War Diary of AA Laporte Payne Jan 1918

 

 

EXTRACTED FROM.

 

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

Correspondence

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January 2 1918

B.E.F. Italy

 

I have just received an enormous and beautifully packed box of delicious eatables. The contents enabled us suitably to celebrate the New Year.  They also helped us to escape an embarrassing difficulty in providing for an unexpected guest, who arrived twenty-four hours before he was invited to dinner, due to his mistake, and when our larder was sadly diminished.  The timely arrival of the parcel turned the horrible possibility of a dismal failure to provide suitable hospitality into a great success of triumphant courses of tinned chicken and fruits.  The relief to the Mess President and Secretary enabled them to enjoy a very merry evening.  The excellent cake and cigarettes were also a god-send.

 

It is very cold here now, and many are sick. And the Colonel is not in a good temper.  He has some one worrying him.

 

There is more news about us in the papers now. It amuses me the way our authorities pretend the Boche does not know all about us.

 

Our battery organised an officers’ jumping competition the other day open to all comers. It was won by one of our battery’s subalterns on a mare that won at Aldershot, and an Infantry Captain on his own hunter was second.  My bay mare knocked her knee against the top bar of one of the jumps and now has a fat leg.

 

Some one said “If this is war, to hell with peace”. But I, being an Asquithian, replied “Wait and see.”  The relief from Flanders inclines some of us to be unduly optimistic.  I do not know which is worse to be drowned in mud or to be frozen to an icicle.  Fighting is common to both places but here, at present, in a modified degree.

 

R.P. January 6 1918.

 

We are at present living in the midst of snow, and it is mighty cold. I had no idea the plains of Italy could be so cold, even in the north.

 

The Commander-in-Chief was to have inspected us yesterday, but as it snowed so hard he did not turn up. But the whole wretched battery turned out with the rest of the Brigade.  The men and horses looked well, and it was a great pity he did not turn up.

 

I have lost two good horses this week owing to kicks, one with a broken leg and another with a fractured jaw. It is most unfortunate.

 

Leave from Italy has started, but at the rate it is going I may get my turn on the list within – don’t get excited – the next seven years!

 

I am glad to say that the Colonel has at last got a well earned and much too long delayed honour, a D.S.O. But unfortunately for him he is never very popular with the staff.

 

January 9 1918

Italian Expeditionary Force.

 

I have just been inoculated with a full dose of anti-typhoid, and ordered to bed in two hours time.

 

At the moment it is snowing hard, and this has ruined an inspection, which was to have taken place by General Plumer, who did not turn up. The battery looked better than I have ever seen it, so you can imagine how hard the limber gunners and drivers had worked.  Even the Battery staff, often called the “Comics”, the signallers, director-men, range-takers, and such like turned up quite presentable.

 

The other day two of our subalterns, one we call Harry Tate and the other his “Idiot Boy”, were asked to dine with the R.A.M.C. Officers of the Italian Hospital here.  They had quite a good dinner!!  The day before one of our horses got its leg broken by a kick and had to be shot.  I immediately received a request from the village butcher, who wanted to buy the carcase.  I let him have it, and immediately the village shops were full of meat.  He must have made a good profit.  It appears that the Italian mess cook bought some of the delicacy, and our two officers had the unexpected pleasure of dining off one of their own battery wheelers!  They said it was quite good.  Thank goodness I did not go; but probably I have often eaten horse or mule unbeknownst in Italian restaurants.  What a tragic end for a war horse, truly an economic one.  He more than did his bit, he furnished one.

 

I may be able to get Italian leave soon. I much want to go to Rome and Naples.  English leave has been opened; but at the rate it is going my turn will come in seven year’s time.

 

There is a good article in this month’s “Blackwood” called “The Brain of the Guns.” I do not know who “Anthony Price” is.

 

R.P. January 15 1918.

 

The “Times” is most welcome. Though they arrive in lumps they are none the less interesting to read for that.

 

The snow has turned to rain today, but it will freeze again tonight, so the roads will be slippery tomorrow.

 

Thank you for the book on Pompeii.  I have already read about 200 pages.  The Colonel has obtained special leave to England.  Unfortunately I cannot get leave to England, but I hope to be going to Naples and Rome with two others on the 19th or 20th of this month.

 

We have been out all day in the rain, and have done very little good, so we have returned a little weary and ill tempered.

 

January 15 1918

 

We have come to the end of a perfect day. It has turned to a very cold rain now after heavy snow, and we have been out in it all day and have done no good.  We are weary wet and not in the best of tempers.

 

The Colonel has gone away on special leave to England.  Unfortunately I cannot get that, not being a colonel; but I hope to be going to Naples and Rome on the 19th or 20th. for a few days.  Three of us are going together.  I am trying to find time to read up something, and at present am wading through a tome on Pompeii, sent to me by my Father.

 

It is about time I had a few days off, I am getting a bit stale and off colour.

 

We have had great difficulty in keeping the horses on their feet in this weather. After today’s rain I suppose it will freeze again tonight and the roads will be horribly slippery tomorrow.

 

January 22 1918

 

The parcel of cigarettes, China tea, and cake arrived.  The tea was much too good to be duly appreciated except by superior souls of whom our mess contains too few, so I invited Capt. Bell and Amour to tea to partake, and they together with the Doctor and myself thoroughly enjoyed a flavour rare on active service.

 

Our leave has been stopped for a few days, but we hope to go in three days. At the present moment we are on the trek again but it will not be for long.

 

The weather had changed and the frost and snow have gone. Today it was quite like spring, and instead of ice we have mud again.

 

Captain Bell is the man in “B” Battery, who is keen on history. He is extraordinarily ugly, very thin, and irresponsible – But most amusing and a delightful fellow.  He wears an eyeglass on occasion, and does his hair in the Magdalen style.  The other day I happened to be in a large town near here with Gilbey, O.C., B.A.C., and met him.  Upon my enquiries as to what interesting places he had seen, he replied that he had just visited an enormous church, the largest he had ever seen, that it was full of the most beautiful statues of Madonnas, but that he had not the slightest idea where it was.  From this information I gathered that, escaping from military restraint, he had lunched well but not wisely.

 

What do you think of Haig’s despatch? He appears to be annoyed with the Army Council and the French for altering his plans, and with the weather for hindering what he did attempt.  The Boche has had all the luck this year. Russia has gone out for good; much good may it bring her!  We may be able to do something this year, if only we can get the men.  I am glad to see that Geddes has at last quite definitely put the alternative to the country: either the shirkers must be compelled, or else the fathers of families and leave stopped for us.

 

There is an officer here who irritates me intensely. He is a mannerless north-country liberal non-conformist of hypocritical habits, who worships his tin god, Lloyd George.  He harangues us about “Democracy”, whatever that may mean.  I asked him one night what he meant by the word, and to define it in an intelligible manner.  He was annoyed.  Why do such people get annoyed when asked such a question?  I suggested that democracy meant running a battery by a commander appointed by a committee of drivers, (you should know what the mentality of the average driver is!) when no doubt he would be appointed, and a vote would be carried for no early morning stables and five bob an hour.  Oh! he was angry.  He is not liked by the men, and is very sore that he was not made a captain.  He now sulks.  The loss of his captaincy occurred in this way.  I was appointed, and have been major for the last three months until the unexpected return of the original Major, Meuse, a few days ago, when I returned to the rank of captain and he to that of subaltern.  He rebelled for a long time, and refused to take his “pips” down.  This will explain what will appear in the Gazette shortly, my appointment as Battery Commander; but it will be followed later by a notice terminating it.

 

January 22 1918

 

The weather has completely changed, and instead of frost and snow it was quite like spring today.

 

We are on the move again.

 

Haig seems to be a bit rattled. From his despatch he seems to be very angry with the Army Council and the French for altering his plans, and certainly the weather was a bit trying.

 

For the past four months I have been a Battery Commander and acting major, but the original B.C. has unexpectedly returned from England a few days ago.  Fearing that I should probably lose the battery I had not told you of my promotion.  This will explain to you what you will see in the Gazette in a few days, but this will be followed by a cancellation.  “C’est la guerre!

 

R.P. Post Cards.

January 30, 1918. Naples.  We have done Pompeii and Vesuvius.

 

February 2, 1918. Rome.  Today we visited the Coliseum and other places in the vicinity.

 

Post Cards.

Jan 30 1918.

Naples

The weather is glorious. We have had a day in Naples, one in Pompeii, and one on Vesuvius.                                                                                                       (CP)

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