WAR DIARY of AA Laporte Payne April 1917
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda
APRIL THE FIRST, 1917.
The Colonel is out with the Corps Commander, and I am alone in the office. The weather is just as bad, cold and wet, and there is nothing very exciting to report. I spent the morning visiting O.Ps and this afternoon in the office.
This note-paper is perfectly awful to write on. It is the sort of paper the French would use. The florid decorations are getting on my nerves. (of the house) I wonder if there is a perfectly plain house in France. We have got a lot of new records. Some of them are quite good. The Colonel spends a deal of time playing them.
April 1917. (undated).
The 175th Army Field Brigade, R.F.A. was for ten days in the line as Left Group, New Zealand Division at Neuve Eglise.
April 3, 1917.
I may be able to get leave next week. If I don’t get away then I don’t know when I shall be able to do so, as leave will soon be stopped. The weather is still abominable, thick snow yesterday. We have to get our leave warrants from Corps, and the Colonel signed mine last night.
I am just off to the line to observe for a bombardment and I am keeping two officers waiting for me, and I have only half an hour left to get down there. We had a gas alarm last night, but it was a false one.
April 21, 1917.
Leave all over, and now only a dream. Nine days! I got engaged. I arrived this evening after two long days on the way. Everything is as usual here. We are still in the same place. The horses are looking fit, but the Boche have dropped shells too near the stables.
It seems an age since I left on Thursday evening. I stayed the night at the Grosvenor Hotel, and was up at 6 a.m. After breakfast I wandered into the station early hoping to get a corner seat, and quite forgot my usual precautions. I had hardly got into the station when a creature wearing a major’s crown and a brass hat accosted me, and said rudely “Leave or duty?” Like a fool I stammered “Leave”. Whereupon he continued “I want you”, and gave me a paper. I knew what that meant. It informed me I was in charge of two to three hundred men for the journey across. I was furious. My party was detailed to go by the second train leaving about three quarters of an hour after the first by which I should have travelled. Another officer and I travelled alone in a Pulman cursing our fate. I had visions of marching miles to a rest camp outside Boulogne. At Folkestone we arrived just in time to see the leave boat going out with the first train load, and that meant a day in Folkestone. I marched the men to the Rest Camp, which was a tin enclosure surrounding a large number of houses on the Lees. Happily it was close to the pier. There I left the wretched men, retained there like prisoners. So does our staff treat its heroic soldiery! I went into the town and called on a parson man who was at Cambridge when I was. (Offer). I had lunch with him. I then called on General Marsh and family, whom I had not seen for a long time. I found one daughter just married to a soldier, another ill, and one a war widow. After that I went to tea with Mrs. Sherbrook, a dear old lady, the mother several officers, one of them a colonel of 29 years. She was entertaining some wounded to tea. One young fellow was wounded near us on the Somme, and had lost a leg, and was only just recovering from blindness, the result of shock.
I returned for my men at 5.15 p.m. The boat left about 6.30 p.m. We had dinner on board, and I read “The Morals of Marcus Odeyne” by Locke. At 8.45 p.m. we arrived at Boulogne, and I stayed at the Metropole Hotel with another fellow I knew. Luckily I was able to hand over the men to some simpleton on the pier at Boulogne, so I did not have to march miles, and was free. We started next morning at 9.45, a.m. and travelled via Calais, where we had two hours for lunch, St. Omer, Hazebrouck to within ten miles of my destination, and then rode up to Headquarters, arriving here at 8 p.m. this evening just in time for dinner. The Colonel professed himself pleased to see me back. He is in fairly good form, except for a cold.
Yesterday was a glorious day. I thought it would be fine as soon as I came away, but I don’t mind because I could not possibly have had a better time. And now for another half year out here. I wonder what it will bring forth.
R.P. April 22, 1917.
I arrived here quite safely last night in time for dinner at 8 p.m. I have had really a delightful few days at home with you all, and it was not at all pleasant having to return after such an enjoyable time. It was the longest leave I have had for years, and it was good, giving me fresh energy to carry on for another few months.
I managed to get a bed at the Grosvenor Hotel and had breakfast at 6 a.m. then I got a comfortable seat in the train, a corner one, and quite forgot my usual precautions with the result I was caught by the Railway Transport Officer, horrid man, and put in charge of 200 men returning to France. I had to give up my corner seat, and travel by Pulman in the second train with another officer, similarly caught, to Folkestone. We managed to arrive there just in time to see the leave boat going out to sea. Luckily the Rest Camp is not far away, and there I deposited my men, poor devils, until 5.30. p.m. this is how a grateful country treats its heroes. I had lunch with Offer, whom I knew at Cambridge, visited General Marsh and family, and had tea with Mrs. Sherbrook who was entertaining some wounded men.
We left at 6 p.m. It was a calm and uneventful crossing. We arrived at Boulogne at 8.30 p.m., and I stayed the night at the Metropole, after I had handed the men over to someone else on the quayside.
The next morning I came up by train, lunching at Calais, where we had two hours. I rode the last ten miles, and arrived just in time for dinner. The Colonel said he was glad to see me back, again and certainly he is in good form. It is probably the prospect of some exciting work soon.
We are still in the same place, but go out “to rest” in a day or two – the first time for over a year, and it probably means the same thing as it did then.
The weather is now beautifully fine, and my horses are looking fit and well, so what more can a fellow want.
April 26, 1917.
Now we are in the midst of a move, which I expected. I am going forward to do the billeting for the Brigade. It is much better than travelling with the guns at a walk.
The weather is cold and dull here. Great trouble last night. The Colonel’s horse broke loose from the stables over night, and can’t be found. I have dozens of men out looking for the beastly thing. The old boy is in a great rage. Of course it is my fault. When it is found he will be as quiet as a lamb until this evening he sees his mess bill, which I have just made up.
The Colonel has just come in, and one of my search party also returned with the news that the missing horse has been found. That will put him in a good temper.
I am just off to ride round the batteries, which are at present scattered.
The Boche had started shelling the place again, but he has not done much damage. The news will not be uninteresting long.
April 26, 1917.
We are on the move, and the next few days will find us in various places.
April 29, 1917.
Three days ago I went off in charge of a billeting party of six officers and twenty men with twenty six horses. All one day we travelled, found lovely billets for the Brigade and the next day waited for the batteries to turn up, which we expected would be about 4 p.m. We waited until 6 p.m. when an orderly came to say the move was off and we were to return at once. I had to see the Mayor, cancel the billets, get food for the horses and men, for we had relied on the Brigade coming up. That was no easy thing at that time of day. We were ready to move off about 8.30 p.m. I phoned through from a town we were passing through to get permission to stay the night, and so save the horses and men a night journey, which was quite needless. The horses were very tired. The Colonel refused leave, and we had to push on. We did about thirty miles, and arrived at 2 a.m. this morning. I got up at 6 a.m. after less than four hours sleep, to get ready to move elsewhere. It is now none o’clock, and we are just off.