WAR DIARY of AA Laporte Payne March 1917
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda
R.P. March 1, 1917.
We are having another move. The day before yesterday I was working in the office doing Adjutant’s work from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. the next morning without a break.
I see that there is an account of our raid in the “Times” of 28th February. It was quite a good raid, and I spent many hours working our part of the scheme out for the batteries.
We are now billeted in a huge empty house, but it is dry at any rate. I do not suppose we shall be long here.
March 5 1917.
I hear Reg is coming out to France. I wish he were not. I am afraid it will make my people worry, although a parson can look after himself if he likes; but I do not think Reg will be content with that sort of think. We are snowed up again. Nothing can be done in weather like this, and it is wretched for the men in the front line trenches.
We are living in a large empty chateau, and it is very cold. No fire will warm any room. The Colonel does not like it at all. He gets so angry about things that can’t be helped.
March 7, 1917.
It is just as cold. We are just as busy but less inclined to work owing to the cold. I am writing letters on my knees in front of a wood fire in a large draughty room in the chateau. The servants are pasting up the windows and erecting a screen of canvas, but the place is not much warmer. The Colonel has a liver attack caused by the east wind. And we are all blue in mind and body.
R.P. March 8, 1917.
It is as cold as it ever has been, and is snowung again now. I am glad of an office to sit in. I am still doing the Adjutant’s work, but I do not know for how long.
I hope you are not finding any dificulty in getting food. We fortunately can rely on our rations, which do not vary much, but we have difficulty in getting fuel, which is very short in this cold weather.
The Colonel and I are alone at Headquarters at present, and as he spends the day out I have to remain here and look after things and deal with any urgent messages.
R.P. March 14, 1917.
I hear that Reg is in Feance, but does not know where he is going yet. You will miss him I know, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that both your sons are out here doing what they can. We hope the war will soon be over, perhaps this year, and then we shall come back all the better for the experience.
All leave has been stopped for us, and I am aftaid that means for sometime. It is very annoying, but I hope we shall all be back home again this summer.
It is fine here now, but a little colder. I was away for two days, and have just returned. I went into Belgium. The country is very flat and muddy.
I do not suppose we shall be very long in this place. There will be no more settling down this year. I shall be very glad as long as we get a move on at last.
The Boche still seems to be going back on the Somme. I wonder how far he will go. We seem to have been caught napping rather badly.
I do not want to move into dug-outs until the weather gets warmer, but we cannot be much longer here.
March 14, 1917.
It is a glorious day to day. At the moment the Boche is shelling rather heavily for this part. A shell has just dropped close to the office door, and as there are bits falling from the skies owing to the enthusiasm of our antiaircraft batteries it is not very pleasant out walking. No prospect of leave yet. I shall do something desparate. Reg is out here now I heard from him the other day.
I have been away for two days on an expedition into Belgium for two days and have just reuurned. The country is so flat and muddy.
March 22, 1917.
It snowed hard yesterday and froze last night. What do you think of the news? The Boche are retreating not far away. We are anticipating a move forward in a few days. We have had another move. We never seem to be in one place more than a few days. There has been great excitement. Two houses on either side of us have been burnt down. It is our turn next. The Colonel is in a very bad temper because he is not in the advance. But I expect we shall have our fill of such things soon. Leave is as far off as ever. It is over five months since I had any.
I have also managed to get an excellent groom. He was a whip before the war.
I have had a photo taken of my horse.
March 28, 1917.
For three whole days now I have been away with the Colonel riding all over the place looking for battery positions further north. Tomorrow I hope to be free. The weather as usual is cold and wet. Spring seems a long time coming. We are in summer time here now. It changed last Saturday night. It is light here at 7.30 p.m.
We are employing ourselves holding a bit of the line. We live in a large chateau, not far from the front line. There is a lodge and a drive, and the house is entered by a flight of stone steps. The hall is covered with three layers of sand-bags as a further protection to the cellars below, in which we take refuge when the shelling starts. The telephone exchange is also down there. On the right of the hall is the Wireless room, for I have an installation here, and two operators. Opposite the door way is the clerk’s office, and an inner room for the Colonel. There is a sitting room and a mess room, complete with piano in working order. And quite a good kitchen. Upstairs there are four officers’ bedrooms, but as most of the windows are out I have a room at the top of the house, which has been nicely furnished by my servant. He found a quantity of white linen, and has made table cloths & curtains tied up with purple ribbon. From my window I can see the Boche front line, so I have to be very careful about lights at night, and not to hang out of the window. We have good stabling for eight horses and a large garden with a wide path right round it, which we use as a jumping track. We have put up three jumps there, and the horses get plenty of exercise and we enjoy ourselves. My two horses jump beautifully, the bay mare especially. She takes anything within reason. One jump is made of sand-bags and iron piping, another of hurdles.
Reg seems to have good into the thick of it. Lucky fellow! But I hope he will keep clear of places as Bapaume Town Hall.
My servant has found a delightful pair of old brass candlesticks. Before he let me know he gave one to another officer’s servant for his room. I want the pair but the other fellow refuses to give his up.
Quite a good short war story appears in the April Strand. It is called “Panzerkraftwagen” by F. Britten Austin. I am also reading “The Reminiscences of Lady Dorothy Nevill”.
R.P. March 30, 1917.
I have had another note from Reg. He seems to be right in the advance, lucky fellow, and liking his work. We are very angry at being out of the advance on the Somme, but we are looking forward to the time when we get our chance here, which I hope will not be long now. The weather is still cold and wet. We shall have to wait until it dries up somewhat. It has rained most of the day.
We are living in a big chateau not far from the front line. Most of the windows have gone, and it is rather draughty. The sitting room at the back however boasts of stained glass nearly intact. There is a lodge and a drive up to the house. The entrance hall is approached by a flight of large stone steps. The ground floor is covered with three layers of sand-bags, as a further protection to the cellars below, where our telephone exchange is installed. On the right of the hall is the wireless room, which is under my charge. On the left is the clerk’s room and the Adjutant’s inner office. There is also a mess room with a piano in it, and a sitting room adjoining. Upstairs the landing also has three layers of sand-bags filled with bricks. There are four officers’ bedrooms, and a bathroom besides rooms for the servants and orderlies. So you see we live in luxury. My bedroom is at the top of the house, where I found quite a decent room, small and quite fairly clean, and the windows were not smashed. But I have to be careful about lights, as I can see the Boche front line from the window.
My servant, an excellent and amusing fellow, has covered tables and chest of drawers with white calico tied up with purple ribbon which he scrounged from somewhere. There is excellent stabling for ten horses, but it is rather risky keeping them so far up, and a large garden where we have put up some jumps under the trees. So I take a ride each morning and do a bit of jumping to shake my liver up. I have an excellent groom. He was a whip in a hunt before the war.
We have had summer time for a week now, so we are ahead of you in England by an hour. It is quite light up to 8, p.m.
I have a delightful little mare to ride. She was left behind by the late Adjutant, and as no one has appropriated her, I did. She jumps well, but is inclined to bolt at times and throw the rider. No doubt that is the reason why she has not been taken by the Colonel, although he will not admit it. But now my groom, Scarrat, has taken her in hand, and by using a snaffle she is much quieter, and a perfect mount. She is the best horse in the Brigade. We have six horses up here and I ride them all in turn.
All this sounds very attractive, but unfortunately it is not the whole story. The rest is as usual.