War Diary of AA Laporte Payne 13 Apr 1918
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda
R.P. April 13 1918.
I am fit and well, and going strong. But I have never been so busy in my life. We have moved so often in the last few days, nearly every day, that I hardly know where we are. One day the only food I got was a tin plate of thin stew from the sergeants’ dixie or stock pot. One night I had only an hour’s sleep on the ground with a blanket over me. I lost my kit for a time, but it turned up again. I have told my servant that if he saves my books in another quick move I will forgive him all, and let him off. I still have them all.
It is extraordinary with what a little sleep and food one can get along. Yet I feel quite fit and well as ever. I am sure at home we eat and sleep too much. All the clothes one needs are the ones worn, and for the rest a tooth brush and soap. But I need my library, and I get laughed at about my books.
To add to the discomfort of continual moves the weather has been truly awful, wind, rain and mud which invades everything and reduces everything to the same colour.
Under these conditions you soon find out what men are like. Little things, not perceived under normal conditions, shew what men really are. If a man can do his job quietly, unostentatiously, in these circumstances without obvious fear or losing his temper he has something in him. There are several men like that in the battery, and it is curious how one turns to them to get things done. They may not shine under normal conditions, but here and now they are to be relied on for what the rest are not capable of doing. I wish there were more of such men. They are too few.
A scene here. Imagine a black, windy, wet night, and a thickly muddy road, full of troops and traffic. Each side of the road is a bare waste and wilderness. We were coming away from the gun line, returning with empty ammunition wagons, a bit weary but keenly awake, as it was as well to keep your wits about you when at any moment the Boche might shell the crowded road. On the right of the road a long line of transport vehicles of all kinds grinding their noisy way along the uneven track, and another column on the other side of the road going the other way. At times movement is held up, and men and horses impatiently wait for the tide to flow again. Then a break in the line of wagons, and a platoon of men marching, great big men, moving with a slow dignified swing. The Guards going into action! In the rare gleam of an occasional shielded lamp, or the innumerable flashes of the guns round about their silhouette stood out sharply, and you could see them moving along quietly and calmly in all that noise and confusion. It gave me a thrill to watch as I passed by. I was glad we had the Guards in front of our guns. Just the thought soothed my jangled nerves. Somewhat elated, I thanked God I was an Englishman. No doubt the Boche can give an equally good show of discipline, but there is something in the way an Englishman does these things which is somehow different. There is no bravado or ostentation posturing as a patriot, but rather a quiet dignified matter-of-factness, which is so attractive. At times there is even a hint of boredom or superciliousness, which may or may not cover a quiver of fearfulness. It is something to be proud of that our country is still able to produce such men with such spirit. Then I thought of the numbers of such men who had paid the penalty for being of such a kind, and I wondered whether our country could stand the loss without fearful injury, perhaps irreparable. Still as long as such last we cannot lose. Does it take a war to produce such men, tried in the fire? If so war cannot be such a great evil as some make it out. Most people look at the horrors, the deaths, the wounds, the wreckage, the mud and what not, and declare war to be wholly evil. Yet there are other things worth looking for in this mess.
You at home, please do not worry about this seeming reverse, serious though it is. Our politicians have failed us, others, whom I may not here mention, have failed us; but that is no reason why the average fighting man leavened by great spirits should not win through in the end. They have done it before, and will do so again. As long as any such remain we shall not ultimately fail. In our history it is usually left to the rank and file to put the mess straight. It will be so again. So it is a waste of energy to lose heart. There are some good men left out here, and there is no need, when things look a bit black, to worry and be downhearted. There is far more defeatism at home than out here.
I met Frank Okell yesterday. He is quite near here. I am so sorry to hear that Trevor has been wounded again.
April 13 1918.
Field post cards are horrid things, but they will have told you that I am well and that we are going strong.
I have never have had such a rush. One whole day I only got one “meal”, and that was a tin dish of thin stew from the sergeants’ stock pot. It was weak and nasty. One night I slept on the ground under a horse rug with the horses. This will serve to explain the omission to write letters. To add to my petty annoyances my kit managed to get lost. But it is extraordinary how little one really wants beyond the clothes one is actually wearing, and how little sleep and food is really necessary to keep one going, and yet be fit and well. Usually, I think we eat too much.
The weather is very trying. Rain and mud has reduced everything to the same wetness and colour.
But the great thing is that the Boche has made no more progress on this particular front, and most here seem cheery and confident.
I met Frank Okell here today. I hope to see some more of him. Life is a sequence of crowded moments.