War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda
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.
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.