket of brambles and coarse grass. All the gunners have long beards, the No.s hobble with sticks, and the Captain is bent double.
The guns are propped upon broken wheels, and have cobwebs on them. A faint slow buzzing is heard on the weak telephone, and the signaller’s palsied hand trembles more violently.
The wrinkled gunline officer shuffles up to the ancient battery commander, with his hand to his ear, “Eh! Eh! What’s that?”
“Battery fire, one week!”
“Did you say fire?” ”Yes, yes!”
“What Target?” ”The same as we took on ten years ago.” ”Has it been registered?” ”Look in the Battery History at page 1987.
At any rate the troops are planting flowers and even vegetables.
“When’s this ‘ere war goin’ to end Bill?”
“Dunno. Give it up. We’ve planted rose bushes in the front of the trenches.” ”B….y optimist! We’ve planted acorns!”
MARCH 13, 1916
Extract from Observer’s Log Book.
7.15 Too misty to observe.
12.45 A hostile 77 mm. battery shelled Wine Avenue. It is probably the close-up gun at Wez Macquart.
1.00 We fired on I.22.c.6½.4. Result indifferent.
Leith Walk heavily shelled.
1.40 Enemy battery at I.29.c.8.9½., shelling Cowgate Avenue.
Flash timed on stop watch: 8 and 4/5ths seconds. =2900 yards.
Battery is exactly 1O 10’ R. of Englos Church from the O.P.
1.45 Hostile 4.2 battery firing on Cowgate Avenue.
2.00 to 2.45 Our Strafe. Wash Out!
4.25 A party of ten men observed with white trousers on the Transport Road at I.36.a.
5.20 I observed a new screen (white) on Transport Road at I.36.d. about 25 yards long, and ten feet high.
TUESDAY MARCH, 14, 1916.
It is a beautifully fine morning, and the sun is shining; but rather misty. Sniping is increasing round Lille Post. At the moment several aeroplanes are up.
Brigade Headquarters have just informed me that the Barometer is 29.7, Thermometer, 48 deg., and that there is no ground wind. Most considerate of them.
I have also been warned to expect a visit from Generals Stokes and Kirby. I would not mind betting they do not come to Lille Post.
I was wrong. They did come. The following arrived: Major General Pultney, G.O.C. 3rd Corps, Brig. General Stokes, G.O.C. R.A. 3rd Corps., Brig. General Kirby, Colonel Warburton, Captain Langhorne, and a Staff Captain. I have never seen such a troop so far forward before. They looked very clean, uncomfortable, and out of place. Dirt is matter out of place. What is the staff in the front line?
General Pultney actually crawled up the ladder to the O.P. above. Sportsman! He nearly got stuck in the opening. The others remained discretely below. The old boy was quite pleasant, and tried to make some intelligent remarks.
I was very glad to get rid of them. I felt sure that the Boche would spot such a blaze of glory. How unpleasant it would be to have the Corps Commander killed in one’s Observation Post.
Later Payne, the Adjutant, arrived and made himself distinctly unpleasant.
I returned to the battery about 6, p.m.
A strange Captain with some gunners joined us for instructional purposes, and they are living with us.
To bed by 10.45, p.m.
March 14, 1916
“CHEER HO! I hope you are quite well, as it leaves me at present in the pink. I have been censoring so many letters lately that I have felt compelled to open my letter in the way the men do. I wonder why they all use this phraseology.
The weather has changed, and we have had two delightful days. Moreover I have left the wagon line, and the combination of these two circumstances have induced in me a more cheerful outlook on life in general. Hitherto I have been clothed in a fur coat, service jacket, leather waistcoat, woollen scarf, mittens, your excellent fur gloves, two pairs of socks, and thick shirts and underclothing, and yet I have felt the cold keenly. Now with a suspicion of spring in the air I feel much better. Even the birds are beginning to sing.
Only man is vile. We clothe ourselves in skins, the infantry when on patrol in No-Man’s-Land paint their faces and carry loaded sticks and daggers, we wear armour for our heads, live in dens and caves in the earth like the moles and rats our closest companions, we get up with the sun (but not, I am afraid go to bed with it) and exist only for hunting and killing each other. In fact we are becoming more and more like our prehistoric forefathers, reverting to type, we shall have to be civilised all over again after the war.
Last night we got a gramophone, so perhaps music will soothe the savage breast. Freeman-Cowan has been on a signalling course at the Base. Whilst there he and others purchased a gramophone. When the course broke up they decided the question as to who should have the instrument by drawing for it. Cowan won. So now we have it. We shall probably know the thirty odd tunes by heart soon, and the Captain will smash it in a rage.
This morning while at the O.P., I had a visit from the General Commanding the Corps, attended by various satellites. He climbed up my ladder to view the landscape, and fell a perspiring heap on the straw at the top. The others stayed discretely below.
MARCH 14, 1916
I don’t think it necessary to send a cat out here, though I find my family of cats has largely increased during my absence from the O.P. Unfortunately we can’t arrange a meeting between my cats and the rats, as the former refuse to the comparative comfort of the O.P. for the doubtful security of the trenches, which harbour the latter.
It has been very cold here lately, but the last two days the weather has changed for the better, and we have had two delightful days. During the cold spell I wore a fur coat, a thick woollen scarf, jacket, leather waistcoat, fur gloves, mittens, two pairs of socks, and yet was not warm.
We have gone back to our old O.P., and have sandbagged it at the back. I am sitting down stairs in a dug-out next to that of the telephonists. Up in the loft a bombardier is taking my place observing while I have my lunch, and he keeps shouting down the speaking tube, “Oh! Please sir, a 4.2 is shelling I.61.c.6.8.” or “There is a 77 hitting a house at I.68.a.7.1.”
I managed to discover a Boche battery yesterday, which had been making a nuisance of itself. We sometimes manage to spot hostile batteries roughly by getting the line with the compass and the range by working out a small sum based upon the time in seconds between seeing the flash of the gun firing and hearing the sound thereof. For example, if the time so given is 8 & 5/8ths seconds, the range would be 2900 yards, and so on. Our guns are too light to deal with them effectively, so we ring up the Heavies, and stand by to spray them with shrapnel in cooperation.
We are reverting to type, becoming more and more like our prehistoric forefathers every day. We now clothe ourselves in skins, wear armour, paint our faces at night when patrolling No-man’s-land, or raiding, live caves and dens in the earth, eat most things we can lay our hands on, exist only that we may see to it that someone else shall no longer exist. The weapons are very primitive too, catapults, loaded sticks and daggers and other such like things. We shall return to Blighty savages.
It is good to hear music again. I had heard no music since I left England weeks ago
(or is it years ago?), until last night. One of our subalterns has been away on a signalling course at the Base, and while there his fellows and he clubbed together and brought a gramophone. When the course was over, they drew lots for it and he won. So he brought it along to the gun-line on his return. So now when I get back to the battery and after dinner we turn on such things as “The Angelus” or “Michigan”, or “Le Long du Missouri”.
I had a visit this morning from the G.O.C. Corps (a famous Guardee), the G.O.C., R.A. Corps, G.O.C. R.A. Division, our Colonel, and various oddments. They all came to have a look at the Hun, and my O.P. was selected as the nearest building to the enemy. The stout old Major-General laboured up the ladder, and sank perspiring on the straw at the top. They did not stay long.
I have entered a record of their visit in the log book. It was so amusing.
Tommy coming out of the trenches met a pal, and said “Say Bill, when’s this ‘ere war going to end?” “Dunno, but we’ve planted roses in front of our lines.” “B…… optimist! We’ve planted acorns.”
WEDNESDAY MARCH, 15, 1916.
The day was dull and damp, but clear. It is also rather cold again. The Machine Gun Officer of the 4th Tyneside Scottish visited me.
It was fairly quiet until noon.
A giant periscope has arrived for our use, but there is great difficulty in erecting it. It will not last long.
There has been a fair amount of shelling of the screens at Chapelle, and on the cross roads near the battery.
Captain Langhorne came up to Lille Post with Captain G.C. Kemp, of “B” Battery, 184th Brigade. They visited A/175’s Observation Post in order to verify from there the position Red House.
I returned to the battery at 5.30, p.m., and played the gramophone.
THURSDAY MARCH, 16, 1916.
It was a dull day and much colder. The Lille Post fortifications are now complete.
There has been fairly heavy shelling of our Howitzer Battery and one of our 18 pdr Batteries behind our position. One of their guns was knocked out. Bits fell all over our battery.
I spotted the flashes of a Boche battery in an old position at I.29.c.9.1. (or 9.20). In all, I think, only four hostile batteries were in action and that is probably all they have in action on our immediate front. A bit of bluff. One 5.9, one 4.2, and one or two 77, mm. batteries which change their positions frequently. That is my supposition. If not they fire by careful rotation. I should not think they would keep many batteries here silent, when they need so much artillery down south.
It was a very clear day for observation. as a result of staying on to observe flashes I was back late at the battery.
Captain Crookshank came to dinner.
A Gas Alarm came through from Brigade Headquarters.
Silly fools! It should have been “Test Gas”
An order has been issued by G.H.Q. to the effect that troops should collect all dud shells, or notify the proper authorities of their whereabouts. This is what happened. An infantry subaltern was seen by an artillery officer dragging a 6 inch shell, which had not exploded, over the cobble stones of a roadway, fuze foremost, bumping it along at the end of a 20 foot rope. The gunner enquired, “Good Heavens, man! What on earth are you doing?” In reply he was informed, “Oh! I am taking no risks this time!”
Telephonists are always on duty at the telephone, but those of a certain division were in the habit, a dangerous one, of replying to the question, “Who are you?” with facetious answers. For instance, “I’m Kitchy, or Joffy, or French.”
“Is that Kitch?” “No I’m Haig.”
It happened that a certain staff officer, desiring to communicate with his headquarters when in the forward area, went to a telephone dug-out, and picked up the phone. The telephonist at the other end demanded, “Who is it?” The staff officer replied, “I am Coffin.” – that being his name. The only answer he got was, “Oh! Well, I’m b….y well laughing.” And the telephonist rang off.
FRIDAY MARCH, 17, 1916.
The day was dull and misty, and so was very quiet. I went to Lille Post as usual. Our fire activity was nil. Hostile activity very little. Freeman-Cowan spent most of the day at the O.P. with me. I wrote some letters.
In the evening I returned to the battery at 5.30, p.m., had a late tea and read the papers.
A subaltern from Captain Kemp’s battery, attached for instructional purposes.
The French are holding on at Verdun, I am glad to hear.
I must smuggle my fur coat home when I go. It will do for a door mat.
March 17, 1916.
I am at the O.P. again. I prefer this work to any other. I get up now between 5, and 6, a.m., and have breakfast at 6.30, a.m. I always hope for a misty early morning, for then I can walk straight down the road without being seen by the Boche snipers, instead of going all the way round by the Communication Trenches.
We have about 5000 sandbags and 400 slabs of concrete in the post now to protect as far as may be the telephonist’s dug-out. I have a small dark room in the middle of this fortification, 8 ft, by 6 ft, in which is a wooden board for a bed, a very small table, a coat rack, and a chair. It is very damp and lit only by one candle. There is a coke brazier, which we light only when we can be sure of not making a smoke. But I do not use it at all, as I do not like the fumes of coke, and there is no chimney in the place.
Just outside the entrance (there is no door) there is a ladder up which we go to observe. The snipers annoy us at times but not much.
I have a pair of Norwegian boots, which are a boon, as the water in the trench which leads to this place is always over one’s ankles.
I am collecting clothes. I have a Government fur coat, a Mackintosh cap, a Trench coat, a British Warm, a slicker or shiny brown waterproof coat, a Burbury. Then I possess a valise, nine blankets, a flea bag, a kit bag, two saddle-bags and a haversack. Thank goodness we do not move much.
SATURDAY MARCH, 18, 1916.
The day was clear, and there was much more activity. We had trouble from the German close up single gun. Our Heavies fired on a hostile battery. They made very bad shooting. I saw all the rounds fall. There were one or two duds.
We fired on Red Roofed Cottage. It was most difficult to observe as I was at a great angle to the line of fire. Captain Langhorne and Hopkins were observing from the chimney at the battery position. We hit the house once in twelve rounds, which I consider distinctly bad. Another battery was firing in the same direction with time shrapnel.
I returned to the battery late.
SUNDAY MARCH, 19, 1916.
I was again at the O.P.
A hostile battery opened fire on Cowgate Avenue. I immediately spotted the flashes of the guns, and with the stop watch timed the interval between seeing and hearing discharge of the guns. The time was 8, and 4/5ths. Seconds. So we immediately opened fire on the battery. One salvo of H.E. was right on top of them. They were silent for the rest of the day.
I also observed for the Howitzer Battery, C/176th Brigade. The target was the screens in the main street of Wez Macquart. Observation was not too easy, and as it was the first time I had observed for the Howitzers alone, I was too diffident. My error lay in timid creeping, instead of boldly bracketing. Finding the fall of the rounds short I added 25 yards, thinking I was much nearer than I was to the target. The screens consisted of a narrow line of hoarding across the Lille Road, no doubt to block our view of the road behind.
I fired 30 rounds. Of these 12 were blinds, eight fell in the houses on either side of the road and only raised clouds of smoke and dust so that it was impossible to see exactly where they had fallen, 8 were definitely short of the target, 1 was over, and 1 was a direct hit, doing some considerable damage.
The steep angle of descent of a howitzer shell makes it hard to hit a narrow target.
I returned to the battery, checked the night lines, and went to bed late and very tired.
MONDAY MARCH, 20, 1916.
I was up at 5, a.m., for “stand to”. After breakfast at 6.30, a.m., I went to Lille Post, and arrived there at 7, a.m. One 77 mm gun firing on Cowgate Avenue gave a lot of trouble. It also shot along Wine Avenue and on the Ferme du Biez.
The 17th Division from the Ypres Salient took over from the 21st Division.
Nash of B/184, Brigade visited the O.P.
I fired on Red House, 10 rounds: 2 hits, and on Criddles Cottages, 6 rounds: 2hits.
On my return to the battery I found that Hopkins had been knocked over by a 5.9 in. He was scratched and shaken but not seriously hurt.
TUESDAY MARCH, 21, 1916.
The day was dull, damp and hazy. I continued my job at the O.P. Captain Langhorne visited me. There is some trouble about this O.P. The sappers of the incoming 17th Division want to turn the place into a strong point and machine-gun emplacement. We naturally object, but as we are in their area I foresee trouble.
It was a very quiet day. The Boche were unusually somnolent. Colonel Stevenson visited me.
Later I went to the front line, and examined carefully No-man’s-land and the Boche parapet.
The Infantry reported to me that considerable damage had been done in a building on the right of the Lille Road in the village of Wez Macquart to a construction which was most probably a machine-gun emplacement, and that the damage was the result of Howitzer fire on Sunday at 3.45, p.m. It was a welcome piece of news that my efforts had had such an effect. I had certainly not expected such a result. This was reported in Comic Cuts both of the Divisional R.A. and the Division.
Captain Bennett, Adjutant of the 2/2 Welsh Brigade R.F.A. joined us.
MARCH 21, 1916.
One of our officers got blown over by a 5.9 yesterday, and as he is rather rocky this morning there is rather a lot for the rest of us to do. He was very sorry for himself, that it was not a bit worse so that he could get home with a Blighty one.
WEDNESDAY MARCH, 22, 1916.
It was another very misty and so very quiet day. But the Staff come out on misty days.
As I could not observe, in the afternoon I visited the trenches, and had tea there with some of the officers. I enjoy such visits. And I flatter myself that I am keeping up a good liaison, which we are enjoined to do. It certainly gives me another point of view to consider. If our infantry get out of the line more than we do, they certainly have a duller time of it when they are in.
The time will come when the poor devils will get it in the neck.
It was very wet in the afternoon and evening.
THURSDAY MARCH, 23, 1916.
Today it is very wet and much colder. It is, in fact, abominable weather. There is nothing doing.
I was at the O.P. as usual.
FRIDAY MARCH, 24, 1916.
It is a very cold day and snowing. I had a fire in the O.P. dug-out, coke in a brazier. It is much too hazy and thick to observe, so there is no firing. I am at the O.P. as usual.
March 24, 1916.
Snow, snow, snow. What a spring! It is bitterly cold and snowing hard again today. There is already about three inches. Moreover it is much too misty to observe. So I am sitting in my dark and gloomy dug-out. I have a coke brazier, which makes it less cold, indeed like a furnace at times, but the fumes are unpleasant. However the signallers seem to be enjoying their fire sitting in the next hole, for they are playing on mouth organs while making a brew called tea.
The Captain has just telephoned to me informing me that my allowance in shell for today is twelve snowballs. I replied that I would fire them off when I returned to the gun-line tonight.
Now I am employing my time writing letters and reading “Comic Cuts”, the name we irreverently give to Division or Corps Intelligence Reports. We figured in it largely yesterday, for we did two shoots the other day and knocked out a machine gun emplacement or so and a few other odds and ends.
The Captain was in a bad temper last night, as he had been hauled over the coals by the Colonel. As a result he had bitten everyone else at the battery. Luckily I was absent, so escaped the wrath. When I arrived I found them with gloomy scowls. So I turned on the gramophone, and the arrival later of the mail with letters, Punch, Sketch, Tattler and other papers cheered us all up a bit.
This paper is not French, but leaves from Army Book 152, Correspondence Book, Field Service, which never expected to be put to such exalted service as a letter home. As the cover is stiff it is convenient to write on in the O.P.
So some of my letters have gone astray. They cannot have been stolen for the literary excellence, and I am very careful to avoid giving the censor occasion to destroy them – don’t you think so? I cannot think what has happened to them.
Our Moving Picture Show continues with large attendances, continuous performances daily, extra turns on Sunday, all produced by Fritz the Bochino, with reserved boxes for friends of the Observing Officer. The pit is still rather dangerous, but the dress circle is safe, is reserved for the staff, and you cannot see anything as it is so far behind.
I hear my servant splashing through the communication trench with my lunch.
Having had lunch I will continue. My wretched servant has broken the Captain’s Thermos Flask, which he lent me for the last week. Wonderful people these servants. No one broke it, no one saw that it was broken; but it was broken this morning. The thing must have been bewitched.
I have just made myself a cup of tea. Why is it that I can always make myself a better cup of tea than anyone else can? At least I think I can. Perhaps it is my imagination plus satisfaction in getting the kettle to boil.
SATURDAY MARCH, 25, 1916.
I was at the O.P. again. In the morning it snowed and was horribly wet. It cleared up later, and there was a considerable amount of firing by 77, mm. and 4.2, guns.
We fired in retaliation.
SUNDAY MARCH, 26, 1916.
The day was showery and very windy. A 77 mm battery annoyed us considerably by firing all the morning. It was active again in the evening.
We fired shrapnel on a communication trench. I also observed for firing on a hostile battery. I am told that this is my last day at Lille Post. I am glad of a change. It is fearfully boring generally, and I long for something to happen.
I returned to the battery at 6.30, p.m.
The Brigade came under the orders of the Second Army, but remained in the same position.
MARCH 25 to 27, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
The two batteries C and D 160th Brigade left the Group to join their own Brigade in position further south. C 176th Brigade (Howitzer) joined the Group. The Left Group consisted of A. B. C. and D Batteries, 175th Brigade, C 176th Brigade, and C 79th Brigade R.F.A., which joined on the 27th March.
MONDAY MARCH, 27, 1916.
I am gun-line officer at the battery. I was up at 3.30, a.m. After breakfast there was heavy firing on our left for about four hours. It must have been a big strafe. I had breakfast at 8, a.m., then the Captain left for Brigade Headquarters. Almost immediately the Boche started firing. They knocked down and set on fire B Battery’s billets. Eight men were wounded or injured. Our screens were fired on.
I thought something ought to be done about it. So we retaliated by firing on the hostile battery position with nineteen rounds H.E. I also tried to observe from the tall chimney, crawling up and down six times.
I also reported the hostile battery’s activity to the Warwick Heavy Battery, who asked me to observe for them. They fired about thirty rounds, and shot well. The house next to the Boche battery was hit several times.
When up the chimney I noticed how different the landscape appears from another view point at a different angle and further away. I hardly recognised the country-side. I had become so accustomed to the view from Lille Post, that it was only with difficulty that I could find my way about while observing and recognise the familiar places.
Then the Captain came back, not in the best of tempers.
In the afternoon we were ordered to fire three salvos for the General to see, just at the time a hostile battery was firing on us! Why cannot they ask for Crystal Palace fire-works for sightseers when we are not being shelled?
Later a Flying Corps Officer came to tea, and arranged a shoot for tomorrow.
In the evening it poured with rain. The Boche fired on the cross roads, 25 yards from the battery.
I had the job of pulling out a damaged gun from the gun-pit in the dark and rain. The gun stuck in the mud up to its axles. It took us an hour and a half to get out.
The following is a Brigade Order:
“Saluting. When the Commander-in-Chief travels in his motor car, which is a blue closed one, the Union Jack on the car is unfurled, and all ranks are to salute.”
So we are to salute a closed car, which rushes by and covers us with mud. What good can that do?
This evening there were two prisoners. While on a bathing parade at the baths they deserted for a day. One was hopelessly drunk and threatened a sergeant with a loaded rifle. I was fetched to deal with him. He is for a Field General Court Martial.
TUESDAY MARCH, 28, 1916.
It was a cold and very windy day. Hopkins was at the O.P., the Captain was away with Colonel Stevenson at the O.P. in the Convent. So I was in charge at the gun-line. Captain Bennett was at the battery with me still under instruction. A Boche 77 mm battery fired on our screens. I went up the tall chimney at the battery to observe with a Captain from the 11th Corps, R.G.A. Thence we viewed the scene. The chimney is always filthy, but in the wind it was an abomination. It is about 100 feet high, and swayed with the wind alarmingly. But we had a good view. Shells dropped on our screens just in front of us.
General Kirby came round with another General. He complimented us on the condition of our guns and position, remarking especially on No. 4 gun, which was really quite clean, and in a tidy pit.
Then the Boche battery fired again. Hopkins saw the flash. I immediately informed the Warwick Heavies, and asked then to retaliate. They got on to the battery. Hopkins observed for them, but could make nothing of it. He may be a good wagon line officer, but he cannot observe.
The Boche dropped about fifty shells just over the battery from 11.45, a.m., to 1 p.m. One shell landed within 25 yards of the command post, where I was. Their range, thank heaven, was about 50 yards too much. Otherwise they would have blown us out. They have evidently got the battery position alright. It may be a compliment, for it may mean that we have been tickling them up too much. Most of their shells went into the houses just behind us. We replied with 5, H.E. (!), and they shut up. Hopkins did not see these rounds fall.
After lunch I observed for the Warwick Heavies, and they got a direct hit on the Boche battery house in five rounds. Then the Warwicks stopped, as soon as I reported O.K.
Later, while I was up the chimney, I saw a flash. I immediately reported to the Warwick Battery. Then our right sector began a straffe, which drew the Boche batteries with a vengeance. They all fired. The Boche was angry. I saw quite plainly eight guns, all in one wood, firing as hard as they could go. It was getting dark, and the flashes shewed up clearly, but I could not distinguish their emplacements, if they had any.
We did not reply, and the firing soon died down. The Boche shelling was directed to our right.
But I have suffered a heavy blow. The Boche put two 4.2 shell into the officers’ stables, and wounded my poor old chestnut mare. Poor old thing! I am afraid I shall lose her. She was the best horse in the Brigade, certainly in the Battery. Curse the Boche!
Captain Crookshank came to tea. Captain Langhorne and Hopkins are in a very bad temper, no doubt due to being shelled.
At night we did a lot of work to the position. Most of it is useless, as if the Boche do get on to us properly the position will be untenable.
It seems to be getting quite hot here. This sector will soon give the lie to its name of the “Nursery”.
I have an idea we shall soon be moving out, probably down south. The presence of another General with ours is ominous.
- “Our activity here a few days ago is mentioned in the Morning Post (18th)
The wind is a great nuisance as it interferes with firing, and blows down our screens. Our cat has a bad cold – no wonder poor thing, the place is very draughty. It seems fairly happy here, however, and shews no desire to run away.
WEDNESDAY MARCH, 29, 1916.
The day was fine and sunny, but cold and very windy. The Captain was away, and I was in charge of the gun-line again. For a while there was no firing. The Captain returned early. Then the Boche put two shells down the Lille Road near the battery.
I heard that my mare had died in the night. Poor old thing!
Again I was up the chimney to observe our fire on the hostile battery in the clump of trees. I saw “A” Battery firing very badly.
Later it turned misty.
Our giant periscope, which we could not put together, was examined by a Captain in the A.S.C., who said he would see to it for us.
A parcel of soup tablets, chocolate, etc, arrived from M.
FIRST ARMY INTELLIGENCR SUMMARY. – No 443.
Information from our own Front:–
The officer in charge of a raiding party on the 26th instant reports that, when a German Officer visited his sentry post in the hostile front line, he was heard to make a noise like a duck, which was answered by the sentry.
The First Army Field Survey Company reports:-
- Hostile gun positions were located as follows – At I.29.c.9.2. N of Ennetieres (Sheet 36).
Whilst this battery was firing, a direct hit by our artillery was observed
W.L.O. Twiss, Major,
General Staff, First Army.
Wednesday March 29th, 1916.
(The battery position is at I.29.c.9.2.)
NOTES ON THE GERMAN 77 mm BATTERY AT I.29.c.9.1. (and 2)
The report that the First Army Field Survey Company had located a hostile gun position at I.29.c.9.2., on or about the 29th March, 1916, as recorded in the First Army Intelligence Summary No. 443, is illustrative of the extraordinary methods of the staff.
This battery position was an old one. It is situated in a trench line just west of the road bend at le Paradis, some way north of Ennetieres.
It has been reported active on the following dates
8th December 1915.
22nd January 1916.
In addition on the 29th January 1916, it was reported that there was no evidence of vacation.
On the 16th March I saw the flashes of the guns of this battery firing. I reported this to Headquarters and also the fact that the position was an old one.
This battery was frequently firing on Cowgate and Wine Avenues and our Battery screens, giving a great deal of trouble. On the 27th March this battery was again active just after 8, a.m. Our screens was fired on and B Battery suffered. I retaliated at once by firing 19 rounds H.E. at the hostile battery, and reported its activity to the Warwick Heavy Battery, who asked me to observe for them. This Heavy Battery fired about 30 rounds and shot well, setting the house next to the battery on fire.
The next day, the 28th this hostile battery again fired on our screens on more than one occasion. They also shelled our battery position but as their range was 50 yards out they did not do a great deal of damage. The Boche were no doubt anxious to knock us out as we had been giving them so much trouble. We replied with 5 rounds H.E., all I could afford. But in the afternoon I observed for the Warwick Heavies, whom I had asked to get on to this battery. The Warwicks got a direct hit on the Boche battery house in five rounds. When I reported O.K. the Warwicks stopped. It was no doubt this “direct hit” was the one the First Army Survey Company reported.
This battery was well known to all Forward Observers on this front for months; nevertheless it is reported as “located” on the 29th March by the Survey Company in spite of the fact that the activity of this battery had constantly been reported to the staff previously.
We fire on this battery, 8 deg. 40’, R. 5’ El. Range 4650 yards.
T.B. from Battery 137 deg.
THURSDAY MARCH, 30, 1916.
To day was a fine sunny day but windy and a bit misty. The Captain went up to the trenches.
The Warwick Heavy Battery were shelled by a 5.9 battery. They rang me up, and I went up the chimney to observe for them but I could not see anything as it was too misty. In the afternoon it was a little better, and I went up the chimney again and took with me a telescope.
At Fort Englos I saw several Germans observing in the open with glasses, also a new gun-emplacement.
I went in to Armentieres for tea, and had a hair-cut. I met the Vet. Kelly. Later I returned to the battery across the fields. It was a beautiful quiet evening, and most pleasant.
On my arrival I found several letters from home. I was in bed by 10, p.m.
Up to the present there have only been three officers killed in the Divisional Artillery.
Sun rises 5.32, a.m., sets 6.16, p.m.
Moon rises 4.9, a.m., sets 2.39, p.m.
Weather report – Mid-day, March 29th, to Mid-day, March 30th.
Wind – N.W., 20 miles per hour, rather squally at times, gradually decreasing and changing towards W. and S.W.
Weather – Mainly fair and bright, but some passing showers possible; cool; frost at night.
Temperature – 45 to 50 degrees by day, 30 to 35 degrees at night.
Barometer – 29.94, inches, rising most probably.
FRIDAY MARCH, 31, 1916.
It was a beautifully fine morning, a little misty at first. A large number of aeroplanes were up.
We fired in retaliation for an enemy gun firing. Our targets were two battery positions and a communication trench. Our Heavies also fired.
The Boche dropped 4.2 shells on Bois Grenier. Later it began to cloud over. I picked some flowers in a forlorn garden near the battery. Spring is icumen in!
In the afternoon we had a good shoot at Brown Farm, obtaining three direct hits. I laid out the line of fire and observed. The first shot was 5’ to the left. The range was O.K. I fired 23 rounds. There was some damage done as I saw two ambulances afterwards at the place. Colonel observed the shoot from the Convent. Hopkins was at the O.P. I was at the battery.
Our giant periscope came back repaired. Now the difficulty will be to find a place for it, that is where it can obtain a good field of vision and at the same time not draw the attention of the Boche. It will have to be put against a tree somewhere. But where?