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In 2011 I went to France, with my old schoolfriend Clive, researching some of the First World war battlefield sites for my next book.  Though I had been on an excellent tour two years previously, organised by the North Lancashire Branch of the Western Front Association, this one was much more personal.  Not least, it allowed me, for the first time, to visit the grave of my grandfather, Charlie Payne, at Terlincthun Cemetery on the northern edge of Boulogne.

Terlincthun British Cemetery, Boulogne

Travelling by Eurotunnel, it was only a short run down the coast from Calais, and was an emotional start to a most rewarding visit. We then moved on to Arras which proved to be an ideal centre from which to visit the sites we wanted to see in Picardy, including those relevant to the Battle of Cambrai (November 1917), and the Defence of Bucquoy (during the German Spring Offensive at the end of March 1918).  Wherever we travelled, the numerous military cemeteries, beautifully tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, provided a constant reminder of the tragic loss of young lives during the conflict.  Nonetheless these cemeteries, however large, do not fully prepare you for the scale of losses recorded at the two main memorials to the missing (men with no known grave), at the Menin Gate at Ypres (Ieper), where the names are listed of some 54,800 men from the Commonwealth, and at the Thiepval memorial where the names of about 72,000 British and South African servicemen are recorded as missing during the Battle of the Somme (July to November 1916). Though I had previously been to both locations, Clive had not. We attended the daily 8.00 p.m. Menin Gate ceremony which was crowded with people of all ages. On the night we visited, a Welsh male voice choir added to the experience.  Two days later at Thiepval, pouring rain and low cloud added a poignant and depressing reminder of the range of conditions under which our ancestors fought and died.

Charlie Payne's headstone at Terlincthun



My grandfather's grave, like all the others, carries few words. His gravestone gives the basic facts "235435 Lance Cpl. Charles Fredrick Payne. Duke of Wellington's Regt. 11th February 1919".  To these, my grandmother had asked for a few words to be added.  These were "Ever in our thoughts".  He still is.


"Three Gentlemen of Genoa". Charlie Payne (right) with two work colleagues in the 'Giardino', 1907. Charlie  was a grandson of  Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard (the subject of my recent book ‘The Chieftain’). More details of Charlie’s life and times will feature in my next book, based on Charlie's diaries and letters, which has the working title ‘Charlie’s War’ .

In 1907, my grandfather Charlie Payne travelled to Genoa to take up a job as a stenographer (shorthand clerk) with the American Express Company. During his time in this Italian maritime and financial centre he kept a diary which provides a commentary on his daily life and experiences and the attitudes of an Edwardian Englishman abroad.

The following is an atmospheric diary entry describing Charlie's late-night wanderings around Genoa in 1907, after an evening out with work colleagues.

"Spent the evening with Wearmouth and Vista at the Giardino and remained chatting with Vista in the Puerto Rico until past midnight then he went home but I, still feeling very sleepless, decided to remain out and have a look at Genoa during the night.

Piazza Corvetto, Genoa c 1907

I remained in the Piazza Corvetto until the trams stopped (1 a.m.) and then wended my way to the sea along Via Corsica.  It was a moonlit night and very silent, very few people being about. I remained for about ½ hour gazing out at sea at the City and Monte Facie and at the Lanterna whose light lit up the whole place every alternate minute.  There is something very impressive gazing down on a City in the “sma’ wee hours”, especially such a one as Genoa.

Panorama of Genoa c 1907

I then walked along by the sea for ½ hour without meeting a soul and the only sounds to be heard were the moaning of the sea and the echo of my own footsteps.  I was very glad when at one of the gates I was greeted by a sentry with “Buona Serra Signor”. It was now 2-30 a.m. and I was in the roughest part of the City.  I began to wish I was not alone.  But I met with no untoward adventure.  Three or four gangs of drunken sailors singing and shouting and of course various other inevitable shady characters of the night – but the police here are in twos and armed with swords and revolvers and besides Genoa is on the whole a very law-abiding place.  So on I went – not feeling a bit tired – but interested in everything I saw.  As in London the cabs were still running – but one by one they fell away.

Stazione Principe (Main Station), Genoa c 1907. Statue of Christopher Columbus at right foreground.

At 3 o'clock I found myself near the Stazione Principe, so decided to see what was doing there.  There were a good number of poor people waiting for the cheap trains – sleeping on the seats.  One little group especially caught my eye.  On the seat was the wife fast asleep with her husband dozing – near by, on a pile of clothing made up in a bundle was a little girl about 12 fast asleep with a little dog in her arms, while playing round about was a little boy about 5 – wide awake.  They had all their belongings with them done up in various bundles and underneath the seat was a canary in a cage.  I sat on a seat just by the grand statue of Christopher Columbus, smoking and having a rest, for I had walked quite 4 miles, until about 3.30 a.m.  When the woman awoke and aroused the others – they gathered up their bundles, dog, canary and all and I watched them disappear in the station.  Off to England, I supposed.

There were several such groups.  There were also other groups I saw – groups of poor, starving, homeless men, women and children asleep on every possible place where they could lie unmolested till the morning.  On the pedestals of the various statues, in doorways and arches and seats.  The police do not interfere with them for there are too many and no other place for them to go.

The public laundry of Santa Brigida, Genoa c 1907

Leaving the station I walked down the Via Balbi, passed the Royal Palace into the Piazza Nunziata (where the American Express Company Office is), passed the Hotel Victoria where I spent my first night here.  What a busy scene I ran into here, for it is the Covent Garden of Genoa.  Mule-carts loaded with greenstuff, peaches, plums, pears, apples, tomatoes, beans etc etc. Labourers drinking wine and hot coffee – women too – working as hard as the men at unloading the carts and fixing up the stalls, mules and donkeys braying and various other noises.  I watched them all for a long time and then took my way up some dirty side streets, through some beautiful gardens and so out on to the Circorvallazione where I took a seat and had a slight doze till about 4-30.  I was roused by one of the night watch, banging his stick at every street corner as is the custom here.  The first faint streak of dawn broke over the sea, the air was fresh, so I got up and walked on watching the sun gradually come up out of the sea.

La Lanterna, Genoa c 1907

It was rather a cloudy dawn otherwise I should have gone up into the hills to watch it.  It got rapidly light until about 5 o'clock when the Electric Lights went out, also the Lanterna, birds started chirping, various alarm clocks went off and sleepy workmen made their way along.  I felt sleepy too, so made my way home where I arrived at 6 o'clock and not all the noises of waking Genoa could keep me awake."


Charlie Payne c. 1914

In this historical Blog, I have already introduced my grandfather, Charlie Payne, to you in a number of guises:   as an employee of the American Express Company based in Genoa in 1907; later in 1913 as a married man and clerk working at a music publishing company in Great Portland Street, London, and lastly as a member of the 'PBI' ("Poor Bloody Infantry") in the latter stages of The Great War.

In November 1915, with the Great War already 15 months old and nowhere near resolution, Charlie attested to serve in the British Army if called upon to do so, in a registration process referred to historically as the 'Derby Scheme'.

Charlie Payne's attestation card under the Derby Scheme

By then he, and his wife Ida already had three sons aged between 1 and 5, and another baby due in February 1916. When conscription was finally introduced in Britain in spring 1917, single men were the first to be called up.  However, with the almost insatiable requirement by the armed forces for yet more men, by October 1916, at the age of  33, Charlie was alerted that he would soon be called up. He was medically examined, given a 'B1' classification and then was told to report to the East Surrey Regiment's depot at Kingston-upon-Thames  in mid-November 1916. He found himself amongst a group of 70 men who were then sent for training with the Yorkshire Regiment at a training base in Clacton, Essex.

An Edwardian postcard of Clacton on Sea

Charlie recounted his training experiences in letters home to his wife Ida; many of these letters have survived and provide a first-hand account of life as a conscript and trainee soldier.  In his letter of 5th December 1916 he recounts some of his earliest training experiences, including his frustration at not having received his uniform yet:

The first page of Charlie's letter of 5 December 1916

"No. 21179 Pte. C.F. Payne, D Company, 5th Yorkshire Regiment [sic] 24th Provisional Battn., Clacton-on-Sea, Essex

Tuesday evening 5/12/1916

My dear wife

Your letter to hand this morning and welcome parcel this evening, for which many many thanks.  I shall have a nice supper before turning in tonight, you may be sure.  You will be surprised to hear that we have not yet received clothes or kit and I consider it a perfect scandal, but I suppose that we shall get it “some day”. My trousers have gone at the seat, but that is a mere detail, many are in a much worse plight.  Yes, dear, I have quite recovered from the inoculation and am feeling very fit.  We have received our rifles and bayonets and I can tell you that they are putting us through it as much as we can stand, and many cannot stand it.  The cold here yesterday was intense, and my hands were numbed but I managed to get through my first rifle drill without dropping the damned thing once. Sunday was also very cold and we were kept standing about for ¾ hr. before lunch and I have never seen men faint before owing to extreme cold, but I did, and one fell just in front of me as stiff as a stick and the poor chap did come a cropper.  Drafts are coming in from all parts now and our Battalion (24th) will soon be complete.  Grub on the whole still continues to be good and we have boiled rice for dinner 2 or 3 times a week – not so bad.

Regarding Xmas leave, dear, we must not expect too much, so try and not be disappointed if I am away from you and the boys this year.  There is a rumour about that all Xmas leave is stopped except for drafts going to and returning from France, but anyhow I shall get leave soon afterwards. Pleased to hear that the dear boys are all well.  By the way I did not find their letters in the parcel so take it they were not enclosed so I may expect them in a future letter.  Shall be pleased to hear how you get on as Xmas postwoman and trust you feel quite equal to the work, but please take great care, dear, as so much depends on your good health.  Who will look after the boys for you? Nanny I expect.  Wrote to mother the other day but have not received a reply yet.  I addressed it 89 Brockley Rise.  Let me know if that is the correct number.  I always forget.  It was kind of you to send me that oz. [ounce] of Bondman [tobacco] and handkerchiefs.  I have washed the one I had several times so it was getting thin.

Coverton Road, Tooting c. 1914. Charlie's wife Ida and their children lived at number 28 with her parents and two younger sisters.

I take it you have now quite succeeded in weaning little Rupert [their youngest son born February 1916].  They and you are always in my thoughts and I am longing to give them a kiss – but all in good time.  Have not forgotten their post-cards.  Any further news of Bill and Mike [two of Ida's brothers, also in the Army] ? How’s Alice and Jack? [Ida's sister and brother-in-law, Jack Palmer] Remember me kindly to all at 28 [Coverton Road, Tooting]. Will close now dear with heaps of love and kisses to you and the boys.

Your loving husband


P.S.  We are known as the Clacton Town Guard !!!"

Perhaps the tramp-like conditions of his  own clothes at this stage of his training led Charlie later to refer to his unit  as "Charlie Chaplin's Army", a viewpoint that was not appreciated by the Drill Sergeant who overheard that comment!

Based on Charlie's letters and experiences, I am currently preparing a book for publication under the working title 'Charlie Payne's Hatbox'.  For further information on my research and publications please visit my website.


The route taken by Charlie Payne's battalion when marching to the German Rhineland. Nov-Dec 1919

On 25 December 1918, 44 days after the 11 November Armistice, when hostilities in the Great War had ceased, Charlie Payne and his battalion  (5th Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment; 62nd Division) arrived at their final destination near Mechernich, Germany, after a protracted march across Belgium as part of the British Army of Occupation of the Rhineland.   In his letter of 28th December to his wife Ida ,  he describes  the highlights of his Christmas, including his first bath in  6 weeks, and playing cards with the erstwhile enemy:

Charlie's wife Ida, with their four sons (from left) John, Rupert, Dick and Ted, 1918

"Hőstel, near Mechernich, Germany, 28/12/18

My dear Wife, I duly received yours of the 15th enclosing letters and cards from all the boys for which thank them.  The parcel also reached me in perfect order and the contents were greatly appreciated, more particularly as we were in a nice comfortable billet at a village called Amel.  Since then we have been on the march, but spent a fairly decent Xmas Day and Boxing Day at Mechernich. Yesterday we moved to Hőstel and are billeted in a cottage.  There is plenty of snow about and the weather is very bitter.  I do hope it is not so severe in London.  On the whole the Germans have received us very well and their houses are neat and clean after the French and Belgian ones.  Like us they are heartily glad the War is over and do not seem to grieve much for the loss of their Kaiser.  I spent Xmas Day in converse with a Prussian Guard, his wife and 7 children; played cards with them.  Who would have thought this possible a few months ago.  The youngsters had plenty of toys etc. for Xmas and a big Xmas tree; as you know Germans like us keep Xmas in fine style.  I was sorry to leave Mechernich.  I had a bed to sleep in with nice clean sheets and you may guess I did sleep.  No doubt what brought Germany to her knees was “shortage of food”.  They are very hard up for it.  Their bread is awful.  We had nothing special Xmas Day, but perhaps we should have a good spread later on when we get settled.

The 1918 Christmas Card of the 5th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment, sent by Charlie Payne to his wife, Ida

I am looking forward to getting your next letter telling me how you all spent Xmas.  I hope after your longer hours and work you may get a good rest.  The conversation between Dick and John I can picture and I should have loved to have heard them.  I note all your other news, dear.  I must tell you I had a nice card from Mrs Palmer also a letter.  I expect Jack was home for Xmas [Jack and Alice Palmer were Charlie's brother and sister-in-law].  What did you think of our regimental Card – I think it good.  Please take care of it as a souvenir. Give my love to all upstairs and I trust they are all quite well.  Gert [Charlie's younger sister] sent me 50 cigs. and some chocolate and please thank Dolce [Ida's younger sister] very much for the ‘bacca' – “Bondman” – I was well away.

Charlie's favourite tobacco

Pleased to say I am quite well except for “chats” [body lice].  For some reason or other we have not had a change of underclothes since about Nov. 15th and only one bath (yesterday).  I have “dumped” several articles of clothing but do not quite like parting with my shirt this weather.  Tell Ted and John [Charlie's two eldest sons] I shall be answering their nice letters shortly and when I can buy some picture cards I’ll send them some which I know they will keep until I come home.

Will you please get me 2 “German Self-Taught by the Natural Method” (Thimm’s System) Revised by W.E. Eber M.A. Second Edition published by E. Marlborough & Co. 51, Old Bailey, E.C. Price 1/9 each paper cover. I am learning a little of the German language as it is rotten sitting here like a dummy.  I want one for myself and one for a pal.  If, however, they are out of print, try and get me some other German book.  I am sorry to trouble you, dear.  Perhaps it would be as well to register them.  Did you get the 20 Francs I sent before Xmas – I hope so? With heaps of love and kisses to you and the boys. Ever yours, Charlie."

Charlie's aspirations to learn German quickly paid off. Within the next two weeks he had  become the interpreter to B Company, bartering effectively with the local German population to help purchase the necessities of life, including the food required for a belated Christmas dinner for the men of his battalion. In fact he ended up having two Christmas dinners as the Officers invited him to join them after he had managed to acquire sufficient chickens for their own meal! 

(These and many other aspects of Charlie's life will be described in my next book 'Charlie Payne's Hatbox').

Almost as soon as the First World War Armistice of 11th November 1918, had been resolved, one of its main elements had to be implemented: the occupation of the German Rhineland by the Allied forces.  Amongst those who started the long march from France to Germany, on 18th November 1918, was my grandfather, Private Charlie Payne, 5th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment, part of the 62nd (West Riding) Division, and the only Territorial Division to be included in the Army of Occupation.(Some of my other blog posts describe Charlie's reactions to the Armistice and to his arrival in Germany.)

The route taken by Charlie Payne's battalion when marching to the German Rhineland. Nov-Dec 1919
The route taken by Charlie Payne's battalion when marching to the German Rhineland. Nov-Dec 1919 (Click on map to enlarge)

Compared with the huge volume of  literature on the hostilities during the First World War, the Allied Occupation of the Rhineland, and the preparation of the troops for their impending return to civilian life has received only limited coverage.  My blog today adds a personal touch to that period when the civilian skills of some men who had been conscripted into the forces started to become more relevant than their abilities as fighting troops.  On 11th January 1919, Charlie wrote home to his wife Ida, to give her some good news; he had been promoted and his pay would be increased.

Private Charles Frederick Payne, 1918
Private Charles Frederick Payne, 1918

"Mechernich, Germany, Saturday 11/1/1919

My darling, Up till now I have no further letters from you to answer, but perhaps I shall get one in the morning. You will be pleased to hear I am now a Sergeant, having been promoted to that rank as teacher of Shorthand at the Brigade School in Mechernich. In due time I shall receive the full pay of Sergt. and I think 1/- per day over and above, but will let you know as soon as I draw my new pay.  Not so bad for a “duffer” eh, dear?

Charlie Payne's shorthand credentials
Charlie Payne's shorthand credentials (Click on picture to enlarge)

I am in a very comfortable billet and share a bedroom (with a champion bed in it) with another Sergt.  We have a mess of our own, for which we pay a few marks extra per week.  I have plenty of teaching to do – from 8.30 a.m. to 12.30.  Then, of course, I have papers to check and prepare next day’s work.  I am billeted in a hotel and the Germans treat us well – they seem anxious to wash out if possible (?) their past misdeeds – we have free use of a billiard table and often the family ask us to join them at supper. I am getting on well with the “lingo” and I hope it will help me when I get back to dear old England – which I trust will be soon now.  As you know, dear, Germany is now more or less in a state of revolution and there are terrible riots in Berlin etc.  Heaven grant the British will not be dragged into her domestic troubles.  We are all anxious to clear out of it.

Well, little woman, how are you?  I am anxiously looking forward to your next letter – I do hope you are feeling better.  The weather here is very bright and cold today.  What’s it like in London.  I fancy you are having snow. I think, dear, if you address all future letters as follows I shall get them quicker –Sgt. C. F Payne 235435, B Company, 5th West Riding Regt.,186th Infantry Brigade School, B.E.F. Germany.

Mechernich c. 1919; the Post Office
Mechernich c. 1919; the Post Office (Click on picture to enlarge)

I think I must try and get a photo taken of my 3 stripes as a souvenir. [Sadly, no such photo has been found] I was made Corporal on Tuesday last and Sergt. on Wednesday.  Quick promotion.  I think the pay out here is 3/6 per day and with the 1/- per day extra = 31/6 per week, but I expect it will take a little time to come through.  I will let you know, dear.

Charlie's wife Ida, with 'the four little rebels', 1918
Charlie's wife Ida, with 'the four little rebels', 1918 (Click on picture to enlarge)

Well, little woman, how are our 4 little rebels – I trust all well.  I have not yet had time to send them any more cards but tell them “old Dad” has not forgotten.  What a difference in 12 months, darling.  This time last year I was in the most awful of trenches [in the Gavrelle-Oppy sector of the Western Front]– up to our waists in slush, with the Huns only 100 yards away – now billeted in a German hotel about 30 miles south-west of Cologne on the Rhine.  I often dream of the trenches and so do all of us who have been in them...."[the surviving letter ends at this point]

Charlie's promotion, as a teacher at the newly-established Brigade School, is an interesting reminder that the British Army was already trying to help their men to obtain new skills that could assist them in their impending return to civvy-street. Scrutiny of the Divisional War Diary reveals that a range of such educational courses were established at Mechernich during January 1919.  The mention in Charlie's letter of "riots in Berlin" almost certainly refer to the Spartacist Uprising that occurred between January 4th and 15th, 1919.


The winter of 1916/1917 was , in its time, one of the coldest on record. While those soldiers already on the Western Front in France and Belgium, faced the worst conditions, life was not that easy for the recently-conscripted men, who were progressing with their training in England  (including my 33-year old grandfather, Charlie Payne).  Charlie's 28th January letter home to his wife, Ida, paints a  picture of the challenge that such men were facing to adapt to their new military environment; missing their families and 'normality', struggling to understand the ways of the army, anxiously awaiting Leave, facing shortages of food (which at this stage of the war were beginning to bite) and yet coping, not least with the help of their nearest and dearest at home who were also making sacrifices to support their menfolk.

"Pte C. F. Payne 21179, D Company 18th Btn, Yorkshire Regiment, Clacton-on Sea

Sunday 28/1/1917

My dear Wife, Many thanks for your parcel and all the contents were fine.  The cocoa and sugar is a good idea and I have a cup before turning in o’nights, and the apples were A1 – the first I have had since leaving home.  Thank Mrs Brown for the fish paste and I hope she is well, also Mr Brown.

Charlie's wife, Ida with their four sons (from the left) John, Rupert, Dick ('Bighead') and Ted
Charlie's wife, Ida with their four sons (from the left) John, Rupert, Dick ('Bighead') and Ted

I trust your next letter will tell me that the Parish’s food [charitable donation] has done my dear old Bighead a lot of good and that he is now quite better. This bitter weather wants a lot of guarding against, and I do hope all the little ones and your dear self get through it without any sickness.  I know it is cold in London by the papers, and it is quite arctic here.  Friday there was a gale, a heavy sea and a shipwreck.  The Clacton lifeboat went out and the crew were saved.  [Five cold and exhausted men were rescued after their boat had grounded on the South West Sands; Essex County Chronicle 2 Feb 1917.] We generally have a fire going now in our room from 4 p.m. till midnight, so are pretty comfortable, but even then the water freezes in the fire bucket and I have to wear my “nightcap” as I lie just underneath a somewhat drafty window. It is now fine and bright but am spending the afternoon indoors to write to you and I expect you are all in the  parlour with a nice fire and I only wish I was there dozing with little Rupert in my arms and John telling a tale about a bear having his tea on the pavement and Ted and Bighead laughing.

Ida's two younger brothers, Bill (left; 13th btn. East Surrey Regt) and Mike (seated), Machine Gun Corps
Ida's two younger brothers, Bill (left; 1/23rd Battalion, London Regiment) and Mike (seated; Machine Gun Corps)

Dinner today consisted of tough roast beef, two small potatoes, a few peas, a bit of bread and a mixture called boiled rice, with some paraffin added.  We get it every Sunday.  It is called rice pudding.  Oh for a good dinner at home, and a cup of tea or coffee afterwards.  Hope all are well at 28 [Coverton Road, Tooting]. Any further news of Mike and Bill [two of Ida's brothers, both in the Army] I shall be pleased to hear.  I wrote some weeks ago to Norman [Charlie's younger brother] at Harwich, but have had no reply – Do you know if he is still there?

Charlie's younger brother, Norman (1/4th Essex Regiment)
Charlie's younger brother, Norman (1/4th Essex Regiment)

Pleased to say I have got rid of the rheumatics and the weather being so cold we have escaped a good many parades and been taken for route marches instead and the country round here is rather pretty and we can smoke pipes and talk.  Friday I came into a fortune being paid the large sum of 5/6 [five shillings and sixpence, or 27.5 pence in today's currency], but against that I have had a pair of army socks stolen from under my blankets (unfortunately several of our chaps have lately missed things) so I suppose shall have to buy a new pair when I want them. Have to report that I have now passed through the miniature range firing tests, so expect soon to go up to the long ranges.

Ida's father, George Payne, outside his shop in Tooting (c. 1900)
Ida's father, George Payne, outside his shop in Tooting (c. 1900)

How does your Dad get on with his games of crib these days? Just now 2 of my pals are engaged in a game.  We also have draughts and dominoes which somebody or other kindly provided, - the results of the “comforts” entertainment, of which I sent you a programme, I expect. Well, my darling, I think this is all I can say this time, and I must post this letter before 4 oclock to reach you first post in the morning. I do hope I shall soon be up on a few days’ leave as I think we deserve it – don’t you? But they are very niggardly with it these days. With heaps of love and kisses to you and the dear boys. Ever your loving husband, Charlie."

A year later, Charlie would be living in even more uncomfortable circumstances, in a front-line trench in France.

The joys of cycling captured in song (Wikipedia)
The joys of cycling captured in song (Wikipedia). Click on this photo (and other photos in this blog ) to enlarge.

Continuing with my historical blog posts, today's offering covers a short-lived enthusiasm for cycling by an Edwardian ancestor.

With the development of pneumatic tyres and increasingly mass-produced bicycles, cycling became an important mode of transport and a popular outdoor pastime in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. In 1903-4, if you could afford the £3-£5 necessary to purchase a new single-geared bicycle with at least one brake, new areas became readily-available for exploration.

As the geneticist Steve Jones reminds us, in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, the bicycle was probably the single most important factor in encouraging outbreeding between populations!  Whether it was this thought (consciously or unconsciously) that enouraged my grandfather Charlie Payne to develop a temporary interest in the bicycle is lost in the mists of time; however, his diaries for 1903 and 1904 provide a succinct record of his developing interest and ultimate loss of enthusiasm for cycling.  During this period, Charlie was 20-21 years old, living in East Dulwich, and working as a clerk (earning £1 per week) for a small firm in the City of London.

Charlie Payne c. 1903
Charlie Payne c. 1903. Grandson of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard (the subject of my recent book 'The Chieftain')

Charlie's first mention of a bicycle in the family was  in a diary entry written on 7 July 1903, closely followed by other references:

"7 July 1903: From 7-45 till 9 o.c. had the bike out in Townley Road. Gave Norman and  Beaty lessons. [Norman and Beaty were Charlie's younger brother and sister]

11 July 1903: Bike in Garden. Then from about 9 o.c. till 10-30 George and I had it out in the Townley Road.  We both learned to go alone. [George was one of Charlie's older brothers]

13 July 1903: Out with the bike.  George and I can go well by ourselves.

8 August 1903: Cleaned bike, and had it out for a bit, but it went so badly that I decided not to start with George to-morrow.

9 August 1903: George started on his bike for Brighton.

15 August 1903: Indoors all the evening until 10 o.c., when I met George on his bike in Townley Rd.on his return from Brighton.  He looked well.

18 August 1903: Hired bike, learnt to ride and rode to Brixton with George.  Got wet.

22 August 1903:  From 6-30 to 8-15 George and I hired bikes from Reids.  All went well till we got to the Village, when I had a bad puncture.  Had a racing machine then, but I wasn’t very comfortable on it, however considering all things, we did very well.

29 August 1903: Went down to Reid’s re bikes.  Met George and  Reid in Cherry Tree [an East Dulwich pub] .  We arranged about our bikes for to-morrow, and wheeled them home by 10.30 p.m.

"Cyclists Rest", a tea-shop and guest house for cyclists, in Capel, Surrey, run by my great-great grandmother Esther Lidbetter c. 1900
"Cyclists Rest", a tea-shop and guest house for cyclists, in Capel, Surrey, run by my maternal great-great grandmother Esther Lidbetter c. 1900. Such establishments have always been part of the essential support network for enthusiastic cyclists!

30 August 1903: 1st Ride.  George, Norman and I up at 5 a.m. Fine morning.  Breakfast.  We left home 5-50. on bikes.  Norman came as far as Half Moon [a pub in Herne Hill].  Through Brixton, Streatham, Croydon, Purley, Coulsdon, Merstham, Redhill to Reigate; 21 miles by 8-45.  Breakfast at Alexandra Tea Rooms at Redhill, rest and a smoke. Took matters very easily coming back and arrived at Reids at 1-50.  I had 2 light falls.  Roads in fine condition. (44 miles covered)

6 September 1903: 2nd Ride. Rose at 5.  Left on our bikes 6 a.m. (George and I). Up Dog Kennel Hill. Through London to Highgate, Barnet,  Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn (rain, put up ½ hour)  Codicote, Hitchin.  Arrived at [Purwell] Mill 12.10 oc.  Saw Mr and Mrs. Flitton [the miller and his wife Jenny, a cousin of Charlie's mother] and Jack Hall.  Had a good dinner, rest and a smoke.  Left there 3 o.c.  Tea at Barnet 5 o.c. Highgate 7.30.  Cherry Tree 10-5 o. c.  Home, supper etc. Very tired.  88 miles. Weather very fine as were the roads.

20 September 1903: Up at 5-45. Fine.  George and I started on our bikes at 6-30 for Horley.  Reached there 9-30.  Breakfast at Tea House, Charlwood and back to dinner at 1 o. c. Left Horley at 2-40.  Home to tea at 5-30.  Rest etc. Bike back to Reid."

So far, so good .  In fact the distances covered in a day's ride in 1903 are pretty impressive, bearing in mind that the bike would only have had a single gear, and that many of the roads used would not have been smoothly surfaced.  No doubt encouraged by his prowess, in early 1904 Charlie decided to invest in a second-hand bike of his own. One of his former school-friends, from his days at Emanuel School, Wandsworth, Tancred Macleod, had one to sell and was prepared to phase the payments. Charlie's account from his 1904 diary continues:

The development of mass-produced affordable bicycles
The development of mass-produced affordable bicycles

"31 January 1904: Long talk with Sissy and Tancred [Macleod].  Bought his machine for £1.

12 February 1904: Paid Mac[Tancred Macleod]  8/-[shillings] off bike.

16 March 1904: Norman home with my bike from Macleods at 10-50.  All in good order, I think.

4 April 1904: Stroll on the [Peckham] Rye, and a little spin on my bike, went well.

12 April 1904: George and I examined my bike, hurt my tongue.[?!}

18 April 1904:  Macleod called at 3 o.c.  Paid him 2/-; 3/- left.

23 April 1904: Wrote Sis Macleod, sent 3/- to Tancred, bike now
paid for.

24 April 1904: Cleaned my bike etc.   Norman and I had a ride to the HM [Half Moon] and back by 10 o.c.

26 April 1904: Again tried my bike, position must be altered.

14 May 1904: Fish etc. for dinner.  Afterwards oiled my bike and  thoroughly cleaned it"

By now, Charlie's new bike should have been immaculately prepared for the next day's ride into Kent, which he had planned with his brother George. Events, however, were to intervene.

Charlie's diary for the week beginning 15 May 1904; the week when his enthusiasm for cycling diappeared
Charlie's diary for the week beginning 15 May 1904; the week when his enthusiasm for cycling disappeared

"15 May 1904: George couldn’t start on account of puncture.  I went for a ride Village, Park etc.  Martin arrived  9-30. We all three started about 10 o.c. George punctured on Bromley Hill. Down [village in the North Downs near the former home of Charles Darwin] 2 o.c.  I had a nasty spill in Cudham Lane about 3-30. Arms etc. scratched and bruised and bike badly  strained (thankful it wasn’t worse).  Tea at Lewis’.  Walked to Bromley.  8-30 train. Home 10 o.c.

16 May 1904: Indoors all day. Felt a bit shaken.  Wired Mr. D. [Drysdale; Charlie's boss].  Ma out all day.  Aunt Loo came in the evening.  Flo dressed my arms etc.  Very good of her.

17 May 1904: Fetched bike home 4d [4 pennies] ."

Enthusiasm for cycling was not restricted to adults. My maternal Grandmother (with bike), at Capel, Surrey c. 1905
Enthusiasm for cycling was not restricted to adults. My maternal Grandmother (with her mother and bike), at Capel, Surrey c. 1905


This was the last time that Charlie was to mention bikes in his surviving diaries and letters.  It seems that a nasty case of damaged bike and Edwardian 'gravel rash' had seriously  limited his enthusiasm for cycling.  Although his brother George continued to be a cyclist throughout his life, Charlie returned to walking long distances as his principal form of exercise, something that was to stand him in good stead when he found himself conscripted into the British infantry 12 years later. However, as a non-cyclist, when it came to finding a wife, his geographic range was limited by where his feet could take him, or where his purse could afford!  He married his second-cousin and reaped the genetic consequences. But that is another story for another day!









Charlie Payne c. 1903. Charlie was the grandson of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard, the subject of my book 'The Chieftain'
Charlie Payne c. 1903. Charlie was the grandson of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard, the subject of my book 'The Chieftain'

My paternal grandfather, Charlie Payne, is the subject of a book that I am currently writing on the First World War (working title: 'Charlie Payne's Hatbox').  In addition to his wartime correspondence, Charlie left a number of diaries, one of the fullest and most entertaining of which is an account of time that he spent in Genoa while working for the American Express Company in 1907; he was 23 years old.  (At the time, Genoa was probably Italy's most important port and finance centre.) Charlie's diary  captures the spirit of youthful optimism and opportunity that existed for some in the Edwardian period, before the dark shadows of the Great War descended. The following description of his journey to Italy is the first entry in  'My Italian Diary',  to which I have added some contemporaneous postcards and photographs that were amongst Charlie's documents .

Monday 4th March 1907.

Genoa Harbour and City c. 1907
Genoa Harbour and City c. 1907. Click on this and the other images to obtain enlarged versions

"What a crowd to see me off at Victoria.  I shall never forget it.  I had a very comfortable journey down to Newhaven, with only a young gentleman apprentice as a companion, who began telling me all about himself and family (Ma and Pa etc.).  It was a lovely sunny day and I thought the English meadowland looked glorius [sic].  I was soon on the boat, SS “Arundel” and about 12 o.c. (noon) we steamed out of the Harbour.  The sea was rather rough and we rocked a bit and the wind was very cold, but the sun was shining brightly.  There were not more than 30 passengers on board – mostly women, some of whom were soon very sick and bad, but I myself never felt so much as a qualm – so was very pleased with myself.  I eat [sic] my biscuits and drank some whisky in the stern of the boat with my eyes fixed to Beachy Head as long as possible and then at last that died away in the mist and that was the last I saw of old England.  The boat was rocking badly now, the spray swamping the bow until the passengers had to go below, but I stuck in the stern chatting with one of the crew.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt very happy – I think I ought to have been a sailor after all.

About 3 o’clock we caught a first glimpse of the French coast and very black and gloomy it looked and very rocky.  At about 3-15 we steamed into Dieppe Harbour.  Very similar to Newhaven, only smaller.  I soon skipped ashore and evading all the porters, beggars etc. made my way to the Customs House, but went straight thro’ without having my bag examined.  Dieppe as I saw it was very old and very quaint.

Dieppe 1907
Dieppe c. 1907

I secured a corner seat in the train which left for Paris at 3-37 and got in a carriage marked “Fumeurs” (Smoking) and fell into conversation with two young Englishmen.  A Froggie got in, and I believe we nearly stifled him with our pipes – he kept on choking and looking fierce, but I appeased him by offering him a match for his cigarettes.  The scenery between Dieppe and Paris was rather fine, but oh so quaint, funny little cottages and farmhouses, churchyards, churches, villages, factories – all quaint and new to me.  I could fill pages in description if I had the time.  We stopped only once – a few minutes at Rouen and then on to Paris (St Lazare) which we reached at 7-15 p.m. and it was quite dark.

Paris Station. Oh my, what a glamour and a gabble.  I said good bye to one of my companions, and then with the other one changed some money (10/- for 12 francs) found a [Thomas] Cook’s interpreter, who took us to a hotel, where we had a wash and brush up, café au lait, ham and eggs etc., which cost me about 2/-.  Feeling much better and leaving my bag at the hotel, went for a walk about Paris. I was accompanied by one of Cook’s interpreters (a Frenchman named Rowe) to whom I paid 2 francs.  I got on a horse bus with my bag and had a ride through Paris to the Gare du Lyon.  Paris was full of life and light.

Paris cabs in the Rue Royale and Madeleine area c. 1907
Paris cabs in the Rue Royale and Madeleine area c. 1907

The sights that caught my eye most were the cabs, small four wheeled things drawn by an apology for a horse: London cab horses are as thoroughbreds in comparison; the people sitting drinking and smoking in the boulevards outside the cafés and the funny looking electric cars.  I was a bit disappointed with my first view of Paris.  It is nothing like London and different to what I had expected, and the jabber enough to drive one silly. The American Express Company  Office was closed so I could not call.

Reaching Gare du Lyon about 9 o.c. [p.m.] I had 1½ hours to wait, which I employed in walking about the station.  At 10-30 I got in my train (“fumeurs” carriage of course) and my companions were 2 Italian ladies and one gentleman and one Froggie in a big fur coat.  All thro’ the night we travelled on and all went to to sleep except me.  Try as I would I could not get off, so settled down and read “Tit-Bits” and smoked.  The carriages were nicely heated and quite comfortable.  As daylight came on, I could see what glorius mountain scenery we were passing through.  Mountains whose summits were covered in snow and again others whose tops disappeared in the clouds.  Beautiful lakes and rivers (I do not know their names yet).  It was glorius scenery and far more imposing than ever I thought for.  Our first stop was about 7 o.c. a.m. at Aix-les-Bains, where I secured a café au lait for 50 cents, and then on again.  Cottages and farmhouses built right on the side of the mountains looked very nice but very dangerous.

Modane c 1907
Modane c 1907

All thro’ the day we raced on until Modane was reached and the C[ustoms] H[ouse] officials came aboard, but I again escaped being examined.  About 3 o.c. p.m. we reached Turin and from there on to Genoa was more or less flat scenery – not half so pretty as England.  I was cold and very hungry when Genoa was reached at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

1907 photograph of the Hotel Victoria, Genoa (with a commentary from Charlie)
1907 photograph of the Hotel Victoria, Genoa (with a commentary from Charlie)

I was met by Mr Wyeth, who conducted me to the Hotel Victoria (as my lodging was not ready) and engaged a room for 3 francs per night, and then paid my first visit to the Office, 17 Piazza della Nugiata, a very old building – formerly a palace – with old fashioned stairs and lofty painted ceilings and pictures on the walls.  A much superior place to 84 Queen Street, London [the American Express Office in London].

"Three Gentlemen of Genoa". Charlie Payne (right) with two work colleagues in the 'Giardino', 1907
"Three Gentlemen of Genoa". Charlie Payne (right) with Bambridge and Koth in the 'Giardino', 1907

Then I went to a café with an Englishman named Bambridge and a German named Koth (both my own age and very nice fellows) for dinner, which consisted of:- Macaroni soup, steak (very small piece) and potatoes, cheese, nuts and fruit, washed down with claret.  I was famished so did very well. Then a walk round Genoa and back to the Hotel Victoria.  It was a very old fashioned room where I slept, but the bed was clean and soft so after taking a dose of Eno’s, and being tired out I was soon asleep."

The next time that Charlie travelled from England to continental Europe was on 1st August 1917 in a troopship, facing German submarines lurking in the English Channel , and the prospect of service in the British Expeditionary Force  as a Private in the 2/5th Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment on the Western Front. Certainly not as enjoyable as his 1907 experiences.....



I first came across the name of  'Bill Hughes' when reading some of the letters written by my grandfather, Charlie Payne, while he was serving in the British Army during the Great War.  On the 4th May 1918 he wrote to my grandmother and mentioned: "I note Bill Hughes has been wounded and is at Bristol.  Do you know if his father will come from Australia this year? Last Sunday our padre opened his sermon with a reference to one of Mr Hughes' speeches in London - I well remember the speech - it was the one he made at the Queen's Hall in June 1916".

Charlie Payne's (my grandfather) letter of 4th May 1918 from the Western Front, mentioning 'Bill Hughes' and 'Mr. Hughes'
Charlie Payne's (my grandfather) letter of 4th May 1918 from the Western Front, mentioning 'Bill Hughes' and 'Mr. Hughes'

At that time, I hadn't a clue who Bill Hughes or his father were.  However, 'Mr Hughes' sounded a rather newsworthy person and I  decided to Google the words “Hughes, Australia” though I expected little success.  Instead, I found gold straight away. My search highlighted a Wikipedia article on ‘Billy Hughes’ the Prime Minister of Australia, between 1915 and 1923.  That led me to the website of the National Library of Australia which holds his archive, and that contained some correspondence from a 'George Payne'.  Knowing that my great-grandfather was called George Payne, I sent for copies of the letters, which gave me all the proof I needed as they had been written from my great-grandfather’s home address. Billy Hughes and George Payne had, for some serendipitous reason, been the best of friends. I was now hooked: wanting to find out how the two men might have become friends, how Hughes had become Prime Minister of Australia and what part he played in Australia’s considerable contribution to the First World War. 

George Payne c 1895
George Payne c 1895

Billy Hughes emerged during my research as a character who, when you start reading about him, you simply can't put him down. Born in London in 1862 to Welsh parents he spent some of his early years in Llandudno before returning to the Westminster area of London when he was about 12 years old. There he attended St Stephen's School near Rochester Row, and it is at that school that he must have first met my great grandfather, George Payne, whose father ran a Cutler's business in that street. The two boys remained lifelong friends, with George Payne and his wife Louisa, helping to pay Billy Hughes' fare when he decided in 1884 to emigrate to Australia on an assisted passage. Struggling to make ends meet, Billy Hughes was employed for several years in a number of seasonal and labouring jobs in the bush and towns of Queensland, before arriving in Sydney as a galley hand on a coastal steamer.

After settling in Sydney he became involved in socialist politics in New South Wales, becoming an elected Member of the New South Wales State assembly in 1894, and a Member of the House of Representatives (MHR) of the first Australian Federal Parliament in 1901. In October 1915 he became Prime Minister of Australia at a critical time during the First World War. As a great patriot and supporter of the British Empire he remained Prime Minister until 1923, and continued as a MHR until his death in 1952. However, he remains one of the most historically controversial of Australian politicians for his pragmatic style of politics and, in particular, the decisions he took in 1916 which led to a major split in the parliamentary Labor [sic] Party.  It seems that even to this day, he is regarded as a 'Rat' by Labor for  his actions then.

US President, Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia)
US President, Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia)

I may be biased for familial reasons, but it seems to me that Billy Hughes was a wartime Prime Minister of great physical and intellectual courage. He is also a source of some of the most wonderful anecdotes:  my favorite anecdote being when he was in the role of enfant terrible as a member of the British Empire Delegation to the Peace Conference in 1919, and was striving to secure German New Guinea as a mandated territory of Australia, in a bid to help improve the security of Australia's northern seaboard. His dialogue with the US President Woodrow Wilson ( the two men did not get on) is believed to have taken the following format, with David Lloyd George attempting to referee the confrontation:

Wilson:“Do I understand that Australia in the face of the wishes of the world would insist upon having her own way?” Hughes: “That’s about the size of it, Mr. President.”

Wilson continued: “Do you think 5 million Australians should hold to ransom the 1,200 million represented by the Conference”. Hughes: “I speak for sixty thousand (war) dead [the casualty figures within the Australian Imperial Force]. For how many do you speak?”  (Everyone knew that the Australian casualty figures were higher than those of the American forces)   Trying to defuse the situation, Lloyd George only sent it further into the depths of farce, asking:

“Would you allow missionaries free access to New Guinea?” Hughes responded: “Of course, I understand these poor people are very short of food, and for some time past they have not had enough missionaries.”  Little wonder perhaps that Wilson described Hughes as a “pestiferous varmint”.

Billy Hughes (right) pictured with Louisa and George Payne (centre and left), July 1919
Billy Hughes (right) pictured with Louisa and George Payne (centre and left), July 1919

My family, however, will remember Billy Hughes for the lifelong friendship he maintained with his old boyhood friend George Payne and George's wife Louisa.  Apart from the letters from George Payne to Billy Hughes in the National Library of Australia archive, there are at least  two surviving letters written by Billy Hughes to the Payne family (my thanks to my second cousin Mariya Ward for access to these).

The first of these letters was written shortly after Hughes had become Prime Minister. The fact that it was written on Christmas Day 1915, just as the Gallipoli campaign was ending, perhaps highlights the strength of the friendship. 

"25th December 1915

My dear George and Lou

I hope that all is well with you on this day. Peace which the hurt and wickedness of man has changed into a life and death struggle. The sun shines here in all its glory and it is indeed a typical Australian summer’s day.  Here all seems peaceful  and the blasts of war as far removed as Heaven from Hell.  But they are just posting up the 39th casualty list and that is enough and more than enough to remind all Australians that all is not Peace.

I’ve not seen Fred [Fred Payne, George Payne's younger brother who emigrated to Australia in 1883] for years, yet he works in the same street as I do; Such is life!  I’m going to try and dig him out during the next few days. All being well  I shall probably be in London early in March and of course will see you.  Mrs Hughes and the baby will come with me (DV).

With best wishes from all here to you all.

W. M. Hughes"

The second letter was written in 1934 to Dorothy Brauer [nee Payne; George and Louisa's daughter] following the death of Louisa Payne.

Dorothy Brauer (nee Payne) and her Australian husband Leo, 1918
Dorothy Brauer (nee Payne) and her Australian husband Leo, 1918

"14 December 1934

Dear Mrs Brauer

Your letter conveying the sad news of your mother’s death has just reached me and I am very sorry.  I know what a blow this must be to you: for she was a lovable woman and the kindest and best of mothers. I can hardly bring myself to think of her as dead!   I recall her as she was when I first met her years and years ago: the very incarnation of womanhood on the threshold of maturity.  I treasured her friendship and that of your dear father as one of my most precious  possessions; and through the long years of absence my thoughts turned again and again to them as I had known them when they and I were young and care-free. My dear Dorothy believe me, I deeply sympathise with your sorrow, and am yours most sincerely

W M Hughes

P.S. You must write me from time to time and if in trouble don’t forget to let me know.

If you are interested in finding out more about Billy Hughes, I would recommend the following books:

"William Hughes, Australia" by Carl Bridge (2011) published by Haus Histories in the "Makers of the Modern World" series. An excellent modern evaluation of Hughes's political contribution.  Concentrates on Hughes's role in the 1919 Peace Conference

"Billy Hughes" by Aneurin Hughes (2005) published by John Wiley, Australia.  A short biography, strong on anecdotes and Hughes's family relationships .

"That Fiery Particle" (1964) and "The Little Digger" (1979) by L F Fitzhardinge,  published by Angus and Robertson, Australia. A two-volume, and very comprehensive, political biography.

"The Billy Book" (1918) by David Low. Gloriously funny and razor-sharp satirical cartoons. Available as a free-download  at

"Broken Nation: Australia in the Great War" (2013) by  Joan Beaumont. Allen and Unwin. A winner of several literary prizes, and provides a more critical analysis of Billy Hughes' role during the Great War.

I shall leave you with a few of my favorite quotations about, and by, Billy Hughes.

The Billiwog, from 'The Billy Book' of satirical cartoons by David Low
The Billiwog, from 'The Billy Book' of satirical cartoons by David Low

Said about Hughes:

“...arguably, the most formidable, most amusing, most Australian of our prime ministers." [Jill Kitson]

“I didn’t agree with his politics but I’ll not hear a word against him.” [An old ‘Digger’]

“I’ll never work for [him] again.  I’d rather go to bed with a sabre-toothed tiger. As cold as sea-ice, vain as a peacock, cruel as a butcher bird, sly as a weasel and mean as cat shit”  [a former secretary]

Said by Hughes:

“They might go to the dogs and bet on ponies but they had enough sense to keep me in Parliament” [about the Australian electorate]

“They say I eat my secretaries.  It’s a lie. I’m on a strict medical diet.”

“Better to have fewer cleverer men and more ordinary ones. You’d get more done."

If you are interested in finding out more about my publications and talks, please visit my website.

Charlie and Ida Payne, September 1918
Charlie and Ida Payne, September 1918

My grandfather, Private Charlie Payne was a Lewis gunner in B Company, Number 7 Platoon, of the 2/5th battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment.  In November 1917 the battalion was involved as part of 62nd Division in the Third Army operations in the Battle of Cambrai.  The following account is based on my research on the battalion's specific involvement in the Battle, and contains a couple of extracts from letters that Charlie wrote home to his wife Ida at that time.

The Battle of Cambrai has been described as the beginning of the ‘Modern Style of Warfare’.  Its essential elements were a surprise attack that, unlike the Battles of the Somme and Third Ypres  (Passchendaele), included no preliminary artillery barrage, but involved the sophisticated targeting of enemy artillery positions by reconnaissance, sound-ranging and flash-spotting technology. The attack demanded close co-operation between artillery, tanks, and infantry with a lifting artillery barrage followed closely by tanks.  The tanks were deployed to flatten and create gaps in the extensive wire defences of the German defensive position, the Hindenburg line, allowing the infantry to follow through. The attack was also supported by considerable numbers of aircraft to provide intelligence, air-cover, and to attack enemy infantry and artillery positions.  In its ‘All-Arms’ approach, it became the form of warfare that conscripts such as Charlie encountered for much of the rest of the war.

On 8th November, Charlie and his battalion trained alongside tanks at the training ground at Wailly, just west of Arras. Further training took place over the next two days involving tanks, aeroplanes, and practice attacks through gas.  On 13 November the 2/5th Dukes started their march towards the battle zone, arriving three days later after marching only at night to avoid detection by enemy aircraft. On the night of the 19th November they moved into position in Havrincourt Wood, together with tanks and artillery, ready for the attack the following day.

Havrincourt village was just North of the wood in which Charlie’s Division was waiting. It was one of the most-strongly defended sections of the Hindenburg line (which ran through the village and slightly to the west) with the trenches well-protected by very substantial barbed wire defences. About 800-1500 yards behind the German front line was a second series of trenches, the Support Line. In addition to the trench systems, the German defences included a number of well-defended strong-points.

At 6.20 a.m. on 20 November the British attack started with an intensive artillery barrage, lifting at a pre-determined rate, so that the tanks and the following infantry could quickly start moving forward.  Havrincourt village, was the first objective for 62nd Division. The initial attack was led by other Brigades, with Charlie’s Brigade, the 186th, being held in reserve. With the tanks successfully flattening the barbed wire defences, the infantry were able to follow through quickly. The Germans seemed largely unprepared for what was happening and substantial numbers of Germans and weapons were quickly captured. The progress made was so positive that Charlie’s battalion was ordered to advance much earlier than planned. The men advanced west of Havrincourt, supported by surviving tanks from the earlier attack.  Their final objective was North of the Bapaume-Cambrai road. As they approached Havrincourt they immediately encountered heavy machine gun and sniper fire from a German strong-point that had not been adequately dealt with earlier. The Battalion’s Commanding Officer, and several other men were killed. Belatedly, the strong-point was successfully dealt with, and 59 Germans and 2 machine guns were captured. Despite these early problems, the Battalion’s objective for the day was nonetheless achieved when Charlie’s Company moved through to capture a German trench north of the Bapaume-Cambrai road, an advance of four and a half miles from the British Front Line; and at that time a record advance in a single day.

The following day was less successful, without the element of surprise and with many tanks out of action. The original plan was for tanks to lead a further thrust through the German defences towards Bourlon Wood. However, no tanks arrived to assist Charlie’s battalion, and that attack was cancelled. New orders were issued for the battalion to use grenades to clear Germans from the Hindenburg support line trenches.  B Company was charged with mopping up the rear support trenches. Problems were soon encountered, including an enemy strong-point, and strong German reinforcements that were moving down the trenches from the North West. However, one tank eventually arrived and helped to halt a German counter-attack. At midnight the Battalion was relieved. Charlie reported back to Ida two days later:

November 24 1917: Well, my darling, you will see from the papers we have been in some heavy fighting and some good pals of mine have made the great sacrifice.  I thank God I am safe and sound.  Our C.O. was killed.  I must not say more, but I know the Germans have gone back a long way.  At the moment we are out of the line, but for how long I don’t know. Glad to learn the boys are well. Please excuse this short letter, dear, but I am very tired and we have to get to “kip”. God bless you, dear and keep you in good health, is my constant prayer as I know what a fight you are making for me and the boys.

By now the Battle of Cambrai had lost its momentum, with German reinforcements arriving and the fighting changing from rapidly-moving open warfare to a more familiar attritional confrontation. But Haig was determined not to lose the strategic opportunity to gain high ground overlooking Cambrai.

62nd Division were thrown once more into battle to complete the capture of Bourlon Wood and Bourlon. By this stage, the situation was very confused. Bourlon Wood had been partly captured by 40th Division. It had been heavily shelled by the Germans, and gas had been used which was lingering in the woodland. It was also snowing, and the conditions were awful. At 6.20 am on 27th November, in pitch dark, Charlie’s battalion was ordered to attack, aided by a small number of tanks, in an attempt to force the Germans out of the Wood, and move the British front line to the railway at the northern edge of the wood, overlooking Cambrai.  Almost immediately, the entire wood came under a heavy enemy artillery barrage. In addition, B and A Companies had only advanced 50 yards when they came under heavy machine gun fire from an enemy strong-point, and further advance proved impossible.  C and D Companies were also unable to reach their objectives. The battalion was relieved at 11pm by the 47th (London) Division, which unbeknown to Charlie contained his brother-in law, Bill Payne (23rd Battalion, London Regiment) who apparently spotted Charlie in the distance during the Relief. Overall, Charlie's battalion had not given ground to the Germans, but neither had it been able to achieve a significant advance.

Ultimately, the Battle of Cambrai failed to deliver its objectives for a number of reasons, including inadequate reserves of infantry Divisions and tanks. However, having learnt the lessons of Cambrai, adequate momentum in attack was delivered in the allied advances that ended the war.  In the meantime, Charlie and his Division moved into reserve, west of Arras, and were transferred to First Army. Over Christmas, Charlie and others were deployed on working parties.  In Charlie’s case he was briefly moved to the 63rd Sanitary Section where he spent a happy few days as a carpenter, producing ablution benches!

He also had a good feed, as evidenced by his letter to Ida written on Christmas Day 1917:

"My dear “little woman”

Now for a long letter to you, dear.  I duly recvd. yrs. of the 17th on the 22nd so that the boys Xmas cards came in good time & tell the little chaps I was very pleased with them.  You will be pleased to hear, dear, that I have been very lucky and for a time at least am in comparative comfort with plenty of good rations.  I had retired to “kip” as usual on the 23rd when about 10 oc, I was warned to be ready in full marching order the next morning at 5oc.  That meant rising at 4-30 on a raw frosty morning & I wondered where we were off to.  Well I got up all right, got a drink of tea at the cooks & then with 3 others set out on a 6 mile march to a village.  There we were fortunate enough to get some porridge & a limber took our packs & rifles – then off again to another village 8 miles away.  This was our destination & for the time being I am attached to the 63rd Sanitary Section.  I am a Carpenter’s mate & have to make myself generally useful making tables, benches etc. It is a big village & 9 of us sleep in a nice warm outhouse & have a brazier going night & day with plenty of coke to burn. Last night we were treated like heroes – given a good cigar to smoke, plenty of bread, ham, & even custard & fruit.  Then we had “a sail round the bay” & tried some French wine & altogether spent a most enjoyable Xmas Eve.  After sleeping in broken down barns with no fires & poor rations you will understand, dearest, what it means to be warm & well fed again & I thank God for it. I went to bed happy thinking of you & the little chaps hanging up their stockings. Now I will tell you, dear, how we have spent today.

Bacon for breakfast 8oc.

9 to 10-30 Sawing some wood etc.

11oc Church Parade.

12 – Dinner Stewed Beef with plenty of “spuds” & bread.  Raisin Duff. Tea

4oc Tea, Toast, Cheese, Jam & Jam Tart

Of course we had the afternoon off & I don’t suppose we shall be overworked while we are here.  I shall be glad if we can stop here for duration – anyway it is fine to be able to spend a nice peaceful Xmas."

I am in the process of writing a book based on Charlie's letters, which has the working title 'Charlie Payne's Hatbox'.  For more information on Charlie Payne's experiences in the First World War (and beforehand) please see my website. 

Of the published books that provide a detailed analysis of aspects of the Battle of Cambrai, I would thoroughly recommend Bryn Hammond's (2008) "Cambrai 1917; The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle" (published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson) and John A Taylor's (2016) "Deborah and the War of the Tanks, 1917" (Pen and Sword).