War Diary of AA Laporte Payne April 1916.
SATURDAY APRIL THE FIRST.
April fools’ day! What can be done about it? It is a beautifully fine day, and in consequence it was a noisy day. The Boche were active very early. Several hostile aeroplanes are up.
The Boche nearly scored first. They dropped two bombs near the battery position. Then a large number of 4.2, in., and 77, mm. shells began to drop all around, all around.
Captain Langhorne went to Headquarters, and Colonel Stevenson visited us at the battery.
In the afternoon it was fairly quiet. A Boche aeroplane dropped a flare just over No. 1 gun, and we confidently expected the enemy to open up on us; but nothing happened.
Captains Langhorne and Bennett went to the Wagon Line.
We fired two rounds on a party (working party) in Trench 18.
The evening was fine and quiet. Nothing doing.
April 1, 1916
It is a beautiful day to day. The weather is now just right. I am not observing now but am at the battery. We had a good shoot yesterday, I hope did some damage.
My poor old mare has been killed. She died of wounds. The Boche saw a working party near the stables and put a few shells over. Two went through the roof, and my mare was the one to get hit unfortunately.
The Boche has just dropped two bombs from an aeroplane close to the battery. They did no damage. The men were soon looking for bits.
Yesterday I picked two primroses in the trenches. They are the first flowers I have seen down there. And yesterday we had rhubarb for lunch. It was purloined from a deserted garden.
One sniper shot five hares with a service rifle the day before yesterday. I saw them hanging up in a dug-out. He must have been a pretty good shot.
APRIL 1st 1916
It is a glorious day to day, fine aeroplane and shooting weather. We have just had two bombs dropped outside; but no damage was done. The Boche plane is trying hard to find us. We must have done some damage yesterday.
My poor old chestnut mare is dead. It was the best horse in the Brigade, and she would be the only one to be killed. The beastly Hun put two shells through the roof of the stables, and my mare was the only one to get hit.
What a lucky chap Arthur Sayer is, a D.S.O. and a cushy wound takes him home to Blighty.
The Boche gunners are making themselves very objectionable this morning.
We have officers out here on a fortnight’s course from England. We call them Cook’s tourists. It is great fun taking them about and saying “Now we are going to a most dangerous place, so you must keep your heads down.” They crawl round corners as safe as Hyde Park Corner; but I wish I was in their shoes, and going back in a few days’ time.
We actually had rhubarb for lunch yesterday. We found some growing in a deserted garden, amongst the weeds.
Yesterday I went to the town and had my hair cut in a respectable establishment, and also tea at the café. I felt quite civilised again for a short time. I had seriously begun to think of buying Hinde’s curlers. I walked back across the fields as there was nothing doing. It was a beautifully peaceful evening, and not at all like what one would expect in the firing line. Spring has made us think more of getting a move on.
The curse of this place is the telephone. Telephones everywhere, and wires round your feet, and in your eyes. Calls coming from all directions simultaneously. Wires getting cut, at inconvenient moments. But we have an excellent linesman, the sort of fellow to get a D.C.M. or a wooden cross.
I think I must send for flannels and racquets and play tennis over our screens, which are meant to hide our flashes from the Boche.
SUNDAY APRIL 2, 1916.
The day was beautifully fine and hot. Strangely enough there was little doing at first.
I was ordered to go to the front line and cut the Boche wire. I fired 33 rounds. The guns shot well. I think some damage was done, for I saw some knife-rests and wire going up; but the wire just there was not very strong. The first shot hit the enemy parapet. The fuzes were a bit erratic, for I started at Corrector 146, and finished at Corrector 156.
Afterwards I went to Trench I.16.1., and had lunch with the local company commander and his subalterns. Then I walked back to the battery.
The A.N.Z.A.C.S. arrived this day. One Australian Officer and 15 other ranks joined us. They are to relieve us. I had tea with the officer, Captain Sinclair.
As I was Liaison Officer with the infantry, I left the battery at dusk for the front line, and duly arrived at the Battalion Headquarters of the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish. Colonel Sillery and Major Henneker, whom I knew well, welcomed me.
There was a certain amount of rifle fire, but otherwise there was nothing much doing. I nearly got hit by a bullet, perhaps a blighty one; but who knows?
I dined in the mess dug-out. At midnight Colonel Sillery called me up, and I had a long talk with him. He is a decent old chap. I like Henneker very much.
As Freeman-Cowan has gone to the Brigade Headquarters as Orderly Officer, Jack, from the Ammunition Column, has arrived at the battery in his place.
Relief began by the 4th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division.
MONDAY APRIL, 3, 1916.
Another beautiful fine day, but misty. I was up early after a quiet night, and walked back to the battery. There I found Captain Langhorne, Captain Bennett, and an officer of the 40th, Siege Battery R.G.A. The latter had called to make arrangements about a strafe. The 8 inch Howitzers are to fire 30 rounds.
On my arrival I found several letters awaiting me, and a parcel containing a Thermos flask.
Later I observed the fire of the 8 in. Howitzer on Wez Macquart. They fire their 30 rounds, but the ammunition was very bad. However some damage was done. Our battery fired shrapnel as arranged in conjunction.
In the evening we had a tea party: Captains Langhorne, Bennett, Sinclair, Kennard, an A.C.S. subaltern and myself.
At dusk I went to the front line, dined with Colonel Sillery, and slept at Battalion Headquarters.
TUESDAY APRIL, 4, 1916.
The morning was dull and colder.
One of the infantry corporals crawled out of a listening post into No-man’s-Land at night. He got killed and lay out there all day. Although it was quite obvious that he was dead the Boche kept on firing at his body, and riddled it with bullets. Two foolhardy officers, against the Colonel’s orders, tried to get over to him in daylight. They got him in at night, but had great difficulty in getting the body through the wire.
Otherwise the Boche were very quiet. I was in charge of the gun-line all day. Captains Langhorne and Sinclair went round the trenches.
The Boche put some shrapnel over Wine Avenue as I was returning to the Battalion Headquarters.
I dined with the infantry as usual, and slept in the Liaison Officer’s dug-out. Our infantry are to raid the German line tomorrow night.
April 4, 1916.
We have had delightful weather lately, very warm and fine. Today it is a bit colder and dull. It is getting much drier. We have two subalterns away now, one at the Base on a Gunnery Course, and the other at Headquarters. So I am alone. The Captain is away for the day, so I am in charge.
The Boche have been curiously quiet the last few days.
Yesterday we had a large tea party. It consisted of Captain Langhorne, Captain St. Clair, an Australian, Captain Bennett, a Territorial Adjutant on a Cook’s tour, Captain Kennard, A.S.C., Laws, R.G.A. Subaltern, an R.E. subaltern, an A.S.C subaltern and myself.
We have just received this over the telephone:
“Colonel — and Officers of Headquarters — Brigade R.G.A. request the pleasure of your company at dinner tonight at 7.30, p.m. AAA, R.S.V.P.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 5, 1916.
I returned from the trenches early, and took charge at the battery. Jack was at the O.P. Lille Post. Cheadle is away on a gunnery course. Captain St. Clair is at the gun-line with me. I find that St. Clair is the correct way to spell his name.
Captain went to the trenches to cut Boche wire. He was not very successful. In my opinion you cannot cut German wire properly at all.
We retaliated for Boche firing during the day.
At night I went to the trenches as usual. Our infantry were to have gone over to the Boche trenches; but they did not do so. The Batteries stood to from 1, a.m., to 3, a.m. I was at Battalion Headquarters in Wine Avenue. I do not know why the raid was cancelled, but cancelled it was. I suspect that they found that the wire was not properly cut. How should it be? The staff who order field guns to cut wire do not find out for them selves whether it is done or can be done. It is not the slightest good sending over an infantry subaltern in the dark to find out whether it is cut sufficiently for penetration.
A few shrapnel shells make very little difference to the German wire, and it can be soon repaired.
THURSDAY APRIL 6, 1916.
It was a dull and misty morning. I walked back from the trenches down Wine Avenue. On arrival at the Battery I found them all in bed.
I saw the flashes of a German battery firing from near Capinghem. After informing the Heavies, their observer and I did “cross observing”. We both gave O.K. in three rounds which was pretty good work. After we had carefully registered the hostile battery, it shut up. This battery had fired on Lille Post.
In the afternoon we spotted the flashes of the German “close-up” gun firing. We immediately pounced on it, and fired several rounds. Then Captain Fergusson with his Howitzers got on to them, and fired 12, 4.5, in shells. That gun also ceased firing. Whether we stopped them, or they merely got tired, I do not know; but we are pleased to think it is our good work.
Cheadle has, most unfortunately, been posted to the Brigade Ammunition Column. Why, I do not know. He is an excellent fellow. I am very sorry he has gone. Why can’t they leave us alone. The new officer, posted in his place, is one, Holt. He comes from the H.A.C. I do not like him.
I went down to the trenches at night rather late. I found the Battalion Headquarters full of A.N.Z.A.C.s. They were the Colonel and Company Commanders of an Australian battalion.
At dinner Colonel Sillery amused us considerably by reading out to the rest of us Major Twiss’ “Comic Cuts” on “Germany’s method of increasing the population.”
Major Henneker is a brother of General Henneker, who was in the 18th Division.
Translation of a German document, alleged to have been found on a German prisoner, and issued for information in the “First Army Intelligence Summary” over the signature of Major W. L. O. Twiss, General Staff, First Army.
—– . —–.—— . ——. ——–. ——–. ———-. ——–. ———-. ——–
Committee for the Increase of the Population.
Notice No. 13,875.
On account of all the able-bodied men having been called to the colours, it remains the duty of all those left behind, for the sake of the Fatherland, to interest themselves in the happiness of the married women and maidens by doubling or even trebling the number of births. Your name has been given to us, and you are herewith requested to take on this office of honour, and do your duty in right German style. It must be pointed out that your wife or fiancée will not be able to claim a divorce; it is, in fact, to be hoped that the women will bear their discomfort heroically for the sake of the War. You will be given the district of ——.
Should you not feel capable of coping with the situation, you will be given three days in which to name someone in your place. On the other hand, if you are prepared to take on a second district as well, you will become a “Deckoffizier”, and receive a pension.
An exhibition of women and maidens as well as a collection of photographs is to be found at our office. You are requested to bring this letter with you.
Your good work should commence immediately, and it is in your interests to submit to us a full report of results after nine months.”
FRIDAY APRIL 7, 1916.
The morning was dull, wet, cold, and misty, and as a result there was nothing doing.
Captains Langhorne and St. Clair went down to inspect the Wagon Line, and returned late. I was in charge of the gun-line. Our battery started to pack up in anticipation of our move.
The Australian infantry went into the trenches this evening. I had to go down again to do Liaison Officer. When I arrived I found that there was no dinner at all. These gentry seem to have their dinner at midday.
After I had shewn the Australian Liaison Officer round I understood my job had ended, and I returned to my battery. On arrival there, I was sent back again, and was given to understand that we could not leave the novices without supervision. So back I had to go without any dinner. There was nothing doing during the night. It was different to our reception in the line.
SATURDAY APRIL 8, 1916.
From the trenches I returned to the battery. After breakfast I took an Australian Officer to Lille Post for instruction in O.P. duties. We returned for lunch at the Gun-line.
In the afternoon I observed from the chimney. There was nothing doing. There was no firing and it was quite fine. I wonder if the Boche know that there is a relief going on or whether they are cautious because the new troops are Australians.
The evening was fine but cold. At dusk I again had to go to the trenches as Liaison Officer, and slept there. During the night the Boche fired on our trenches with 4.2, in, but they did very little damage. Again I had no dinner as the Australians hold fast to their objectionable custom. A man should dine when the day’s work is over.
SUNDAY APRIL 9, 1916.
I returned early from the trenches, and assisted in clearing up our old home, which really has sheltered us fairly well. The Boche never really got on to us, which is surprising as the position is quite an obvious one and easy to range on as it is just where the railway and the Lille Road cross.
There was little hostile fire. We fired on the Transport Road and the Red-tiled Cottage with H.E., and apparently good effect.
Captain Langhorne went down to Armentieres. One of our sections is already out. It left last night.
Today the Australians officially take over. The Battery Commander is Captain W.H. Saint Clair, and the Battery is the 19th Battery, 4th Brigade Australian Field Artillery.
We sent all our belongings down to the Wagon Line in safety. Then the Captain left, and all the Australian personnel turned up and took over.
We heard that Colonel Logan of the Heavies had written to say how well our batteries had carried out their counter-battery work. This letter was sent to the Brigade. It should have been read out to the men. They get precious little to buck them up. But that is usually the way in the army. The thanks are conveyed, if ever, to the Commanding Officer, who had nothing whatever to do with the work. It will be his good mark, not ours.
Sunday April 9th 1916.
We have been packing up today. The battery goes out tonight. I am staying behind for a few days to hand over to the new arrivals. We go out for Divisional training, to which I do not look forward at all. It is not to be compared to the interest and excitement of being in action.
I have not had my clothes off for a week as I have been on night duty in the trenches for that time.
Monday. The new battery is now in, and the whole of ours is now away. I see that A.B. Hatt and Jack Whitfield have both been wounded, also Allan Pullinger.
I spent this morning taking new officers round to the O.P. and trenches.
At the moment I am sitting in the sun near our battery position with the new captain. He comes from South Australia. We are watching the Boche drop 4.2” shells about 500 yards away, searching for one of our batteries in a wood but they have not found it yet. There is an enemy balloon up.
The trenches are drying up well, and it is almost possible now to get round without becoming covered with mud. But the heat makes them smelly.
The Colonel of the Heavy Brigade, to which we are attached, has written a letter thanking our Colonel for the retaliation work we have done.
MONDAY APRIL 10, 1916.
It was a fine misty morning. All my battery have gone, and I am left behind to hold the incoming battery’s commander’s hand, and generally to shew them the work.
There was nothing much doing, and I took the opportunity of conducting an Australian officer on a tour. We went by Chapelle d’Armentieres via Leith Walk to Lille Post, then by the communication trench to the Ferme du Biez, up Cowgate Avenue to the Front Line trenches, I.15.2., and I.16.1. There we visited the company commanders. We continued thence to Wine Street, and the Battalion Headquarters, and so back to the battery.
In the afternoon I went up the chimney. There was little doing. A hostile balloon was up.
At night I dined at the Hotel “Au Boef” with Lowden, retuning to the battery about 10, p.m.
The 175th Brigade marched to billets at Wittes.
TUESDAY APRIL 11, 1916.
The morning was wet and there was a cold wind. I got up late, read the papers and wrote letters.
In the afternoon I went up the chimney to observe and fired at Donkey Cottage; 11, rounds, of which 3 were direct hits.
I checked the gun lines and found an error in the registered angles owing to alteration of reference lines for parallelism.
The Australian Colonel visited the position with the Brigade Major. The ammunition allowance for the Anzacs is 2, H.E., and 1.2, shrapnel per gun per day!
I accompanied Captain St. Clair into Armentieres for dinner, returning to the battery late.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 12, 1916.
It was a wet, cold and windy day.
The enemy fired heavily with 5.9, 4.2, and 77 mm on houses near the Ferme des Jardines in battery salvos.
In the evening Lowden, Maclaren of the Anzacs, and I went into Armentieres to see a cinema show in the school – a film of Charlie Chaplin. Then we had dinner at the Hotel au Boeuf. There was a parson dining there, who was quite silly with champagne. (E) Then we returned to the battery late. This was my last night in the line.
APRIL 12, 1916
Last week I lived in my clothes for a whole week. Now the battery has left the firing line and we have been relieved by a division famous for work in another part of Europe. I have been left behind for instructional (?) purposes, but I follow on and hope to catch up with my battery in a motor bus tomorrow. I don’t know what we are going to do. Some say we are going into training for mobile warfare; others that we go into the line immediately to relieve the French and take over a portion of their front. In any case I hate a move, and we were quite happy where we were.
We have had some wind out here, but not so bad as the gale in England. Lately we have had some fine days, but it is very cold and wet again now.
Last night I went into the town of …… with an Australian Captain of the gunners. Tonight I hope to go to a performance of the “Follies”. These are the first two days I have had off since I came out.
There is a heavy bombardment going on down the road, the Boche putting in 5.9, 4.2, and 77 mm shells as hard as they can fire. I am glad I am not billeted in the vicinity. It is a great nuisance losing one’s kit by shell fire.
If you have read a book called “The First Hundred Thousand” know that the second part describes this particular part of the line.
Zepp raids seem to have been fairly numerous lately, and I hope they have not visited you at all.
We are thinking of leave; but the powers that be leave us to our thoughts, and nothing happens.
It is particularly annoying having to hand over our battery position, O.P., and others after we have made them fairly habitable and comfortable. The Practical Joke Department still carries on its good work.
We have left our domestic animals behind for the new battery. The incoming battery commander is nursing the cat now. He had decorated the B.C’s dug-out with a lot of extraordinary pictures. We had no decorations to speak of.
While we were here the feature of social life was our tea parties. We always had a large party to tea, sometimes as many as ten. I thought we ought to have had a board painted “Estaminet” over the entrance. We were on the chief route to the trenches, and so easily accessible, and our hospitality acceptable.
THURSDAY APRIL 13, 1916.
I was up before 6 a.m., and bade farewell to the Anzacs. Then I walked from the battery position to Erquinghem. My kit had been sent down overnight to “A” Battery’s wagon line, where it could not be found for some time.
Then with details of the rest of our Divisional Artillery I travelled from Erquinghem in motor lorries. Lowden and I sat on the front seat with the driver.
Starting at 9.30, a.m., we journeyed by Sailly-sur la Lys, Estaires to Hazebrouck, where we had some lunch. Then we went to St. Omer, where we had some more lunch. From there we continued on through Lumbres to our destination, Bayenghem-les-Seninghem.
This place is a small but fairly clean and pretty village. The English cavalry have been here for some considerable time. The men are billeted in a large but dilapidated house, which with its out buildings furnish us with barrack rooms, dining rooms, harness rooms, office, stabling for officers’ chargers, forge, quarter-master’s store and what not.
I am billeted in a farmhouse up a lane on higher ground. I have the place to myself. The bedroom is quite clean and large. Captain Langhorne and Hopkins are in a white farmhouse opposite the church. Holt is at the mayor’s house, in which the officers’ mess is also given accommodation. The Brigade Headquarters is in an empty chateau. The horses are lined along the road by the church. The guns are parked in the main road. A riding field is also available.
We arrived about 4, p.m. It was a fine day but cold and windy.
Holt is definitely posted to our battery.
FRIDAY APRIL 14, 1916.
I was orderly officer, and was up by 5 a.m.
My time table was as follows:
5.15, a.m., to 6 a.m., Physical drill.
6 to 7 a.m., Stables.
8 a.m. Breakfast.
8.30, a.m., to 10.15, a.m., Exercise.
10.30, a.m., Stables.
1, p.m., Lunch.
2, p.m., Checking equipment on guns and wagons, and the battery stores.
4, p.m., Stables.
The day was showery, and in the afternoon we had a thunderstorm. The evening was very wet.
SATURDAY APRIL , 15, 1916.
We were all ready to go out in marching order when we had a thunderstorm with snow, so the parade was cancelled. Instead we were ordered to harness cleaning.
General Kirby and Brigade Major Waller visited us. We were told to get the oats crushed at the local Moulin.
The afternoon was lovely but cold. Captain Langhorne, Holt and I walked to Lumbres and bought fishing rods.
Colonel Stevenson called at tea time.
The kit was inspected, etc. At night I wrote letters.
April 15, 1916.
We are now back behind the line in very comfortable billets in a small village in a pretty valley. Cavalry occupied them before we came, and they are now not very far away.
I travelled here in a motor lorry with two sergeants, a corporal, a bombardier, and a linesman from out battery who stayed behind with me. We started about 7.30, a.m., and walked about five miles to the lorries. We arrived about 4.30, p.m. The men are billeted in a large empty house, which is rather dirty though there is plenty of room.
Opposite the mess is a quaint old church, quite small. The cure is an elderly man in spectacles and wears black bands with white edges.
Before we left the line the Boche concentrated on an empty lunatic asylum.
Yesterday was occupied as follows:-
5, a.m. Reveille.
5.15, a.m., to 6 a.m., Physical drill.
6 to 7 a.m., Stables.
8 a.m. Breakfast.
8.30, a.m., to 10.30, a.m., Exercise.
10.30, a.m., to 12.30, p.m., Stables. Grooming, water and feed.
1, p.m., Lunch.
2, p.m., Inspection and checking of stores, spare parts and ammunition.
- p.m. Inspection of kit.
4, p.m., Stables.
5, p.m., Tea.
6.30, p.m., Mounted guard.
7, p.m., Censored letters.
8, p.m., Dinner.
11, p.m., Turn in.
This afternoon the Captain and I went for a long walk to try and get fit again after the long time in the line. The weather is still very cold.
SUNDAY APRIL 16, 1916.
It is a fine day but cold.
There was another inspection of kit, then stables. Ammunition was cleaned and sorted.
In the afternoon I went for a ride with the Captain and Hopkins and did some jumping. We got back about 5, p.m., and found a large mail.
Then I went trout fishing with Hopkins, but caught nothing, though we saw a very pretty woman in mourning weeds.
To day being Palm Sunday the local priest and villagers had a great procession from the church. They carried green stuff, which was blessed and stuck up in the crops. The inhabitants seemed to spend the whole day in church.
The troops played football in the afternoon.
The evening turned out wet, and the Colonel came to dinner.
MONDAY APRIL 17, 1916.
Being Orderly Officer I was up at 5, a.m., and as the morning very wet and cold I cancelled physical drill.
During the morning I took exercise. After lunch the men were ordered to marching and physical drill.
A French civilian was kicked by one of our horses which no doubt will cause trouble.
I received a parcel from home of books, socks and eatables. I wrote to the Base Cashier as there is some trouble about my allowances.
APRIL 17, 1916
We are behind the line once more for what is technically called a rest; but it resolves into intense training, and more resembles hard labour than anything else we have done yet. I hope it will be short. We spent our whole day from dawn to dusk in physical drill, exercising and otherwise hardening ourselves and our horses, cleaning harness and equipment, overhauling stores and making up deficiencies in our establishment. The monotony is only relieved by letters from home.
The weather has given us just cause to grumble this year. It is still very cold and wet. We are visited with thunderstorms, hail and snow.
We are billeted in a pretty village in a small valley. The guns are parked on the high road, the horses picketed up a lane by the church, the mess is in a fairly clean farmhouse opposite the church. I have a large bedroom all to myself in a house higher up the lane. This is a great luxury. The only recreation I have had lately has been some trout fishing. We caught one the other morning, about ¾ lb. weight, and it was eaten by us in microscopic portions.
Last night we had a dinner party, and the Colonel and the Brigade Doctor honoured us with their presence. Tonight the Captain has gone off to a poker party. I know what that means. We shall have to send the mess cart for him in the early hours and he will have a liver in the morning.
I arrived here with 2 sergeants, a corporal, and a bombardier in a motor lorry. The journey took the whole day. The battery was four days ahead of us but we caught them up alright. I stayed behind to lend a hand to the Australians. Now we are contemplating a move to another part of the line.
In the neighbourhood there are cavalry and horse gunners. They are certainly smart, but they have not been wanted for a long time now; but they say they are waiting for the “G”, in “Gap”, in the Boche line.
I was very sorry to leave our old gun line. It was an excellent position, and the Boche never discovered it while we were there, although we had a good many stray shells into the place. We shall never get another as good I am afraid.
April 17, 1916.
The only way to live is to carry on with your job in the best way you can, and then take thankfully whatever else life has to offer. I wish now I had appreciated the old home more when I had the opportunity of being there. One’s views get greatly modified out here, when the outlook is so different and when one does not know what the day may bring forth.
We are very busy. Nothing goes right, of course. But, then, did it ever in the British Army. If you get a wet sandbag stuffed with straw to lay your head on, it is no use cursing it, but if the pillow is of soft feathers and linen, well be thankful.
At the moment we are having what is called “rest”; but it really is hard labour. We are expecting a move shortly, so I shall have very little time to give you any news. But do not forget, no news is good news. We hope to be in the thick of it soon. We want to get it over for our own sakes if we live to see the end, and if not then for the sake of those at home.
It seems an age since I was at home. All leave is stopped, drat them! I am not fed up with fighting. I like straffing the Boche, but I am fed up with the way things are run.
TUESDAY APRIL 18, 1916.
It was a cold, wet and windy day. After stables I rode over to the Ammunition Column to see Cheadle. There are no letters or parcels today.
The Colonel is away, so Captain Langhorne is C.O. Harness cleaning and the usual parades fully occupied our time.
The Adjutant, Fletcher, and the Interpreter came to dinner.
April 19, 1916.
It is still raining. Leave is not a possibility, as it has been stopped. All is gloomy.
This morning we took the horses out for a five hours’ hard exercise to get them fit as possible. We moved mostly at the trot. It did them a lot of good.
We are anxiously awaiting orders to move. May they arrive with the coming of fine weather.
Last night we had a French Officer to dine with us, and he gave us some interesting accounts of the fighting at Verdun. The attacks seem to be increasing in strength and frequency again there.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 19, 1916.
The day was wet and cold as usual. The battery went out for skeleton driving drill on a ploughed field! It took 1½ hours getting to the field. We started at 8.30, am., and got back at 1.15, pm.
In the afternoon stables.
I received several letters, and my gloves which I had left behind at the gun-line from St. Clair.
The evening was very wet.
THURSDAY APRIL 20, 1916.
I was orderly officer, and took early morning physical drill, rough exercise with-out saddles, marching drill and stables. The morning was wet.
In the afternoon we had Battery Gun Drill on the road, a series being taken. Then I took stables and paid the men.
FRIDAY APRIL 21, 1916.
Good Friday, and a fine day.
The Battery went out in drill order, and marched beyond Nielles-les-Blequin. I acted as reconnaissance officer. The battery came into action in a ploughed field. The signalling was bad, the guns were sent up before I was ready, and I managed to work out a wrong battery angle. The Captain was furious. The teams of one gun and two wagons jibbed when going up a steep hill. One limber turned over and held up the rest. Altogether it was a most unfortunate day. Nevertheless it is not to be wondered at. It is strange but true that I have now been with this battery for five months and it is the first time we have attempted to practice going into action as a battery and the first time the teams have been put to drag the vehicles over rough ground since we have been in France. and the battery commander is a regular officer.
After stables in the evening Captain Langhorne gave a lecture on Battery angles and angles of sight, to the officers of the Brigade.
The evening was wet.
SATURDAY APRIL 22, 1916.
It was a very wet day. Hopkins and a party of twelve diggers left to go via St. Omer and Amiens to prepare our new positions in the line in the Somme area. I took exercise at midday. It rained heavily all day, so we did no grooming. The horses were fed and watered only.
We lent our guns to the Divisional Ammunition Column for practice purposes, but as they had no instructors they probably learnt very little.
In the evening Captain Howard gave a lecture to the officers of the Brigade on Aeroplanes and Observation from the air.
SUNDAY APRIL 23, 1916.
Easter Sunday. It was a beautifully fine day. I was up early and took the morning exercise at 6, am. We were out of stables at 8, a.m. There was barrack room inspection at 9,a.m. Captain Langhorne rode in for cash to pay the battery. At 11, a.m., water and feed.
The Adjutant and I went to Holy Communion in the village theatre, which was a dilapidated building with an earthen floor covered with dirty straw, and in which horses were stabled.
The village church was going all day. Two untuneful bells rang incessantly either individually at irregular intervals or both together.
After lunch I went fishing with Fletcher.
I took stables at 4, p.m., censored letters, and had a bath. The evening was quite cold.
MONDAY APRIL 24, 1916.
The Captain was away, so I was in charge. I took a route march and had a hill climbing test. The horses did very well. There was only one accident, a centre rider stumbled and damaged a driver.
It was a fine day. In the afternoon we had stables and harness cleaning.
Jack and Morton called from the Column. There was no lecture.
TUESDAY APRIL 25, 1916.
The weather is really beautiful. Routine work, including inspections, parades, physical drill etc.
Holt is a lazy devil and is now sulking. Such creatures are the very devil in such an existence. He takes advantage of the absence of the Captain to slack and resents any orders. May I never be left with him in action or something horrible will happen.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 26, 1916.
Ditto, only more so. Captain Spain gave a lecture on the buffer. There was a conference for battery commanders at Headquarters, to which I went in the absence of Captain Langhorne.
Later the Captain returned. I had a headache.
THURSDAY APRIL 27, 1916.
The weather is still beautiful. Captain Langhorne left to go to our new position in the line down south in the Somme area.
I took early morning exercise.
Then I departed to the Field Operations in the Training Area where I took part in a practice attack by our infantry on trenches marked out to represent the particular portion of the German front line which we shall have to attack later on.
I rode out with Captain Spain. On arrival I acted as a battery commander, selected a battery position, and took up my position at an O.P.
The whole show, I thought, extremely badly carried out. The outline of trenches were supposed to represent a village in the German front line, and the attack was staged with the idea that our infantry were attacking on either side of it to cut it out and surround it, and then continue on. The village formed a salient in the enemy’s line, the attack moving forward north and south of it.
I got no clear idea of what was intended, and the whole thing seemed confusion worse confounded. The troops appeared slow and uncomprehending, even stupid. But that was obviously not their fault. I spoke to several infantry officers, and they seemed absurdly vague. If an attack is to be practiced why cannot the men who have to carry it out be told what it is all about.
I had lunch with Colonel Kincaid-Smith, and Colonel Stevenson, but they did not enlighten me. Then I walked to the rendez-vous. For I had some excitement. My groom had taken the saddles off my horses and placed them by the roadside. Of course the horses broke loose, and my groom had to run after them for miles on his silly flat feet. I put the saddlery in an estaminet. However, when I started to walk, he turned up with two sweating horses. Then I rode home with Captain Spain, Macdonald and others.
After tea there was a conference at F.Q.E. (Hdqrs), when the Colonel told the battery commanders all about our position in the line and what we were expected to do in the attack. Whew! Now why on earth could not this information have been given to us before we witnessed the rehearsal?
After I tried prisoners, and went to bed early.
FRIDAY APRIL 28, 1916.
It was a beautiful morning. I sent the battery under Holt to carry out Gun emplacement digging.
Then I rode with Captain Spain to Lumbers to get cash. There was a large crowd of gunners there. On our way back we were behind a two-wheeled cart, driven by an old French woman, when it suddenly overturned. The woman was rather badly hurt. We righted the cart, mended the harness, and cut off a large chunk of the horse’s lip that had been torn when it fell, and sent the old woman on her way again. Some of these old French women are plucky, or are they just insensible.
When I got back I took a prisoner to the Colonel, who sentenced the man to Field Punishment No. 2.
I sent the battery to bathe. Then I rode out over some really beautiful country to prepare a scheme with Holt and the Sergeant Major.
In the evening there was a lecture by the Medical Officer on Sanitation. I also paid the battery.
Instructions came in for one N.C.O., or man to go on leave. I sent Bomb. Birchall, and wished I could have gone myself.
Of us the French say “Toujours poleesh, jamais advance!” Well! The French are supposed to be a military nation, but they have not shewn us a very fine example. It is something to be able to polish, though our Generals would not make the admission.
SATURDAY APRIL 29, 1916.
Today I was informed that the Colonel would inspect the battery at 11.45, a.m. Accordingly we prepared. Then it was put off to 12.30, p.m., then to 2, p.m., and finally to 4.30, p.m. As a result we messed about the whole day and effectively wasted our time waiting for him.
But we had time to go on polishing harness, grooming, and cleaning up the rooms. As a result we got a good report from the Colonel. The horses and vehicles certainly looked well. Tomorrow they will be filthy again.
In the evening the men had a concert in a field, and the Colonel supplied the beer. I went with the Adjutant, Fletcher. Our comic man, Matthews, was very funny.
The weather is still beautiful.
SATURDAY APRIL 29, 1916.
What lovely weather we are having. The valley here is looking perfectly lovely. The trees are well covered with green and the orchards full of blossom. The best time to enjoy this fine weather is about five in the morning, when we have exercise, and water the horses in the stream below the village.
I went to church last Sunday for Communion. The service was held in the village theatre, which is a barn with an earth floor covered with dirty straw, mud walls full of holes, and a thatched roof. At one end was a stage of planks on which was placed a wooden crate, which served as a holy table.
The Colonel is giving entertainment to the men tonight in the meadow. Each man will get a pint of French beer.
As the Captain is away elsewhere in France for a week I am in charge. Today there is an inspection by the Colonel, so everyone is cleaning harness, guns, rooms and horses, and also themselves, on Monday I am having a day our with the battery on a scheme of my own.
I am reading “Carry On” in Blackwoods.
Sunday again tomorrow. There is a Field Day arranged.
We seem to be safer out here than in England, what with bombardments by sea and air and insurrections. The British Isles are having a bad time. It is much more boring out here.
SUNDAY APRIL 301916.
I was up at 5, a.m., and departed on horseback for a field day with the infantry at 5.45, a.m. After a hard ride I arrived there at 7, a.m. It was a hot day.
With Colonel Stevenson, Staff Captain Beal, Fletcher and Lowden I witnessed the proceedings, and left not much the wiser at 10.30, a.m. I rode into St. Omer, put up the horses at the Cavalry Barracks, had a hair cut, and lunch with Stewart, Adjutant of the 152nd Brigade at Vincents.
Later the mess cart arrived, and I bought food for the mess. R.H.I.O.
G.H.Q. is no longer at St. Omer. It is said to be some where up north.
I rode home very tired and saw the Colonel.