Memories of Sapper Edwin Payne
The following was taken from a series article’s that Edwin had written for the Huddersfield District Chronicle that ran from Oct. – Nov. 1978, together with extracts from his WW1 diaries, and photographs (which he took with his Box Brownie camera). The article runs from his enlistment to the end of the war. (The words and spellings are Edwin’s, we’ve have kept to the original documents)
Edwin was born at Luton in 1890, his family moved to 6 Glebe cottages Hatfield when he was 4. His father and brother were engine drivers; his brother Joseph drove the Flying Scotsman, and was first to drive the Silver Link.
After the war Edwin came home to set up his own commercial printing business which he ran for 44 years, in later life from his house “Dawncott” Cecil Crescent. When his wife died he moved from Hatfield to Scissett nr. Huddersfield to be near his only daughter.
Introduction. November 1914 – July 1915
I was a young man aged 24 in a provincial town of some ten thousand souls, living and working in a comfortable job as a journeyman printer’s compositor. The War had found the country on 3rd September 1914, shocked out of its normal routine, and in a matter of days Lord Kitchener had made his appeal for a hundred thousand recruits to be formed into six divisions to become the First New Army..
I was a single man with no other ties than a widowed mother and an unmarried sister. I was a scoutmaster responsible for a troop of boys in scouting training and I pondered whether I ought to volunteer for active service with H.M. Forces, seeing that the War might last only about six months, such was the absence of any knowledge of wars.
However, in December 1914 I wrote to Royal Engineers Headquarters, Chatham, to enlist voluntarily.
On December 27th I was given a health test at Holborn Hall, London, which proved satisfactory, and on January 4th I paraded at Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, from where we marched as a motley crowd to entrain for Chatham. On arrival each man was issued three planks and a straw bolster (two being sufficient with the bolster between). At the Quarter-Master’s Stores we were fitted with uniform, and during the one week each was given a trade test, which resulted for me as a skilled craftsman an extra 4d. per day making 1s. 8d. total.
I then was posted on a draft to barracks at Carlow, Southern Ireland, and embarked from Holyhead to Greenore in a cattle boat under cover of darkness. On this boat there were also soldiers with their families from service in India. On arrival at the barracks at Carlow we newcomers were allotted sleeping quarters, paraded regularly, trained in care and riding of horses, with jumping routine, exercise daily on frosty mornings running about a mile in singlets. This was a Signal Company, R.E., of about 200 men, and we were to be attached to the 10th (Irish) Division which was being trained separately at the Curragh nearer Dublin.
Were we ever to leave Basingstoke camp?
It was not until April 15th that we embarked on a boat for England to operate manoeuvres based on Basingstoke and covering night sorties in surrounding Canterbury and district along with the Tenth Div. prior to posting abroad. None knew our destination, but we were issued with pith helmets and tropical equipment which indicated warmer climate somewhere for us.
At last, quite suddenly we found ourselves, on 11th July, en route by train for Plymouth where under cover of darkness we embarked on the troopship ‘Andania’ and headed south. We encountered rough seas when passing through (we later learned) the Bay of Biscay and were escorted as far as Gibraltar by two destroyers. As we passed through the Straits, we read our first real message flashed on clouds by the Naval searchlights ashore.
We steamed along in the utter darkness, when suddenly the order was passed round to “Stand to – on deck” – We were being shadowed by a German submarine. We stood in ranks for what seemed hours (anyone lighting a cigarette to be court-marshalled). Not a sound beyond the ‘purring’ of the ship’s engines – “What boat is that”? –Reply (over the megaphone) “Andania”. We breathed a sigh of relief – a British destroyer was checking on us.
On Sunday July 18th we passed the French Convict Settlement on Gozo a small island near Malta and in daylight steamed into Valletta harbour Malta for coaling. This was accomplished by a horde of black natives who, when their coal barge drew alongside, swung a plank of wood to a bunk hole in the ship’s side and ran, by the dozen or more, with baskets of coal on their heads up one plank, and back again to the barge by another plank to refill and repeat the performance.
On 23rd July we reached Alexandria, Egypt where swarms of children flocked the docks and scrambled for coins by laying on them until the heap of humanity disperses off them to other piles as another coin was captured and another ‘babe’ laid flat on it. Here we disembarked for a nine-mile route march round the streets and passed a few military hospitals where we received a cheery greeting from the staff.
Next, we sailed by night into Lemnos harbour where we stayed several days. We rowed in the ship’s lifeboat to 10th Signals Hdqrs. (on another ship nearby) for an exchange of views and company. We were of the Sigs. Section attached to the 31st Infantry Brigade HQ. (troops also on other ships).
On July 30th, 1915 we sailed to the shelter of a small bay in the Island of Mytilene (120 miles from the Dardanelles). Immediately on our arrival small boats spread anti-torpedo nets across the entrance behind us. Here we spent August Bank Holiday (2nd) and enjoyed daily swimming from the ship’s boats generally in scorching sunshine. One morning the sea was so calm the surface like glass that the ships engine soot lay thick alongside and forced us to row further away to swim. Then all was ‘War’.
Landing activity at last began. August 1915 – Sept 1915.
On the night of August 6th, we were transferred to a fast boat (22knots) less than half the size of the ‘Andania’. All troops were packed on to the open decks so that when we were clear of the ‘Andania’ the smaller ship looked like a floating mass of humanity. We spent a rough night standing shoulder to shoulder and from a distance few could hear heavy gunfire. We reached Gallipoli ‘B’ Beach, Suvla Bay about 4.30a.m. on August 7th. About six warships were pounding the hills of the Turkish positions, we came under heavy shrapnel and H.E. shelling and a Taube (German) dropped two bombs, one of which missed our ship by only 75-80 yards. The moment our ship anchored; a minesweeper laid a torpedo net in our rear across the harbour.
We hastily landed by lighter packed solid on steel deck. Sapper Wylie next but one to me, was wounded in the foot by a piece of shrapnel. Our officer shouted, “leave him” and I was forced to jump over him and into the water to get to shore. The R.A.M.C. were working gallantly under fire tending the wounded as we followed our troops. We had to run to some cover about a hundred yards from the beach, where we rested under our packs and with minimum equipment for immediate use, and after about ten minutes pushed on with the General and Brigade Major over the cliff on which where Turkish only vacated that night. When we had gone about a mile, under fire all the time, we halted with the General while troops advanced (digging themselves in, little more than head shields when laying flat on the ground). We went on again some distance to concentrate and open helio communications with the Navy. After about an hour, we advanced again and could see our troops getting shelled horribly on the edge of the Salt Lake before us. When we moved over a mound we were shelled heavily as they were waiting for us. We dodged behind the mound again, and the place where we had just stood was hit by a shell and a splinter grazed the magazine of Corpl. Fryer’s rifle in his hand.
We circled the Salt Lake when the troops were mostly clear and halted to form Headqrs. About five miles from our first landing, in the shelter of a sandbank.
During the day we saw enough of wounded and killed to harden anyone. We had to go back to where we first concentrated to fetch heavy kit and equipment, while a ‘Manpack’ team ran out a line some two miles or so to maintain contact with our advancing troops. Two of our section were mentioned for DCM over this as they laid a line between two fires at night over trenches amid a rain of bullets. This sort of thing was often repeated among us.
Sunday August 8th, we ‘worked’ our Brigade from about half-mile range with some of our number in the trenches with the instruments. There had been no water beyond that first contained in each man’s bottle, but on this Sunday a water barge came near shore off ‘B’ beach, so that by stripping and wading waist deep in water we could reach it to fill our bottles. I went five miles, for one, laden with lots of bottles for the Section, and in this way got a bathe, and now and then a shell would whine over our heads to and from the Navy, but somewhere beyond they burst. At night we advanced over the Salt Lake (a dried-up mud flat of about two miles wide) to Chocolate Hill where we formed Hdqrs. in first line trenches on the very peak of the hill. We Signals were put in a communication trench leading out to the Turks, to wait our turn for duty. I happened to be the first one down the forward trench, so had to keep guard on the approach from the front. Our fellows off duty fell asleep from exhaustion. Bullets kept flicking the top of the trench and knocking the soil on us. The firing seemed only a hundred yards or so on our left front, as we were on the right flank. A piece of shrapnel fell between me and the next fellow. I went down the communication trench to see how far was clear and found eight men of the 7th ‘Dubs’. on watch. This I reported, and later that night amid the firing the General sent me down to carry messages to them and to extract as much information as I could from them regarding the movements of our forces in that quarter.
Mon. Aug. 9th, In the morning some of us returned over the Salt Lake and brought up the remainder if our equipment and were sniped at each time we crossed the mud flats. Several dead lay there, others wounded kept the Ambulance men working there. One bullet plugged the mud at my feet, and a shrapnel burst near us, but we spread so as not to form a target. (The snipers were lodged in olive trees and were equipped with rifles with telescopic ‘sights’ aimed at certain spots to fire at unlucky victims. A sniper was caught near our trench on the Hill and brought into Hdqrs. Snipers ‘covered’ a water hole (one not poisoned by the Turks). This was a hazard causing to crawl there in places and lie on our stomachs to fill bottles. While on Chocolate Hill our other supplies of water ranged from rusty petrol tins to new tins still mixed with petrol in water. Our officers had the same sort of drink. We had to eat at night because of the fly pest.
Tues. Aug 10th, Much the same: two officers’ batmen were wounded; also a man passing me was hit in the lungs by a shrapnel bullet, so I took of his pack, and pointed him out to a RAMC officer, and continued on my duty.
Sunday Aug 15th — Our officers made a big attack. Our Brigade does fine but loses heavily in men. I was commended by Staff Captain for taking a bucket of water to a machine gun which had run hot while the battle raged, in the afternoon. I saw him hit in the left shoulder and taken away.
Aug 16th, — Sergts. George, Hulston, Newell and myself go under shrapnel fire two miles with drum of D5 cable on a hand cart, along side a mountain on a stony mule track. Twice we were marvellously missed by shrapnel splinters which burst just in front of us and sprinkled the ground around us. I had the front handles, and Hulston the back; and a splinter grazed the drum and scraped Hulston’s arm; his hand was knocked of the handle and was numbed and bruised. So, Newell and I continued with the cable and completed the line-laying to the station ahead of us. We had to lift the whole barrow along a lot of the way.
Tues Aug. 17th — Brigade Major marvellous escape. A ‘spent’ bullet pierced his helmet at back and just grazed his head making him stagger, and his helmet fell off – the bullet dropped out. I saw this, and he kept saying with a laugh “Not many can say their head has stopped a bullet without killing them”! (Later date news – Brigade Major promoted to Lt-Col. Cooke Davis – always a perfect gentleman and soldier).
Aug 18th – Mended a smashed cable under sniping fire, and on return found unit ready to move to ‘relief’ at nearest base where we rested.
Sat Aug 21st – Word passed to be ready to move in 15 minutes from notice. We took up positions in ‘reserve’ trenches on Hill 10 NW of Hill 53 via NW side of Kislar Dagh, over a ridge and crossing corner of A & E beaches. While this transfer was in progress heavy shelling, both from Navy and Turks continued all day.
Capt. Smith our officer, went with Corpl. John Clark to forward position from which to signal information back to us. After a reasonable time I began to climb a rocky mound for a ‘lookout’ awaiting a signal from J.C. when we heard and dodged behind the rocks to avoid a ‘Jack Johnson’ (H.E.) which burst on the very mound on which a moment earlier I had been climbing. The shell made a large hole in the ground. A marvellous escape from being blown to smithereens!
The Battalion pushed on about a hundred yards ahead of us and were shelled by shrapnel – gaining trenches at the North of Hill 53.
Sunday Aug 22nd to Sat Sept. 4th repeats of various stunts of line mending, message running, searching for units to deliver special orders, line-laying – until attacked by dysentery – reported sick recovered enough to do some line work with Sergt. Georg, Sid and Munden. From day to day losing and regaining positions seemed the ‘order of the day’ to hold large forces of Turks and keep the Dardanelles open.
I witnessed an ambulance being shelled by Turkish battery while covering about two miles. Over thirty shrapnel shells were aimed deliberately at the mules. Two were killed and finally the other six were wounded and unharnessed one by one and the remainder hitched to the ambulance wagon which contained wounded soldiers. The drivers seemed to have charmed lives as none seemed injured as they approach the beach (clearly flying the RED CROSS and markings on the wagon also). Later it was reported that the drivers (RAMC) were recommended for DCM. (The shelling was a case of spite for some mishap – German gunners. Turks later sent an apology).
Sept. 15th – Reported sick to beach hospital – Mudros hospital and finally to 5th Canadian Hospital, Abbassia, Cairo on Sept 24th, 1915. Treated for dysentery – seriously ill — returned for duty Oct. 7th.
Memories of Sapper Payne (3) October 1915 – November 1915
Getting back to my 31st Brigade of the 10th Division Signal Company was a ‘lengthy business’. It took me from Oct. 7th to Nov. 8th, 1915.
From hospital in Cairo, Egypt, and on to Rest Camp nearby, I was sent to Mustapha, Alexandria where I was inoculated against cholera and then drafted to a mailboat (with 7,000 mailbags on board) bound for Lemnos where I helped unload some of the ‘mail’. Next, we reached West Mudros (Greek) where in a party of about 200 convalescents we landed and were marched, with packs, 3 miles inland to a camp where water and food were very scarce, and conditions were more like an enemy concentration camp. From here on Nov. 2nd I was transferred to Line of Communication Signal Depot at East Mudros where everything was much better.
Nov. 6th, I sailed for Salonika on S.S. Abbassia and was given charge of a clothes box addressed to one of our officers. With the box I was ferried ashore in a Naval Cutter, and from the docks I got a ride with my box to HQ. Signals where I learned I was to remain for duty. I made a trip to see my old pals along with Sergt. George of the 31st Sigs. by wagon.
After a week near Salonika with the Sigs. we moved off to the frontier, marching 6 miles to railway sidings to load wagons and stores on to a train which took until midnight to reach Doiran. We had travelled in open trucks and were nearly frozen during the six-hour journey. After unloading everything we slept rough, Alf Knight and I under the wooden platform of the station. We were ordered to ‘dump’ lots of kit ready for a tough march into Serbia about 11 miles, which we reached after dark, ‘dead beat’. I was unlucky enough to be put on stable picket – this time with a loaded rifle.
Nov. 17th – We marched 7 miles to Furka feeding mainly on ‘Bully’ and biscuits, and the on Nov. 20th reached Dedeli. We laid a line in a blizzard of snow to Tatali (later our Hdqrs.) in a cottage. This way led along a deep gorge (ravine) and the track along a cliff-edge was an incline of 1 in 7. I was the only one on the four-horse cable wagon and I was almost thrown of the brakesman’s seat as we bound over the boulders. The others of the team preferred to walk. I had to use all my wits and most of my strength on the screw-brakes to hold the wheels from skidding over the edge of the cliff track to utter destruction below. The two drivers were wonderful. It was indeed a hair-raising ordeal.
Nov. 28th – I was transferred to my old (No.4) section 31st Brigade. I rode there on a wagon loaded with poles over rough country of about five miles, a journey not forgotten! I was glad to be back with my pals of the Peninsular. The first night, however, I was getting to sleep on the earthen floor in my allotted place in the cottage used by the Section, when I was called by the sergeant to go with Wilson and Beresford to mend a broken line. With some difficulty we traced the line from signal office to the outskirts of the village where the line had been broken by pack animals. While working there we saw a battalion of our brigade brought down from the trenches three miles up in the mountains where they had been for four days and nights, some of them with frozen feet, previously bandaged with hay by the Army Medical Corps, and carried on mules or stretchers.
Nov. 29th – With my chum Shaw we spent a very cold night at a Relay Post about a mile from the trenches. The bivouac was hidden in the bushes and was just large enough for two to crawl into with field telephone. We took off our boots and with our putties for padding used them for pillows, but in the morning, I found myself frozen to the inside of the bivey sheet and my boots as hard as boards. Luckily, we had not been called out to mend any broken lines. I went about a quarter-mile to a spring which was still running and was delighted to find a loaf on the mule-track, dropped the previous night from the transport mules, I thawed it over a fire which I had made ‘scout fashion’ and as it peeled of like an onion skin, in the pan, we eagerly devoured it, as we were on ‘bully’ and biscuits. We were glad to be relieved from our 24hour spell of duty.
Memories of Sapper Payne (5) Jan 1916 – November 1918
From mountain encampment overlooking Salonika the 10th (Irish) Division, after a short rest recovering from their ordeal in Bulgaria, moved into Macedonia in January 1916, toward the Struma river which was about 85 kilos (50 odd miles) from Salonika and bordering on southern Bulgaria. During the occupation between the two area there were skirmishes against the Bulgars from village to village. eather conditions of snow from January, rain in torrents later and sweltering heat in summer, with consequent malaria from thousands of mosquitoes, flies, ants and scorpions, caused widespread sickness among the troops. For ‘Signals’ continuous hard work in all weathers was expected. It was usual to lay a cable to a point against a village the night before it was captured. One instance comes to mind – A mile of cable was laid to the village of Prosenic from Topolova during a we night. Before dawn, our troops captured this village and Cpl. Clark kept in touch with us at Topolova from an old barn just before the ‘front-line’ men. The cable connecting the two phones lay partly in water puddles and lost current ‘to earth’. I was sent to ‘clear’ the cable on the bushes. Riding on my stocky little horse “Ginger” I had to jump over a ‘reserve trench’ full of men. I got a hostile reception. Meanwhile shells came over and could have hit the barn signallers or me! Cpl. Clark was awarded the Military Medal for this ‘stunt’.
On other episodes, among many taken from my diary notes –
Sept 24th (Sunday) 1916 – I was called up at 4.30 a.m.to deliver a message to O.C. 85 Field Company at Sarabange, a village 8 miles distance. Message required Company to get one-and half platoons of French Infantry back across the flood-swollen Struma river – over the slender pole-constructed bridge – before dawn – to avoid being ‘cut off’ by the Bulgars. I find the O.C at 6.15 and bring back reply. (Later Sergt. George tells me that the O.C.85 Field Co. R.E. and three of his men are to receive the French Croix de Guerre (Military Cross) for the affair of the river crossing, for which I delivered the dispatch)
Sept 30th, 1916 – Several hundred Bulgar prisoners were taken in a fierce attack by our men, preceded by a heavy shelling at the village of Barbara. On Oct 2nd Bulgars staged an early morning counterattack but were repulsed.
October 1916, we stayed on the
Some of the captured prisoners
Macedonian front in action until September 1917 when we were transferred to the Palestine front and advanced from near Beersheba S. West of Jerusalem to capture a formidable Redoubt from the Turks, and from there we surrounded Jerusalem, Dec 1917. We continued our attacks on the Turks throughout 1918 and finally near Nablous along an 8-mile mountain track we captured over 4,000 prisoners and hundreds of field-guns and transport.
On November 11th, 1918 at 5 o’clock news came thro’ of the signing of the Armistice by Germany by which hostilities ceased at 11 a.m. (11th) and the news was sent out to all units in a remarkably short time. Almost simultaneously a great burst of Verie Lights both British and German made.
“11th Nov. – We are ordered into Company Hdqrs. where we arrive at 2.30p.m. and in keeping with Red Tape flying about we had to line our bivouacs with other rows, sideways front. At 5 o’clock news came thro’ of the signing of the Armistice by Germany by which hostilities ceased at 11a.m. and almost simultaneously a great burst of Verie Lights both English and German-made (captured stuff) were fired into the air rendering the quiet of the evening a very inferno of guns being fired, ground flares (red), and star shells, blended with the green and red Verie Lights all-round the country for many miles ………and as I watched the sight I was very much impressed with the thought of the end of this awful war at last, and how thankful we ought to feel; who are yet alive and well, in spite of hundreds of past danger, when a single shell or bullet might easily have made an end of us.
This article is published in memory of the late Sylvia Honnor, Edwin’s daughter (1933-2018), who allowed the Hatfield Local History Society to copy her father’s War documents, photo albums, and ephemera for publication.