War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda &
JUNE 1, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
The 175th Brigade formed part of the “I.O.” or Left Group in action.
A Battery, and B. Battery were in action 400 yards East of Albert and 200 yards north of the Albert-Bapaume Road.
- and D. Batteries, 175th Bde. and C/176, Bde were in action in or near Authuille Wood (?)
June 2 1916
Lately the weather has been fairly fine but cloudy. We had one day’s rain. When it does rain everything gets in a filthy mess of chalk and dirt.
I am living in Dug-outs made by the French early in the war. They are strong, but ugly and dirty. They smell rather unpleasantly, and there is plenty of company, what with rats, mice, spiders, snails, beetles, flies, and worse horrors.
But what a paradise for a schoolboy! I should have revelled in this place years ago when I had a taste for entomological pursuits. Butterflies of all sorts abound here, and there are millions of dragon flies. The bull frogs in the marsh make an extraordinary sound at dusk.
In some places and at some moments here it is hardly possible to believe that a war is on, and that men are shooting one another next to one. You can look for miles and see no one and nothing but a beautiful countryside, fields of poppies, cornflowers, daisies, and other field flowers, and beautiful trees. Then you look closer and find long thin lines of excavated earth edged with dull rusty brown wire. If you turn a corner you might see a white country road crossing with an enormous pale crucifix on an ugly wrought-iron frame at least 20 feet high. And underneath on the grass tired infantrymen in trench helmets quietly smoking their pipes, just waiting. Further on a pump under some trees and a long line of water carts waiting their turn to fill with the coveted liquid.
Further on still on the side of a chalk hill there are rows of entrances into great dug-outs one above the another, all neatly labelled and numbered. In an adjacent field four low grass mounds indicate the presence of a battery of field guns. then suddenly without sound of warning four ear-splitting cracks, not quite one, and four spurts of flame, and the illusion of rural peace is shattered.
During training at home we used to consider solemnly the “danger angle”. In other words we were taught that the guns of a battery should not be placed in front of and too near those of another battery for fear of prematures and what not. Here no one considers that. Guns are one behind another like the audience in the dress circle.
If I sit in the entrance of my dug-out an18 pdr battery 200 yards behind fires just over my head and splits my ear-drum. And so it is everywhere, 18 pdr batteries one behind the other, 4.5, Howitzers behind them, then 60 pounders, and larger and larger guns and Howitzers still further back for miles up to the 15” somewhere or other near the base. But unless you look carefully you cannot see these hidden jacks-in-the-box until you nearly have your head blown off.
But up in the air there are always aeroplanes to be seen. Further back are a fringe of our observation balloons. Wherever you go there is barbed wire and trenches dug in rear positions. Telephone lines hang from every conceivable object or trail along the ground. So in our rural walks you are either precipitated into a ditch, tripped up by loose wire, or stunned by the guns. something is sure to get you.
3rd JUNE 1916.
III CORPS INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY.
Covering a period of 24 hours ending 6, a.m. 3.6.16.
CORPS FRONT. (Right Division). There was considerable artillery activity throughout the day.
The artillery carried out retaliation on six occasions.
Our light trench mortars fired at “Y” sap, La Boisselle, and the trenches to the right causing a hostile trench mortar to cease fire. Horns were sounded in the hostile trenches while our mortars were firing.
Several patrols were out at night, but beyond sounds of work, nothing unusual was discovered.
Hostile. The enemy shelled Mercier Street, X.20.4., Pocran Street, Atholl Street, and Gowrie Street, with 77 mm and 15 cm.
At 10.25, p.m., our front and support lines were heavily bombarded by 10.5 cm shells.
At 4.30, a.m., the enemy shelled Dundee Avenue and Battalion Headquarters with 77 mm and heavy trench mortars.
The hostile machine guns were rather more active at night.
At 11.20, p.m., during the shelling of la Boisselle the enemy fire two white rockets.
W.W.T. Torr, Captain,
JUNE 3, 1916.
Night of 3/4 June
Saturday – Sunday.
A Battery’s position at Belle Vue Farm, Albert fired on at midnight by lachrymatory shell heavily.
The Germans bombarded and raided our trenches. They got into our trenches, but were turned out.
June 3, 1916.
We are extremely busy now. Our nights are spent in firing and our days in digging. We get more like moles every day.
I very much enjoyed my trip to England. It seems like a pleasant dream now, and I can hardly believe it ever happened at all. I suppose it did.
The weather has changed for the worse again, and it is raining and much colder.
It will soon be two years since the war began, and still there are no signs of finishing it.
Will you get me a small tube of Tabloids Hypodermic Morphine Sulphate, Gr. ¼ from Burroughs Wellcome & Co. It is a poison, so if they will not let you have it ask a doctor to get it for you. It is useful if anyone gets really badly damaged.
If you get a Sketch of May, 24th you will see a photo of a church near us.
III CORPS INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY
3rd June 1916.
NAVAL ENGAGEMENT. LONDON. June 2nd. Secretary Admiralty makes following announcement. Afternoon Wednesday, May 31st., Naval engagement took place off Jutland. British ships on which brunt of fighting fell were Battle Cruiser Fleet, some Cruisers and Light Cruisers supported by four fast Battleships. Amongst these losses heavy. German Battle Fleet aided by low visibility avoided prolonged action with our main forces and soon after these appeared on the scene, enemy returned port, though not before receiving severe damage from our battleships. Battle Cruisers Queen Mary, Indefatigable, and Cruisers Defence, Black Prince sunk. Cruiser Warrior disabled and after being towed some time, abandoned by crew. Also known, destroyers, Tipperary, Turbulent, Fortune, Sparrowhawk, Ardent lost, and six other not yet accounted for. No British Battleships or Light Cruisers sunk. Enemy’s losses serious. At least one Battle Cruiser destroyed, and one severely damaged. One Battleship reported sunk by destroyers during night attack. Two light cruisers disabled, probably sunk. Exact number of enemy destroyers disposed of during the action cannot be ascertained with certainty but must have been large.
Last night we blew some craters on Vimy Ridge, and in combination with our artillery bombardment penetrated the German trenches at a few points. Our infantry subsequently withdrew. The repulse of “strong English Forces” in this vicinity referred to in to-day’s German communiqué is not correct.
Sharp fighting has taken place today in the Ypres Salient on a front of approximately 3000 yards between Hooge and the Ypres-Comines railway. The Germans began an intense and sustained bombardment at 9.15, a.m., which extended not only over the front mentioned above but also in the area behind. This was followed about midday by hostile infantry attacks, which succeeded in penetrating our front trenches at several points but were repulsed elsewhere. Fighting continues in this locality.
Italian Theatre. In the Val Terragnolo another enemy assault on the Passo Buole was repulsed. The enemy have captured Arsiero and Asiago.
French Front. In the Verdun area west of the Meuse, French counter attacks regained a little of the ground lost S. of the Bois de Carrettes. East of the Meuse strong enemy attacks are reported along the whole front Thiaumont Farm – Vaux – Damloup. All assaults were repulsed except south of Douaumont Fort where the Germans succeeded in penetrating the Southern part of the Bois de la Caillette, in the neighbourhood South of Vaux Pond.
Towards evening the principal effort made by the Germans was directed against Vaux Village. The Germans attacking in mass were repulsed with heavy loss.
The Germans penetrated the outskirts of Damloup Village of which the French retain possession of the greater part.
Sun rises 3.38 a.m. Sets 7.56 p.m.
Moon rises 8.27 a.m. Sets 10.51 p.m.
Forecast. Wind N.W. 15 mph but 5 mph at night. Cool, cloudy with sharp rain at times. Fair bright intervals. 55 to 60 in the day. 40 to 45 at night.
JUNE 4, 1916.
Night 4/5 June.
Sunday – Monday
The 21st Division raided. A heavy bombardment. Our Battery was heavily shelled by Tear Shells.
The Night of JUNE 4/5, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
About 1, a.m., a heavy fire by the enemy commenced on the right of the Group. All Batteries prepared for action. Hearing that there was an attack on the Right we cooperated with the Right Group by providing a barrage on the German trenches. For some time it was thought that the Germans were attacking our trenches also, but this turned out to be wrong.
At about 9, p.m., heavy shelling began again on our right and on our trenches about Keats Redan and Dunfermline Street. Our Batteries immediately opened fire on the enemy front line. On information from Right Group, we again formed a barrage to support them.
June 5, 1916.
The weather has changed for the worse, and it is cold and wet. We spend our time digging and observing during the day and firing at night.
Our dug-outs are nearing completion. They will be quite comfortable when they are completed. The Mess is excellent. We have a new gramophone, and some new records.
My section of guns is still in action in another battery’s position. Our battery is now “C” Battery.
NIGHT, 5/6, June.
Monday – Tuesday.
The 34th Division raided the enemy trenches. We put down a heavy bombardment. There was no retaliation.
JUNE 5, 1916.
My job is at the O.P. again, and here I am installed for a week. As the nights are so short I have to sleep here.
The last two nights the Boche has been very annoying. The first night he made a raid and well shelled us with tear and other shell. I mislaid my goggles and wept copiously. We retaliated, effectively I hope. Again last night there was a strafe. I had gone to the battery for dinner at 8.30 p.m., and the fun began at 9 p.m. It was a nuisance as I had to go to the O.P. at once. Like a fool I promptly lost my way in a maze of derelict trenches. It was so beastly dark; but I managed to extricate myself after about half an hour’s stumbling in wire and other obstacles.
We are fairly quiet here during the day, but at night there is always something doing.
There are some funny stories about the raid, but I suppose I had better not repeat them in case the censor takes it into his head to tear this up. These poor officials must do something to justify their existence. The amusing part about it is that in all probability their activities are quite useless, as the Boche over the way are certain to know more about what is going on here than we do, even of our own plans.
What bad news it is about the naval engagement. I am afraid it will hearten the Hun. I knew a fellow on the Black Prince.
The weather is wet and cold again. Today it is not at all pleasant. In the “Sketch” of May 24th there is a rather good photo of our “parish church” out here.
The cigarettes are most soothing and arrived as usual when most needed.
My sleeping bag was put outside this morning and I have just discovered that it is as wet as wet can be.
I suppose town will see fewer and fewer men in mufti now the precious married men have to come out, but I suppose London is just as full of Khaki as ever.
The Night of June 5/6, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
At 11, p.m., the Group bombarded the southern outlying trenches of la Boiselle in support of a raid by our infantry. Fire was continues until 12.15, a.m.
June 10, 1916.
Up to the present I have been at the O.P., but now I am at the Wagon Line.
June 11, 1916.
Kitchener’s death was a great shock to us out here. We have had a week of very bad news.
I spent last week at the O.P. It rained most of the time. Now that I am at the wagon line the weather is no better, and the mud seems much worse than it was in the winter.
Then Colonel is away ill, so Captain Langhorne is in charge of the Brigade for the present.
I am alone at the wagon line, but last night I dined at the Divisional Ammunition Column. They live well. We had soup, cold lobster and salad, joint and vegetables, peaches and cream, and cheese and cream. They even produced clean tablecloth and napkins.
The Royal Regiment is now 200 years old, for it was established in 1716 with two small companies, in all about 188 officers and men. At the present time it numbers more than a thousand batteries and has personnel of more than a quarter of a million. And we still need more.
JUNE 11, 1916.
C/175, Brigade, R.F.A. France.
I have been confined to the O.P., but I returned to the battery yesterday. The weather is foul, and the mud seems to be worse than it was in the winter. The O.P. is in the chalk hill side, and leaks badly. Last week under these conditions was not very pleasurable. The F.O.O. has to sleep there now as the nights are so short.
We have had a certain amount of excitement. For three consecutive nights either the Boche raided us or we raided them, and the consequential bombardment upon the S.O.S. was both loud and long. On two nights we were presented with lachrymatory shells, which caused us all to weep copiously. It would be most amusing, if it were not so inconvenient.
Should you receive a series of Field Service Post Cards, and no letters, you will know what has happened. It is rumoured that letters will be stopped soon for a while to prevent news getting about.
We have indeed had bad news this week. The first news of the sea fight was most gloomy. Then we heard about Ypres. And finally we heard of the tragic death of Lord Kitchener. It all gave us the hump out here, but I think the death of K cast the deepest gloom. Poor old K. He was a great soldier, and had somehow won the confidence of the man in the street, which is of incalculable importance in time like these. He is quite irreplaceable. I wish that in his stead the whole lot of politicians had been drowned in the deepest seas, and chiefly Lloyd George. Or Asquith. But I don’t suppose that that weak old man can be of much weight. Mrs. Asquith, no doubt, runs the war from Downing Street. If such like had gone down we should have had bonfires out here. Most here I find are of this opinion.
There are too many enemy aliens or sympathisers in high places at home. And K should have been given an adequate escort. Assuredly the politicians, with the exception of one or two, are very glad to get rid of K. He should have come out here to take command of the armies he raised.
However we still hang on here, and we hope to be doing something more shortly. I suppose I must not give you news of what is going on although no doubt our friends over the way know more about it than we do.
The papers have told us the Hun has been through our lines where we were before we came here. They went right past the O.P., and almost to the battery position before they were turned out again.
I went up this morning to the home of a squadron of the Flying Corps and learned something about observing from a plane. I have serious thoughts of taking up flying. I was told they might accept me at a stretch, if I applied. It certainly is not a dull life, and they live in comfort free from mud and the everlasting shelling. I must think about it; but I do not want to leave a unit with horses.
We have a battery of gramophones here, three of them.
June 15, 1916.
At wagon line. The mud gets worse. Summer time. The change took place last night.
I have a room in a house (farm). The men and horses are in a field. I dine with the Column, the R.Es, or with another battery wagon line.
JUNE 17, 1916.
At the moment I am at the wagon line, packing ready for a move. We are in an open field. The only clothes I have are those I wear. The rest have been sent back somewhere. So I bivouac here. Sit on an ammunition box, suck sweets from home, listen to the strains of the gramophone with Ethel Levy singing “That Hula, Hula”, read “Town Topics”, live actually in or on the horse lines, existing on rations. What a sordid existence! There are mud, flies, frogs, all manner of creeping things and incinerators. Yet there are also buttercups and daises, and now and then the welcome mail, our sole link with home and civilization. Letters take a long time to get to me. The postman arrives at the wagon line, hands the mail bag to the orderly corporal (a smart young regular) who sorts and hands my letters to my servant, who then allows me to hear from home. A letter from my Father dated May 28 arrived yesterday evening.
We are working day and night. The horses are thin, poor beasts, and so is the wagon line officer. Thank heaven the weather has changed, and it is really fine today.
I expect to go to the gun line on Sunday. The men have worked splendidly, and the dug-outs are really excellent.
I scratched my hand the other day, quite slightly, but it became poisoned, and the result is a bad hand and numerous bandages. But it is better now.
So you have had some tennis. We get a good deal out here but chiefly at night. Then our opponents get very noisy, and fling lachrymatory balls about. Our game at present is deuce, but it may be server’s advantage shortly. Our news is copyright at present. One day you will hear all about it, no doubt. Any attempt to infringe the copyright causes the mythical censor to materialise too effectively, and as I have no wish to make his acquaintance I had better say nothing.
What an awful June it has been. The mud is making a feeble attempt to dry up now.
We have summer time now.
I wonder when you will get this letter. Say Wednesday. Well next Wednesday afternoon between 2 and 4. I will set apart a few shells on your behalf and send them over as a present from you to our friends over the way. Perhaps being dedicated by you they will do some damage, and will bring us good luck. We need it. What a lot we owe them. K will take a lot of avenging, and there are many friends too.
The Royal Regiment is 200 years old. It started with an establishment of two companies in 1716. In all about 180 men. Now there are more than a thousand batteries.
June 17, 1916
The horses are looking very thin. They have had so much to do lately. But now the weather is better and things look brighter. We have summer time out here now, so the days seem longer. I am still in the wagon line, but expect to go up to the guns in a day or two.
June 17, 1916.
I have no news for you. Later on perhaps there will be some. We are all very busy. The mud is drying up at last.
I should like to be at home in June next year, but I have my doubts about it. We shall need more troops out from England, and a very different staff to what we have in order to finish this war quickly.
At present I am bivouacing in an open field at the Wagon Line. So I have my habitation amongst the buttercups and daisies, mud and horses, creeping things and fouls. It is not so bad when it is fine. All the surplus kit has been sent to the rear, but I still retain the gramophone. The horses are looking rather thin, poor things, they have had a great deal of work to do lately. We have no battery pets now, having lost the dog and the cats.
June 17, 1916
Soon we hope to avenge on our enemies the death of Kitchener.
We have been out here 6 months and more now, and only one week out, but it is not so bad.
I shall have a tale to unfold when I can get away from the wretched censor.
I hope to go up to the gun-line on Sunday.
What did you think of the Birthday honours in Military Crosses: mostly A.S.C. and Army Pay Department.
Blind shells, i.e. those that do not go off, we call “Yanks” after our dear friends the Americans who strafe, but do not come off.
The Boche is very fond of using lachrymatory shell, and then everyone weeps copiously, unless you happen to be the proud possessor of handy goggles. He has been fairly quiet lately. Perhaps the Russians have made him thoughtful.
Should no letters turn up at home, not even Field Service P.Cs, you will know that such have been stopped, and you may draw your own conclusions.
Here were inserted four pages of John Masefield’s “The Old Front Line” relating to the Somme.
THE GERMAN FRONT LINE NORTH OF LA BOISSELLE.
At a point where the 34th Division’s most northerly boundary cuts the German Front Line and where Mash Valley Road joins the trench, there is a sap running out through the enemy wire to a strong point underneath the embankment on our side of it. Its map reference is X.14.a.3.5.
On the night of the 2/3 June an officer’s patrol found the sap strongly held, and a short encounter with bombs took place. Some of our bombs fell in the place, but the damage is unknown. Our patrol retired unhurt.
This strong point enfilades our side of the embankment.
South of this point the German wire is extremely strong.
On the Bapaume Road at X.14.c.1.8. there is a cart, and a short sap leading to it.
Further south a system of trenches crosses the Bapaume Road and forms a prominent salient enfilading the whole of Mash Valley. These trenches are known as “Y” Sap.
JUNE 22, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
Final Orders were issued.
2nd Lieut. C. Freeman-Cowan was killed by a shell.
He had just completed the “I.O.” Group Telephone Communication System.
June 23, 1916.
This afternoon I had my hair cut by one of our shoeing smiths, and now my head looks like a freshly cut cornfield, all stubbly. Another event this afternoon was a violent thunderstorm which half filled our dug-outs with water, but has cleared the air a little.
JUNE 24, 1916.
The day was dull and wet.
The work done by the battery was chiefly wire cutting. We shot over tasks W,1, and W,2. Our communications with the Battery were interrupted for three hours by a 5.9” blowing up the 8th Division Cavalry bridge and destroying our wire.
I had to go to the Battery at 4.30, p.m. There were several prematures in Blighty Wood.
The wire cutting in the evening was not successful. I stayed the night at the O.P. There were gas alarms but nothing came of them. It was a noisy night.
“ROGER” (gas) did not go out walking.
During the night the Battery fired on Enfilade Targets and over the places where wire had been cut during the day.
JUNE 25, 1916.
A finer day.
From 6.30, to 8.30, p.m. we fired on wire with perhaps better success. The Hun retaliated.
During the day we fired a bombardment practice and in special bombardments on Pozieres and Contalmaison.
At night the Division carried out a raid.
(O.H. says, “south of La Boiselle, the 34th Division found them (the trenches) strongly held and failed to get in; opposite Ovillers, too, the 8th Division reported the trenches full of men, but managed to capture one prisoner.)
JUNE 26, 1916.
The weather was much worse and very showery.
It was also a heavy day. Firing was continuous. The Hun retaliated.
The trenches were shelled, chiefly the following near the O.P.: Barrow Street, Coniston Street, and Ryecroft Street.
At night there were two direct hits on the roof of our O.P. dug-out, which blew the lights out but did no further damage.
“ROGER” went walking at night.
During the day we fired practice bombardments and cut wire. The Practice Bombardment was from 9 to 10.20, a.m.
Smoke was discharged by the Division.
June 26, 1916.
I cannot write more than a line as I have no news that I can tell you and very little time to write that. We are more busy than we have yet been. The weather still vies with the Boche in frightfulness.
I am writing this letter in the deepest dug out that I have hitherto lived in.
When the statue falls I will let you know. Some say it will fall soon. But no doubt the papers will mention it when it does.
(A series of Field Post Cards from the 1st July onwards)
By Purser F.J. 26/6/16
Service Instructions I.O.
To ALL UNITS L. GROUP.
I.O. /63 26th.
The G.O.C., R.A. noticed the following points in connection with the Special Bombardment and during wire cutting yesterday AAA. (1) Timing in L Group did not appear good AAA. (2) Very high Shrapnel useless for anything AAA. (3) Sweeping at Frontal Barrage must be carried out if front to be covered is wide AAA. (4) Pauses at lifts should not occur. AAA. These were very noticeable today. AAA. (5) When wire cutting a Cor. giving a large percentage of grazes usually gives best results.
(26 June 1916)
SECRET B.M. 148.
102 Inf. Bde. are sending out Patrols tonight between X.13.d.4.6. and X.14.a.5.5. between hours 12.30, a.m. and 2, a.m. Please take necessary precautions.
26/6/16 H. Hamilton Fletcher.
Lieut. And Adj.
Left Group. R.A.
No. 1. 23o R. 30’ 4800
No. 2. 22o R 30’ 4700
No. 3. 21o R 30’ 4650
No. 4. 20o R 30’ 4600
JUNE 27, 1916.
We cut wire all day with intervals for practice bombardments. The Boche retaliated but not so heavily.
JUNE 28, 1916.
Orders were received that “Z” or Zero Day was postponed.
“X” and “Y” Days were to be repeated.
(N.B. The O.H. calls the two extra days “Y.1” and “Y.2” which were interpolated between “X” and “Y”.)
JUNE 30, 1916.
Lieut. Colonel W. Furnivall, R.F.A. took over command of the “I.O.” Group and the 175th Brigade at 9, a.m. in succession to Lieut. Colonel E.H. Stevenson.