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My Blog post today covers another aspect of my grandfather's military service during the First World War.  Approximately 100  years ago, Private Charlie Payne's Battalion, the 5th Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment was sent into action during the German Spring Offensive in 1918. Together with other British and Commonwealth units, the Battalion helped to halt a major German attack, during five days of intensive fighting that, in the annals of the First World War, has become known as the Defence of Bucquoy. It provides another illustration of why it is so important to remember and commemorate those who participated in this dreadful conflict.

For several months, a German attack on the Western Front in 1918 had been expected after Russia had surrendered, as Germany was now  able to release troops from the Eastern Front to expand their forces in France and Belgium.   The Allies anticipated a German  attack in Spring, and Charlie and others in his Battalion had been busy during the winter months helping to strengthen the defences in the southern sector of the British First Army Front Line positions (between Gavrelle and Acheville, north-east of Arras). On 21st March 1918, the  German Spring Offensive  started.  Coincidentally on the same day, Charlie's Battalion was relieved after their usual period in the Front Line. Charlie just had time on 23rd March to write a short letter home to his wife Ida and their fours sons before he was involved in some of the most desperate defensive fighting during the War:

"My dear Wife, I have your letters of the 10th & 15th, but  regret to say, dear, the parcel never reached my hands – it must have gone astray owing to being along with the R. E’s [Royal Engineers]– hard luck – Was there a letter in it? ...  Did you receive that 5 franc note I enclosed in one of mine & which I got an artilleryman to post for me? Should like to know in your next. Well, little woman, I was very pleased to learn that son John got over the measles so well & that Dick & Rupert did not take them. Also it cheers me up immensely to learn that in spite of high prices, shortages etc. you manage so well.  – Expect to be on the move a good deal now, but will endeavour to write as often as possible, dear, but must ask you to excuse brevity.  At the moment we are out of the line.  We are still enjoying very fine warm weather here & I trust you are too, dear, as I know you like to get the boys out a bit. So the little chaps are waiting for me to take them out in their new suits – God grant they will not have to wait long.  I likewise am longing for that happy time.  Now that Spring is here, of course, dear, there must be some fighting – in fact, you will see by today’s paper “Johnny” is making an attack – he will catch a cold though, I have no doubt. Give my love to all upstairs, dear, & tell the boys I will try & write to them again soon. It is good to learn that your health stands this extra strain so well, dear, & I believe it will not be much longer necessary for you to work so hard.  God bless you, dear, & keep you all safe. Ever yours, Charlie"

The main attack by the Germans (or "Johnny" as Charlie had referred to them in his letter) was unleashed on the Third and Fifth British armies that were holding the Line further to the south of Arras.  In these sectors, the German forces soon made considerable advances on a wide front, driving back the British forces several miles (particularly in the Fifth Army area) and, by 23rd March, considerable gaps appeared in the retreating British front line.  On the same day, the 62nd (West Riding) Division (which included Charlie's Battalion), was transferred to the orders of Third Army and, on 24th March, received instructions that within the next 24 hours they would have to move to help fill a substantial gap that had developed in the British front line in the Third Army sector, near Bucquoy.

The March of the 2/5 Battalion Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment on 25th-26th March 1918, to defend the Line at Bucquoy
The March of the 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment on 25th-26th March 1918, to defend the Line at Bucquoy (Click on map to enlarge)

At 3.05am on 25th March, the Battalion marched from the Etrun area to Ayette, via Warlus, Beaumetz and Ransart. The roads were all very congested with moving troops and guns and the march was a lengthy, slow and tedious one. After arriving at Ayette at 7.50am the Battalion received orders to go on to Bucquoy. The area by now was one mass of artillery, and exhausted men  moving in the direction of the British retreat.  Marching in the opposite direction, the men of the 5th Duke of Wellington's were instructed to dump their packs  at this stage, leaving them with just their fighting equipment and emergency rations. At 4.30 pm, Charlie’s Battalion  received orders to advance in front of Achiet le Petit to help guard the railway, south-east of the village. Before dusk, parties of the advancing enemy were clearly observed on the skyline in front  of Irles. There were some encounters with the enemy overnight and, just before dawn on 26th March, the Battalion received orders to retreat to high ground between Bucquoy and Puisieux. The Battalion was very closely followed by the enemy in large numbers, especially on the Miraumont-Puisieux Road, where B Company encountered an enemy cyclist patrol 40-strong with light machine guns, but which was dispersed by B Company's Lewis gun fire (Charlie was a Lewis gunner in B Company). At this juncture, one Lewis gun team in B Company ‘disappeared’ and was probably taken prisoner by the Germans. The Battalion then formed a defensive line 330 yards east of the Bucquoy-Puisieux road, with Lewis guns pushed forward. Despite strong attacks by the Germans, the enemy was held back, and an attempt to outflank the Battalion was frustrated. A further orderly withdrawal of the Battalion was undertaken, establishing a Line running from the south-east corner of Rossignol Wood towards the south-east corner of Bucquoy, using derelict German trenches to obtain some cover .  After the withdrawal, the Battalion’s right flank was completely exposed, with Charlie's Company being some three miles distant  from other Allied troops.

Approximate location of the 2/5th Battalion DoWs north of Rossignol Wood 26th-30th March 1918
Approximate  positions of the companies of the 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington's and a company of the 9th Durham Light Infantry, in a disused enemy trench system north of Rossignol Wood. These trenches had been vacated by the German forces during February-March 1917 during their strategic  withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. (Click on image to enlarge)

During the afternoon of 26th March, Germans were observed to be occupying Rossignol Wood, directly in front of B Company. The enemy attempted to advance towards the Battalion's positions in small bodies but were driven off by Lewis gun and rifle fire; considerable casualties being inflicted.  Due to a misunderstanding  created by the difficult communications  between the Battalion and  Divisional Headquarters, during the heat of battle, Charlie's Battalion (and  others in the same Brigade) withdrew further but, when the error was realized, Tanks were sent forward and the men rallied and advanced to their original positions and the enemy fled. Enemy night patrols were observed and taken prisoner.

On 27th March, the Germans again attacked in the open and by bombing up the trenches.  The bombing strategy again exposed the right flank of the Battalion. B Company and a platoon of the 9th Durham Light Infantry were then turned into a defensive flank and the Battalion’s position made secure. Night patrols were sent out; enemy patrols were encountered and driven off or taken prisoner. By the end of the day, troops from Australian and New Zealand forces had managed to  move into position to the right of Charlie's battalion, and the gap in the Allied front line had been plugged. On 27th March, Field Marshall Douglas Haig recorded in his diary that  British troops had been attacked at Bucquoy but had vigorously counter-attacked and held the line in spite of enemy attacks repeated 10-11 times. 

A 2011 photograph of the site occcupied by the 2/5th DoWs
A 2011 photograph of the site occupied by the 5th Duke of Wellington's near Bucquoy. Rossignol Wood is to the right. The village of Puisieux is on the horizon, just right of centre. (Click on image to enlarge)

There was no let-up on 28th March.  The enemy put down a heavy artillery barrage on the Battalion’s front line and to the rear, and attacked at 10.30am along the front. British artillery put down a counter barrage…and a stiff fight ensued but in no case did the enemy succeed in getting to the Battalion's line.  Time after time the enemy massed to make fresh attacks but was decimated by accurate rifle and Lewis gun fire at each attempt. However, a platoon of D Company was isolated by a German trench- bombing attack, and despite strong resistance, was wiped out. Bomb fighting continued during the afternoon on the right of B Company and the riflemen were concentrated against enemy snipers in Rossignol Wood with satisfactory results. 

On 29th March, the enemy opened up with artillery and trench mortars, and the Battalion sustained some further casualties as a result.  During the day, enemy rifle and machine gun fire were particularly active.  This was replied to by field artillery and Lewis gun fire, and Stokes' mortars. On 30th March, though somewhat quieter, the Battalion suffered increased shelling and sniping and enemy field guns enfiladed their positions from west of Rossignol Wood, causing serious casualties.

The German army also suffered heavy casualties during the Allied forces Defence of Bucquoy. German gravestone in teh Rossignol Wood Cemetery, October 2011.
The German army also suffered heavy casualties during the  Defence of Bucquoy. German gravestone in the Rossignol Wood Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, (Photo October 2011).

By now, the German advance in this sector had been halted and the German forces themselves were spent from days of fighting and  the difficulty of maintaining supply lines in an area totally devastated by warfare. It was no doubt with some considerable relief to Charlie and his colleagues that the Battalion was finally relieved during the night of 30th March/1st April , and went into support. During the period 25-30th March 1918, 34 men in the Battalion were killed, 57 missing and 130 wounded. On 1 April the Battalion marched to billets at Henu.

It is difficult today, to imagine the conditions that the men of Charlie's Battalion must have faced during six days of desperate defence, which was nonetheless successful in stopping the German advance in the Bucquoy area.  The events had started with a  lengthy and exhausting march, followed by intensive engagement with an enemy which had achieved considerable early success in pushing back the Allied forces  between 21st and 25th March. For all concerned, the conditions must have been appalling. Charlie's Battalion suffered considerable  casualties (about 25% of the men), and had to cope with disrupted supply lines that would have made it extremely difficult to provide sufficient munitions, food and water during the period. Charlie's message home on 3rd April 1918 gives little of this away, partly because of the extensive use of the censor's blue pencil.

"3rd April 1918. Since writing the foregoing I have received your further letters & was indeed sorry to learn that Dick & little Rupert took the measles after all, but perhaps it is as well & I know that in your capable hands they will soon get over them. Well little woman, ….[ at this point the censor’s blue pencil intervenes and strikes out 6 ½  lines]… you will see by the papers that the Germans have started their great offensive – but do not be downhearted, dear, - I cannot believe they will meet with success in the end – their losses must be terrible.  We are now out of the line, but of course not for long these days. I note all your other news, dear, but have a lot of cleaning up etc. to do, so please excuse brevity.  How pleased I feel that you keep so well, & I pray God that you may not have a recurrence of your old complaint.  Keep up a good heart, dear.  We cannot do more than that & just leave the rest to God. Ever yours, Charlie."

It is  somewhat ironic that, while Charlie was helping to fight off the German Army, his sons back in the UK were apparently fighting another German 'export': German Measles!

Further accounts of events during 'The Defence of Bucquoy' can be found in the War Diary of the 5th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment (available to be purchased and downloaded from The National Archives, Kew, London, UK; Document WO 95/3086), and in Wyrall, E. ; The Story of the 62nd (West Riding) Division 1914-1919 Volume 1 pages 143-164.

Charlie Payne (right) with two of his work colleagues in Genoa, 1907
Charlie Payne (right) with two of his work colleagues in Genoa, 1907

The book that I am currently writing deals with the life and times of my grandfather, Charlie Payne, covering both his civilian life, and his military service during The Great War (1914-1919). In early March 1907 Charlie travelled to Italy to take up a position as a stenographer (shorthand clerk) with the American Express Company's office in Genoa. Towards the end of the month, he was already struggling with aspects of life in Italy, as he recorded in his diary, but little did he know then that the Royal Navy would soon come to his rescue:

Tuesday 26th March: ...My tobacco is nearly all gone and I cannot smoke the native stuff.  I must make inquiries and see if it will pay me to have some sent out from England.  Cigarettes here are dear and not very good and the cigars are absolutely rotten.  The sooner I learn how to smuggle the better.

Saturday 6th April:....My tobacco gave out today, so I had a "lash out" and treated myself to a 2oz. tin of "Wills Capstan Navy Cut Tobacco", it costs here almost double the ordinary price, but never mind - it's good, so here goes for a pipe and d--n the expense....

That tobacco did not last long, but in early May, the arrival in Genoa harbour of a Royal Navy ship put him in much better spirits, and delivered an unexpected windfall for Charlie and his colleagues:

HMS Venerable, a pre-dreadnought battleship
HMS Venerable, a pre-Dreadnought battleship (Wikipedia)

Sunday 5th May:  I have not written my diary up for the last two days because I have had very little to report, but have had a very busy and interesting time to-day.  Hearing that the English cruiser Venerable was in the port, it being a fine morning, after breakfast we hired a boat and rowed out to it and went on board.  We made friends with two of the young officers who showed us into every nook and cranny of the boat.  It is the first battleship I have been over, so I was in my glory, but I have never done so much climbing and jumping about before.  Then they loaded us up with English tobacco and some cigarettes and finally came ashore with us and we showed them the sights of Genoa.  It did seem funny to see English Jack Tars and Marines strolling about the streets.  They had to be on board again by 11 p.m., so we went to the boats and saw them off.  However, we are going to meet them again Tuesday evening.  Their names were Hidman and Craven, the first from Woolwich and the latter from Liverpool. Hurrah! I now have enough English tobacco to last me a fortnight with care.  I would like an English cruiser to come in every week.  Home about 12-30 and thoroughly tired.  I forgot to mention the reason why the cruiser called here is to meet the Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet - Prince Louis of Battenberg, who will arrive on Wednesday when of course she will be off again.

At this point in history, Britain did indeed 'rule the waves' and maintained a substantial and strategic naval presence around the world to protect its Empire.  The Mediterranean Fleet helped secure Britain's access to the Suez Canal which provided the shortest routes from Britain to some of its principal colonial possessions, including India, Australia and New Zealand. Charlie had correctly identified the name of the Admiral of the Fleet in 1907.

Prince Louis of Battenburg (Wikipedia)
Prince Louis of Battenburg (Wikipedia)

Prince Louis of Battenberg (the maternal grandfather of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) was born in Austria and had become a naturalised British subject after joining the Royal Navy in 1868.  In 1912 he was appointed First Sea Lord but, after the declaration of War in August 1914 he became one of the first 'war casualties' when he was forced to resign on 29 October 1914, as a result of a surge of British anti-German sentiment. As a consequence, Britain lost one of the most effective officers in the Royal Navy at a critical moment.  Prince Louis later relinquished his German titles in 1917 and took the surname Mountbatten.

Meanwhile, in Genoa in 1907, further bounty was forthcoming from HMS Venerable for Charlie and his friends when, as his diary records:

Tuesday 7th May: ...Met the middies [midshipmen] again and took them to the Music Hall and escorted them back to their ship at 11 p.m. They loaded us up with [more] English cigarettes and tobacco.

If anyone reading this blog post has any information on the young HMS Venerable 'middies', Hidman and Craven, I would love to hear about them, and I feel sure that the Royal Navy would not wish to press any charges of tobacco smuggling!




Charlie Payne (c 1914)
My grandfather, Charlie Payne (c 1914)

I have previously written an account of aspects of the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, based on Charlie Payne's experiences during the  Defence of Bucquoy. Today's blog involves events some four months later.

The 1918 German attacks against the Allied forces had continued at different points on the Western Front until July 1918. At the onset of these attacks in late March 1918, the German forces made considerable advances on a wide front. For the next three months the Allies would essentially be on the defensive. However, at the height of the  Spring Offensive, and as a consequence of it, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch had been appointed Supreme Allied Commander on 26th March 1918 to deliver better coordination of British and French forces.

Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch (Wikipedia)
Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch (Wikiquote)

In July 1918, Foch received information that a German attack would be made in the Marne area (defended predominantly by French troops supplemented by some Italian and US divisions).  Seizing on this advanced information, Foch requested that four British Divisions be sent to the area to help repulse any such attack. 62nd Division (which included my grandfather, Private Charlie Payne, 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment) was one of the Divisions sent, arriving in the area on July 18th 1918, three days after the Germans had indeed attacked. On July 15th the Germans had made progress in some areas, gaining a foothold across the Marne, but in other areas the French and American troops had defended the anticipated attacks well and had made some successful counter attacks.

On their arrival in the area, 62nd Division's task (as part of XXII Corps) was to counter-attack the Germans, up the valley of the River Ardre, South-West of Reims. (The actions involved have now become known as the Battle of Tardenois). There was no organised trench system in this open countryside of hills, woods, villages, and fields;  it was open warfare with few or no defensive positions available. On the evening of 20th July, Charlie's battalion (within 186th Brigade) had been ordered  to support an earlier attack by 185th and 187th Brigades on German positions in the villages of Marfaux and Cuitron.  However,  when Company Commanders and Headquarters Staff went forward to reconnoitre they found an almost impossible position. The two villages lay in the bottom of a valley and attacking troops would have to cross open ground for 800 yards under a withering Machine Gun barrage from enemy positions directly in  front and also from  Machine Gun posts in woodland on higher ground at the S.W. corner of the Bois du Petit Champs, which overlooked the Ardre Valley.  As a result a decision was made to cancel the attack.

It was now realised that the key to a successful advance up the Ardre Valley was to clear the Germans from the wooded ridge overlooking the valley. Thus, on 22nd July, Charlie’s battalion  received orders to clear the Bois du Petit Champs, which contained two battalions of German troops, including many well-hidden machine gun positions.
The wood was filled with dense undergrowth and the Germans were well-concealed.  The Battalion War Diary describes the attritional events that day in some detail. [Charlie was a Lewis gunner in B Company]:

"Company Commanders and Battalion H.Q. Staff carefully reconnoitred the jumping off positions in liaison with the French who were holding the existing front line on the eastern edge of Bois du Petit Champs early in the morning. Troops were all in position by 11.30 am and zero hour was at 12.15 pm. Almost immediately the right company (“A”) met with slight opposition and captured one prisoner and were able to get about 250 yards into the wood before they encountered a strong point held by the enemy consisting of 4 machine guns [M.Gs.] and about 20 personnel. After a severe struggle the resistance was overcome and the garrison and M.Gs.  captured. After proceeding another 200 yards they met with similar opposition and captured another 6 machine guns and a further batch of 30/35 prisoners. In this latter operation the right Company (“A”) were assisted by the supporting Company(“D”) as casualties had been heavy. They then pressed on a further 350 yards capturing several isolated machine gun posts for the most part consisting of single machine guns, until they met with really serious opposition from a strong point about the centre of the wood whose exact position was difficult to locate. Having suffered serious casualties they withdrew 300 yards and consolidated their position in a series of posts from the N. edge of the wood to about the centre. By patrols these two companies (“A” and “D”) endeavoured to gain touch with the companies (“B” and “C”) operating on the southern edge of the wood. They were assisted in the consolidation by two platoons of 1/5th Battalion Devon Regiment, sent up by Brigade to reinforce. On the south edge of the wood, opposition was encountered immediately from a Strong Point about 50 yards from the jumping off point just outside the wood. This held up the advance for some time but was finally encircled from both flanks and captured with the help of the rear company (“B”). 8 Machine Guns and 50 enemy garrison were captured. A series of 5 enemy strong points were encountered at the S. edge of the wood all of which were quickly dealt with and the Machine Guns and garrisons captured. These yielded about 20 Machine Guns and 80 prisoners. Isolated small posts were met with and easily overcome, the forward company (“C”) finally reaching its objective at the N.W. edge of the wood after having suffered heavily. After having reached its objective “C” Company was threatened with envelopment by a very strong counter-attack which the enemy launched from the North. “C” Company were eventually surrounded. The enemy captured the most forward post held by 2/Lieutenant Storry. He then charged the other two posts of “C” Company with fixed bayonets. A Lewis Gun was put into action and caused great damage amongst the enemy compelling him to retire temporarily. They came on again using stick bombs freely and got so close and in superior numbers that the positions became untenable. Captain. J.B. Cockhill M.C. withdrew his few remaining men into a shell hole in the open on the S. edge of the wood where they were subjected to rifle and machine gun fire from the wood and from the Valley at Cuitron. A shell burst in the shell hole putting the Lewis Gun out of action, and no other means was open but to retire further. This was done in a westerly direction followed closely by the enemy and finally the elements of the company – 2 officers and 6 other ranks fought their way out to “B” Company's posts. “B” Company in the meantime had made a strong point about 700 yards in the wood away from the jumping off point and with the assistance of a company of the 1/5th Devon Regiment they consolidated a line from the S. edge of the wood to meet “A” and “D” Companies . The total prisoners taken were 2 officers and 206 other ranks and 41 machine guns. The prisoners belonged to 53rd Prussian Regiment. Our artillery barrage was very accurate and caused many casualties. The troops who were attacked were taken completely by surprise and had only just completed a relief an hour before zero hour. After the attack was launched the enemy artillery reply was negligible but as the afternoon wore on and he became aware of the situation the edges of the wood and all approaches were subjected to a heavy counter bombardment. The new line was consolidated by nightfall and held by the battalion with the help of 1/5th Devons. During the night the enemy pushed out strong reconnoitring parties to locate and endeavour to surprise our line but on each occasion was repulsed. Our casualties during the operation were 5 officers and approximately 150 other ranks. The battalion was heartily congratulated by the Corps, Divisional and Brigade Commanders on a particularly fine fight which had had the effect of greatly reducing the enemy’s power of resistance. The whole operation was carried through with great vigour and all commanders led their men with great dash and determination." [Crown Copyright Extract from WO 95/3086; War diary of the 2/5th and 5th Battalions Duke of Wellingtons (West Riding ) Regiment. Available at The National Archives: Public Records Office (TNA:PRO), Kew, UK]

Thus, working methodically, the 5th Dukes had surrounded and rushed several German strong-points and, by the day’s end, most of the wood had been secured although C Company was almost annihilated in the process. Marfaux and Cuitron were  soon taken by other battalions within the Division which continued to make slow but significant progress up the  Ardre valley, capturing the village of Bligny on 28th July before being withdrawn from the fray. For Charlie's battalion, the war diary notes on July 29th 1918 that :

The men were all utterly worn out and exhausted after 8 days of very hard fighting in most difficult country. Their morale was still high but they were physically exhausted. The casualties to the battalion in the weeks fighting had been particularly heavy – about 13 officers and 400 other ranks, leaving only a composite company of about 130 fighters. [Ibid]

Charlie's wife Ida, with their four sons (1917)
Charlie's wife Ida, with their four sons (1917)

Charlie had been one of the survivors and  reported home to Ida on 2nd August 1918:

My dear Wife. At last I have an opportunity of writing you, & to let you know that I am quite well. I trust you got my whiz-bangs as they would relieve your anxiety on my behalf. I also wrote you a long letter on the 18th ulto., but was “called over the coals” about it by the Censor so do not know whether you would get it. I had no time to write another. Well, my darling, you will see from the papers that our battalion has been in action again (wood fighting similar to last November). We have come through very creditably & succeeded in driving back the Huns to some extent. Of course once more I have lost some very good pals. [Next three lines crossed out, by Censor]…& I am hopeful that during such interval I may be fortunate enough to get my leave – I have now completed 12 months out here- needless of course to remind you. I have received all your letters, I think, dear, & I note all your news. You do not mention your own health so I trust, little woman, you are feeling better..... The weather has been glorious here lately – a little too hot – fitter for picnics than for the devilish work going on out here. God grant it may now soon be over. Love to all upstairs & they must really excuse my not answering letters just yet. Kiss the boys well for me & I hope to see you all soon. God bless you all. Ever yours, Charlie.

He added further information in a letter written on 10 August 1918:

We are now out on rest for a bit – under canvas in a wood & it is like being in Paradise after what we have been through. I thank God, darling, I am safe & well, but I am longing to see you & the boys. I am not far down the leave list & with luck should get home within the next 6 weeks. The news is still good – we have got the Huns on the run, but they fight hard..... You can tell from the papers, dear, in what part of France we have been – I must mention no names here. After the battle we were reviewed by a great French General & thanked by him for our deeds. Our Regiment did splendid work & those who came back have every reason to be thankful. As before, dear heart, thoughts of you & our boys kept me cool & collected in all times of danger & altho’ it was terrible I felt no fear. The Huns would not face cold steel. I shall have lots to tell you when I do come home on leave of my journeyings in France. It is indeed a fair country but the War has made big wastes of parts of it.

General Henri Bertholot, Commander of Vth French Army at the Second Battle of the Marne
General Henri Bertholot, Commander of Vth French Army at the Second Battle of the Marne (Wikimedia)

On the 1st August, as mentioned by Charlie, the surviving members of the battalion had marched past General Henri Berthelot the officer commanding the 5th French Army, under whose orders the successful advances had been made. By then the Germans were in rapid retreat from the Marne salient. The German Field Marshall, Hindenberg, later commented in his memoirs that “it was of the greatest and most fateful importance that we had lost the initiative to the enemy”. However, the 5th Dukes, and other battalions in 62nd Division had suffered considerable casualties in the process. To bring the battalion back to strength, during August it received reinforcements in excess of 400 men.

On 8th August, the British Fourth Army delivered a successful attack near Amiens advancing up to 8 miles on the first day, and starting what has become known as ‘The Last Hundred Days’ of the war. In many British accounts of the War, it is usually this date that has been regarded as the 'beginning of the end of the War', but the earlier reversal imposed on the Germans at the Second Battle of the Marne, and engineered by Foch with British and American support, was a highly significant turning point, as Hindenburg recalled.

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

To capitalise on the Allied successes in late July and early August, the British Third Army organised another major attack to the North, towards Bapaume. Charlie’s Division was involved and between 25th August and 2nd September, the 62nd Division pushed the German forces back another 3 miles. The Allied advance was now developing considerable momentum. Charlie, however, was granted his first, and well-deserved Home Leave since arriving in France 13 months previously.

My biography of Charlie Payne is currently being written under the working title of 'Charlie Payne's Hatbox'.

Primary Sources:

Payne, C.F. (1903-1919). 1903, 1904 and 1907 diaries, and letters written to his wife Ida Muriel Payne between November 1916 and February 1919. (From the collection of C. C. Payne).

TNA:PRO WO 95/3070. War Diary of 62nd Division.

TNA:PRO WO95/3084 and 3085. War Diaries of the 186th Infantry Brigade Headquarters.

TNA:PRO WO95/3086. War Diary of the 2/5th (later the 5th) Battalion of the Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment.

TNA:PRO WO153/747. War Diary of XXII Corps. Operations whilst employed with French Army. pen and Sword

Secondary Sources:

Skirrow, F. (2007) Massacre on the Marne; The life and death of the 2/5th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment in the Great War.

Stevenson, D. (2012) With Our Backs to the Wall; Victory and Defeat in 1918. Penguin Books Ltd.

Wyrall, E. (2003) The History of the 62nd (West Riding) Division. (2 Volumes). The Naval and Military Press (Originally published by John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd in 1924/1925).




I think about my grandfather, Charlie Payne, every day.  Not surprising as I'm currently writing a book about him.  

During the Great War, Charlie was 'called up' in October 1916, aged 33 (having previously attested a year earlier under the Derby Scheme). He was sent for military training to a battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (the 'Green Howards') which was located at that time in Clacton, Essex. Based on his initial medical classification (B1) it was most likely that he would serve in a UK-based Battalion in a support role. However, after basic training and further medical examination,  in May 1917 his medical category was upgraded and  he was transferred to West Hartlepool and to the 3rd Battalion of the same regiment.  This battalion trained men for service on the fighting fronts overseas.  On 31st July 1917, he was sent to France and decided that, as a father of four young sons (aged between 1 and 9 years old),  he wanted to write them a letter, to be opened in case of his death. He sent the letter in a sealed envelope  to his wife Ida, asking her only to open it in the event of his death.  The letter was one of the many documents that survived in Charlie's Hatbox and the text (with some added relevant photographs) is transcribed below.

Charlie Payne and his family. (click on photo to enlarge)
Charlie Payne and his family. (click on photo to enlarge)

France 23 August 1917

My darling Boys

As the time is now drawing nigh, for me to be sent up to the trenches, where of course I shall be in hourly danger of death (not that I have any presentiment of my death; far from it I go with a good heart and in the firm belief that God will restore me to you, my boys, & your dear mother), but if God wills that I should fall, I should like to leave behind me this little letter which as you grow older I know you will always remember & act up to.

I have not very much to ask of you, my dear boys, and if it is God’s will that I should not return to you, it will afford me great comfort at the last to know that I have left this letter behind as I know it will help you through life & in some degree serve to take my place.

Firstly it will be your sacred duty, my boys, to take my place towards your mother. Be to her all that you can; love her always as she will love you. She has worked & suffered much for you my boys, & should I fall will work for several years in bringing you up without a father’s aid, until such time as you can support yourselves & her.

"In due time perhaps you will marry" (click on picture to enlarge)
"In due time perhaps you will marry" (click on picture to enlarge)

In due time perhaps you will marry & it is only right and proper that you should, but I know, my dear boys, you will always love & help your Mother.

Then again, boys, never never quarrel amongst yourselves. You will find life hard enough, but remember that “Unity is Strength” and if 4 boys such as you will pull together you will overcome all obstacles & get on in the world well; therefore, never quarrel, my boys; but should any differences take place between you, always make them up, shake hands & be “pals” for my sake & your Mother’s.

"Unity is Strength" (click on picture to enlarge)
"Unity is Strength" (click on picture to enlarge)

You, my dear little Ted, will remember me quite well I trust and also my little John, and my dear old “Bighead” too; and I know you will oftentimes talk of me amongst yourselves so that little Rupert may grow up and I shall not exactly be a stranger to him.

Remember always that wherever duty takes me in this terrible War & no matter what dangers I may be called upon to face, you and your dear Mother will be always in my thoughts.

Should any one of you have to go abroad, always keep in touch with & correspond regularly with your brothers & Mother.

Always obey your Mother as you grow up for she will teach you to lead clean & manly lives & in due time to become fine young Englishmen.

I would ask of you, dear boys, always to believe in God & to pray for help & strength to fight the evils of life & to avoid all profanity.

"You will find several people ready to help you" (click on picture to enlarge)
"You will find several people willing to help you" (click on picture to enlarge)

Now my boys, I think this is all I have to say to you & I have little doubt but what you will find some very good friends in the world (your “Nannie” and Grandfather have always been good to me & will continue to be so to you – also my own dear Mother). It is not possible for me now to give you much advice with regard to your future careers but I trust you will find several people willing to help you to get on (your uncles Harry, George & Norman & Bill may be of some assistance to you in this direction). Should you have to be either soldiers or sailors for any length of time – be sailors.

"Be Sailors"; dueing conscription in WW2 there was little or no choice about which service you joined. (Click on picture to enlarge)
"Be Sailors"; during conscription in WW2 there was little or no choice about which service you joined. (click on picture to enlarge)

Finally, boys, always remember that “a boy’s best friend is his Mother”. Therefore be good to her, love her & consult with her upon everything & you will not be wrong.

I would like you to understand, my dear boys, that I have written this not because I have any presentiment of being killed at the front, but because I think it my duty as your Dad & knowing all the dangers ahead of me, to write such a letter which I know will help you in your lives, even although I may be taken from you & I also know that you would like a letter from your Dad.

At the time of writing this (under difficulties in a tent & no pen or ink handy) I am in good health & quite ready to face the dangers that lie before me with a good heart & firm belief that I may be spared to return to my boys and their dear Mother whom I love so well.

May God bless you all.

Your loving Dad

(Pte Chas F. Payne No 25318 2/5th West Riding Regt. (Duke of Wellingtons) B Company)

"Ever in our Thoughts" (Click on slide to enlarge)
"Ever in our Thoughts"
(Click on slide to enlarge)

Charlie survived the hostilities but died on February 11th 1919 from pneumonia (probably initiated by Spanish Flu), contracted while he was serving in the British Army of Occupation of the Rhineland. He remains "Ever in Our Thoughts".

My grateful thanks to Neville Sisson for restoring most of the individual photographs presented in this article.

My biography of Charlie Payne is currently being written under the working title of ‘Charlie Payne’s Hatbox‘.

Those of you who have visited the pages on this blog will know that I have been researching the background to the First World War military service of my grandfather, Charlie Payne.  Following the well-worn trail of a number of similar authors I started off by concentrating on the Battalion war diaries available at our National Archives at Kew (and now available online for a small fee).  As expected, they are full of useful information, and are an invaluable starting point for any researcher.  However, I soon found, from some of the letters that Charlie had sent home, that he mentioned that he had been sent off from time to time to carry out tasks for other units (e.g. units of the Royal Engineers).  In addition, I was also interested in getting information on the 'bigger picture' that he was involved with. After all, even at full strength a Battalion only contained about a 1000 men and there were hundreds of thousands of men on the Western Front.

Of course there are many excellent books that describe individual battles (e.g Bryn Hammond's book on the Battle of Cambrai, that Charlie fought in, is outstanding), and others provide an excellent overview of a particular year of the conflict (e.g. John Terraine's superb evaluation of the events of 1918, "To Win a War") but these rarely provide  the detail of  the planning and activities that influenced the day-to-day world of the poor bloody infantryman.  At the time, Charlie himself would probably have  been largely unaware of them.

However, in the last few years  I have come to realise that almost all the 'bigger picture' information' can be located in the files containing the war diaries of the larger organisational units, i.e Brigade, Division etc.  Not least, this is often where you will find copies of the maps you will need to get details of  the original targets for an attack, the rate at which the artillery barrage would lift etc etc.  In addition, these records will also provide details about engineering works taking place at specific points on the front, 'intelligence reports' on what the enemy was up to, artillery unit reports, medical reports on the state of health of the men (e.g. reports on the emergence of Spanish Flu) etc. etc.  Only by reading the 62nd Division war diary was I able to understand what Charlie was up to when he had written home that he had been transferred to a 'Water Job' in April-May 1918.

Having read the diaries for Battalion, Brigade and Division, my next task was to cover the Corps and Army versions.  So far I am hugely impressed by the logistical skill and attention to detail displayed by the British Expeditionary Force in France (albeit that I'm concentrating on 1917-1919).  For the experts amongst you, I am probably 'teaching grandmother to suck eggs'.  However, for those of you who are just starting out to follow the trail of an ancestor who served in the Army during 1914-1919, my advice would definitely be, start with the Battalion war diaries, but don't just stop with them.  It involves more work, but if you have ever been to the National Archives, you will know what 'fun' that can be!!

Charlie Payne in his first uniform, including the cap badge of the Yorkshire Regiment. Charlie is the subject of my next book, which has the working title 'Charlie Payne's Hatbox'

In today's blog post I am continuing my theme of writing about the experiences of my grandfather Charlie Payne who, like many thousands of British men, was conscripted into the Army and was sent on active service to the Western Front in France during the First World War.

After being called-up in November 1916 at the age of 33, Charlie was sent to Clacton, Essex for basic training with the 24th Provisional Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment ("The Green Howards").  In mid-May 1917, having been declared medically 'A1' he was selected for further training with the Regiment at West Hartlepool before being sent out to France to serve on the Western Front. He arrived in France at the beginning of August 1917 and was transferred to the 2/5th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment.  After a brief spell at a Base Camp (probably Etaples) during August, and then in a military hospital  (cause unknown), Charlie was sent 'up the line' to join his new battalion. The 2/5th Battalion Duke of Wellingtons  were then, as throughout the war, part of 186th Brigade, itself part of 62nd (West Riding) Division. (At that time a Battalion at full strength contained approximately 1000 men, a Brigade about 4000  and a Division about 12,000-14,000).  The 62nd Division was then located in the Noreuil and Lagnicourt sectors of the line, north-east of Bapaume, and had been involved in bloody fighting during April and May 1917 at Bullecourt, part of the  seemingly impregnable defences of the 'Hindenberg Line' .

The Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt (Wikipedia). (Click on this photo to enlarge)

By the time that Charlie arrived in the area, the Noreuil sector of the Western Front was regarded as a 'quieter sector' than some, though it probably didn't seem that way to a newly-arrived infantryman.  The trench system there was not well-established and when battalions went into the line the men were expected to carry out further work to improve the trenches and the wire defences in front of them. However, before Charlie had his first baptism of fire in the front line trenches he was sent on a training course for Lewis gunners.

Lewis gun in action (Wikipedia). (Click on this photo to enlarge)

The Lewis Gun, an American-designed air-cooled light machine gun, was being increasingly used by infantry battalions as a weapon for both defence and attack, and there was an urgent need to train men in its use. While on the course, Charlie celebrated his 34th birthday and reported back, on 26 September 1917, to his wife Ida:

"I spent a   very enjoyable birthday, and the Huns honoured me with a 'salute' sending   over about 50 big shells which burst very near our 'barn', but beyond causing  us some legitimate anxiety did us no other damage. On the Sunday I must tell  you I had quite a picnic with two “pals” of mine – I had some tea & sugar & one had a real “Blighty” cake – so after dinner we made tea & as  you may guess, dear, we soon finished the cake.  The weather has been delightful this month   & I hope it has been the same with you. Well, dear, my Lewis Gun course finishes about the end of this week & I shall be real sorry as we really have had a nice comfortable & interesting fortnight. Have had the pleasure of firing a captured German Machine gun & today had some revolver practice."

Charlie's wife Ida, with their four sons (from left) John, Rupert, Dick ('Bighead') and Ted, 1918.  (Click on this photo to enlarge)
Front Page of Charlie's letter to Ida, 14 October 1917.  (Click on this photo to enlarge)

Once his Lewis gun course was finished, Charlie finally went into the front-line trenches for the first time between 7-10 October 1917 in the Noreuil sector.  On 14 October 1917, from D Camp at Beaulencourt, he wrote to tell Ida about his experiences, at least as far as the censorship rules allowed:


"Your letters   of the 2nd & 7th duly to hand & I sent you a  field card ('whiz bang') to say I was well to relieve your loving heart.  Now we are out for a rest, dearest & I  will write you a long love letter for this is practically the only pleasure I  have now & I get little enough time for it too. Thank God  that you & our boys are 'safe & sound from the Hun raids [German air raids over London] & I  pray there may be no more of them.   Like you, my darling, I pray that this terrible conflict may soon be ended.  I have had my baptism of fire (both shell and bullets).  I went 'up   the line' as a Lewis gunner.  The Germans 'strafed' [shelled] us dreadfully & my first impression was how poor a  chance Man has against such infernal weapons as modern artillery, but I kept  calm & cool & at times you, my darling, seemed to be very near me  & as we crouched down in the trench the picture of you & the boys at  Hampton Court came vividly before my eyes & dear old 'Bighead' gathering  flowers there.  Fortunately, our Regiment  suffered few casualties. Bear up, dear  heart, we must not give in & pray that we may soon be reunited.  I do hope your work [Ida was a postwoman] is not proving too much  for you & I hope you will have a nice restful holiday.  If you can really afford it, dear, I should greatly appreciate one of your cakes, but do not go   short yourselves.  Rations vary greatly   – sometimes we do well & at others bad.   The weather has been bad lately so have had several issues of rum as of course we have no fires.  I trust  prices are still going down in 'Blighty' & that your coal & wood  supply will last you well. I am always  thinking of our boys & just long to see them all again I shall see a  wonderful difference in all of them when I do come home.  I expect you were taking  tea upstairs [where Ida's parents and sisters lived].  Give my love to them all  & tell Dolce & Marg [Ida's younger sisters] I have had one or two 'come round the corners   after me' & also heard them ringing thro’ the air – all kinds of songs in   all keys. [Charlie is referring here to the sounds made by the different types of  German artillery shells]. We have had a Church parade today & just where we are resting is  out of reach of the guns & also out of hearing so you may guess, dear, it   is a real rest for all our nerves.  I  am very fit just now.  I am putting  this in a green envelope [only checked by one, rather than the usual two censors], dear, so must not say anything much about things out here as you know.  We are still in  wooden huts & now have a blanket to sleep on which, with our great coats & ground sheet makes a fairly warm bed, where I lay o’nights & think  of you, dear heart, & our merry boys (God bless you all) & I delight  in picturing in my mind the many happy times we have spent together in our  humble but loving way & also of the future which, please God, we will  endeavour to make even happier than the past.    With heaps of love & kisses to my dear little woman & our  boys. Ever yours Charlie"

Approximate location within the Noreuil sector of Charlie's first experience in the trenches. This photo was taken in October 2011, looking towards the German front line trenches of 1917.  The occasional ploughed-up unexploded shell now provides the only obvious evidence in this pastoral French landscape of the war that was fought here nearly 100 years ago. (Click on this photo to enlarge)
For more background information and some video podcasts about Charlie Payne go to For details of all my publications go to


Private Charles Frederick Payne, 235435, 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment. Photo taken in London in September 1918 when he was on home leave.

It seems appropriate that my blog post today should contribute to the  messages and thoughts of remembrance for those who fought in the Great War...."the war to end all wars" which, despite the efforts of the politicians, servicemen and the peacemakers, was  principally one more episode of Man's inhumanity to Man.

My grandfather, Charlie Payne, was amongst those who survived the hostilities and, at the time of the Armistice on the 11 November 1918, was a  Private in the British Expeditionary Force. On 16 November 1918, he wrote home to his wife Ida to convey something of his feelings about the armistice.  His few days delay in writing are probably attributable to an increase in drill and discipline prompted by a message that had been issued on Armistice day itself by the Divisional Commander:

“Hostilities are suspended, and in the glorious part which the British Army has played in bringing this to pass the 62nd (West Riding) Division has borne its full share.  In the changed conditions that await us there is no less need for the soldierly qualities which have brought us this success than in the past.  These qualities will now be apparent by the smartness in dress and appearance of every individual officer and man, in precision in drill and the handling of arms, in perfect march discipline, particularly on the part of working parties and transport, in order and cleanliness in billets, wagon and transport lines, and above all in the strictest observance of the principles of security on the part of all troops on guard or outpost duty.  Let us prove that in these all-important matters we are still second to none”
First page of Charlie's letter of 16 November 1918

So it was probably a smarter and tidier Charlie Payne who finally found time to write home:
"France 16/11/18

My darling Wife

What a glorious thing is Peace.  Out here we cannot yet realise it.  I cannot now express in words the glorious feeling we have on rising and going to “kip” and not to hear the awful roar of big guns – to know that we can sleep in security without fear of bombs and shells and above all to know that we shall not again have to go “over the top”.  Let us be thankful, dear heart, that soon we shall again be reunited in happiness with our own boys once more.  I was not in the last fighting my Battalion was in, but I have now rejoined and we are billeted in a town [Maubeuge] near the Belgian frontier and  I fancy our Division [62nd Division] will have to go to Germany – but I do not know definitely.  I am quite well, dear, and supremely happy and thankful – longing for the day when I land in dear old England.  How are you my darling, I do hope fit and well and happy now; also the dear boys.  Tell them I shall soon come home to stay.

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

So rapid has been our advance that letters etc. have not reached us yet, but I expect they will eventually reach us. The poor French people whom we have released in the towns and villages are mad with joy and make a great fuss of us.  At this place flags are flying and they are mad with joy.  How I should have liked to have been in London the night you received news of the armistice – I guess people almost cried with joy.  Peace must surely follow as the German soldiers are utterly demoralised and beaten. I hope to learn that Bill and Leo [two of Charlie's brothers-in-law; both in the armed forces in France] are both safe and well and that all upstairs [Ida's parents] are likewise.  We have still a lot of work before us, darling, so we must be patient.  It will be a long march through Belgium to Germany.  Still continue to read the papers dear, and write to me as often as you can – it will make the time pass quicker.  Let them know at Forest Hill [home to Charlie's Mother and two sisters] that I am safe and well.  Give my love to all upstairs. Think of me now, little woman, as being happy and comfortable.  It is beyond belief almost that we shall spend no more awful days and nights in trenches and God be thanked for it.  Love and kisses to you and the boys and God bless and keep you all safe until we meet again. Ever yours. Charlie."

In remembrance: Sergeant Charles Frederick Payne 1883-1919

Charlie's Battalion did indeed become part of the British Army of Occupation in the Rhineland, arriving on Christmas Day 1918 at their final destination, Mechernich (near Cologne), after a long and wintry march across Belgium. 


In this historical blog I've decided to write about the day-to-day life of my grandfather, Charlie Payne, including his civilian life, and his experiences of serving in the British Army during the Great War. Today's blog post is an account written by Charlie in 1913 about his journey to work in London, a copy of which I found amongst his documents that survived for decades in an old Victorian hatbox that had been handed down through the generations. In 1913, Charlie was employed as a clerk by the music publishers Joseph Williams, based at 32 Great Portland Street, London.  Charlie, who had been born in Westminster was, by now, 29 years old and married with 2 children.  Over to Charlie:

"Going to Work"

Charlie Payne, 1913

"I live at Tooting, and the place where I earn my daily bread is situated near Oxford Circus.  That is the worst of this vast London of ours, - it takes such a long time to get to and from one’s work.  If the weather is bad, this travelling is to say the least of it irksome and expensive, but on a bright summer’s morning and provided you have allowed plenty of time the journey to work may be made pleasant and interesting.

This morning, for instance, I boarded a workman’s car at Tooting Broadway soon after 7 a.m. and forty minutes later found myself at Victoria Station.  It is a beautiful morning as I join the crowds hurrying along the Buckingham Palace Road.  Hundreds of workgirls, for the most part smartly and neatly dressed with a sprinkling of male clerks not quite so well attired, diminutive office boys, etc.  But I myself am in no hurry as I am not due at work until 9-15 a.m.  Therefore, I leave the crowd to make its way through the Green Park into Piccadilly and Bond Street, and turning into St.  James’s Park, looking gloriously green and fresh this lovely morning, although it is the middle of August.  Turning to the left after entering the Park I pass the Boat-house and seat myself opposite the lake to smoke a pipe and to read the newspaper.  And sitting there in the cool shade, watching the ducks at their morning toilets and play, and a black swan who angrily chases away a meddlesome young gosling who dares to approach too near, scenes of my early boyhood arise before my eyes, and it seems as if it were only yesterday that I sat on this selfsame seat with a well-loved brother (alas! no longer with me for we lived in Westminster then and played in this grand old Park) to discuss the doing of our hour of leisure.  The cry of a water-hen rouses me from my reverie, and by this time there is a stream of well-dressed, sleek-looking Government clerks making their way from Victoria to the Admiralty, War Office, and other Government Departments.  There is no mistaking them, they look so prosperous and show no trace of the slightest worry.  So I get on over the quaint low bridge and linger for a while gazing into the clear fresh water below, and at the group of Government Buildings & the Horse Guards seen through the trees, which visitors to our great City have often referred to as being one of its finest sights.  And so into the Mall,

The Mall, late Victorian times

which with its so-called improvements is not nearly so picturesque as it was about 18 years ago when it was an avenue of noble trees whose branches met overhead forming a mass of foliage in summer through which the morning sun glinted reminding one of a walk in some Surrey wood. Now, alas! All this is changed; Gone are a great number of the noble trees, the old milk and sweet stalls with the two solitary cows; and so through the Square of the historic Palace of St. James’s, somewhat smoke-begrimed it is true, but to me full of memories of grand marches with the Bandsmen of the Foot Guards from Wellington Barracks.  Up the hill in St.  James’s Street, and then through Bond Street (not at this hour seen at its best), and then the end of my journey (Oxford Circus) is reached about 9-15.

Oxford Circus early 1900s

These two early morning hours spent in the open air seem “to open one’s chest” and to enable one to get through a hard day’s work in an office in much better style not to mention the savings in fares (2d instead of 5d).  Besides all this it is much better for the health and nerves than always being like the great majority of Clerks (myself included) behind time.  But in cold and inclement weather of course these “rambles” are impossible."

More details of Charlie's life and times will feature in my next book which has the working title ‘Charlie Payne's Hatbox’ .




Charlie Payne c. 1907. Charlie was a grandson of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard (the subject of my recent biography ‘The Chieftain’).

Today's blog, about an Edwardian-era journey from Paris to London, once more involves the travels of my grandfather Charlie Payne (see for example his night-time rovings in Genoa).

Charlie left England in March 1907 to work at the Genoa office of the American Express Company.  However, by August 1907, he and the Company had fallen out, for reasons that he did not divulge to his diary, leaving him without a job. After trying to obtain another position in Italy, without success, and now running out of money, he headed for Paris and for a meeting with senior American Express staff to complain about his treatment. Once again he did not expand on the details in his diary. However, he finally decided to accept their settlement offer - payment of his return ticket to the UK.  Having planned to stay in Paris for a few days, the lodgings in which he was staying did not meet his expectations, as he informs us in his diary:....."I arrived about midnight.  I was thoroughly tired and just going to sleep when I made to me the alarming discovery that there were mice in the room.  They kept me awake for some time but at last I fell asleep." His decision to return to the UK, and to his sweetheart Ida, was suddenly brought forward!

Palais du Trocadero, Paris, at the 1900 Exposition Universelle (photo from Wikipedia-Trocadero)

"Thursday 19 September 1907: Grand afternoon, so after lunch walked to the Bois de Boulogne (very similar to Hyde Park), also visited the Trocadero, where are some famous old ruins of architecture etc.  Sat smoking and watching the fashionable crowd that frequent the Bois de Boulogne until dusk, when I returned to dinner at the Hotel de L’Unione Nationale.  During dinner I decided I would not spend another night with the mice and,  so as to be on the spot to catch the train in the morning (it leaves at 10-30 a.m.), I decided to get to my room and fetch the luggage to the Hotel which is right opposite the St Lazare Station.

Parisian cabs (c. 1907) outside the Madeleine

Arriving at my humble abode, I made the excuse that I had met a friend and was going to his hotel for the night.  My hostess seemed rather surprised, as well she might be, seeing it was 11 o'clock at night.  However, I settled my bill and had a glass of good brandy; got the porter to get my box and hire a cab and soon I was comfortably seated in a rather shake-down kind of a cab with an equally venerable old “growler”.  It was a fine night and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride through Paris.  It was rather slow work, but I did not mind as it enabled me better to look at the buildings and I passed several including the Palais Royale.  The streets were well lighted and thronged with people even at that late hour.

Palais Royale, Rue St, Honore, Paris (modern photo from Wikipedia-Palais Royale )

Well, all went well until near my destination when my cabby evidently lost his way and got a bit excited.  I was unable to make him understand altho’ I knew the way, so I gave up trying, lit a cigarette and sat back in the seat waiting for “something to turn up”, which did in the shape of a girl who spoke a little English.  She directed cabby and I thanked her and I eventually arrived at the Hotel de L’Unione Nationale about 12 o'clock.  After a supper of cold meat, cheese and wine I retired to my room and spent a very comfortable night undisturbed by mice or dreams, but longing for the morning when I should start the last piece before reaching home and Ida.

Friday 20 September 1907: Awoke at 6 to find it a lovely sunny morning.  I felt very happy and was soon shaved and dressed.  After a breakfast of coffee, rolls and butter I went for a last look round the streets.  I bought a red rose first of all and then watched first of all the workmen and factory girls on their way to work and later the clerks and business men.  It was very much like London, only the people seemed to me more lively and happy.  I suppose the French are a trifle gayer than the English.

At 9-30 I returned to the hotel, settled up and got the porter to carry my box to the train.  I secured a comfortable corner seat and soon after 10 o'clock we steamed out of St Lazare Station and soon left Paris in the rear. The train travelled very well and the country was looking at its best.  The windings of the River Seine are very beautiful.  The first and only stop was at Rouen for about 20 mins. So I did not have time to visit the famous cathedral there, but I saw it well from the Platform.

Dieppe c. 1907

Soon after noon we steamed into Dieppe.  I was so much struck with its quaintness that I determined to thoroughly explore it, so I sent my luggage on board and decided to cross myself by the night boat.  It was very windy and the water was rough.  I walked to the Pier Head and watched the day boat go out, and I felt very happy that in a few short hours I should again be in Dear Old London.

There was not much to see in Dieppe after 2 fine old churches, arches, etc., but there was a certain quaintness about its streets and people which I liked.  The people are generally fisher folk and rather simple and poor but very nice.  There are some good hotels along the front and a Casino – the latter was not open however.  I climbed to the top of the cliffs and strained my eyes to see if I could catch a glimpse of England but it was hazy and therefore impossible.  Well, I walked about till about 7 o'clock, when I decided to dine at the Henri IV Restaurant where I had a swell 4-course dinner and to celebrate the occasion I called for a bottle of the best wine and sat smoking drinking and thinking till about 8 o'clock.

The cross-channel ferry 'Sussex' (used on the Newhaven-Dieppe service), after being torpedoed by German U-boat UB 29 on 24 March 1916 (Photo from Wikipedia: Ferry SS Sussex)
Falling into conversation with a young Englishman who was returning that night with his Guv’nor’s Motor Car, we decided to spend the evening together.  Also met a German and we all three repaired to a kind of Café Chantant where we spent a very jolly time.  At midnight we left our German friend, climbed on board another boat to see the Motor Car and then got on board the 'Sussex'.  The night was fine and the sea moderate as we sailed out of Dieppe about 1 a.m.  My friend went down to sleep, but I remained smoking cigars (which I bought at a shop in Dieppe) until the lights of Dieppe faded away and we ran into a fog.  Things were rather uncomfortable now so we went down below for a time; but what with a pack of dirty Italians etc. on board it was rather stuffy so that I returned on deck and remained chatting with one of the sailors until it began to get light and soon after I caught my first glimpse of England – Beachy Head showing through the fog.  The dawn was very sickly and foggy so much so that we could distinctly hear the Newhaven fog horn.  Beachy Head loomed larger and larger, people came up from below, and about 6 o'clock we steamed into Newhaven.  Home again after 7 months absence.  I was soon off the boat, through the Customs and in the train.  Said good-bye to my friend the Chauffeur as he was not coming on to London.  Soon we were whirling along at 50 miles an hour towards London and I must say I felt supremely happy.  The weather cleared and the sun came out.  At Croydon we stopped for a few minutes, caught a sight of Balham High Road and then Victoria.  Ida was there to meet me.  I caught my first glimpse of her as the carriage  passed the top of the platform, before she saw me.  We were soon talking to each other and in my happiness I forgot I was one of the Unemployed.  She looked fine but a trifle thinner I thought but what a loving kiss she gave me and how pleased she was to have me back."

Ida Payne, wedding photograph 1909

Charlie and Ida got married at Tooting Parish Church on 18 April 1909.  Charlie's next visit to France was in a more official capacity. On 2 August 1917 he arrived as a Private in the British Expeditionary Force and was transferred into the 2/5th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment with whom he served on the Western Front during the remainder of the First World War. On that prolonged visit he had more to worry about than mice, as will be revealed in the next book that I am writing, which has the working title, "Charlie Payne's Hatbox".