War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda &
AUGUST 1, to 4 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
Objectives: The Switch Line Trench, and Martinpuich.
A continual barrage at night.
The ANZAC Corps attacked O.G.1. and O.G.2.
The Brigade co-operated with fire on the tram line near the Bapaume Road.
AUGUST 6, 1916.
Sausage Valley heavily shelled.
August, 9, 1916.
It is night, and I have just emerged from the dug-out tin-hatted, into the noisy night, armed with a megaphone and an electric torch to order the battery to fire at a further range of 500, yards, and at an increased rate for five minutes. What we had been doing was a slow barrage. What we are doing is suddenly to increase the rate of fire and the range from the slow barrage on to some village or other place, in the hope of catching someone unawares who has got accustomed to the barrage.
The weather has been beautiful. Although a trifle hot in the trenches it is preferable to the rain, mud and cold. The infantry are having a very trying time. We see them carrying water up to the trenches in petrol tins or stone jars, full of the precious liquid. We are more fortunate, for our water cart comes up every evening and we fill every available tin, tank and other vessel in the place.
Yesterday I was in our forward positions. The ground is pitted with shell holes and littered with broken rifles, torn clothes, equipment, ammunition, bully beef tins, bombs, barbed wire, telephone wire, sand bags and all such things that are necessary for carrying on modern scientific warfare. It is an extraordinary experience, and I should like you to see it, but in safety.
In our dug-out, which is connected up with the guns by trenches, it is rather uncomfortable, as the back fire caused by the guns firing come into the place, and more often than not blows the candles out. No. 3 has just fired, and it takes one’s breath away.
The Dug-out is made of strong wooden pit props with a roof of thick iron girders, covered with corrugated iron and quantities of stones, earth, sandbags, pieces of old iron, and concrete “bursters” to keep out the enemy’s shells, provided they are not too big.
Some dug-outs are very elaborate. This afternoon I visited one battery, which boasts of a mess, a sleeping room with berths, a kitchen, and they were constructing a bath-room, made of a hole in the earth and sandbags! But we cannot hope to touch the Boche at the construction of such places.
The flies are a real plague. There is so much for them to feed upon.
Ellis Duke’s brother has been killed quite near here. We are short handed again. One of our officers has gone down sick. I wonder more of the troops do not go sick. The men get horrible boils and skin troubles. Such things are probably caused by the bad feeding; too much tinned stuff.
The posts have been very bad lately. That annoys us more than anything.
AUGUST 10, 1916.
Batteries fired continuous barrage, 6 hours on and 6 hours off, until 9.30, p.m. on the 12th instant.
AUGUST 11, 1916.
As I write I sit on dirty sandbags at the top of the telephonist’s dug-out. Occasional shells cause precipitous rushes for the interior, but as the entrance is not very large there is quite a block in the traffic of those trying to be first inside. The Hun has been rather nasty lately. Our precious mail arrived yesterday in a disorderly fashion. I saw the mess cart approaching up the valley some two hundred yards away when a 4.2 shell burst right on it, at least that is what it looked like to me. Then the vehicle emerged from the woolly black smoke cloud which enveloped it, and the two horses, tandem-wise, dragged it at a gallop up the hill to the gun line. The wheel horse was badly wounded in the throat, and had to be shot with my revolver, poor thing. The lead horse got a few scratches. The bombardier, driving inside the cart had a cut on his temple, not very serious, while the lead driver escaped whole. The mail with letters and parcels of cigarettes and chocolate for me, rations with beer arrived intact.
We are digging out of the hill-side what we are pleased to think are shell-proof habitations, but which are nothing of the sort. However, they will serve to keep out splinters which can do a lot of damage.
The weather up to two days ago was very hot, but now is much colder with dull skies. It has been trying to rain.
I spent one whole hot day wandering about in our newly gained positions in the front line, and crawled down a sap with another officer who is now famous for having sniped a Boche officer at 40 yards range. We are sent out now to observe fire in front of our own infantry patrols. One officer who went up took two infantry bombers with him, whom he had begged from the local company commander. He told them to bomb on sight anyone approaching from either direction along the sap. One of our telephonists was sniped at by our own infantry because he went back a different way.
We recommended two of our signallers for the Military Medal. They had behaved excellently under heavy shell fire. All they got was a piece of cardboard called a “Card of Honour”. What rot! They will be giving us a Sunday School Treat soon with a bun and orange for being good boys. It is a consonant, however, with our general treatment by the staff, who apparently think we are no better than school-boys. Either a medal with a bit of ribbon or nothing for the “tommy”.
In your next letter tell me what people at home really think about the war in general and the “Great Push” in particular. We only have the papers to inform us and they are full of lies. I should like to tell you what I think about it, but I am actually afraid of the censor, so am muzzled effectively.
Sometimes one sees accounts in the papers of instances of Boche generosity and kindness. I do not believe half of them. They are very rare. I would not trust one an inch.
We shall soon be thinking of the season I loathe. I should like to go to Egypt for the winter. We have seen so little of the sun this year.
The guns are having a rest for a few moments. They need sponging out and cooling and the sights tested. So I am taking this opportunity of writing a few lines before I turn in, but I am afraid this letter will not get off tonight as there is no incoming mail.
AUGUST 12, 1916.
Special Bombardment of the Switch Line from 9.30, p.m. this day until 5,a.m. on the 13th instant in support of the 4th Australian Division and the 15th Division.
August 12, 1916.
The weather has not been so good lately. Last night it rained a good deal.
We are still pounding away at the Boche. He is very obstinate and will not do what we want him to do.
A bombardment at night is a wonderful sight to see. The guns fire steadily at so many rounds per minute, then suddenly all together they burst in to intense fire, and flashes surrounded us in all directions. At such times one has to look out for prematures and the Hun retaliation. As soon as we annoy the Boche in this way he sends up innumerable Very Lights which illumine the ridge where the front line trenches are, and colours the glow with rockets of various sorts which are signals to his artillery and other observers. Occasionally a shell sets fire to a dump of ammunition or building, and then the hill is brilliant. The whole effect of a “night stunt” is weird in the extreme.
If there are no spectacular movements we are certainly not idle out here. The usual tasks of firing, observing, and digging dug-outs continues just as strenuously as ever.
We have at present a new mess under construction. This is the third position we have been in here, and the men are tired of burrowing in the chalk, but it is necessary. The drivers and horses are tired, too, of carting ammunition.
Well if one survives this it will have been a great experience, and there are certain compensations even here.
Two of our men have been recommended for the D.C.M., but they did not get the medals. Instead they were given Cards of Honour by the Division. Did you ever hear of such rot. One was a linesman, who has continually done good work under shell fire; the other was the battery orderly who carries messages from Brigade Headquarters to us in the gun line.
AUGUST 13, 1916.
Our barrage was continuous all night and till 2, p.m. on the 14th instant.
Intermittent firing on the Switch Line.
Lieut. Colonel Moss Blundell, Commanding 251st Brigade, R.F.A. inspected the positions preparatory to taking over.
AUGUST 17th 1916.
Attack on the Switch Line at 8.55 a.m.
Continuous bombardment up to the time the Brigade was relieved.
The 251st Brigade, R.F.A. took over.
Batteries marched by sections to Behencourt.
Thence as batteries to Saleux, via Amiens, and entrained.
Detrained at Steinbecque, and marched to Les Haies Basses and bivouacked.
Sections took over at Armentieres from the 82nd Brigade, 18th Division.
34th Division complete with infantry and artillery.
August 26th 1916.
We are out of the Battle of the Somme at last. We are all, I think, tired out and a bit nervy. Out of the original divisions that started the battle in June our Divisional Artillery were the last to come away. And now we are within 500 yards of our old position in the line before we went to the Somme. It is peace here in comparison.
What excellent work your Red Cross Committee has done for the past two years. I know how much has been due to you. It is such quiet and unostentatious but hard work that is going on at home for no payment, reward or honour that reminds us that there are some, at least, at home who are worth fighting for out here.
At present I am a casualty, suffering from a severe wound! A mosquito bit me, and now I have a lump on my arm. However the swelling is subsiding gradually, and I daresay I shall recover.
I am glad to hear that the Finchley Munition Factory is flourishing. We want all the Ammunition we can get. The strain of the continual firing has told on the guns and the men. We want new guns. The bores are sadly worn. But now we are out of the Somme we hope for a slacker time in which to recover.
We are still in the line of course and in action. I doubt whether the guns will ever be out of action again.
On August 16 I went up as F.O.O. and Liaison Officer with the infantry, two famous Scottish Regiments, who were ordered to take a certain trench in front of a place often mentioned in the papers. I was with them for two days, and I am glad to say that before I left we had taken the whole we set out to capture, but at a great cost. I was lucky enough to keep my wire going to Brigade Headquarters most of the time. I was actually turned on to interrogate prisoners that were captured.
When I got back to the battery, rather tired as I had practically no sleep for two days, I found everything upside down preparatory to moving. We got safely out, and so we left the Somme behind us, travelling by road and rail.
But our departure was a sad one for me. The man I knew perhaps better than anyone else in the Brigade, an awfully good chap, one Haydon, was up in the Front trench during a Boche barrage, and was never heard of again. I am sure he would not allow himself to be taken prisoner. He was not that sort.
I am sorry my letter is a bit gloomy. I had to mention poor old Haydon. Otherwise I am cheerful and quite well, bar the mosquito lump, and perhaps, we may get leave – before next year!
Today I am up at the O.P. It is very different from any I have had before. Now it is pouring with rain, so I can not see much. We have just had a thunderstorm, which has cleared the air a bit.
This place is a very much as it used to be. A little more damaged, of course.
I have come away from the Somme without any souvenirs. The people who collect such things are usually the wagon line inhabitants or the A.S.C. who never go near the front line. They buy them off tommies on their way back from the trenches. Fancy carting home a bought Boche helmet!