War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda &
JULY THE FIRST, 1916.
BRIGADE WAR DIARY.
At 7.30, a.m., the British Infantry crossed No-Man’s-Land to attack the German Positions East of Albert. This Brigade co-operated with the Tyneside Scottish. The zone allotted to it was the whole of la Boisselle Salient, and a strip about 750 yards wide running from the salient in a N.E. direction. The Infantry attack was greatly held up by machine guns, which the enemy brought up from deep dug-outs after the bombardment, and our first waves of infantry, having passed behind them and on to the enemy support line, were cut off. The fight then resolved itself as far as we were concerned into a struggle for the position of the labyrinth of trenches in and around la Boisselle.
In this attack the Brigade lost two of its officers.
2nd Lieutenant W.C. Hickman was killed.
Do T. Crumbie.
Both these officers were Liaison Officers, the former attached to the Right attacking Battalion, and the latter to the Left.
(Subsequently these officers were replaced by 2nd. Lieut. le Maistre, and 2nd Lieut. Webber.)
JULY 2 to 5, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
The village of la Boisselle did not entirely fall into our hands until the 5th of July, when the 19th Divisional Infantry consolidated a line running round its northern and eastern outskirts. During these days our Batteries were chiefly employed in preventing fresh troops and supplies reinforcing the la Boisselle garrison from the direction of Ovillers, and at night barraged the approaches from the Pozieres direction. This according to the accounts of prisoners taken was carried out most successfully. Several parties of the enemy in the now shallow trenches were effectively fired on, and considerable casualties were observed by the Forward Observing Officers.
From the evening of the 1st July the 18 pdr Batteries of the Brigade were firing continuously a barrage for 72 hours, after which batteries were relieved from firing two hours at a time; but the barrage was continued up to the time of relief by the 89th Brigade.
Great assistance in the clearing up of la Boisselle by the Infantry Bombers was given by this Brigade firing on the trenches.
JULY 6, 1916.
As ordered I went to the 56th Infantry Brigade Headquarters as Liaison Officer. After reporting there I went into la Boisselle. Practically the whole of the place was taken, but the village was in a fearful mess. I took a German telephone from a dug-out.
At night I returned to the O.P.
JULY 6, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
The Brigade was relieved by the 89th Brigade R.F.A. 19th Division. A/175, was placed under the orders of the O.C. 160 Brigade, and moved into a forward position.
C and D, 175 Brigade came under orders of 152, Brigade, R.F.A. without moving from their positions, and continued in action. B/175, C/176, and D/152 were formed into a Mobile Group under Lt. Col. W. Furnivall.
JULY 7, 1916.
At the O.P.
About dawn a cross attack developed from la Boisselle by our troops. They moved across the open at right angles to our line of fire. The troops were of the 19th and 23rd Divisions. It was a good show. We fired in front of our men, and enfiladed the German communication trenches, now used as firing trenches. We sniped with one gun with good effect which could be seen. At least a dozen were killed in one place with one officer.
The 12th Division attacked Ovillers.
JULY THE SEVENTH, 1916.
It is about time I sent to you more particular news than what is contained in Field Service Post Cards. Now at last I have some time to spare in which to collect my thoughts and write a letter, which I hope I shall be able to send off to day.
No doubt you have seen in the papers all about “Der Tag” for which we have waited and prepared for so long, and it may be you know a good deal more about it than I do, if you can sift the grains of truth from the chaff of journalist efforts. Perhaps for the present I had better leave the papers to tell you of what happened in case I tread on forbidden ground. The Morning Post will give you the best accounts no doubt. I hear that the July the 3rd issue is one that contains the best account.
However there is little I can tell you.
We registered on June 23 and 24. On the following day we began in earnest to bombard the Boche lines and to try and cut their wire. I was at the O.P. the whole time and saw all there was to see on our particular front, which was perhaps the worst part of the line of attack.
Up to the Day, July 1st the weather had been foul, but then it was a glorious day. In the early morning the bombardment grew to a great intensity, and our splendid infantry went over the top at 7.30, a.m. As our O.P. was quite near and a little above the front line on the slope of a hill, we had as good a view as any one on the whole front. The infantry of our Division were magnificent. They did all that was humanly possible. I shall never be in danger of despising the Boche as a fighting machine. They can fight. But it was machine guns that did all the damage. Our fellows never had a chance in the face of that fearful fire from their immediate front and in enfilade long before they could hope to get near the enemy. As a result there was no bayonet work, and what little close fighting there was consisted of bombing. It ended in a complete vindication of the machine gun in efficient and cool hands. It was a sad day for us.
My job was to stay at the O.P., so I could not stray far. The O.P. is in two parts; the small hole on the surface of the hill side covered over by a sheet of iron, but with a slit, very narrow and surrounded with thistles, from which we observe; the rest consists of a steep flight of twenty steps leading straight down from the observing cupola to a deep dug-out. We had dozens of shells on top of us but they never penetrated. The dug-out is not pleasant. I had no bed, and two of our telephonists had to live, carry on their job, and sleep in the place as well. It is very small, so we were uncomfortably crowded. Moreover the horrid place leaks rather badly, and the stairs are very muddy and slippery. One has to bend double to get down, and then you knock your head on every beam on the way down.
The trenches are knee deep in mud now. Our food consists solely of bully beef in tins, jam in tins, and hard biscuits. Water brought up in petrol tins is well flavoured. Our kit is just what we stand up in with a tooth brush and a razor. But we also have the various hanging ornaments with which we deck ourselves, disguised as itinerant hucksters or Christmas trees, such as glasses, compass, maps, helmets, gas bag, revolver, stick, belt and what not.
Living such a life in such conditions our tempers suffer somewhat, but it is wonderful how our fellows stick it and remain cheerful. I have watched our “tommies” with great interest. After an attack the first thing they think of doing is to look for what they call “suveneers”, and then go fast asleep.
It is an extraordinary experience going over to the other side and seeing the places we have fired at for weeks.
And now I am thankful that I have come safely through so far, after witnessing the biggest attack our country has yet staged. But we have paid a great price. I think we have helped a little. For instance, this morning I was able to fire our guns just ahead of our attacking infantry into the Boche who were lining their trenches, and I know we accounted for several of them for I saw them fall under the shrapnel. We should be very unlucky if that was our only tale in all these days.
I am thankful to say that the gunners of our Brigade suffered surprisingly few casualties. If only we could get the Hun on the run.
I have had no news of Pearse. His Division I know did fairly well.
Thank you for the chocolate, which was a godsend, and for the pyjamas, which I have not had an opportunity of wearing yet. I have not had my clothes off for a fortnight, and I do not see any prospect of shedding them even yet. I hate myself at the moment, I need a bath badly.
I am quite fit and well, so I have nothing to complain about.
Our fellows have done their best, and whether we pull through or not lies in others hands, so it is no use worrying. To know that you are keeping cheerful at home, helps more than anything else. Au revoir. I must go to my blanket and get a wink. I do not need hastening on my way to bed now.
34th Divnl Arty.
The Commander-in-Chief visited Corps Headquarters this evening and when leaving directed me to convey not only his own warm personal thanks but that of the whole Army to all ranks of the Royal Artillery of the Corps that have taken part in the battle now in progress for the gallantry, skill, devotion and endurance with which they have carried out their duties in every particular.
He stated that he had issued an Order of the Day to the Army at large in which the services of the Royal Artillery in general had been specially mentioned but wished his appreciation and thanks to be conveyed more specifically to all ranks of the R.A., III Corps of which every individual officer, N.C.O. and man had worthily upheld the great traditions of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, beyond which no higher praise can be given.
Commanding Royal Artillery,
9th July, 1916.
JULY 10, 1916.
As no doubt you have seen in the papers, we have been fairly busy, and shall be, I suppose, for many weeks to come. The weather has been awful here, and the trenches are full of mud.
Yesterday I came down from the Observation Post and am now at the battery. I am at present sitting close to No. 4 gun, which is firing as hard as it can go, so you can imagine the noise. The battle started on June 25th and the day before that I went up to the O.P., and have been there ever since with the exception of one day when I went as Artillery Liaison Officer to an Infantry Brigade. We lived in a deep dug out, damp and smelly, which always dripped dirty water on us. We existed on tea, bully beef and biscuits. Our O.P. was exactly opposite La Boisselle, and just behind our front line. We saw the whole show. The Boche may be a brute but he can fight. The weather the whole time had been bad, but July 1st was a beautiful day. The infantry went over at 7.30, a.m. I have since been to La Boisselle, and an awful sight it is. Our troops have thoroughly searched the place for souvenirs.
JULY 10, 1916.
Brigade War Diary.
The positions for the four batteries of the Brigade were selected by Lt. Col. Furnivall on the eastern side of Sausage Valley, about 1500 yards S.E. of la Boisselle. Pits were dug and occupied.
The principal objectives of the 175th Brigade during the rest of this month in the forward position were the bombardment of the Switch Line, S.W. of Martinpuich, and the barraging of approaches to the same, and barrage fire N.E. of Pozieres in support of the attack by the Australian Division on that place, and subsequent attacks to the N. and N.E. of that place. This fire had been continuously observed from our front trenches by the F.O.Os. of the Brigade.
JULY 11, 1916.
I was unable to finish my letter last night. We fire night and day still. It gets rather wearisome after a bit, and the noise deafens one. Very luckily we have had few casualties in the battery, or for that matter in the Brigade. the young “shop boy” who was with us in the battery until April was killed the first day of the bombardment. He was an awfully nice and cheery chap, never in the dumps. He had worked very hard for sometime laying telephone lines, sometimes all day and all night. When he had practically completed his job, and was sitting down under a tree for a short while a stray shell burst in front of him. His name was Freeman-Cowan.
What do people at home think about the “move?” I should be interested to hear. I have seen a paper of the 6th and La Boisselle seems to figure very largely in the communiqués. There really was very hot fighting here, but some of the things the reporters say are not exactly truthful.
I am disgusted to see that, while the splendid Ulster Division did such heroic work here, and suffered such a lot, the politicians at home betray them.
The weather is again cold wet and windy.
July, 11, 1916.
I went up to the O.P. the day before the commencement of the bombardment, June 24th, and was there until the day before yesterday. So I saw all the fighting on our sector. I am glad to say we killed a few Boche, for I saw our shells hit them, and I expect we bagged a lot more unbeknown to us.
July 1st was a beautiful day, the only fine day we have had. Otherwise the weather has been awful, so you can imagine what our trenches are like.
I have been into la Boisselle, which is in a fearful state. The dead are still lying about in places. Our O.P. was heavily shelled, but it was strong and resisted most shocks.
Our infantry fought heroically, but the task was too much for them. The fight still goes on, and will do so indefinitely.
Our battery has had few casualties I am glad to say. There were eight of us in the small O.P. dug-out, officers and signallers. I slept on the ground, and my clothes did not come off for over a fortnight, so you can imagine how I hated myself.
Previous to the attack our chief task was to cut wire. For that purpose we fired about 10,000, rounds. On the day we were shelled with lachrymatory shells, which made us for a time quire blind, and the dug-out to smell for days.
July, 12, 1916.
The weather continues bad, and the fighting still goes on. I am at the gun line at present, but I must leave the Morning Post to give you the war news.
I enclose two flowers picked in the fields near la Boisselle. Even flowers grow in the trenches. The fields of cornflowers and poppies are beautiful. Some places are a mass of red, white and blue: poppies, daisies and cornflowers. But poppies predominate. There is not much left, however, where the Hun was. There it is brown and broken by the bombardment. The Boche have had some casualties, but we have suffered terribly too.
We have moved from our old gun position, and now are digging the guns in as best we can. It is everlasting work, this digging. It is never done. I do wish we could get the Hun on the move in the open; but it is a hard business.
JULY 19, 1916.
The weather tried hard to make amends for past failures this morning, but it has again clouded over and is trying to rain after all. I did not know it could be so persistent even in England.
We have moved our position for the third time, and we are now digging in as hard as we can. Our mess is in a Boche dug-out. On the top in the trench is a sort of arbour with one side open, but partially covered with trellis work and a wisp of ivy. We have our meals there. On the walls are coloured illustrations from magazines in the typical German artistic style. The Dug-out is very large and deep, and consists of spacious passages with three or four entrances, rooms with sleeping-bunks, kitchens and cupboards. I have explored most but not all yet. All passages are boarded, and the rooms Zinc-lined and papered. Electric light too.
I have been to Contalmaison, or rather what remains of it. I enclose a Boche post-card I picked up there. There are plenty of opportunities of collecting what the troops call souvenirs but I have no time to gather them or room to carry them.
The men sleep in the open, and are just dossing down for the night. We have to move out of our precious dug-outs tomorrow.
July, 19, 1916.
For a wonder today has been fairly fine, and it certainly is much warmer. We are again in a different position. The officers’ mess is in a Boche dug-out. Upstairs in the trench is a small arbour with a trellis work front and ivy growing up it in a box. Inside the walls boast of coloured pictures out of a German Magazine. Downstairs there are numerous rooms fitted with bunks, stoves, electric light. The walls are zinc lined and papered. I do not sleep here every night, as I have to sleep at the battery when I am on duty, and there there are only pits to sleep in.
I have visited a German battery, which was blown to bits. Such sights are cheering. It was not far from Contalmaison.
JULY 20, 1916.
It has turned out a beautiful morning, just right for a holiday by the sea. The Boche is however making a horrid noise with his morning hate. I suppose he is counter-attacking somewhere, or doing something equally annoying.
We spend our lives moving, digging or blazing away as hard as we can go.
Brigade War Diary.
The Brigade was attached to the 23rd Divisional Artillery and F.O.Os registered the German Switch Line (?) with observation from No-Man’s-Land.
July 21 1916.
Royal Regiment of Artillery.
R.H. & R.F.A.
The undermentioned 2nd Lieuts. To be temp Lts. 20th May 1916.
A.A. LAPORTE PAYNE.
(Morning Post Sat. July 22. 1916)
July 21 1916.
The weather is warmer and much finer. It is about time. Last night I was gun-line officer and slept in the open next to the guns. The dew was rather heavy, but otherwise it was quite alright. On alternative nights I sleep in a palatial German dug-out. At the entrance there is an arbour cut into the trench and fitted with trellis work covered with ivy. Below there is a long passage from which several rooms have been cut in the chalk. These are fitted with bunks. There is a large kitchen containing stoves. The whole place is fitted with electric light. The Boche knew how to make themselves safe and comfortable.
This evening there is a beautiful sunset, perhaps a little too red to be of good omen. And alas! The country side is becoming rather late summer in appearance.
It seems hard to get the Hun on the move. He is a wonderful fighter and sticker.
I still keep fit and well, I am glad to say. But one day I shall enjoy the luxuries of civilization again. Such seem very remote here. My imagination hardly stretches to such things as baths, a room to one’s self, and living in the way one used to take for granted. But I suppose I shall get into the way of it again, and all this will be as a dream.
July 22, 1916.
The night has gone off fairly quietly, although about 12.30, a.m., we had a gas alarm. Nothing came of it and we turned in again. I have three gas helmets and a box respirator, so I ought to be safe against anything. Still gas shells are very trying at times. Unless they burst near to one they do not do much harm, but the smell is not nice. It makes some people sick. The gas has a habit of collecting in hollows, and at the bottom of dug-outs, and then it is essential to wear the respirator. We had a lot the other night, and the concentration of gas was fairly strong.
This morning it is dull and somewhat colder, but as long as it does not rain I do not mind much.
The troops get hold of a large quantity of loot in the way of Boche equipment. Helmets abound. I should like to find a good pair of Zeiss glasses, but so far I have not discovered any. An automatic would be useful too. But I do not intend to buy such things from the troops, which is done by some. There is a regular auction in Albert for such things.
I little thought when I used to sit in the O.P. watching the village of la Boiselle that the place would become so notorious. And Contalmaison too. This place is a most extraordinary sight. Now it is merely a gigantic rubble heap.
It must be terrible for the French to have their towns and villages destroyed in this way. Thank God the Hun is not in England, and never will be now. I should thoroughly enjoy myself if we ever got into Germany. But I do not suppose our politicians would ever allow us to treat Bocheland in the way the Hun has treated France.
The Boche is much quieter this morning. But our fire goes on as usual. It has now been continuous since the 24th June – just a month. It gets a little wearisome after a time.
Our trouble here is water. It is very difficult to get. Our water cart has to go backwards and forwards to a place some distance away every day to keep us supplied. Then it is only to be used for drinking purposes, so we are hard put to it to get a wash.
JULY 28, 1916.
We have just left the line after 34 days and nights continuous firing for a rest of 48 hours. The men are tired and need a rest and baths are necessary. (Thank you) for the cigarettes wrapped up in water-proof paper to prevent them getting damp. The mud had disappeared at last, and now we are suffering from the dust.
I am at present sitting on the horses’ hay writing. Unfortunately we are not quite out side the range of gunfire. They have just put 2 or 3 nasty black woolly shell over here; but did no damage.
It is not nice to discover dead things in one’s abode. Even dead birds in a summerhouse are unpleasant. In our Boche dug-out we have been troubled by peculiar smells, so we determined to investigate and clear that part of our underground home, which was filled with debris, the aftermath of a bombing attack which should have cleared the place of Huns. Eventually we discovered underneath the lumber two of the former inhabitants in not a nice condition. Now the place smells of lime and other disinfectants.
Are you not sick of war news, war stories, war books? I am; but we still read our week old newspapers from end to end.
We are having beautiful [weather] now, just right for Henley. We dream delirious moments of the sea-side, and nothing to do for months and months. I am not at all looking forward to another winter out here. In the old days they used to wage war properly and go “in hibernis”, into winter-quarters, and give up fighting for a while, which was sensible. But we have fallen into evil habits.
I am sorry for the inhabitants of these parts. Every time we advance it means levelling their villages to the ground. Artillery bombardments now-a-days are terrific. Imagine miles and miles of country-side literally covered with shell holes turning the ground grey and brown, and miles of fire and communication trenches all mixed up owing to the advance. All trees and vegetation destroyed. It will be a very long time before they will be able to inhabit the villages and till the fields we fight over now. In La Boisselle I could not find the roads, the houses do not exist, and the church is a mound of white rubble.
JULY 29, 1916.
It is a beautiful and hot day again. We did not rise early as we sat up very late last night after a heavy dinner of soup, tinned fish, lobster, sausages, peaches and English beer, the first for months. We return to the line tomorrow.
This morning we had an inspection of horses. They are looking very thin. Poor things, they have had a bad time lately with so much carrying ammunition. Later we had some revolver practice. I started well but fell off sadly.
July, 29, 1916.
After 34 days of continuous firing night and day, we are out of the line for 48 hours so called rest. We return tomorrow. The weather is beautifully fine and hot. Here at the wagon line, a good dinner last night, and a lie abed this morning were most acceptable.
Our Hun dug-out smelled very bad, so we determined to clear out that part which had been smashed in by bombing when the infantry were supposed to have cleared the place of Boche. Underneath we discovered two of those gentry in a condition hardly nice. So now the place smells of lime and other disinfectants.
I have turned chaplain and undertaken the task of burying the dead once or twice, poor chaps. Once I made the cross myself out of the wood of a biscuit box. I could not identify some.
Sunday evening, July 30, 1916.
Today has been a beautiful fine hot day. But then the dust becomes troublesome and covers everything with its whiteness. Still I would rather have that than mud.
Today has been the quietest Sunday I have yet spent in France and on the Somme too! I got up fairly late, for we are at the wagon line. After breakfast there was an inspection of the horses, and then midday stables. After lunch I slacked in the hot sun. It was glorious. At three in the afternoon I paraded the battery in their shirt sleeves, told the Roman Catholics to fall out, and then we had a service with practically the whole of the battery present including three subalterns. It was the first service I had attended for a long time. It did not last more than half an hour. At the end the padre said a few words. He spoke about the mote in a brother’s eye, and the beam in one’s own. Then he went off about nations and national hatreds. Without venturing too near he circled round the subject of loving one’s enemy. At the moment we here are only too ready to ascribe all sorts of good qualities to the Germans, courage, tenacity, discipline, thoroughness, method, and what you will; but perhaps not the milk of human kindness or mercy. As we were all professional soldiers or volunteers, it all seemed rather pointless, and I think he missed a great opportunity of saying something to assist the men. If we were not here to kill the Boche as the country’s enemies we ought to be at home in league with the conscientious objectors and not wearing the King’s uniform. He seemed to think that the aim and object of the National Mission at home was to get the people to go to church.
After having seen something of the way the Boche treat our wounded I suffer from no illusions. At the moment it is no use asking me to love them.
You ask me my opinion of chaplains out here. My experience is very limited. We never saw one at all the whole time we were in action. As in every profession, it all depends on the character of the man himself, and mostly they seem to be rotters. But there are some great exceptions. Anyone can celebrate the Holy Communion or mass, or bury the dead, after the formula. That cuts no ice with the men. I can bury those who died just as effectively. Mostly the poor chaps lay where they fell, until we moved forward a bit and fatigue parties could bury them. They had no chaplain, and I somehow feel that they would not care much how they were buried. If they had done their job, well and good. If not no service could help them. It is far more important to cheer the fellows up and help them do their job while they are alive. And hot air about loving your enemies does not help much at the moment. I believe a lot could be done among the men while they are in the line or are lying wounded or dying. But it requires some courage to go up forward voluntarily. Few seem to do it. If a padre is a man of personality he gets a job in the higher ranks and becomes a staff officer and sits in an office. That is not my idea of a padre’s job out here. As everywhere the white man (if I may use the term) is in a great minority. It does the Church no good for parsons to be seen in back area wearing crowns and stars and the black gorget patches of the staff, or when in uniform running a canteen at the Base. The Expeditionary Force Canteen people can do that or the A.S.C.
Monday Morning, July 31, 1916.
Another boiling hot day. We are still out of the firing line. We came out three days ago after 32 days and nights of continual firing. Altogether we fired about 22,000 rounds, which is not so bad for four guns. We expect to go back any minute. It is peaceful where we are, but even here the Boche put over an occasional round or two.
I was up at 4.30, a.m., this morning and took the early exercise for the horses. They are not looking at all fit after the ammunition carrying they have had to do.
We were most fortunate in the attack. We only had two casualties wounded.
On Saturday night we had a men’s concert. It was not bad, but rather lengthy. The Sergeants’ mess cook was very funny and had to appear to encores five times. We had dinner afterwards at 10, p.m.
We sleep in tents, which we have stolen. We call it “winning” them. Our mess is made of empty ammunition boxes and a great green tarpaulin. It is alright so long as it keeps fine.