War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda &
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 1, 1916.
I took rough exercise at 9 p.m. At the canal bridge near Wittes we got held up by the traffic. First by motor transport when approaching, then by the congestion on the bridge itself, then by staff cars, and finally by a horse in the ditch.
We went by Boeseghem, les Ciseaux, la Carnois, Blaringhem, and so home. I took stables afterwards. We erected a huge tarpaulin as a tent for harness.
The Captain told us a good story about holy water.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY, 2 1916.
In the morning we cleaned harness. It is the everlasting bugbear. Why can’t they give us rustless harness? Then we had physical drill. It was most amusing. Many of the men were so stiff that they could not do anything. We also erected another harness shelter.
This night we had a dinner party. It was a swell affair. The Colonel and Captains Crookshank and Towel were the guests. We had a five course dinner, port and a clean table cloth.
It was my last night as a novitiate. Tomorrow I shall be initiated into the mysteries of the front line.
Late at night I packed in readiness for my journey in the morning.
THURSDAY FEBUUARY THE THIRD,1916.
I rose at 6.30 a.m., finished packing my kit, the whole of which I was taking with me. I had breakfast at eight with Captain Langhorne. He gave me two bottles of port as a present to the Battery Commander of “C” Battery 102, Brigade, Major Hume-Spry, R.G.A., to whose battery I was now attached for instructional purposes prior to taking over their position. There was the usual rush in getting off. My kit and servant went in the Mess Cart. I rode my mare, and accompanied by Sergeant Griffiths, Bombardier Lees, and other ranks, set off for the Trenches. We rode to Blaringhem from the wagon lines at Wittes. On arrival there we met and boarded old London motor busses. My companions were Amour, Macdonald, and Woodrow, respectively from B, C and A Batteries. Woodrow is commonly known as Puss-in-Boots.
Our mess cart was of course late, much to the annoyance of Staff Captain Beal.
It was a beautifully fine, cold, windy day. The busses left Blaringhem at 9.20 a.m., and the route was by Hazebrouck, la Motte, Merville, Estaires, Sailly-sur-la-Lys, Bac, St. Maur, to Erquinghem.
We sat on top of the bus, and spent the first part of the time reading yesterday’s papers, in which there was news of an air raid over England.
In the next bus travelled Colonel Rundle, and Major Hartland-Mahon.
We arrived at Erquinghem about 1 p.m., and were met by Hopkins and a battery guide. Here we first saw the first signs of the war in smashed and sand-bagged houses. I left my kit with my servant Pearson at the 102nd Brigade office.
Then I left with my guide for the battery. Hopkins returned to Wittes.
We walked through Armentieres, by the station and up the Lille Road. The men carried their kits.
This large manufacturing town was a strange sight. It was practically deserted and badly damaged by shell fire. Here and there walls had fallen out, exposing their rain sodden interiors. If the houses were intact, curtains were blowing mournfully out of smashed windows.
We left the town, passed Suicide Corner, crossed the railway line by a level crossing, and arrived at the Brick Field in Chapelle d’Armentieres. There at the gun position I met Major Hume-Spry. He wore a monocle.
I was taken round the gun position, and saw No. 1 gun fire. Then I went to my billet in a house in a row on the Lille Road further forward just across the level crossing over a branch of the railway.
Just before I arrived, at 1.15 p.m., the battery had an officer casualty. Lieut. Blamey, while sitting in the telephone dug-out, was badly wounded in the leg by shrapnel. It was distinctly bad luck. The piece only just missed the Battery Commander, who was standing in the door-way.
I had some lunch in the Major’s billet. Afterwards I went back to the battery position and examined the gun pits. The guns are well concealed in the brick sheds, and the battery office and men’s billets are in the kiln itself. Later I met the Forward Observing Officer on his return from the O.P., and had dinner with him. He spent sometime giving me tips how to carry on, and at the same time trying to put the wind up me.
Late at night I turned in. this meant going alone to the empty house at the end of the row on the south side of the Lille Road, otherwise known as Pip-squeak Alley. It was pitch dark, and conditions were so strange that I did not relish it at all. I was totally ignorant of what the unfamiliar noises meant, and I had no idea of what might happen. I stumbled over broken telegraph poles and wire. As I knew the Boche could see down the road by daylight, I was not eager to show a light. My smashed and mournful abode seemed very strange and deserted. Being at the end of the row nearest to the front line, it seemed in my imagination also uncomfortably exposed.
The noise of machine-gun and rifle fire just down the road seemed continuous and very near at times.
Entering my front door flush with the street, I passed through the front room, which was full of broken furniture, pieces of clothing, and filth, to the back, where the wall had been blown out. Then up the rickety flight of stairs to the front room above. This room was quite empty but for a box mattress on the floor and a cupboard. The door would not shut properly, and the window was covered with thick sacking, for of course all the panes had been blown out long previously.
My kit was already there. By candlelight I undressed, and lay down. For a short while I listened to the strange noises. But I was very tired I soon fell asleep.
I had graduated as a soldier.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 4, 1916
I overslept, got up late, and had breakfast at nine o’clock. After reporting to the Major I left the battery position for Lille Post, the O.P. I went by the road as far as the church, then turned left and entered a communication trench. This trench led forward and passed not far away from my destination. The post is situated in the last house on the Lille Road, before you get to the German front line. How the place had so well escaped for so long a time was strange. The house was the last of a row along the line of the highway and at right angles to the front trenches. The distance from this house to the German trenches is exactly 1045 yards, that is just over half a mile. The Observation Post is upstairs on the first floor. As it is quite impossible to enter from the road, approach is through holes cut in the walls of the whole row of houses. The end wall of the last house is blown down, but the interior is shielded from view by sacking. Here a damaged staircase provides means to climb up to the floor above. There are four places for observation. Two are lightly sandbagged. One is at the end of an exposed room, over the floor of which you have to crawl if you wish to avoid being seen from the left. Against the end wall a rickety ladder is propped up, and from the rungs of this an observer can look through a small shell hole. This is the worst position as one is apt to forget that one can be seen from a flank, and to rise from the floor before one is properly under cover. And if shelled it is hard to get away quickly. The best position to observe over the front covered by our guns is from a bulge in the shutters on the right immediately over the Lille Road, though this gives an oblique view. A room at the back of the house is used as a map room, and is kept in darkness but for a candle.
For me it was a most exciting day. The Observing Officer, Lieut. Hibberd, turned the guns on to some roads frequented by transport. They were situated on the crest of the hill opposite, and we fired at a range of 6000 yards. We shelled groups of men, transport wagons, and a motor lorry, until the lower road appeared to be “out of bounds” for troops. We stopped at 4 p.m., and returned to the gun line. We had tea at the Major’s billet, and then went into Armentieres, and had another tea at a café in the main street. This seemed to me a most extraordinary condition of affairs; but I suppose I shall soon get accustomed to it. The transition from shelling the enemy at the O.P. to quite a smart tea shop, and excellent tea with French girls waiting at the small tables, seemed grotesque to me.
We bought some papers, the Morning Post and others, and returned through the dark streets to the gun-line.
Four of us, an officer from a Howitzer Battery of the 21st Division on our left, the Wagon Line officer, Hibberd and myself had dinner in the Major’s billet. I turned in at 10.30 p.m., very tired. Rifle fire was very active. But I slept well. I have realised that my billet in not uninhabited. Large rats keep me company.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 5. 1916.
I did not get up until half past eight, and at nine I had breakfast in the Major’s billet. Several shells passed overhead and fell into the houses and gardens on the opposite side of the road. I thought it distinctly uncomfortable, but as nobody took much notice, I concluded that such things were quite ordinary parts of the daily routine.
It was a beautifully fine day. In consequence there was considerable activity. Our battery was soon firing in retaliation for shells dropped at the cross roads near the position.
During the day I was instructed in the procedure at the battery, and methods of communication with the front tine and O.P., and Headquarters.
The forward area seems to be a little world of its own, with its own peculiar customs and habits. It is wholly unlike whet I expected to find. Every sound one hears means something, and it behoves one to take notice if one wishes to escape the possible consequences of a faulty interpretation.
I also heard many stories of amusing incidents; but most I cannot commit to writing.
One Battery Commander was called on by H.Q. to report on the enemy’s attitude. He filled in the forms “Enemy’s attitude, hostile.” This was returned, and he was asked to amplify his statement. His report then went in amended, “Enemy’s attitude distinctly hostile.”
Another was frequently annoyed by one of our own Howitzer Batteries dropping shells short near an O.P. In his daily Hostile Fire Report he included the information “Shelled by hostile battery in square X”, which was the map reference of the aforesaid battery, and well behind our own lines. This piece of intelligence was incorporated in reports until its implication was discovered by some bright staff officer in the Divisional Office.
A reply from D.A.D.O.S. “Reference your indent No… these goods are not yet to hand, but a confinement is shortly expected.”
The Battery was in action, and the only telephone exchange in full use, when Brigade rang up and demanded immediate use of the line to get this message through, and the battery had to cease firing, “How many men are there in your Battery of the Jewish persuasion.”
February 5. 1916.
I am away from the Battery and attached to another. We are quite close to Pearse, and I hope to see him soon. I am having a glorious time and am thoroughly enjoying myself. I travelled up here with three other officers and a few men in a motor bus which used to run in the streets of London. It took us three hours.
My bedroom is in a small house which is one of a row and which I occupy alone. The bed has a box mattress, and is not uncomfortable. The windows do not fulfil their purpose, as they are filled with sacking. In spite of the row I manage to sleep well.
The weather is gloriously fine, and it is quire clear, so the observation is good. It is strange to live on the outskirts of a large town which is almost deserted.
I am quite alright and happy, so you need not worry on my account. At the moment I think this is the life; but perhaps I am a bit previous in my judgement.
It is strange to think that most of one’s friends are all in the line or just behind within thirty miles of this place. The first person I met when I left the bus was Hargreaves, who was at Cambridge at the same time as I was.
This is really a most extraordinary life. But it is a great experience. And if so be I come out safe and sound it will have been worth it, but if not, well, there are many worse things than being killed.
FEBRUARY 5. 1916.
as from D/175 R.F.A.
I am away from the battery and am attached to another for the purpose of taking over their position. I am at the present moment sitting in the Forward Observing Officer’s dug-out, while a straffe is going on.
I am “billeted in an empty house. The back of it is blown away; but I have a front room upstairs that is fairly tight. It contains a spring bed and a cupboard. The window is without glass and is covered with sacking. It is a bit draughty, but otherwise luxurious. Opposite is a fine house. It is the Major’s, but at the moment he dare not occupy it, as a Boche battery is ranged on it, and consequently it is most unhealthy. Some of the names here are amusing, Pipsqueak Alley, Suicide Corner, V.C. Corner. I am quite near Pearce, so hope to pay a call soon and leave my card.
It is a glorious morning but cold. The Allemands are quite visible. We had some fun yesterday with a few German transport wagons, and you could see the Huns running for all they were worth, through the telescope.
The transition from here to a “fashionable” café at the back is curious. We walked down a deserted and smashed street last night, and had tea in a French café, most luxurious. It was full of officers.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY, 6. 1916
I got up late. It was a fine morning, and I stayed at the battery all the morning. In the afternoon I rode Blamey’s horse (the wounded officer) back to draw some cash from the Field Cashier for the Major and myself (75 francs). I met Colonel Stevenson there and he told me I might have gone to a trench mortar battery. I rode back through Erquinghem and had tea at Armentieres. Then I walked back to the battery, and dined with Pocock and Halliwell at the billet.
MONDAY FEBRUARY 7. 1916.
I left the battery position with Halliwell at nine in the morning, and went to the front line trenches. Our objective was Trench No. 66, immediately south of the Lille Road. We went by Cowgate Avenue. It was the first time I had been in the actual front line. It seemed to me that we walked for miles through the communication trench. At last we came to the tee-head, and I realised that we could go no further with impunity. Just here No-Man’s-Land is about 300 yards wide. We turned left and visited the Company Commander’s dug-out, where we found the Battalion commander, the Captain and two subalterns. There was nothing doing at the time, and I did not see much except the trench, which here is a parapet without a parados, and so exposed from the rear.
We then retraced our steps and went to the O.P., Lille Post, where I phoned the Major and heard that we were to return to Wittes.
It was raining hard now. I returned to the battery, and then walked to Erquinghem at once. On the way I met Colonel Stevenson, who said that we need not return.
I had lunch with Hargreaves and a doctor at Erquinghem, after which I walked back to the battery position. On the way I called at the 21st Division H.Q. to enquire for Pearse, but did not go to see him as it was a long way. I had a haircut and tea at the café in the town. I dined with Pocock and Halliwell.
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 8. 1916.
I had breakfast at 8.30 a.m., and then saw the Major about our battery taking over. I rode with him to the Wagon Line. It is six miles away, much too far. I had lunch with the officers there, Leigh, in charge, is a very decent sort. The Lines are in an awful mess. The billet has only one small bedroom, and is thoroughly bad in every way. The wagon line officer has to sleep, eat and do his writing in this one small room.
I called on the Brigade Ammunition Column, which has a much better place.
Later I rode back to the battery. Hargreaves called to see us. I am patiently waiting for my letters from home, which have all gone to my own battery.
Opposite my billet in the garden of the Mayor’s house which was quite a good one and comparatively new, there was two months ago a 18 pdr. battery. They were well dug in. but to no purpose. I have just examined the position.
No. 2 gun pit was knocked to bits, and the others had all been more or less damaged. The position was also badly burnt. The position must have been heavily shelled, for there are many large shell holes round about and in the house, which is now in a dilapidated condition. The walls are perforated in a way that suggests delay action fuses.
The Mayor’s office or study is in a great mess with official papers and books scattered in all directions.
I have just received six letters, but they were in a crumpled and dirty condition.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 9. 1916.
After breakfast at 8.30 a.m., I went to Lille Post with Halliwell to observe. The infantry of the next division under the supervision of the R.E.s are making a machine gun emplacement immediately behind the place of observation, which constitutes a dangerous nuisance. This activity is bound to be seen, and will no doubt bring the usual shelling, and interfere with our “peaceful” duties. It is most annoying. As soon as I take over I shall report this, and ask if the work cannot be done in a more subtle way or under cover of darkness. The trouble is, however, that our O.P. is the property of another division, or rather within their area.
There is quite a lot of hostile shelling this morning. One large H.E. shell burst quite close to Lille Post. I returned to the battery for lunch. On the way I examined the church at Chapelle. It is a complete ruin. The organ loft had been knocked into a ridiculous angle.
After lunch several hostile aeroplanes came over and dropped bombs. Two fell in a field a hundred yards from the billet. One did not go off. I examined it. I attempted to dig it out, but thought better of it. I heard that two others fell quite close to the stables where the officers’ chargers are kept, just missing them.
The Boche have also been shelling over the billet, but a lot were duds.
It was a fine evening, but very cold. After tea horses came up for me and I rode to the wagon line. I got there just after the arrival of Captain Langhorne and Cheadle with the right section.
Later I returned to the gun line, calling in on my way at the Brigade Headquarters, 104, Brigade.
After dining alone I went to bed.
My new trench coat arrived.
The Brigade received orders that one section from each Battery of the 175 Brigade should leave for the front to start relief of the 104th Brigade.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 10. 1916.
This morning I went to Lille Post, and spent the day there alone. It was a wet and bitterly cold day. There I stayed until tea time, and then returned to the battery where I had tea with Captain Langhorne who had arrived.
The Right Section came up at night and took over their gun pits in the position.
During the day I visited the Battalion Headquarters of the 1st Worcesters, who are in the line. They are responsible for holding Trench 66, which we cover with the guns.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 11. 1916.
It was wet all day, a foul day. I was at Lille Post observing with Halliwell. Captain Langhorne was at the battery.
There was nothing much doing. But we fired on a Hun Communication Trench. I had an argument with Halliwell about the position of the trench.
I walked back after dark, and found that the battery had suffered rather a bad straffing.
Major Hume-Spry dined with us.
Later Cheadle turned up from the Wagon Line as Hopkins had arrived there with the Left Section.
It was a wet and bitterly cold evening. I had the best dinner for a week, but that was not saying much.
A shell went through the house next to our billet.
Cheadle shared my room in the empty house. I was glad of his company as he is a good fellow. As a result of his presence I could not shoot at rats in my room during the night as heretofore.
Two parcels and three letters arrived for me.
I hear that our cook and mess waiter were very upset by the shelling, and that in consequence the Captain got very little lunch.
The 175th Brigade Headquarters moved to Armentieres.
The Brigade was the left flank Brigade of the First Army. On our right are the 160th Brigade R.F.A., of which two batteries, C and D were attached to the 175th Brigade, forming the left Field Artillery Group commanded by Lieut. Col. E.H. Stevenson. Affiliated to this Group were the Warwick battery (Heavies, 4.7), and C Battery 176th Brigade (4.5 Howitzers.). on our left were the 96th Field Artillery Brigade, 21st Division.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 12. 1916.
There is no more ink, so I have to write my diary and everything else in pencil.
Responsibility has descended upon us. The Right Section is in and the Left Section takes over tonight.
This has been the worst day, I think, that I have yet spent. At any rate it has been most unpleasant.
I had breakfast with Langhorne, Cheadle and Pocock at 8.30 a.m. Then I went to the battery position.
The Boche have been firing all day to such an extent that I am given to understand that it may be considered heavy. Further I am told that in all probability the enemy know quite well that a new division is taking over, and they are making it hot for us.
Numerous shells have fallen on the Lille Road. A six inch shell hit a house immediately behind the battery, and two houses caught fire. A large piece of shell nearly hit our director, and was picked up two yards away. Major Hume-Spry was hit in the eye with a piece of brick. Tiles fell off the roof of the brick kiln, which shelters the Battery Headquarters and the mens’ billets. We do not want to lose any more as it exposes the place too much. The shell were mostly 4.2 c.m., and 77 mm. I feared for the tall chimney for if that falls it will smash up our happy home.
I prepared our battery map, 1/10,000, and a ruler, and finished entering up the Counter Battery Book.
No one seemed to relish the firing much, so I am not singular.
After lunch with Langhorne, and Cheadle, I departed for the O.P. at Lille Post. The road was heavily shelled the whole time I was walking up, and I dodged about feeling a bit bewildered. One shell only just missed me at Chapelle d’Armentieres. There I met a Major of the Tyneside Irish, similarly occupied and rather scared, dodging into doorways.
I was glad to get into the communication trenches and to arrive safely at the O.P. There I found Halliwell and Sergeant Griffiths prancing about up on top on the exposed floor near the ladder. I am sure they were seen. It is all very well for Halliwell. He departs this evening, while we have to live here for some months.
This morning they had four shells into the house. I took over the observation, and fired on a communication trench and then on the German front line parapet to see if I could hit it. The firing seemed to be O.K.
Then suddenly when I was still up the ladder looking through the hole in the wall of the upper room, a 77,mm. hit the wall quite near. I jumped off the ladder and bolted for it. Then three more came through, and we all cleared down the stairs into the telephonists’ dug-out in the basement.
We waited there for a bit, and as nothing more happened, we resumed observation on the front of Trench 66, c. it was not at all pleasant.
Then Halliwell went off with a Howitzer O.P. Officer, having handed over to me. I took over officially and my telephonists were installed. So D Battery 175th Brigade were in action. I had tea at the O.P. alone, and then returned to the Battery. I left the post by the trenches, and went round by the Support Trench. There was a Gas and Smoke attack on the left of the Lille Road. As I was a bit late I had to run for it, as I did not want to get caught in the retaliation that was sure to follow.
On my way I met some dead being brought down from the line. They had been straffed by a Trench Mortar, and four men had been killed. I made further enquiries and reported the matter to the H.Q. 104 Brigade R.A. over the telephone.
This was my first evening in the Front Line with the infantry as Liaison Officer. I went from the O.P. to the Battalion Headquarters of the 1st Worcesters in the line. I reported to the Adjutant, and dined in their dug-out with the Colonel, the Adjutant, the Medical Officer and the Machine gun Officer.
The Colonel told me that the Trench Mortar that had done the damage fired an aerial torpedo of 100, lbs., and had a range of 200 yards.
I had a dug out to myself, one of several near a ditch. It was damp, dirty and cold, very cold.
The evening was quite fine, and after the shelling of the day the night was quiet. The s.o.s. arrangements were a little difficult to understand. I don’t think the adjutant was quite clear himself about them.
As I was tired I slept heavily, disturbed at times by the rats, which are truly enormous.
(The mess cart and wagons returning to the Wagon Lines ran into some shelling.)
The second section of each battery moved up into action. The Brigade took over the 104th Brigade guns, which were left in position.
- BATTERY, 175th BRIGADE, R.F.A.
Gun Position, I.8.a.7½. 0. Call C.G.
Battery Reference Line, T.B. 128o 30’ Range 2575 yds.
Sniper’s House (Left Edge).
Observation Post, Lille Post. I.15.b.6½.9½.
Night Lines on Trench 66a (I.16.1.) I.16.c.8½.0. (Left Sector).
Ranges from 2625 to 2525 yards.
Maximum Switch possible Right of Zero Line 24 deg.
Left do 35 “
Telephone Lines to A 175
Warwick Heavies (4.7) ….C.H.
1 Salvo and Section Fire 20 seconds.
No. 1 Gun. Trench 66a.
No. 2 “ 66c.
No. 3 “ 66c.
No. 4 “ 66b.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 13. 1916.
This day the whole of our battery is in action.
I was up soon after six, a.m., dressed and left the Battalion Headquarters. I went down Wine Avenue to Cross Roads, and then straight up to the O.P. at Lille Post. The telephone line to the trenches had gone, so that had to be mended first. Then we registered the guns on Trenches 66 c.a.b. Captain Langhorne observed all the rounds except two which fell to the left of the Lille Road and one premature. I observed and made the necessary corrections from the top of the ladder against the forward side of the house. Then the Germans began. Just as I had finished and was leaving the ladder, eight whiz-bangs hit the building, one of them demolishing our ladder. The observing hole was knocked to pieces. I had a merciful escape. I went down the rope at the back to the signallers’ dug-out. The Boche must have dropped some hundreds of 77 mm shells on to the place and about it. At midday the place was in a horrid mess. Then 4.2 Howitzers took up the tale with delay action fuzes, which put the wind up me. As a result of this shelling we spent some time in the dug-out. I observed several batteries firing. There seemed to be quite a lot.
Captain Langhorne visited the O.P.
In the afternoon the Hun gave our trenches a hammering, shelled Cowgate Avenue, and dropped a large number of 4.2, shells round about the O.P. It was not at all pleasant. Then I heard of the appalling accident at the battery. When in action a High Explosive shell came apart from the cartridge. It was replaced, and then when the gun was fired the breach block blew out and killed three men in the gun detachment. It is a horrible thing to happen on the first day in action, and is a shock to the battery. I went back to the battery at once and took charge. I had to make arrangements for the funeral and get the bodies sewn up blankets.
Later a Chaplain turned up to see about a funeral. He was the Rev. J Gilbert, knew Reg and wanted to be remembered to him.
The Captain had gone off to the 104, Brigade H.Q. to report the accident.
I had a lot of letters this evening, and answered them with Field Service Post Cards.
Cheadle went off in the evening after dark to the Post Office in Chapelle to observe flashes as night observer.
The battery was shelled intermittently throughout the day with 4.2, but there were no further casualties.
I am thoroughly tired out, but see little chance of rest.
FEBRUARY, 13, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
Our first casualties were three men of D Battery, who were killed by the bursting of the gun they were serving. C Battery’s O.P. at the Ferme du Biez was demolished by shell fire.
MONDAY FEBRUARY 14. 1916.
After a scrappy breakfast I was away by seven for Lille Post with Price. There was much less shelling. I observed some enemy transport and fired on it. I report, “It dispersed”.
There were no hits on Lille Post, while I was there, which I was all day. The Captain visited me once for a short time.
I believe yesterday’s shelling was due to the fact that the Boche thought that the Divisional relief was taking place. That was true of the gunners, but not of the infantry.
I had a headache and was very tired. I got back to the battery after dark for tea. Then I superintended the arrival of the ammunition.
The Colonel visited us and warned us about the infantry relief this night. Our own infantry come in and take over the line. The Tyneside Scottish take over from the Worcesters, who go out. When they passed us I noticed a difference in the new lot going up. They were very quiet, there was no talking.
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 15. 1916.
I was up at 6.15, a.m. It was a very windy and wet day. I walked down to Lille Post. There it was very cold. But it was quiet. A few 4.2 and 77, mm shells came over, but not many. I fired a few rounds.
I heard that Johnston had been killed on Sunday.
The reason of the heavy firing by the enemy on Saturday and Sunday, we are informed, was an attack on out line by the Boche at Ypres.
I observed the usual movement on the transport road, and also a working party in the German forward trenches, upon which I fired one salvo of three rounds.
Our new infantry in the trenches are very quiet. There is no sniping at all. And there is little shelling.
The gun accident two days ago caused the deaths of three men; one had the back of his head blown clean away, another had his stomach torn out, and the third had his leg cut off close up. The latter died just afterwards.
Sergeant Martin, although standing immediately behind the gun, was not injured. He had all his buttons torn off and lost his cap, which could not be found later.
The shell of H.E., while in the bore had come apart from the cartridge. Martin filled up the case with spilt T.N.T., used a wad of paper to keep the stuff in its place, and rammed the case in behind the shell in the bore.
The gun was then fired, and the explosion occurred.
Two of the men were married men.
Cheadle is again doing night flash spotting from the top of the tower of the Mairie in Chapelle d’Armentieres.
I had a delicious cake from M.
FEBRUARY 15, 1916.
Arrival of a cake made from a “keeping recipe”, but half went in one sitting.
One night I slept in the front line trenches in the Colonel’s dug-out, of an infantry battalion. A machine-gun was within a few yards of my head, and the beastly thing was turned on at intervals all night, which was most annoying when one wanted to go to sleep. In my billet up the road in an empty house I used to amuse myself by shooting rats with my revolver. I put ration biscuits in the centre of the floor, and when about six or seven had ventured out switched on my torch and blazed away. It did not matter about smashing up the walls, as it was the only whole room in the house. All the windows are out and three or four shell holes through the roof. I rather like the mice in the O.P. They are quite tame, and I feed them with remains of my midday meal.
We have had rather an unfortunate beginning as the Boche had a big straffe on, and for two days firing was nearly continuous. To make matters worse a gun exploded and killed three of our men.
Even G.H.Q. mention activity round here, and it takes something for them to say so.
I have moved my goods into a dug out now, but at the present moment it is pouring with rain, and I am doubtful whether it is going to prove weatherproof.
My mare has a bad foot. It was pricked in shoeing. I have not seen my horse for a fortnight.
This evening we have been amusing ourselves trying to place hostile battery positions on the map for future use.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 16. 1916.
Last night I had to move into the Brick Kiln, much to my disgust. The Captain insisted on it. Why I cannot imagine. I preferred my billet in the house on the Lille Road, which was dryer, warmer, much less draughty, and a place Cheadle and I could share to ourselves. Now we all crowded in the kiln, and if a shell knocks the place down we shall all be in it. The kiln is very draughty, and the result is that I woke up this morning very stiff.
I walked up to the O.P. at Lille Post. It was a very quiet day so far as shelling went; but exceedingly cold and windy. Only three enemy shells fell near us. Our battery did not fire at all. I think the Captain is windy. At any rate he is a very different man to Major Hume-Spry.
I left Lille Post at 4.30, p.m., and walked along the main road back to the battery instead of going round by the trenches, which saves a deal of time. My cap blew off into a stream, which annoyed me as it is the only one I have here. I had tea and wrote out my report, which was very short. Hopkins came up from the Wagon Lines. I had a hot bath, a shave and a change of clothes. Later I checked the night lines very carefully, as I thought we might have a “night S.O.S.” test, but we did not.
I then wrote home, and read “Sharrow”, and went to bed by 11,p.m. Poor Cheadle had to go up again to the Mairie, the night O.P., for flash spotting. It was very windy and draughty in the kiln. Our dog Chirgwan, and the cat had a fight. The cat won.
I heard that Johnson of the 152nd Brigade had been hit through the heart.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY, 17. 1916
The day was cold but fine. The trench here is full of water, that is the trench at Lille Post, where I spent the day again. I had more bother with one of our working parties in the trenches just behind and close to the O.P. They are a great nuisance. Price and the Howitzer people have left the O.P., so I have the place to myself.
The following happened last night. The Tyneside Irish are in the trenches for the first time, and so were very nervous. In one company they thought they saw a German in No-Man’s-Land, so the Company Commander tried to phone to ask us for “S.O.S.” He found that the communications had broken down, thanks to Mr. Hamilton Fletcher, the Orderly Officer to Col. Stevenson, and responsible for the telephone lines. The infantry officer then tried to get through from their battalion headquarters, where he was told to verify the information before he asked for artillery support. They then found it was one of their own patrols.
Later on this day there was more hostile shelling, but I could not spot the battery which was firing. It was not a very clear day for observing. It is extraordinary how atmospheric conditions change in a short while. It is very noticeable when one is constantly observing.
I returned to the battery for tea at 5, p.m., and despatched my watch to Bath for repairs.
I had a feverish cold and felt quite ill, so I took two tabloids of quinine, and a tot of rum and went to bed.
Then about 10.15, p.m., Col. Stevenson came round to see whether the phone lines were in proper working order. I guessed what that meant, and saw that a gunner was on the alert in the gun pit ready for the call. Sure enough the “Test S.O.S.” came through, and we fired at once without delay.
This test was of course ridiculous, and for us dangerous. The Colonel secure in his H.Q., orders a test, that is, one round to be fired on our night line. The batteries fire at different times, and our flashes are at once spotted by the enemy. They will know what positions are occupied. The test is supposed to be a surprise for us, and to show that we are on the alert. On this occasion it was no surprise for us, for we had tender enquiries all day long as to whether our telephone lines were alright, and finally the unusual visit from the Colonel late at night. Such a test does no good, and is only a little game for the staff to amuse themselves at our expense. They are a waste of good rounds, and quite useless.
February 17, 1916.
I have just changed my night quarters again. Here the floor is of brick dust, and the furniture is the spoil of deserted houses near by. There are no doors, and dirty curtains fail to keep the wind out. The interior is lit by a smoky lamp, giving but a dim light. The tablecloth is anything but clean. Last night we had dinner late. The Captain and I dined alone. The dinner was not good. I have no time now to see to the messing. It consists of tinned soup, bully beef, smoky toast, tinned pears and cheese; but the biscuits Mother sent were excellent.
After dinner I had a bath, a hot one, the first for over a fortnight, and a shave. Then the Captain and I sat over maps and rulers, working out angles and ranges,
FRIDAY FEBRUARY, 18. 1916
I felt weak and shivery. I arrived at Lille Post at 7.30 a.m. It was a misty day, and I could only see the fire trenches of the Germans. Then a 4.2, in. battery firing behind Wez Macquart, which in all probability had been given our flash bearings when we fired last night, opened up. Now there was an old field gun position 300 yards to the right of our present gun position in the brick yard. This was an obvious position in an open field. Without a doubt the Boche thought that this position was occupied. They shelled the pits hard for an hour. Sixty shells were counted. No one could have stayed there if the place had been occupied. It was lucky for us that we were not there. Such was the result of firing a “Test S.O.S.” last night.
It was very cold and dull in the O.P. A new Howitzer Observation Officer took over an O.P. in Lille Post. Today was much less noisy, and as I could see only a short way, I wrote letters.
I returned to the battery at 4.30, p.m. Langhorne would not let me come away before, although it was much too misty to observe. But I did see the Heavies get on to German House, and it was extraordinarily bad shooting.
Later I carefully checked the night lines, and found No. 3gun 20’ out.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY, 19. 1916
The day was cold, damp, dull and misty. I was at the O.P. at 7.30, a.m. I could observe very little. I felt a bit better today. I think I have solved the problem of the mysterious transport road, and it is marked on the map. Our gun fire was much more active, but the Boche were quiet.
In the afternoon the 21st Division put up a great strafe. The Hun began shelling our communication trenches, so the 21st Division retaliated for an hour. They made a great noise. Then it became much quieter.
I returned to the battery at 4.45, p.m., and checked the night lines. I had dinner, and then read the papers. Later I was ordered to go to the Mairie in Chapelle and fetch Cheadle back, from the night observation post. It is a beastly place and it is no earthly good having anyone there. It is “A” Battery’s day observation post, and is a tall building with a turret. It has been badly shelled, and the inside is gutted, though a series of ladders and small platforms have been erected for observing purposes. I had not been there before, and now for the first time went up in the pitch dark and found it a most uncomfortable proceeding. Cheadle was glad to get away.
Later we heard two Zeppelins pass over us. The Captain and I went outside to look for them, but could see nothing. Then we saw the Zeppelins dropping lights. I can’t imagine why unless they had lost their way. Three bullets fired from the German front line whizzed by us and dropped quite close by our feet. It is a long way for them to come.
Just as I got into bed I heard two loud explosions. To night there was a lot of sniping and machine gun firing. I was very tired, so slept soundly.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY, 20. 1916
Sunday morning! No church parade for us. I have not been to church since I was in England seven weeks ago. It seems like a lifetime ago. I have only seen a chaplain once, and that was when one came about burying our killed.
It is a beautifully fine, cold and frosty morning, and good enough, though a bit misty. Our own trenches are barely visible. There are several Boche aeroplanes up, and the anti-aircraft guns are hard at it, but do no good. There is a lot of rifle fire this morning. I wonder why. Lille Post is really quite dangerous, also extremely cold. I have had enough of this place for a bit I think.
(I had written so far when the strafe began, and I continued after I had recovered my diary from the ruins of our post.)
At 1.15, p.m. Captain Langhorne and a Major of the Infantry arrived, came upstairs by the staircase in the usual way, and visited me in the map room. The Captain was showing his companion what a fine O.P. we had, and the latter was jocularly remarking what a good time the gunners had in their lines and O.Ps., when one 77, mm. shell hit the forward left end of the wall of the house, knocking a good portion out, for it was not very stable.
Both the visitors gazed at me in horror, for the stair-case had been damaged. The Captain demanded of me “How can we get out?” I replied, “By the rope at the back.” And they both fled down the rope as fast as they could. The signaller and I followed, also as fast as we could. We all pushed in the small dug-out below. Then another shell came into the downstairs room. We all cleared from our refuge. The Captain and a few men got into a machine-gun emplacement. There was no more room, so I cleared out through the length of the row of houses to the back, and took shelter behind a garden wall. There I found a large number of scared infantry. I told them to clear out down the communication trench away from the place.
In no time about fifty shells hit the house which had been our O.P. It was fine shooting. At the back things were rather hot. Bits were flying all over the place.
The Captain got stuck in the emplacement, but during a lull he emerged looking green and covered with brick dust, a ludicrous sight. He looked towards the battery and said he must go and see what was happening there. I could see, too. Nothing was. So he disappeared down the trench.
The garden wall came down in several places, just where the infantry had been sheltering. The shells now were 4.2, in., so more than one battery was firing. There was one Sapper Officer with the infantry, but he was scared stiff.
No doubt they were the gentry who had been doing so much work in the vicinity, and who had so carelessly exposed themselves. I hope they enjoyed it. I certainly did not. The firing died down and stopped at 2.15, p.m. The Boche had fired hard for an hour.
When I thought it was over I left the garden wall, and returned to the post. The place was in an awful mess. Our map room was knocked to blazes. The inside was exposed to view from the front. The maps were destroyed. My gloves had completely disappeared. I found my two pocket books after a long search in the rubble. One contained three letters, one to my Mother, one to Mrs. Acworth, and one to Mrs. Wyeth. It was lucky we got away or we should have been certain casualties.
I left for the battery at 4.30, p.m.
There are new orders to stand too twice a day: 5.30, a.m. to 6.30 a.m., and from 5.15, p.m. to 5.45, p.m. The same applies to the night observation officer. A quoi bon?
This was the worst strafe I had so far been in.
I finished writing up my diary, and went to bed very tired.
MONDAY FEBRUARY, 21. 1916
I got up early, turned the battery out, and “stood too.” Then I went with Captain Langhorne to seek a new O.P. We tried all sorts of places, chiefly in and around la Chapelle. We examined the Heavies’ old O.P., but it was completely gutted. It is astonishingly difficult to find a new place. The country is as flat as a board, and the few available houses are already occupied. After breakfast I went up a tall factory chimney. It is a great height (100 feet?). I clambered straight up in the darkness by means of small iron rungs, and got into a horrible mess. Several of the rungs were missing. Eventually I arrived at the top, but found a difficulty in seeing owing to the mist. And it was most uncomfortable hanging on. After a while I came down, and Bombardier Birchall tried to go up, but turned sick, and came down. I then went to the Mayor’s house opposite my old billet, but that for its height was too far back, and the walls so knocked about that they were not safe.
After lunch General Kirby and Colonel arrived. There was heavy firing on our right, and they soon left. No shells came near us.
TUESDAY FEBRUARY, 22. 1916
To day was very cold and it snowed. The temperature is below 30 degrees, and we live in a brick kiln without doors or heating during the hours of daylight! It is much too cold for such open air life.
I went up to Lille Post again to observe, as we could find no other suitable O.P. The damage done by the shelling is serious. I discovered a fuze sticking into the wall of our map room just where we had been standing, also a steel splinter of some size in the wooden board at the back of the observation slit, where I had been observing just previously, an obvious “outer”.
I crossed the Lille Road behind the Sandbag barricade and from the trench on the far side had a good look at the outside of our O.P.
The front observing place against the forward wall is obviously finished, the place being quite smashed up. The oblique one further back over the road is not much better, but it could be renovated and made fairly serviceable so long as no alterations shewed from the outside. I had some show of reluctance from one of the signallers, when told they had to come up to the O.P. again. They had had quite enough. So had I but I could not say so.
Late in the afternoon I examined the old gun position to the right of the battery, as we intended to cut wire from there the next day. It would serve to show the Boche that the place was occupied, and would not give away our own position by any slow and protracted firing.
In the evening we thickened the hedge in front of this position, which ran along beside the railway, and put up some screens. All these preparations were of no use, as the Colonel issued an order that we should not move a gun into this position.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY, 23. 1916
It is a very cold day, and is freezing and snowing hard. Captain Langhorne went down to the front line to observe for wire cutting. He used a prismatic periscope. I was at the battery. We opened fire at 11, a.m., but we were stopped almost at once. We opened fire again at noon, and fired sixty rounds. But we did little, if any, good.#
No. 1, gun fired all over the place. Then No. 3, gun was out of action. The shell in the piece came apart from the cartridge, as had happened when the gun blew up on the first day in action. So I was cautious. I tried to get it out, but failed. Then getting desperate, I blew the shell out by ramming the cartridge home, and firing the gun by means of a long lanyard from outside the gun pit. It went off alright.
The Captain returned in a bad temper, and I concluded the shoot had not been very successful.
In the afternoon Hopkins came up from the Wagon Lines, and the Captain ordered me to go up to Lille Post again to observe. I stayed a moment to have some tea before I went. Cheadle was coming with me to understudy.
Just as we were leaving the Captain called us back. He had been looking towards Lille Post, and saw that the Boche were heavily shelling the place again. It was fortunate that we had not gone up at once, as we should have run into it. Another lucky escape! My luck at present is good. Long may it last!
In the evening I censored letters, a large number of them. In one I found this precious bit in “verse.”
“I was stood me on guard once at midnight,
And a thought came into my head,
As I thought of the “Slackers in England”
Asleep on a nice warm feather bed.”
I also wrote home, but not in so poetic a mood.
February 23, 1916.
It is snowing and freezing hard here this morning. The thermometer is about 30 degrees. But still I am well and things are going alright with us. There is a lot of sickness at the wagon line. The drivers get a peculiar sort of illness, which makes them fit for nothing. It is strange that it should be at the Wagon Line and not at the gun line.
What did annoy me this morning when I had to get up at 5, a.m., was that we had run out of porridge.
The dog we found early last month when on the march is still with us. His name is Chirgwan, the White-eyed Kaffir, and we have taught him not to fight with the cat, which is some achievement.
The Boche is fairly quiet today, but on our right and left they have been otherwise.
My servant is quite a good fellow. He cooks me a dish of steak and potatoes on the brazier at the O.P., when I am on duty there. More often it is a cup of Bovril and bread. A frying pan, a cup and a plate are all our kitchen utensils.
Today we have been trying to cut the Boche barbed wire. It is a slow and difficult job, and I doubt whether it is very effective. The Captain has been down in the trenches to observe for the shoot.
There has been a spy hunt here lately. All sorts of rumours float about. I have no doubt that the German organisation is very good, especially the intelligence. But still it is no use losing one’s head about it.
FEBRUARY 23, 1916.
not at the O.P.
The weather has been bad as ever since we came out. To-day it has been snowing and freezing hard. The temperature is well below 30 deg. Fhr. We are living in a brick kiln. There are no doors, only army blankets over the openings. We cannot have coal fires as the smoke would be seen, so we use coke in braziers.
Sunday’s are very bad for me. Three times now I have been shelled out of my O.P. on that day. But last Sunday the Boche thought they would really finish it altogether. Hitherto the straffing had only been comparatively slight, and after taking refuge in the dug-out below the building we returned to the post above. But last Sunday I had been writing in the map-room, or rather hole, when I was visited by my Captain and an Infantry Major. We had just left this room when a 77 mm., came through the wall and turned the place inside out. We three fled down a rope out of the window to the dug out below. Even there things began to get uncomfortable, and as larger shells were falling we thought discretion the better part of valour, and so cleared. The Captain got into a cellar, and the Major and I got the other side of a garden wall, hoping the enemy would not search along it. Later the Captain managed to get away and went off to the Battery. The shelling continued for an hour and a quarter-about 60 shells falling altogether. When it ceased the telephonists and I went back to see what we could rescue. The telescope was not damaged, the maps did not exist, and my pocket books were discovered beneath a mass of rubble. I could not find my gloves or my luncheon crockery. They left it alone next day, and we went back again and hid as best we could. But today just as we were going up they began again, so the Captain said we were not to go, which relieved me much. The only other place to observe from is a huge factory chimney, a long way away, but it means climbing up inside about 100 feet, and I think I would rather have the “whizz-bangs, and Woolly-bears” . We have had minor excitements as air bombs and Zepps, and stray things like that, served with lunch.
Don’t mention the above incident at the Vicarage; but I thought you might like to know how rude the Hun can be and on a Sunday too. Our friends Fritz seems to be bucking up a bit. No doubt they think they can play the fool with a new division; but I think they have had some food for thought. The Captain was away today, and I was in charge. We did a bit of German wire cutting with shrapnel.
We go in for protective mimicry a lot here. They have not discovered our battery yet; but they periodically put up some stuff and give an old battery position a bad shelling. It is great fun watching bursts in a place where no one is.
Last night we put up screens and thickened hedges to hide our flashes, but the wind blew them all down again. I censor the mens’ letters. Some are most amusing.
They are poets even.
“I was stood me on guard once at midnight,
And a thought came into my head,
As I thought of the “Slackers in England”
Asleep on a nice warm feather bed.”
My servant is an excellent fellow. He looks after me well. He cooks my lunch when at the O.P., and occasionally I get ration steak and potatoes fried over coke. The last lot of sardines I had at the O.P. were eaten by the numerous cats, now nearly wild, that inhabit that inhospitable and unattractive place. After the last Sunday strafe I had a roll call of the cats, but alas! I found one missing.
My Servant went into the mess kitchen (sic) the other day and told the cook and other servants that five submarines – great news – German ones, had gone down yesterday morning. Great joy in the kitchen and a great deal of speculation about it. Then he said quietly “Yes!, and came up again at night.”
Last night I said to him, “You must call me at five tomorrow morning”. He looked sorrowfully at me, so I added “Unless you can get the man on guard to be sure and do so”. He looked at me a moment and said as he went away “J.C. a bob for that man tonight.”
Some of the men are very funny, and some really excellent chaps, as cool as anything under fire. Our senior telephonist is a splendid fellow. But the language! Whew! It makes my blood run cold sometimes, and of course it does not take much to do that!
THURSDAY FEBRUARY, 24. 1916
I got up soon after seven. It was a bitterly cold morning. I had breakfast, and then went to Lille Post, and then via Wine Avenue to “Q.F.”, i.e. Battalion Headquarters in the Orchard to see the Adjutant. Then I continued on to Cowgate Avenue by the Communication Trench. I saw an old O.P. in some houses but they were nearly levelled with the ground and very exposed. Whilst in the trench I got sniped at, but I cannot think how they saw me.
Then I went to the Front Line to see what was going on. I walked back to the battery, and a bullet very nearly hit me as far back as the Railway Crossing.
A Major of the Infantry came to lunch.
After lunch I went up the turret of the Mayor’s house to observe, but I could see nothing, and was very cold.
Later I went with Captain Langhorne through la Chapelle to the farmhouse on a road that turns left or north out of the Lille Road. Just before we got there we passed an old gun position, deserted and in a sad state. It had been blown to pieces by heavy shells. The concrete dug-outs were smashed to atoms, and about there were huge shell holes and uprooted or stripped trees. These signs were eloquent of the fate that had befallen that battery.
The farmhouse was not much use for an O.P., and there were far too many infantry about.
We retuned for tea, and then I made the necessary arrangements in contemplation of a possible strafe by the 21st Division on our left.
The Captain had ordered me to go to the Wagon Lines on Sunday, curse it!
FRIDAY FEBRUARY, 25. 1916
On this day Captain Langhorne and I again sallied out to look for a suitable O.P. Before breakfast we went to Lille Post to view the damage. I thought it might be bolstered up with sand-bags.
After breakfast we went to “B” Battery’s O.P., and then to the Ferme du Biez, where “C” Battery is having a platform put up against an inside wall. I did not think much of it, and imagine it will not last long.
Then we went through the Ferme de Hallerie. The place is smashed to bits, and looked most desolate. The deserted farm-yard contained the usual pond, overflowing and frozen. I wish some people could see it, some at home. After that fruitless round we returned to the battery.
In the rest of the morning I took Cheadle to the front trenches, I,16,1. He will be doing observation work while I am in the Wagon Line. We sat talking shop with some infantry officers in a dug-out for a long time. I asked one subaltern if he were fed up with the war, and he replied, “Fed up! We have been having a prayer meeting every night to ask for a blighty.”
Cheadle and I returned by Wine Avenue. We went up by Cowgate Avenue, and got sniped at. The former is a bit safer, I think.
After lunch the Captain went off somewhere, and I was left in charge of the guns. Poor old Cheadle was feeling very bad.
I heard at night that probably we should have to put one of our guns in the front line trenches.
I got to bed very late.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY, 26. 1916
Today Colonel Stevenson arrived, and he, Captain Langhorne and I went to the Ferme du Biez to see if an O.P. could be constructed there. The three of us crawled on our stomachs to an old haystack in the orchard. The place is in full view of the Boche. Now the Colonel is determined to fortify a haystack! He little knows what the place is like at night, or for that matter in the day. However that would not trouble him. We shall have to make it, and I bet I get the job. Having thus rapidly come to a decision, we returned to the battery.
The afternoon we spent in wire cutting. Then we registered on Sniper’s House. It was bad shooting. Two shells apparently fell in our own trench, (?) But as no angry report has come from the infantry, I suppose they did not.
After tea I was told to go to the Ferme du Biez with a sergeant and a party of six men to dig a trench to the haystack. When it was dark we went. As soon as we got there I realised that the place was swept by rifle and machine gun fire, which was quite heavy. If we attempted the job casualties were inevitable, and if that happened I should certainly be on the mat for allowing it to happen. I went to the phone in one of the infantry dug-outs, and telephoned to the Captain, and told him of the conditions, and asked if I was to carry on in any event. He ordered me to bring the party back. By good luck I managed to get the men back by sending them one by one across the open in rushes at appropriate moments. The trenches were very dark, muddy, slippery, and noisy.
The night was quite rowdy. I had hardly got to bed when, at 10.15, p.m. I was called out again by an order from Brigade Headquarters to “Stand Too.” Soon after that was cancelled, so we went back to bed again. Then I was called up by a “GAS S.O.S.”. I turned out the battery. There was a great ringing of bells and gongs, and I thought we were in for gas at last. The battery put on their gas helmets, and went to the guns. There we waited, but nothing happened. So we went to bed again, and there were no more calls that night.
INSTRUCTIONS IN THE EVENT OF AN ATTACK ON OUR TRENCHES
IN THE VICINITY OF I.21.
- The 4th and 25th Brigades R.G.A. will support the Left Division when called upon to do so.
- Rate of fire will be regulated to meet requirements.
- The Assembly Trenches I.27.a.7.8. to I.27.a.4.7. should not be previously registered.
- 29th Siege targets will be:
1gun. LA VALLEE I.34.d.6.1. to I.34.d.10.½.
1 gun Cross Roads I.34.c.7.7. to I.34.d.½. 7.
- The remainder of the 4th Brigade, R.G.A. will act as counter-batteries, and engage active enemy guns.
- 6” and 8” Hows. 25th Brigade are allotted various targets in I.22 and I.27.
26th February 1916.
Adjt. 4th Bde. R.G.A.
D/175th and A/176, R.F.A.
109th, 110th, 118th. WARWICK Heavy Batteries.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY, 27. 1916
At 5.30, a.m., we stood to as usual. After breakfast I took two men to dig at the Ferme du Biez under cover. There was not much sniping. Then I went up Cowgate Avenue to Trench I, 16.1., with a prismatic periscope to observe. From the infantry I heard all about seven of our shells, which are supposed to have fallen short. I was told that they did not explode, yet they threw up large columns of dirt! Then I looked for the “close up” German gun that has been causing a lot of trouble. I had lunch with “A” Company, with the Major, Captain and two subalterns. Captain Langhorne visited us when I was there. Later in the afternoon I was relieved by Cheadle, and I returned to the Battery. On my way back I was sniped at five times, though I went back by Wine Avenue. On arrival there I heard that five whiz-bangs had hit our parapet after I had left.
Hopkins arrived at the Battery, and I left for the Wagon Line. On my way I called at the Officers’ stables and at Headquarters. I dined at the Brigade Ammunition Column.
At 11, p.m. my kit arrived in the Mess Cart with my servant, Pearson. I went to bed at midnight.
MONDAY FEBRUARY, 28. 1916
I had breakfast of one egg and bad bacon. I then went round stables, inspected harness and wagons, and then censored letters. The Wagon Line is a dull job. The day was cold and damp, but fine. I had a parcel from home of marmalade, dates, chocolate, and writing paper and envelopes, which was very welcome. I also received three letters and wrote three.
Said one of the “feet”, “What’s going to stop this ‘ere ruddy war?” “When they ‘ave to get a new ruddy earth to fill them ‘ere sandbags.”
I had three prisoners, “dirty and late”. In the afternoon harness cleaning.
Monday February 28, 1916.
I am now at the wagon line about five miles back. My billet consists of two rooms in a dirty farmhouse, and my servant cooks for me. The house is a typical French farmhouse of the poorer sort. It is full of Crucifixes and religious pictures. When not working in the fields the family sit round the closed stove that juts out into the combined kitchen and living room, and eat, smoke and spit.
On Saturday night we had a gas alarm, and it was a very amusing sight to see us all in our gas masks wandering about like lost souls. There was no gas. Some silly person got frightened and banged a gong. Of course everyone else took it up, and there was a noise. It was rather annoying as I had just got to bed for the second time after having a previous call.
There are 130 horses here to look after. The ammunition supply and rations are sent up after dark from here, and it is a long cold journey there and back.
There is a certain amount of trench humour in the names of places here. There is Donkey Cottage, and Dead Cow Farm probably from the time when these animals were there in the flesh. A steel domed dug-out for the telephonists is named “The Picture Palace, Twice Nightly.” “Brick Road” is a narrow dirty slushy trench with a few bricks submerged in the bottom. A dug-out opening on to some foul ground is called “Belle Vue”. There are Pip-squeak Alley and Suicide Corner for obvious reasons, while “Paradise Alley” is a particularly hot trench.
FEBRUARY 28 1916.
At present I am at the wagon line, having a short rest. There are 130 horses to look after, so there is plenty to do. my job is to see to the horses and ammunition, ration and forage supply. It is dull down here, and the men soon get bored.
Life out here is so wholly different that at first one is a bit lost. It does not seem real. Every-day life at home is regulated by ready-made system of custom and habit, into which we are born. Here all things are new, and seem chaotic. We have to form our own habits and customs anew in a world with very little guidance where each man has to fend for himself with precious little assistance. Experience is only gained by trial and error. And often we make idiots of ourselves.
It is very strange to realise that one constantly, every night, goes to sleep within range of scores of Boche guns. if you forget it and show a light or do some other silly thing, and you get shelled out of your billet, you have only yourself to blame. Still it takes time to form the habit of taking the precautions one should. At times one exposes oneself to a strafe either by the enemy or the staff unwittingly. Having never been warned, one has to be quick witted to escape all the ills of this life.
My servant is at this moment cooking my dinner of ration meat and other equally horrible provisions. I have not had time yet to send to the Field Canteen for extras which make such a difference.
Last week I spent most of my time in the trenches. At present the trenches are in a terrible condition owing to the thaw.
The places one passes on the way to where up to the present the battery is successfully hidden are called “Sandbag Corner” “Suicide Corner”, “Pip-squeak Alley”. The Reserve Trenches begin at the back of the house. Further forward the Communication Trench is called “Cowgate Avenue”. As this trench is rather unhealthy, it is sometimes preferable to go by a longer way round to the front line, by “Wine Avenue”. If one goes by Cowgate one is likely to get sniped.
The trenches here are not at all good, and the wet weather has caused many parts to subside where they are not strengthened by wire netting, and even that is a nuisance as the wire tears clothes.
The trench zig-zags all the long way to the front line, passing through the Support Line on the way. The firing trench here has no parados, and is floored with duck boards full of holes, traps for the unwary.
Half way up the trench ceases and the track continues through a farm-yard, and as the farm is considerably damaged there is little cover. The place is enfiladed by a machine gun. So the best way is to double across the open ground. At night there is constant rifle fire. Little by day; but the field guns then take on the job of making noises.
Officers’ patrols here are curious affairs. If two hostile parties meet in No-Man’s-Land in the dark they dare not fire as it gives their position away to the other side. So what happens is that Each party makes up its mind which is the stronger, and the weaker doubles back to their own trench as hard as it can. The only weapons of any use are loaded sticks. The men in the trenches dare not fire either for fear of hitting their own men.
The General has stopped the rum issue.
I had my first ride for three weeks yesterday.
February 28, 1916.
You would, I think, be wise to accept the new opening. Do not worry about a chaplaincy any more. There is no lack of chaplains here, although, of course, there are not a great number of the right sort. I should be relieved to hear that you are remaining at home to look after the others. I do not think that the chaplains here get hold of the men much. They spend their time in the usual routine of the services in the back areas, but personal contact with the men, which is alone of use, is hampered by the fact that they are officers, and by red tape. They may do some good in hospitals. I have not seen our chaplain since I have been in France. one turned up to arrange a funeral, but otherwise I have seen no one. The men in the line are left pretty well alone. There are, I believe, plenty of services for those behind the line, and I have no doubt they get good congregations on compulsory church parade. There are too many non-combatants and staff out here.
What we want sadly is more fighting men in the infantry. The wastage, at present, is not large, but it is continuous and wears away the numbers more than is apparent to those who do not see the actual returns of casualties.
The war, as far as I can see, is “stale mate”. It is suicide for either side to make an attempt to attack and advance. Those devils the politicians have let slip the only way in which we could have brought the war to an early conclusion; namely completely surrounding the Boche at all points, using our fleet as we ought to have done, and starving the enemy out. In this way, and in this way alone, we could have mastered the enemy at a reasonable cost in lives. After all that is the way all sieges hitherto have reduced an enemy. The Germans besieged Paris. The difference is only one of degree and not of kind. But because the area is so large the imagination of the politicians and the higher command cannot grasp the idea.
A regimental officer is court martialed if he loses any men by carelessness or lack of judgement; but generals and ministers are granted huge salaries and loaded with honours for destroying our troops by their incompetency and indecision.
However it is no good grousing. We have to try and save them from the results of their failures. But the lives of the best men we have is a colossal price to pay for pulling the fat out of the fire.
I am at the wagon line, about five miles from the firing line, so comparatively safe for the time being. I have been lucky so far. The trenches are in a filthy state now the thaw has set in, and I live in a filthy state of dirtiness.
If anything happens to me, I want you to see to my affairs. I have one or two small bills to pay, tailors, etc., not a great deal. Everything should be easily covered with what I have got at Cox. There will also be my life insurance. I have made a will and it is with my kit. But of course I hope for the best, and if the war does not go on for ever, for civil life once again.
At the moment I am not sorry for a rest. Last week I spent most of my time in the front line trenches peering through a periscope. I got sniped at once or twice, but not much. Now I am catering for the needs of the gun-line.
TUESDAY FEBRUARY, 29. 1916
I was up at 6,a.m., and saw the ride go out. Then I checked the ammunition, and put down brick standings in the sick horse lines. I inspected gas helmets and bandoliers, and other kit. Later I drove in the mess cart through Croix du Bac to Bac St. Maur over appalling roads. I went to the Field Canteen, and bought some port for the gunline and some groceries.
In the afternoon the Colonel came round the lines. He told me he had a very good report about me from the Captain. He said the harness looked clean.
The day was much warmer, but the mud gets worse and worse. Last night I wrote four letters, one to Derbyshire. Today a driver was badly kicked in the face by a horse, and had to be sent to the Field Dressing Station.