War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda
From Isola della Scala.
ASIGLIANO 2nd December, 1917.
COLEREDO 3rd do
PONTI DI BARBARANO 4th December, 1917
- MARIA near CAMISANO 5th December 1917. (Visited Vicenza, 6th Dec.)
- Giorgio in Bosco.
- ANNA MOROSINA. 7th December, 1917.
(XI Corps at Camposampiero 8th December)
R.P. December 2, 1917.
The best thing for me to do is to write you a letter and carry it about with me until I get a chance of posting it.
We are without any mail from England. I shall be glad to get news of you all.
This is very different to France. It is an extraordinary country with a population poor and dull living in large farmhouses like enormous barns. As the rooms have no fire places and the weather in bitterly cold it is not very pleasing. However we are moving about a lot, and seeing the country, which is most interesting.
But we do not appreciate our privileges. Here we are caravanning over this land than which there is no better way of getting to know a country, with two horses for each officer, and wagons for our kit. No tourist has such a chance and such facilities except at a great expense. We are doing it at the Government’s cost.
I have just visited a delightful medieval fortified town quite out of the way of the usual run of tourists. It possesses an old castle sympathetically restored and furnished.
Captain Bell of B Battery is also interested in medieval history so we are having a jolly time together.
Tonight we are billeted in a large cold house, and we have just had dinner. It consisted of soup, and two large guinea fowl, which we purchased for the price of two shillings each. Or to be more exact four lire a piece. This with potatoes, cabbage, stewed apples, sardines on toast and cheese.
I am still in command of the Battery and am likely to be as there is no sign of the Major returning. I have had the Battery now since July with a short interval.
The horses have improved on the march, and are looking very well. It freezes every night. I did not know it could be so cold in Italy.
The Italians keep their houses much cleaner than the Belgians. I hope to visit Rome and Naples later on, but before then I must swat up some history books. Will you send me the book on Pompeii which is some where about.
December 2, 1917.
No mail has arrived here for us yet, so we are without any news. I have not seen an English paper since we left France, and the only information we glean is laboriously from Italian newspapers. It will be a great day when the mail arrives.
This is my first visit to Italy. It is an extraordinary country, quite unlike France. the people strike me as poor, dull and rather frightened. Houses are large but clean. As they do not possess fireplaces in most of the rooms we find it very chilly, and not very comfortable. Interiors are barren, and what pictures they have are distinctly bad, except in a few cases in the chief churches, where they are all of a religious character. The countryside is still medieval, with sudden and unexpected appearances of modern inventions and improvements. Such as electric lighting in the most unlikely villages.
We are having a great opportunity of seeing the countryside, as we have been on the trek for sometime. Here we are touring Italy like a great caravan than which there is no better way of seeing the country, and all at the government’s expense. No tourist has such facilities except at great cost and trouble. I have just visited a delightful medieval fortified town, quite out of the way of the usual route of tourists. It possessed an old castle which has been sympathetically restored, and is full of all the old furniture and decorations.
Captain Bell of “B” Battery is like me interested in medieval history, and we are having a jolly time together.
Tonight we are billeted in a large cold house. We have just had dinner, our first meal here. We had two large guinea fowl, which we purchased for the large price of two shillings each, or to be more exact eight lire the two.
Unfortunately the men have not yet got accustomed to the wine of the country, “vino rossa”.
Will you send me out Sabatini’s “Cesare Borgia”.
R.P. December 9, 1917.
Still no mail, so I cannot answer your letters, which I know are somewhere on the way here.
It is extraordinarily cold here, frost most of the day, and every night. We are still moving. There is some sickness among the officers and men, but nothing much or serious. It is due chiefly I think to the change in weather and living. I am keeping very fit.
The Major is still away so I have the battery in charge. Everything goes well, the horses have never looked batter, and the men seem to be contented.
We are at present in a country village not too far away from a large town which we can on occasion visit to buy goods and spend a few moments. But the prices are going up against us now.
The houses we inhabit are rather cold and draughty at present, but no doubt they will be very pleasant in the summer. However we are seeing quite a good slice of this country at the Government’s expense, and at present are not in the line, so we must not grumble.
December the ninth 1917.
Still we have received no mail. I have never felt so cut off before. I know some letters are on the way, for they have been seen, but they get hung in a most extraordinary way. I shall be glad when proper postal arrangements are made. It is miserable having no news of home.
I am well; but several of the officers and men are ill owing no doubt to the extreme cold, unaccustomed way of living and strange food and wine.
We are still on the move, and have seen a good deal of the country. It is a strenuous time for the men and horses. The horses are fine. The further they have to go the better they look. Since we left France I have only lost two. All the other batteries have lost at least a dozen or more, and they have mange, which we have escaped so far. I tell others it is owing to good management but really it is due to good luck.
I am enjoying myself very much. My only regret is that I have not more time to get away and visit interesting places, which we are near, and to do some reading about them and the history of Italy.
We have been buying some excellent turkeys and ducks, but the prices are already going up rapidly. The inhabitants soon find that mess secretaries and the troops will pay almost anything for food.
It has been severely cold, frost day and night.
I have paid the men in lire this afternoon. I hope they won’t spend it all in vino, and cause trouble.
December 11, 1917.
R.P. December 15, 1917.
The mail has arrived at last, bringing about forty letters for me and many parcels. It was good to hear news of you all.
It is intensely cold here. I have purchased a large goat’s skin fur coat, grey in colour with the fur outside. The horses do not like it at all. They think I am a bear from the hills. But it is very warm. We get a good deal of sunshine, and it generally thaws in the middle of the day.
We are some way north of Verona, and still on the move. It has been a most interesting trek. But I shall be glad to settle down now. I hope we get a decent billet with a mess and a fire place in it.
Tomorrow we move again. We shall start early. All the horses are fit with the exception of one that got some glass in its foot. I shall have to leave it behind with a driver to look after it until it is well enough to travel.
Orders have just come in (midnight). We move late, about 11 a.m. That will give us time to pack at leisure.
December 15, 1917.
Hurrah. The mail has at last arrived, and I have received between thirty five and forty letters, and some parcels. I have not counted them all properly yet. They were all most welcome, letters, chocolate, fruit and magazines.
I have not known whether to read letters just as they came to hand, or sort them in order of date. I began the first way, and then, finding it so difficult to grasp some references, turned to the other and slower way.
We left Belgium on the 18th of Nov (Sunday), just a month ago. We pulled out of action that night. I left England on Nov 14th.
We move again tomorrow. I have never had such a trek. Letters have taken twenty-six days to reach us.
We have already partaken of spaghetti, macaroni, polenta, vegetable soup, and powdered cheese; for wine vino rossa, vino nero, chianti, which is very good, and a filthy liqueur well named grappa.
I have a wonderful fur coat made of goat skins, hair outside and grey in colour. I look like a teddy bear, and the horses do not like me at all. But I shall need it in the snows. Oh! and Oh!
The arrival of the mail bags was a great event. There were more than forty.
We are in a small mess. We crowd in there because it is warmer. There are five subalterns and a doctor in it at present, and they are all jumping about, which is rather distracting for one who wants to write. The Doctor has quarrelled with the Colonel and has asked if he can live with us. He paid us that compliment, but I don’t know how the Colonel will take it. he is such a strange man, and so easily takes offence.
We are still on the move but we must stop soon as we cannot get much further. The mountains look very fine from below. I hope my view will not be any closer. It looks very cold up there.
The horses are fit with plenty of work and plenty of oats.
R.P. December 18, 1917.
We have ceased our wanderings for the time being, and are fairly comfortably billeted in a village of no great size (Tezze). Instead for moving the battery about the Colonel and the Battery Commanders including myself are engaged in reconnaissance for battery positions and generally scouring the countryside some distance from the billets. It has taken us up into the mountains. It is rather trying at times as we have to go on our flat feet up bridle paths, and when we ride the roads are rather slippery. However it has been good exercise and I am very fit.
For the men’s Christmas dinner we have purchased seven small pigs all alive. For the Officers’ mess turkeys. There are eight officers in the mess now, so we are quite a large party.
The cold frosty weather has turned to a cold rain, which is very unpleasant.
December 18, 1917.
We have come to a halt for a bit, and I am spending my time riding all over the country with the Colonel and other Battery Commanders on reconnaissance. It is sometimes tiring when we have to get up at 6 a.m. to get to the rendez-vous and only get back at 7 p.m. after riding thirty or forty miles on horseback and walking for as much as seven hours on our flat feet. This morning being fine I went without an overcoat for the first time, and a cold rain began before we started home for our lines miles away (at Tezze).
There are eight officers in our mess now, too many. At present we need a good billet, for we are living in the Kitchen of a rather poor class of house in a village. It was all we could find when we arrived owing to the large number of troops who were here before us.
R.P. CHRISTMAS DAY, DECEMBER 25th 1917.
Our Christmas day under the conditions of war time and absence from home, could not have been better. I have done no work except to attend stables. At midday I visited the men’s billets to see that the dinner of five pigs and Christmas puddings was as it should be, and the sergeants’ mess to drink their healths.
At our mess we had suckling pig and plum pudding for lunch, and soup, fish, turkey, plum pudding, savoury, fruit for dinner. To make the day complete we had a good mail from England. The letters, parcels and the “Times” were all most welcome. The eight in our mess had a jolly time.
Our reconnaissance is over, and I am now engaged in drawing maps and plans.
The other day we had a strenuous time. I was ordered to take the officers and N.C.Os of the battery, four of the former and six of the latter, with one or two others to view the positions we had already reconnoitered. We rode about thirty miles on our horses, climbed on our feet and sometimes hands as well, one hill of over 1000 feet, and another of 4000 feet, to where the snow lay thick and hard. It was frightfully cold. Only four of us got to the top of the second hill. As it was then very late and getting dark we came down in an empty Italian lorry by one of those great military roads recently constructed. Straight up the mountainside it is only about two miles. coming down by the winding military road it was twenty-two miles, and took one hour and ten minutes to do. The road was very narrow, had many hair-pin bends, and was devoid of wall or parapet on the edge below which was sheer drop in to ravines. It was quite exciting, as at times we dropped down the slope so fast. We were like tennis balls in a tub, flung about from side to side. However we escaped with our lives.
I really do not know how the Italian soldiery stand the intense cold in the mountains. I spoke to some of them so far as I could. I also managed to get a piece of edelweiss.
Now we are training hard, and we need it badly. I like the life as a change, but hope to get some war soon. The Colonel has been pleasant, and leaves me alone to run the battery as I think fit without interfering. The horses are looking well in spite of the snow and cold.
With ten other ranks I represented the Brigade at a show the other day. It was for the benefit of the Italians, a sort of “see here we are” sort of thing. It was bitterly cold on parade after a long drive in lorries, and we had no lunch. We stood to attention on the square while all the national anthems of the allies were played. Several men fainted. I should we could have flattered our gallant Italian allies with less discomfort to the troops.
I have an excellent billet with a bedroom to myself. There is a good deal of sickness about, but I am keeping very fit. I hear that some of our mail was involved in the railway smash in France the other day. Our mails at the best of times are very uncertain. We are a long way from our base, and transport is by road.
It does not look as if we shall get much time for wandering about Italy now, but I hope to get to Rome and Naples later.
December 25, 1917.
We are having as good a Christmas as is possible away from England. It is cold but bearable. Two days holiday has been proclaimed, except for the necessary work in connection with the horses.
Today I rose moderately late, and went to stables. At midday I visited billets, and saw dinner served out to the men. It consisted of seven little pigs, two vegetables, plum puddings, oranges, apples and nuts. The suckling pigs, provided by the officers, had been purchased sometime previously, well fattened up, and slaughtered by the battery cook. Roasting took place on the premises of the village baker.
The officers also duly celebrated by feasting. Breakfast: porridge, bacon and eggs, toast and marmalade; lunch: soup, roast pork, three vegetables, plum pudding, fruit with quite good white wine which I discovered, and liqueurs; then dinner: soup, fish cakes, two large turkeys with sausages and chestnuts, three vegetables, plum pudding, very excellent, pate de foie gras, fruit, and for drink: Italian champagne, liqueurs, coffee and whisky. The cook excelled himself.
To crown the celebration a large Christmas mail arrived. With many welcome letters from home I also received others. They were from anxious or angry mothers, wives, sisters and other relatives of the men, asking what had become of their sons, husbands, brothers, boys and what not, Tom, Dick, Bert, as they had not heard from them for a month or more. On such lamentable occasions they would all write to the wretched battery commander. One woman was quite cross with me, and demanded why I had not replied to her earlier letter.
I hope you are getting some of my letters now. I believe a train smash in France destroyed some of our mail.
We have bought two live pigs which we are feeding on the men’s leavings.
Jock Amour expresses himself as “fed up”, in spite of the fare. The Doctor is at present as there is a lot of sickness in the Brigade. After this festival he is likely to be still busier.
Snow has arrived. It is not pleasant for the horses. Neither do we want it.
So you have been helping at the Food Control Office. How on earth do you control food? I know nothing about these new institutions. I have only seen about three English papers in two months.
One of our batteries is in a sad way. It needs pulling together. It is commanded by an elderly ranker major. The horses have mange, and the men are dirty and slovenly. Perhaps the latter is the cause of the former. At present our battery has escaped mange.
Most of my nights lately have been spent drawing maps and making and considering plans and schemes, for all eventualities, after the day’s reconnaissance. It has been hard work but interesting.
One day lately we had a strenuous time. I took the Battery staff, four officers, six sergeants and others to see some possible battery positions, ways of approach, and the characteristics of the country up in the mountains. We started at 7 a.m. on a cold and frosty morning. We arrived back at about 8 p.m. very tired and stiff. Altogether we rode 25 miles on horseback, walked 6 miles, climbed one hillock of 1000 feet, and a hill of 4000 feet into real hard and deep snow. The climb up on the latter took two hours, straight up the side by a mule track. From the top we had a wonderful view of the mountains and of the Austrian lines.
We considered it too tiring and perhaps rather risky to return the way we had come, so we went back in an empty Italian service lorry by one of the fine new military roads, which winds with many spirals and hair-pin turns down to the valley below. It was by this way twenty-two miles down, and took one hour and ten minutes including waits at places for vehicles to pass.
On top the cold was intense. The Italian soldiery up there have a very miserable time, and suffer much from frost bite. I send you some edelweiss from there.
The poorer inhabitants are extraordinarily kind to the troops, the women especially so, in allowing them to use the fire in their only living room and in lending them utensils.
Cannot you come out here with Lady Plumer? Ask her if she would bring you.