War Diary of AA Laporte Payne
Brigade Diary, Personal Diary, Operation Orders, Note Books, Memoranda
16th October 1917
R.P. October 16, 1917.
The weather is atrocious. It is blowing and raining hard. I have just returned to the wagon lines from a trip down south to the scene of big things. I came back in a fast car belonging to the R.N.A.S. We got in about 10.30 p.m., and found everyone abed.
I have just finished reading “The Faith and the War” edited by Foakes Jackson. I was very interested, but it will not be read much as it is difficult reading.
A discovery interesting from an archaeological point of view has been brought to light this week near Gaza a mosaic of Bishop George, the patron Saint of England, A.D. 561. It was excavated in a portion of captured Turkish trenches under fire by ANZACS. The circumstances are interesting. If we lived in ancient or medieval times it would be deemed a good omen or a sign from God that we shell ultimately conquer. May it be so.
The Boche is making a horrid noise to night.
Now we are trying to settle down for the winter. I do not like the idea of spending it just here. We may of course be moved. You never know what may happen at a moment’s notice. There is a great demand for stoves.
October 16, 1917.
Twenty minutes ago I returned to my shanty, where I am living alone again. Since I last wrote I have left Headquarters, and have been away down south to the town, or rather what was a town, and I have just returned to find much correspondence.
I believe today is the 16th. I have no one to ask. I had dinner in Dunkerque, and then came back in a car with two R.N.A.S. fellows. Those fellows can drive, especially after a good dinner.
It is blowing hard and raining again.
A noise has worried me at times here. It is very faint and far away, but seems to get into my head. At first I did not know whether it was only in my head or not. It sounds like the noise made by rubbing a wet finger on the edge of a tumbler only much shorter in length. I have found out what it is. The noise is made by a bell buoy out at sea some distance away. It is a gloomy sound and most monotonous.
Would you mind sending out to me the Times Literary Supplement, and the Bookman. If you should see any good articles in the Nineteenth Century, the Hibbert Journal, or the Quest, would you let me have them. As the winter comes on and the winter evenings are long and dreary I must have something to read, and novels usually bore me to tears.
I read Blackwoods every month. It is usually excellent.
October 20, 1917.
Here I am as I feared and foretold. I am in the unenviable position of having to try and act as Battery Commander and Adjutant. Both the Major and the Adjutant are away on leave, and I only am left a remnant in Israel! this land of bondage.
Since I last wrote I have been up at the gun line, and running like a frightened hare between battery and Brigade Headquarters. I have had a lovely time! Not even shelling can distract me now.
At the moment the Boche is shelling us. The moan of the shells is like what I imagine lost souls make, and the burst like the splash and shake of their arrival in hell, a splash like the one the All Highest, Kaiser Bill, would assuredly wish to make wherever he goes, and the buzz of the splinter bits, like the annoyances expressed by the previous occupants at being joined by a greater fiend than they. He would certainly make them do the goose step.
I am reading a book by Augustine Birrell, called “Selected Essays”.
How is England? Are you all provided with tin hats and dug-outs now? I wish we had some of the latter here, but any attempt to dig is like Moses striking the rock, water gushes forth.
The wretched telephone has been going all day. There is considerable movement in transport on the road tonight, and I have been afraid of my gees getting damaged on the way. However it is alright, they are all safely gathered in, and tucked up for the night as long as the Hun does not shell the wagon line. One officer made his way across country in the dark with no light to avoid the road and fell into an enormous shell hole full of water.
The Colonel has just wandered in to the mess in his pyjamas, and asked me to see to something so I close.
R.P. October 24, 1917.
The Colonel and I are alone at Headquarters. I forgot the Doctor. He is of course here too. There is no signals officer or orderly officer. A new signals officer arrives tomorrow. It means that I have to see to the whole of the work at Headquarters as well as keep an eye on the Battery. It is a bit of a strain, especially as the Boche has been very aggressive lately. There has been no mail for three days, which is sad. It is very cold in my office. There is no fire there. The sign of smoke is to be carefully avoided if you wish to live in peace.
The office was in a mess when I came in. I have insisted on having every paper carefully sorted away and indexed. Today I have dealt with no less than two hundred separate memorandums, papers and returns. This is a paper war, thanks to our precious staff. I know that half is never read by the battery officers. There is no time.
Here is an example of the Staff’s belief in the powers of the parson at home. What faith! Here is a reply I have just received from Corps Headquarters with regard to a man’s application for special leave consequent upon serious difficulties and trouble in his family circle.
“Numerous societies etc. exist for the purpose of giving assistance and advice in such cases, and a letter to one of them or to the clergyman of the man’s parish would probably be effective.”
French news from the Aisne is encouraging. I hope success continues.
There is a howling gale blowing this evening. It is omnipresent in a room with no windows. Papers fly all over the place as if possessed.
October 24, 1917.
What a night! The wind is howling about our old farmstead; but no doubt you know that too, just over the narrow seas.
Here there is only the Colonel and the Doctor on Headquarters now. The Signal Officer, the Orderly Officer, and the Camouflage Officer have all left. A new “Signals” comes tomorrow. The Colonel is a Colonel, and the Doctor is a doctor, and an Irishman and a Roman Catholic with rather pronounced ideas and a tender skin; he also has crude notions about history and literature. So we have not much in common. However we do not see much of each other. I spend the whole day in the office now, I regret to say.
This evening I was in my bedroom, also the office, having a bath in a canvas bucket, when I has no less than five telephone calls in three minutes, all demanding my attendance at the receiver in a state of cold nudity.
There has been no English mails for three days, which is rather boring.
The French are going strong on the Aisne. Good luck to them.
October 28, 1917.
I am shivering with the cold. The Doctor is writing home, and ends with “I am too cold to write any more. Au revoir.” He goes and sits by the fire.
It is about tea time, and I have left my combined office, boudoir and bedroom, which is much too draughty. The mess is not much better, but a fire has just been lit, as it is now dark. Through a side window, which is without its glass, I can see the silhouette of a farm house a short way away. It is the home of a 60 pdr. battery, and they are now being heavily shelled with 5.9 Howitzer shells. I hope the enemy battery does not switch a few minutes more left.
The doctor keeps interrupting me as I write, asking me to listen to jokes in a paper he is reading. I do detest people who persist in reading out extracts from papers one can read for oneself when one wants to, especially when you are doing something else.
After strenuous efforts the Doctor managed to mend the old gramophone last night. So to sooth us we had music (?) from “Bubly” and “Zig-zag”. We needed something to cheer us. Soon after we were heavily shelled.
I see poor old Trevor Pearse had been wounded. I hope not seriously. Well! I suppose one cannot go on for ever in the front line.