The book belongs to George Henry PAYNE 14796 of the 12Battalion Rifle Brigade.
He writes it from his hospital bed in France. His head is heavily bandaged. He cannot speak. He communicates by writing short sentences in what had been his address book.
His first message is a desperate scrawl
'It hit me silly when it hit'
'I do think I have lost my eye'
This is followed several pages later by this
'Got half my face off'
He cannot eat - he is fed from a cup. His wounds are still seeping - there is blood coming from his mouth. He is in shock, asking for a piece of lint to keep his mouth warm because he is so cold.
He describes what happened to him. He shouldn't have been there. He was with the field ambulance on a false call-out during the retreat from Ypres.
There are explosive allegations. The army hadn't learnt anything from Mons - men were still being hit by their own guns. The artillery fired over their heads to give them cover as they retreated, with tragic consequences when the barrage fell short.
He believed that's what happened to him.
'I do not think the Mons affair was in as we were getting knocked out by our own guns'
- - - - -
The pivotal point in the account comes from this entry.
'Shearer got killed in the trench. Bullet.'
Shearer was his mate. And elsewhere in the book, among the roll calls and lists of names, Shearer had a service number - 10528.
This unlocked the context. Rifleman Lawrence Shearer 10528 was killed in action on 29 March 1918, according to the CWGC website, and is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial.
That's where Payne suffered his terrible injuries. It could have been worse; had it been higher 'it would have smashed my brains out'.
. . . . .
This wasn't the first time he'd been wounded.
'When I got hit last August I got to a Yankee Hosp but did not get home for 6 weeks - they kept us there for experiments'
This explains the structure of the book.
He says he was hit on 6 August 1916 and had a 'Piece knocked out of the muscle of my right arm. Now half my face knocked off'. The details are shaky - it was August 1916 rather than 'last August', and the photo suggests it was his left arm rather than the right, but he was still in shock from having half his face knocked off.
He was treated at an American military hospital in France and kept there for 6 weeks 'for experimentation'. There is nothing sinister in this. He had a gunshot wound to his arm and had lost a piece of muscle. There were no antibiotics. There was debate about the treatment - should a dirty wound be sown up and risk infection, or kept open and regularly cleaned? The latter treatment takes time; the soldier cannot return to duty with an open wound. The experiment was to compare the results from both treatments - hence the 6 weeks under observation.
This is where the book starts - as an address book.
The first entries are his own details and those of his next of kin - his wife, his father, and his married sister.
These are followed by medical staff in the American Expeditionary Force Hospital Unit H.10 in France.
He's there for 6 weeks. He keeps a register of wounded soldiers with their next of kin.
The back page has the poignant entry for the next of kin of a soldier who had his arm off - presumably a fellow inmate. The entry is later updated with a word in brackets - 'died'.
. . . . .
By December he is back with his regiment, now classed as Depot Rifle Brigade. His damaged arm can no longer manage a rifle, but he can help carry a stretcher. He is assigned to the field ambulance, and helps with roll calls and requisitions.
There is a list of orderlies for the last 2 weeks of December, followed by many pages of names and service numbers. The names are in alphabetical order suggesting roll calls.
The lists get scrappier - and suddenly it all changes.
There is a desperate scrawl - barely decipherable. Payne has been wounded again.
'It knocked me silly when it hit' 'I think I have lost my eye'
The address book has become his link with the real world. He writes page after page of simple questions and comments.
About midway through the book the writing is upside down - he is writing from the back of the book. Not the very back page - that has the next of kin for the man who had his arm off and later died.
The writing continues until he reaches the original conversation. He asks 'do you have another book'? There is no more room in this one.
- - - - -
Payne keeps the book. He makes it home to England to a military hospital in Weymouth. He adds a last name and address to the back page - that of the army doctor who helps him recover.
Dr J Bell 10210
Annie Laurie Ward
Princess Christian Hospital
- - - - -
I have reproduced the pages in narrative order, starting with 'It knocked me silly . . .'
The names and addresses are listed separately in the order they appear, as are the roll calls. Over time I will transcribe the details so they appear on searches.
- - - - -