WAR DIARY of AA Laporte Payne May 1917

WAR DIARY of AA Laporte Payne May 1917


Extracted from


Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda





I tried to send a wire home to England today, but there is some new procedure, and “Signals” refused to take it.  I should have to send the form to the censor at a town some way away, and then send it by the French civilian telegraphs.


We are in the line again, and working hard. It is quite like the Somme again.  Firing all day and night.  I spent the morning going round battery positions, and in the afternoon at the O.Ps.  Today has been glorious, the weather is just perfect.  Cigarettes are getting very expensive.


It is a pity that in such glorious weather we have to be out here trying to murder one another. It is quite a July day, and I got very hot and tired tramping round this morning in a tin hat and a box respirator, carrying field glasses, and other impedimenta.  I have given my mare a rest for the last three days as she was very tired after that midnight journey.


Our new headquarters are not bad, and the wagon lines are quite close, only about 15 minutes away, walking.


May 2, 1917.              Belgium

The Boche is making a horrid noise, it is very hot, there is a lot to be done, every one is out, and things are generally annoying. I have been spending a lot of time on platforms, gun-platforms, of a horribly rubbly nature, and made of broken brick.  We have been choosing and making battery positions.  I spent the whole morning at it and the Boche saw our working parties, and was rude enough to send shrapnel over at us.  Happily no one was hurt.  It was hot in the sun.  I had delirium and raved about rivers, punts, ices, flannels, girls in white, bathing, and what not; but saw only dust, railways, guns, oil, shell-holes, khaki, wire, trenches, and smelt many evil smells.  What a life!


But still it is glorious out in the open. I try and rush the office work in order to be out in the sunshine.


We are in a most interesting part of the line, and I am glad we are here. I am getting quite burnt, and my appetite is enormous.  I have never felt so well.  The mare is looking fine.  The Colonel is casting covetous eyes on her, and also on my groom.  I shall never forgive him if he asks for them, for I shall not be able to refuse.  But if it has to be one, I shall let the groom go.


We have a new officer in the mess now. He is the camouflage officer.


I am a member of a Field General Court Martial tomorrow ten miles away, so my whole day will be wasted. Why can’t they get a useless base wallah to do such unpleasant jobs?


May 4, 1917                Belgium.

Last night was a perfect night, from the point of view of the weather. We were called up in the middle of the night to attend to the Boche, who were very noisy.  They were shelling the roads heavily round here.


It is getting extraordinarily hot here. I must sleep outside.  But there is no bathing.


R.P. May 7, 1917.                  Belgium.

The weather is indeed lovely, but it is fairly windy. The sun is hot, too hot at times for comfort when working.


We are frightfully busy. I spent my time mostly in the saddle riding to various places or on foot in the front line.  The Boche has been misbehaving himself badly.  For the last three nights he has shelled our roads and billets all night long and disturbing our slumbers.  We have been compelled to spend our time in the cellar sitting in a very cheerful row, the Colonel, four officers and the signallers.  Then the telephone lines began to get cut, so out my signallers and I had to go to mend them.  So far the Boche has done us no further harm.


We are moving again in a day or two. We are never still.  My horses are a bit weary after constant road work.  The roads are terribly cut up.  In most places they are like a newly made road before the steam roller has been over it.


May 7, 1917.               Belgium.

For the past four nights we have spent most of the time in our cellars. The Colonel, four other officers, signallers, and sometimes a servant or two.  The Boche has been making a horrible nuisance of himself, and has occupied his nights and ours shelling our roads and billets.  The result is that neither side get any rest, and as my telephone wires get badly cut by shell fire it usually means that the linesmen and myself spend the hours of darkness tramping the country side mending them.


The days have been glorious, but the weather has just turned and it has started to rain. It looks very bad tonight.


My days have been spent almost anywhere within a radius of thirty miles. The mare is getting rather weary.  She is a much more comfortable ride than any horse I ever rode, and certainly in this brigade, and so she gets a lot of work, poor old thing.  I hear they are stopping corn for the horses in England.


We are on the move again, and tomorrow will see us out of this place. But every thing is very uncertain at present.  We are experts at packing now.


I was asked to go and play tennis with a French family who have a place behind the lines and a hard court, but I could not get away. Fancy playing tennis within range of the guns.


May 11. 1917.

After a year and a month in the line we are out for a so called rest. I get up for early morning stables at 6 a.m., which with watering and feeding takes an hour and a half.  Exercise at 9 a.m. lasts until midday stables.  But still it is a relief to get away from the line for a bit.  It has taken us three days to get clear and arrive here.  We are billeted in a farm on the outskirts of a delightful forest.  The trees are just coming out and the place is full of spring flowers.  As there are many glades and tracks in the forest there, there are excellent facilities for exercising the horses in pleasant surroundings. The weather is glorious and very hot.  It is all very ominous.  When the Fates are so very kind I always feel that there is something about to happen which is peculiarly evil.  The spring brings a beautiful country side, but also what the men call a “lovely war”.  We are like pigs being fattened up for the next slaughter the staff are staging even now for us.  In the spring the staff’s thoughts fancy lightly turn to thoughts of a push.


We arrived here without a great deal of trouble. I came with the signallers, horses and wagons.  One overloaded G.S. wagon deposited most of our kit in a ditch.  One horse cast a shoe, and one telephonist, who had not been on a horse for about nine months, fell off his horse which promptly bolted and was at large for some time.  Other wise we arrived safe and sound, hot and tired, about 7.30 p.m.  I was alone in the mess.  The Doctor turned up later, and the Adjutant later still.  The Colonel is on leave, so we are having a good time.


My mare is at the moment tied up in a pond to cool her legs. All the horses are looking wonderfully well.


It was just about this time last year that we went up into the line on the Somme.  Then we had three weeks out of the line.  I do not expect we shall get anything like son long this time.


ON May 15, 1917.

Headquarters of the 175th Army Field Artillery Brigade R.F.A. under orders from the II ANZAC CORPS moved from billets at LA COURONNE, VIEUX BERQUIN, via DOULIEU and STEENWERCK to a bivouac on the BAILLEUL – NIEPPE ROAD, where officers were in huts and the men in tents, horses in the open. Battery wagon lines moved from the neighbourhood of DOULIEU to the same place.  The Brigade Ammunition Column remained in original wagon lines already on the spot.  Major Cockcraft, D.S.O. was temporarily in command of the Brigade.  Billets vacated were occupied by the 4th Australian Division, which had arrived from the south of ARRAS.  The guns of the Brigade were still in the line attached to the Right Group of the 57th Division (Territorial) at FLEURBAIX.


The immediate front was then held as follows:-


PLOEGSTEERT.                                                       3rd Australian Division

NEUVE EGLISE                                                      36th Ulster Division.

Behind were the following divisions:-

4th Australian Division.

New Zealand Division.


(The weather was dull and colder, but it did not rain.)


ON MAY 16th 1917 the Second Army consisted of the following CORPS:

VIII, Corps.

  1. ANZAC. General Godley.

General Powell (R.A.)


May 15, 1917.

The weather has changed, and it is now dull and cold and threatening to rain. It turned for the worse quite suddenly, but we have had some glorious weather, so we must not grumble.


They have hauled us back into the line again, as I expected. We marched up here and arrived late last night.  It is always a great business moving.  It is very necessary to see that all the place left is left clean and in good order, or else we shall get a chit telling us all about it.  There are a thousand and one things to see are not left behind.  If there are someone is sure to appropriate them.  My little unit consists of about sixty men, fifty horses, and ten vehicles.


On arrival at a camping place the first thing to do is to find out where the bivouacing place is and then how to get the column in. Then the horse lines have to be put up, with posts dug in and roped, the horses watered and fed and groomed.  Places have to be found for the Harness, cooks, telephonists, forage, food, stores and sleeping places for the men.  After that I can get something to eat and flop into my flea-bag.  This has been the routine for the last few days.


I am sorry to say one of my horses died last night, in great pain, a good horse too. They are very hard to get now.  It was one of the signaller’s horses, and got colic very badly.  I hate having horses ill.


I am writing letters on a bully-beef box, and it is starting to rain. We have no furniture, and live in tents.  The cooking is done in holes in the ground.  It is a contrast to our chateau.  I have found a shed of sorts for my own gees.


We have plenty of work to do here. It is very similar to last year on the Somme.  Conditions are the same.  I hope it will keep fine for a few weeks.


From May 16th 1917, the 175th Brigade R.F.A. was attached to the II ANZAC CORPS, and the 3rd Australian Division.


The Divisions were then as follows;


57th Division, transferred to the First Army, and was not included in the operations.

25th Division.

3rd Australian Division.

4th Australian Division.

New Zealand Division.

36th Division (Ulster)

16th Division.




MAY, 1917.


Headquarters   Lieut Col. W. Furnival.

Lieut. A.G. Modlock. Adjutant.

Lieut A.A. Laporte Payne. Orderly and Signals Officer.

Lieut. F.H. Webb. Assistant Orderly Officer.

Captain W.J. McKeand, R.A.M.C.

Captain   Mitten. A.V.C.


  1. Battery. Major J.W. Muse.

Capt. R.M. Stevens.

Lieut. D. Lowden. (sick in England.)

Lieut. H.E. Pitt.

2/Lieut. J.S. Carroll (Assistant Staff Captain II Anzac Corps)

2/Lieut. A. Twyford.

2/Lieut. T.S. Davis.

2/Lieut. J.G. Cooney.


  1. Battery. Major L.W. laT. Cockcraft, D.S.O.

Capt. G.F.T. Hopkins.

2/Lieut. A.B. Macdonald.

2/Lieut. J. Amour. M.C.

2/Lieut. L.F. Holt.

2/Lieut. F.L. Talley.

2/Lieut. W.A. Macfarlane.

2/Lieut. A.E. Dawes.


  1. Battery. Major H.A. Terry.

Capt. F. Steele Pilcher.

Lieut H.A.R. Gibb.

Lieut. T. Robley.

Lieut. H. Leigh.

2/Lieut. J.L. Allan.

2/Lieut. S. Glover.

2/Lieut. H. Griffiths.


  1. Battery. Capt. R.W. Ardagh, M.C.

Lieut. F.H. Webb.

2/Lieut. A. Roberts.

2/Lieut. E.J. Webber.

2/Lieut. B. Baker.

2/Lieut. W. Morrison.



Capt. V.G. Gilbey.

Lieut. E.L. Warren.

2/Lieut. C.A. Thomson.

2/Lieut. E.W. Hutton.




Officers 40.

Other Ranks 1009.

Horses 928.


On MAY 16th 1917.


Orders were received from the 3rd Australian Divisional Artillery that




Should be constituted as follows:

Commanding Officer. O.C. 175th Brigade R.F.A. with Headquarters at T.16.b.99.31.



I.1        A/175, at T.18.a.00.45.

I.2.       B/175,     T.17.b.14.20.

I.3.       C/175.     T.17.d22.99.

I.4.       45th         T.17.d.36.73.)        Batteries of the

I.5.       46th         T.17.d.52.46)          12th Australian

I.6.       47th         T.17.d.5.2.)             Brigade, 4th Division.


R.P. May 17, 1917.

The weather has been lovely, and we thoroughly enjoyed our week out of the line, but there was more than enough to do, horses to look after, equipment to renovate and overhaul, and men to smarten up in preparation for our work in the line. And now we are back once again in the line with the prospect of a great deal more to do.  But unfortunately the weather has broken badly.  It has rained for two days, and mud is a plague once more.  I do hope it is not going to be a repetition of the Somme all over again.  We are living in tents with the horses in the open.


I am on another court of enquiry tomorrow, which is a great nuisance as it hinders me in my proper work.


Lately our orders have been supplemented, cancelled, and altered until we do not know where we are. The weather for the time of year is abominable.  Yesterday was very cold.  We miss our comfortable chateau.


One of my horses died last night of colic, which annoyed me. It was a good horse, and we can ill afford to loose such now.  The noise of the guns is continuous here now, and has a meaning.


May 19, 1917.

Saturday evening.

There has been no mail for three days. It is extraordinarily hot, and there is much to do.  I have hardly been to bed.  The Colonel returns today, and he is sure to come back in a bad temper to the enormous amount of work he will have to get through.


We are now where I said I should be going back to after my leave. You may remember.


It is a perfect evening. I am in a tent near a main road, and the traffic and the concomitant dust is continuous.


Over head Boche planes are up, and the A.A. guns are hard at it, as usual ineffectively. Quite near is one of our captive balloons of the kite variety, with two officers in it observing.  I am expecting them to come down hanging on to their parachutes.  I should not like their job at all.


The mare is rather tired. She was out until 5.30 a.m. yesterday morning.


And so the war goes on. Suppose it never ends.  But I conclude it will one day.


May 23, 1917.


The Artillery of the 3rd Australian Division consists of

  1. GROUP, 18 pdrs. 5 Batteries       30 guns.
  2. GROUP. 18 pdrs. 6 Batteries       36 guns.
  3. GROUP 18 pdrs .           6 Batteries 36 guns.
  4. GROUP 4.5, Hows. 6 Batteries       24 Hows.
  5. GROUP 1. 4.5 How
  6. 18 pdr. 4 Batteries 24 guns and Hows.


Heavy Trench Mortars (9.45”)   9.




6” Gun                                    500 rounds per gun to be dumped.

9.2” & 8”                     800                      do.

6” How.                      1000

60 pdrs                                    1000

12”                              400

15”                              100

18 pdrs.                      1300

4.5” How                    1100

H.T.M. (9.45”)            130

2”T.M.                         200.


The 3rd Australian Divisional Artillery Groups.


Groups.           Commanding.                         Composed of.

  1. Lt. Col. H.D.K. Macartney             7th A.F.A. Brigade.

38th R.F.A. Bde. (Army).

  1. Lt. Col. W.G. Allsop. 8th A.F.A. Bde.

3rd A.F.A. Bde

  1. Lt. Col. W. Furnival 175th Bde R.F.A. (Army).

12th A.F.A. Bde (Army).

  1. Lt. Col. H.L. Cohen, D.S.O. 6th A.F.A. Bde. (Army).
  2. Lt. Col. W.H.L. Burgess, D.S.O. Howitzers.


Situations.                                           Call.


  1. T.29.d.85.50. G.K.64.
  2. T.22.b.2.1. G.C.39.
  3. T.16.b.99.31. G.C.38.
  4. C.1.b.7.6. G.L.54.
  5. B.12.central. Defensive Brigade        G.K.6.


The I Group Exchange at T.17.d.15.50.                     E.S.

The Group of Group Exchange at Petite Munque

Farm, T.23.d.75.85.                                                    D.A.

The Observation Exchange

Posts U.13.d.25.15.                                                    L.H.

Observation Posts.


May 23, 1917.

A letter from home dated the 17th arrived before one of the 14th.  Our post is very disorganised.  There was no mail for four days, and then we had 41 bags for the Brigade, and I know some more are missing.


It has been wet again the last two days, but it is fine today and very hot. I spend my time constructing Dug-outs, and burying cable.


There is going to be some difficulty in watering horses here soon in spite of the rain recently. Rations have been cut down slightly, but there is still enough to eat.  I hope food problems at home are not worse.


The Colonel has come back, and is in quite a good temper.


May 24, 1917.

I go to another Court-Martial this morning, which is a great nuisance as I have sufficient to do here in getting our telephone system in working order, and there is very little time in which to do the work.


The weather is perfectly lovely here. No day in which to sit indoors listening to evidence about some wretched man who has offended the powers that rule us.


R.P. May 30, 1917.

We are busier than ever, and to make matters worse the Boche has taken it into his head to shell us every night with gas shell. It is amusing to see us all sitting in the cellar of a ruined cottage wearing gas helmets, feeling very hot and bubbling through the mouth-pieces.  The men are now constructing better dug-outs and cutting an emergency trench.  With this and organising communications, laying telephone lines and what not there is more than enough to do.  I hope you will not mind a few Field Post Cards for a time.


However it is lovely weather, I cannot grumble.


Yesterday there was a great fuss. Some most important secret maps could not be found.  We all crawled around looking everywhere for them.  It was more than two hours before they were found rolled up in another bundle.  The Colonel had put them there, and forgotten all about them!!


I do hope everything will go off alright. But it is no use worrying.  We can but do our best, and we have great hopes of pulling it off this time.  Plans are better than they were on the Somme.

(Wireless installation)


May 30, 1917.

We are all in the line and staying at a “farmhouse”. It consists of two fairly good rooms, nearly whole, and a most useful cellar.  The Boche, however does not like the locality, and has taken it into his head to shell us heavily with gas shell, chiefly at night, and we repair to the cellar with gas-masks on, hot uncomfortable and annoyed.  But it is amusing to see (as far as one can through steamed goggles) the others puffing and blowing through their mouth pieces.  The Colonel gets into a furious temper with his, which makes it all the more uncomfortable for himself.


Last night there was great excitement. We lost some very important secret maps.  The colonel cursed everyone for the loss, and said we should all be court-martialed and shot or something equally ridiculous.  After two hours feverish search we found them rolled up in another bundle!  Where the Colonel himself had left them.


I have a large working party here, hurriedly making some sort of dug-out. There is a new system of telephonic communication to get into working order.  It is enormous.  Easily the biggest I have yet to do with.


I should like to give you a lot of news; but I cannot. It is sufficient to say we are working like mad.

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