War Diary of AA Laporte Payne September 1917

War Diary of AA Laporte Payne




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




September 1917


September 1917.

Hove Sussex.


After a quick but slumbersome journey I arrived with the rain at Brighton, and found M. and F. here.  I surprised them with the amount of luggage, but I was determined to enjoy mufti for a few days, though I had to travel down in uniform.


It was strange to be subject to the unwelcome attentions of the Boche as night visitors to London.  On my way back home I fell in with Mr. Special Constable Jordan, who ran me in for riding without a light.  It would have been amusing if he had reported me to the Superintendent, whose house I had just left.  However the offer of a cigarette appeased the official anger at such wanton flouting of the laws of our country, and I gained my own bed in my own home and not the local lock-up.


Brighton bores me, but I am right glad to be with my people once again.


I leave here Monday morning, and arrive in town to entertain the Colonel to dinner, if possible graced by female society, if not, well! He must go without.


Then I desire to go to some sea-side place as unlike this London by the sea as possible.  It is more populated by the nomadic Eastern tribe than ever.


September 9, 1917.

Tomorrow being Monday M. and F. go to Worthing, and I propose travelling to town by the 9.40 a.m. train, arriving at Victoria at 11.10.  Then to dine in town in the evening.


I am better and more presentable than I was, and I hope you will not mind being seen with me.


R.P. September 12, 1917.

Hydro Hotel



R.P. September 27, 1917.

Same old place.

I have arrived safely and am in charge of the battery at the gunline as the Major is away sick at ****.  I am now living on the memory of a delightful holiday at home.


September 27, 1917.

Same old place, and leave all over! It is the best leave I ever had.


At present I am up to my eyes in work. The Major is away, and I am in charge of the battery in the gun-line.  There have been a lot of changes.


September 29, 1917.

My three weeks leave has faded into a happy memory of a glorious time with many fine days, and without the strain of responsibility. Returning was not pleasant.  The fine weather we are now having makes me long to be back at Eastbourne, spending long days by the sea, or at Pevensey or Herstmontseaux with nothing to do and nothing to worry about.  It was, perhaps by reason of contrast, the happiest time I have ever spent.


At the moment I am writing letters in my target book with the map board on my knees for a desk. I am sitting on a stretcher in the signalling dug-out, a shanty made of tin.


I left home on Monday evening with more luggage than was convenient. I arrived at Victoria and found the Grosvenor Hotel full.  It was then after midnight.  The Y.M.C.A. Hostel for officers was also crowded out, so I went to the Queen Mary’s Officers’ Club and secured a room.  The accommodation afforded is quite good: single bedroom to oneself, bath with hot and cold water and shower, for breakfast, porridge, fish, bacon and eggs, toast and marmalade at any hour of the morning, and carriage of luggage to the station – all this for five shillings!  I was up at 6 a.m. and caught the first train to Folkestone.  There I met two fellows returning to our Brigade, so I had a journey with pleasant company.


It was a glorious day, and a perfect crossing, but it was hellish having to leave England on such a day.  The country looked lovely in the morning sunlight.


We had two hours in Folkestone. John Amour, Roberts and I went to the Grand Hotel, but could get nothing to drink to drown our sorrows.  We listened to the band for a short time, and I met one or two people I knew.  We brought some pears and chocolate, and then went on board.  I read the “Morning Post” and O Henry’s “Gentle Grafter”, which rather bored me.


We had lunch on board, and arrived at Boulogne without further incident.  In the afternoon we went for a drive to W. and at night had dinner at the Louvre, oysters, soup, fish, poulet, sweets and cheese.  We stayed the night at the Officers’ Club, a horrid place. Boulogne swarms with W.A.A.C.S.


The next day we did not go by train as we expected. I met a sapper, whom I knew, with a car.  He was going to the same place as we and was good enough to give us a lift.  We left about 5.30 p.m. and had a most exciting journey.  We had on board with us a keg of gunpowder (100 lbs.) with the lid missing also cans of petrol, all in the back of the car.  The driver drove furiously.  On the way we had four punctures, once a rifle cartridge lying in the road, went right through the tyre.  Three times we had to mend punctures.  We arrived at our destination at about 11 p.m.


I found our battery in the same position. The Major was at the wagon-line and we stayed up talking until 2.30 a.m.  The following morning I rode up to the gun-line and took charge.  The guns had been moved to another place a short distance away for good and sufficient reason.


That night I was ordered to push a single gun further forward into a cemetery across the canal, so I was up all night. The next day I spent with the lone gun supervising the work of preparing a gun platform and laying telephone lines to the O.P.


Today I went to the O.P. and registered the gun from its new position. On my arrival back at the battery afterwards, or rather when I was some little way away.  I found the officers and gun detachments sitting disconsolately in a ditch away in the fields, and gazing at the position, which was being heavily shelled.  There we sat for the rest of the house of daylight, and now it is late but comparatively quite.


So my reception here like my departure was quite warm. An air raid in London, also in Boulogne, shelled at the wagon line on arrival, shelled at Headquarters, where I reported on my way up, shelled at the forward gun position, shelled at the Observation Position, and now shelled at the battery gun line.  Delightful is it not?  And the weather as it was at Eastbourne.


At Headquarters I found the Colonel in a very bad temper, and looking unwell.  On the morning of the day I arrived he asked the adjutant whether I had turned up.  When he heard that I had not he was angry and said, “I told you so, he will never come back.”  But he was wrong.  It was quite time I came back, for I feel that if I had delayed any longer I should never have come back at all.  I should have funked it altogether.  Such a delightful time as I have had on leave is not good for me.  I was getting much too soft and lazy.


At present I have my bedroom in a deserted and broken down gun pit. It certainly has a concrete floor, but it is generally flooded with dirty water.  One end is open, that towards the rear, the other is blocked to some extent with a few sodden and decaying sand-bags.


I found my kit safe and sound, much to my relief. But my wretched servant never got away as I had arranged, poor devil.  Leave was suddenly stopped, so I only got away just in time.


The adjutant is leaving us, so the Colonel wants me to take the job on, and I do not want to. I really don’t know what to do about it.  I should like to get a battery one day, and if I go to Headquarters I shall get stuck there.  But I do not look like getting a battery at present.


I do not see any papers now except the Continental Daily Mail, so I should like to know when I am gazetted Captain. We are at present very short of subalterns.


R.P. September 30, 1917.


The moon is bright tonight, and I can almost see to write by its light alone.


As you can imagine it was not at all enjoyable to return after such a delightful leave. It has given me once more to realise more completely that home and all it means is worth fighting for.  I did enjoy the few days with you, more especially because they came close upon a rather uncomfortable time out here.


Returning I arrived safely in town and went to the Queen Mary’s Officers’ Club in Eaton Square.  It is an excellent place run by the Y.M.C.A.   I got a clean bedroom, hot bath and cold shower, boots cleaned, breakfast of porridge, fish, eggs and bacon, rolls and marmalade, and my luggage carried to the station, all for the inclusive sum of five shillings.


I met two fellows returning to the Brigade, so we cheered one another up. It was a lovely day at Folkestone, much too good for leaving England.  There we had two hours to spare, so I called on Offer, but he was away on holiday.  The crossing was perfect.  We had lunch on board and then eat chocolates and pears.  We stopped the night at the Officers’ Club in Boulogne and left the next day in a car of a Sapper Officer, who was going to the same place as we.  Leaving about 5 p.m. we arrived at 11 p.m.  The man drove like mad, and we had on board a cask of gunpowder (100 lbs.) and full petrol tins. On the way we had four punctures, three of which we had to mend.


On arrival at the wagon line, same old place, I met the Major and we stayed up talking until about 2 a.m. After breakfast I went up to the gun line and took charge there, where I still am.


That night I was ordered to move a gun forward. This kept me up all night, and the following day I registered it from its new position.  The next day was very busy.  The Boche paid us unwelcome attentions, so we had a lot to do.  And we are two subalterns short.


The Colonel apparently was getting rather anxious about me, and expressed his belief that I was going to get an extension of leave or never coming back at all. Evidently he does not trust me.


At present I am living in a broken down old gun pit, with only two sides, and it is half under water. But it is the best place I can find at present.  It will harden me off for the winter after the luxury of leave.


The sunset this evening was beautiful. I do not think I have ever seen it so red.  Of course we spoiled it with a straffe, and the guns are going like mad.  Now the Boche are retaliating.


Leave has just been stopped again, so I was lucky to get mine in first.


We are still in summertime here, but it does not make much difference to us as we are always up at dawn. Tomorrow I have to go out with the Colonel at 5 a.m.  I wish he would not choose these unearthly hours, but he thinks things are quieter then when the Boche has hardly rubbed his eyes.


I am sitting in the telephone dug-out. It is a tin shanty cupola shape, stuck on a wooden floor over a ditch at the side of a field.  My desk is a map board on my knees as I sit on a stretcher supported by ammunition boxes.  Someone is trying to mend the door with a sledge hammer, and combined with the noise of the guns firing, it is difficult to concentrate.

Report of Attack on Eagle Trench September 1917

Eagle Trench


On the 6th August the 20th Division took over the right Divisional Sector of the 14th Corps from the 38th Division.


The task before the division was to capture LANGEMARCK village and a portion of the enemy’s GHELUVELT – LANGEMARCK line beyond the village. Before proceeding with the attack on Langemarck it was necessary to obtain the mastery of the STEENBEEK which was held by the enemy.  This stream was liable to sudden floods and its steep banks presented a considerable obstacle.  In addition to this there were many concrete blockhouses at intervals along the eastern bank of the river, the largest one constructed in the ruins of a house called AU BON GITE formed more or less the key of the position, and commanded all the approaches to the river from one side.  The 59th Bde. which was holding the line, with the 60th and 61st Brigades in support and reserve was to carry out this operation, but the two latter Brigades took no active part in the fighting.  The first attempt was made on the 11th August and was unsuccessful, the enemy having discovered the concentration and opened a heavy fire on our troops as they were assembling.  The second attempt on the 14th August, made be the 10th and 11th Rifle Brigades was more successful and a line was established 200 yards east of the stream, but the Au Bon Gite still held out.  At one period, it was captured and a number of the enemy were killed, but our men were again driven out after heavy fighting by a counter attack from a N.E. direction.  The crossings of the Steenbeek had however been made good and it was now possible to arrange for the main concentration to take place east of the stream.  The two Battalions engaged in the above operation carried out the attack with great gallantry; The attack was made over boggy ground across a stream which was too wide to jump and bridges had to be carried and put into position; all this was done under fire and it is safe to say that had the crossings not been sieged the main attack in Langemarck would have been a far more dangerous undertaking and in all probability would have failed.


The 59th Brigade had suffered heavily and on the night of the 14/15 it was relieved by the 60th and 61st Brigades in order from the right.  On the night of the 15/16 these two Brigades were deployed into their battle positions east of the Steenbeek.  It was a pitch dark night, the ground over which the troops had to move was very boggy and the concentration had to take place close under Au Bon Gite whose Garrison at any moment might give the alarm and so prevent the deployment taking place.  So silently was this carried out and without a vestige of confusion that the enemy heard or saw nothing to arouse their suspicion, but they kept up Machine Gun fire from Au Bon Gite most of the night, making the assembly still more difficult.  This was one of the most difficult operations the two Brigades had ever been asked to carry out and it reflects the greater credit on all ranks.  The attack commenced at 4.45 a.m., Au Bon Gite being rushed by two companies of the 11th Rifle Brigade, under Captain Slade who displayed great courage and coolness, which had been left in position the previous night.  Covered by a heavy artillery barrage the attacking waves moved forward, the chief centres of resistance being REITRES FARM on the left of the 61st Brigade and LANGEMARCK itself with the houses to the east of the village, all of which concealed many machine guns.


The Chateau grounds had been reduced to a swamp by the recent rains and the advance of the infantry on the left was greatly impeded. The whole country east of the Steenbeek for a great distance was a swampy crater field.


Banbury’s 61st Brigade which had never been known to fail to take its objection [objective], captured the village and established a line beyond it.  The 12th King’s Liverpool & 7th Somerset, D.C.L.I. and K.O.Y.L.I. were the heroes of this exploit and in spite of bog and bullets fought gloriously.  On the right the attack of the 60th Brigade went through without a hitch, in spite of considerable resistance, the 12/King’s Royal Rifles being on the left in touch with the King’s Liverpool while the 6th Shropshire, L.I. were on their right, and the 6th Oxford and Bucks cleared up numerous pill boxes near to Steenbeek.


The German Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battn. 261 R.I.R. was captured in Langemarck; other prisoners captured during the day numbered about 20 Officers and 400 other ranks; captured trophies included a section of 4.2” Howitzers, one 7.7. M.M. gun and 20 or 30 machine guns; many more machine guns – trench mortars were buried in the debris.  The number of enemy killed and wounded is difficult to estimate, but it was known that two Battalions were almost annihilated in addition to others which suffered heavily.  From captured documents it would appear that during the 16th August the enemy’s forces on the 20th Division Front were greatly disorganised; prisoners were captured from no less than five divisions on the front where normally there would only have been two divisions.  On the night of the 17/18th the 38th Division relieved the 20th Division, and the latter was withdrawn to refit and reorganise.






On the 11th September the 20th Division took over the right Divisional Sector of the XIV Corps front from the 38th Division.  The 51st Division (XVII Corps) was on the right and the Guards Division on the left.  The next task of the 20th Division was to capture EAGLE and KANGAROO and BEAR trenches and included ’T GOED TER VESTEN FARM; the guards Division had for their objective a line between the SCHEIRBOOM – KORTEBEER road and the LANGEMARCK – STADEN railway.  The attack of the 20th Division was carried out by the 60th Brigade on the right and 59th Brigade on the left.  The 61st Brigade was in Divisional reserve on the canal.  Prepatory to the infantry attack the artillery kept up a hurricane bombardment of the enemy’s positions for 24 hours.


It was known that EAGLE trench was strongly held; it was full of concrete machine gun emplacements and dugouts and was well sited for field of fire. Although it had been shelled by heavy calibre guns some days before, many of the dugouts were not injured and it was felt that it would be a tough fight before it could be captured.  Arrangements were made to discharge 300 oil drums from projectors on to the portion of Eagle trench near the cemetery shortly before the assault.  The assaulting waves attacked at 5.40 a.m. on the 20th September.  Reports shewed that the advance had not been everywhere successful; the right of the 59th Brigade and the left of the 60th Brigade had been held up by the enemy in Eagle Trench; the right had been advanced a little, but the enemy in Eagle house and Louis farm were holding them up.  On the left, Bear trench had been reached.  An order was issued to renew the attack at 6.30 p.m.  In the meantime the attackers in front of Eagle trench had to find what little cover they could and were being exposed to heavy fire from hostile artillery the whole day.  The 60th Brigade at 8.0 p.m. gained the trenches round Eagle House and captured about 70 prisoners.  By 9.0 p.m. our whole line had been advanced and a portion of Eagle trench had been captured.  By midnight the 59th Brigade had got their objective with their right flank refused.  Early on the 21st September a contact aeroplane reported Germans holding the northern portion of Eagle trench.  A third attack was ordered to take place at 5.30 a.m. on the 22nd September.  The men all this time had been under heavy artillery and machine gun fire and were unable to move out of the muddy holes in which they were trying to get shelter, but they were as eager as ever to come to close grips with the enemy.

Tanks were to co-operate with this attack, but owing to the terrible state of the roads they were unable to reach this rendezvous, and the attack had to be postponed. During the 22nd the situation remained the same and a fresh attack was ordered for the 23rd.  It was felt that unless we could take Eagle Trench at once, the Germans would bring up fresh troops for counter attack which if successful would necessitate the whole operation being carried out again with great loss of life.

At 7.0 a.m. on the 23rd September the attack was to be tried again and Eagle trench to be assaulted from the west and south; this was to be preceded by a heavy bombardment with Stokes mortars.  At 6.25 a.m. on the 23rd the enemy attacked our Posts near Louis farm and the cemetery; they were driven back by machine gun fire and 23 prisoners captured.  Soon after this our attack began; it was carried out by detachments of the 12 K.R.R. and 10 R Bde.  The Stokes bombardment was most effective and under a rifle grenade barrage our assaulting infantry rushed in from the south.  While the enemy in Eagle trench were fighting the rifle men, the 10th R. Bde. came in from the west and captured the rest of this trench; we captured about 100 prisoners and many machine guns.  Most of the prisoners belonged to picked troops of the 208 Division, who said that they had been ordered to attack that morning, assisted by detachments of the 185 Infantry Regiment; our attack on the 23rd September forestalled it and thanks to this success the German counter attack failed completely.  Both the 185 Infantry Regiment and the Storm troops of the 208 Division had suffered heavily and the 3rd Battalion of the latter was almost wiped out.


The 20th Division was relieved on the 28th September by the 4th Division.


The capture of Eagle Trench was a splendid performance; the men were exposed to heavy firing for the best part of 4 days; the ground was wet and muddy and there was very little cover. In spite of this the 59th Brigade (Hyslop) and 60th Brigade (Butter [Butler]) managed to bring to a successful issue the task which was set them, in the face of determined resistance by picked enemy troops.  The 20th Division received the Congratulations of the Army and Corps Commanders.

Appendix Y to OO 142 30 September 1917.



Reference O.O. 142.


  1. (a). If the 9th K.O.Y.L.I. fail to take the 1st objective, the 15th Durh L.I. will take 1st objective and 10th K.O.Y.L.I. will take 2nd objective.

In this case, one company of 15th Durh L.I. will follow 10th K.O.Y.L.I. and be in support of them.


(b). The 9th K.O.Y.L.I. will assist 15th Durh L.I. and will dig in on objective allotted in Brigade O.O. to two companies of 10th K.O.Y.L.I.


(c). The 1st E. York R. will occupy our old front line with one company.


  1. In the event of 9th K.O.Y.L.I. being unable, owing to enemy action (e.g. severe counter-attacks on 110th Inf. Bde. on 2nd inst., or on 9th K.O.Y.L.I. on 3rd inst.)-

(a). The 10th K.O.Y.L.I. will take 1st objective, and will take over line and be formed up in front by 5 a.m. 4th inst.

(b). The 15th Durh. L.I. and one company 1st E. York. R. will take 2nd objective as arranged.

(c). The 1st E. York. R. will perform role originally allotted to 10th K.O.Y.L.I.

(d). The 9th K.O.Y.L.I. will be Brigade Reserve and occupy position allotted to 1st E. York. R.


  1. In the event of dispositions having to take place as in para 2 – If 10th K.O.Y.L.I. fail to take 1st objective, the 15th Durh L.I. will take it.

The 1st E. York. R. will take 2nd objective supported by one company 15th Durh L.I.

The 10th K.O.Y.L.I. will do task as allotted to 9th K.O.Y.L.I. in para. 1 (b).


O.C. battalions will have plans ready for each eventuality and let their officers know them.