Taken from the Diary and Letters of
Harold Graham PARIS [1887 - 1918]
Royal Garrison Artillery
The Battle of the Marne and the Aisne

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 6TH 1914 (fine and clear)

Thank goodness we are at last marching in the right direction and going to have a go at them! Marched off about 3 a.m. along Chaures-Pezarches Road and halted after about two miles in position of assembly. Battery came into action near Lawe and dug in, but no rounds were fired, observations being very difficult owing to closeness of country and no suitable targets being seen.
Later on we shifted position more west about ¼ mile and opened fire on Pazarches and the roads leading from it as German troops were reported to be leaving. Left action fired 18 rounds (10 Shrapnel, 8 Lyddite). Several rounds were reported to have had good effect (right section were still loaded with rounds of shrapnel set at fuze 2 (the result of Le Grand Fay panic on August 25th) which would be unsafe to fire with any troops etc. in front. These rounds realized until September 10th when opportunity was found to safely blow them off. Not unnaturally the left section had a good time ragging the right section all the time, and I am afraid the rumour of it reached certain of the Field Artillery. Anyhow, it will be a long time before right section get over the soreness of “Fuze 2”).
We stayed in position all day, the country being unsuitable for artillery fire, and about 6 p.m. bivouacked by the side of the road near Chateau de la Plessis.
Day’s march: 6 miles. Rounds fired: 18
Everybody’s spirits were naturally up 100% on turning round.

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 7TH (fine and hot)

Marched off pretty early along the road Pezarches – Maupert – Huis – Beautheil – Chailly. A very slow march and pretty tiring for the horses as it was pretty hot and we got some still hills. Also water short as there was a scare that the Germans had poisoned all large ponds. We here first began to see the results of German occupation; their main idea seemed to be to pull all the furniture out of the house and everywhere were tables covered with glasses and bottles. Bottles were strewn thickly all along the line of march. Windows broken and beds upset and most pumps smashed. We got into bivouac fairly late and had a bad place for watering and I remember getting very wet lending a hand. I slept some of the night at headquarters as it was my turn to fetch orders.
Day’s march: 15 miles.

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 8TH (fine and hot)

We were on the road ready to join the column at 7.30 a.m. but actually did not get moving until 10 a.m. as infantry had to do some fighting in front. Almost immediately we were sent for to come into action and had the pleasure of trotting past the whole column, including a good deal of field artillery who did not appreciate the Heavies R.G.A. going into action before them.
The Major and Shedden had gone on to reconnoitre, but by the time the battery reached La Tretigue a message had come back from them. Sir John French had just arrived and Caldecott received a direct order to bring the battery into action. Battery came into action just east of La Tretigue and left section opened fire on infantry retiring on the other side of the river.
During action the Major arrived and firing was stopped. About 2 p.m. battery came out of action and started to join column advancing to cross River Morin. Very slow progress, infantry fighting fairly hard in front, good many casualties on the road. Delighted to receive a new gun wheel, the first we had seen since the start. Ordinance officer brought it up on a car and I had it off before he had time to get out and say it was for us. Eventually crossed river and slowly climbed other side.
Lots of dead Germans about where we had been shelling. Very late getting into bivouac – north of Boitrem near Pont Villiers. Pretty tired myself – but had to go to Headquarters for orders and did not turn in till about 2 a.m.
Day’s march: 10 miles. Fired 8 rounds

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 8TH

Headquarters evidently expected heavy opposition crossing River Maryk. Long artillery reconnaissance carried out while artillery assembled at Bassevelle. Eventually we came into action just sound of Fontaine d’aix, but did not open fire as our infantry got forward quite easily. About midday we were ordered to move down to cross the Marne.
We got down to the river and watered horses and then crossed the bridge when someone got a scare on the staff and we carried on the manoeuvre of “first they marched them down the hill and then they marched them up again”, only we completed it by being ordered to march down again as soon as we got to the top.
This move was duly appreciated, the day being particularly hot and the hill very long and steep. This time we were allowed to proceed and eventually got into a dirty little field full of mud and barbed wire about 8 o’clock at night. March via Villiers and Demptin and bivouac half way between Demptin and Coupeu.
Day’s march: 8 miles

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 10TH (This date is what HGP wrote in his diary)

This was quite a “gala” day for the “Heavies” About 4.30 a.m. we were starting to wake up when a frantic message came to know why we were not starting. Major disclaimed all knowledge of having received orders, but orderly swore positively had had woken Major up at 2 a.m. and had seen him read the order and put it in his lefthand top pocket. On examination it was discovered there. Major must have been so tired that he never woke up properly as he really had not the slightest recollection of having received the order.
Anyhow, the order was for one section of the battery to march with the Advanced Guard - quite a new place for a 60 pounder (at last they are starting to realize our merits!) (They have since realised it very much more – Nov 3).
I got the order to take my section; my men rose to the occasion well and we got off in record time and by a little “bluff” got an infantry battalion out of the way and got to our place in the advanced guard just in time. We marched via Caupru – Marigny – Hussiars. The 3rd Division was marching parallel to us on our left. When we got to Hussiars a good deal of firing started on our left front and infantry were pushed up. Very soon we got the order to go up and we went up a steep hill into the village of Hautevennes under shell and rifle fire (the shells I’m afraid were very like English ones). The reason being that a lot of Germans had been surprised between the two divisions and both divisions were firing into them from either side. Some of the shells came right over us, eventually about 500 prisoners were taken).
We came into action just east of the village did some good work at about 7,000 yards on a German column trekking like blazes. We hurried them up all right and knocked out several vehicles. Later on in the afternoon the whole battery advanced to near Counticouat, south of Hennes and went into action to shell the village of Chouy, which an aeroplane had reported to be blocked with German transport. Left section put a dozen rounds of Lyddite and some shrapnel into the place. An aeroplane went to observe our fire, but we never got any report on it. Right section went off to a quiet corner and got rid of its Fuze 2, much to everybody’s relief. We bivouacked for the night on the guns.
Day’s march: 12 miles. Rounds: 49 shrapnel, 10 Lyddite.

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 11TH

Came out of action about 7 a.m. and joined column. Marched via Meully – Vichal – Breny – Culchy le Chateau. A slow, tiring march: my horse had been showing signs of “wear and tear” for some day’s and I had foot slogged most of the marches recently. We went into bivouac about 1 p.m. in a large muddy field south east of Culchy. It poured with rain and we were all soaked to the skin. Made a large fire to try and cheer ourselves up, but spent a fairly uncomfortable night.
Day’s march: 10 miles.

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 12TH

Moved out of bivouac about 7 a.m.. Had some difficulty at first owing to the heavy ground and a mistake in the road. Joined remainder of column south of Brugneux. March continued via Arcy – Quincy – Lime – Braine – Courcelles. Signs of a good deal of street fighting in Braine. March very slow all day as cavalry were engaged in front all day. Pitch dark night and pouring wet. Last part of march very bad – roads flooded and crowded with cavalry. Bivouacked in a mud heap, at Courcelles.
Day’s march: 17 miles.

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 13TH

7 a.m. left bivouac and joined column on the road. Very steep hill out of Courcelles. Long halt on top. Cavalry and advanced guard engaged in valley in front. 11 a.m. ordered to come into action just north of “D” of La Grande Rache . Good observation from left front of battery. Targets – infantry on hills across Aisme valley. Once, an extraordinary target appeared – a thick column of infantry. I think we got well into them. Battery went to “Section fire” and got rid of some ammunition (at least it seemed a lot at that time, but we have exceeded it since on several occasions). 128 shrapnel 10 lyddite. In addition all day, no reply from enemy – no casualties. Bivouacked on guns.
Day’s March: 5 miles.

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 14TH

Joined column to continue march. Crossed River Aisne at Bourg and then went along tow path of canal. Several bridges had been blown up. By the time we had reached the cross roads by “L” of Neufachatel, there was a lot of shell fire and rifle fire close in front of us. Soon a general ?? was in progress. Battery came into action on the north west side of cross roads for want of a better place, but we could not do very much as observation was difficult.
Soon after coming into action, right section was ordered back to across river to take up position on ridge beyond Villarcy from where good observation was possible. This section came into action south of “G” in La Grande Roch. Left section remained in action and fired in direction of Braye. About midday an urgent order was received for the section to fire in direction of point 166 north of Chavenne as Germans were turning our left flank of Division. Switched quickly round and carried out rapid fire. Kept up till situation was relieved by cavalry and artillery from 1st Division. Both sections bivouacked on their guns. Left section had coal boxes falling pretty close all night.
Rounds fired: 78 shrapnel, 12 Lyddite.

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 15TH

At daybreak, left section was ordered to withdraw across the river and take up a position south of Vieil Arcy from where observation was possible over the greater part of the high ground across the river. Position taken up alongside position of Sunday 13th.
The battery stayed in this neighbourhood from this date till October 13th. I have kept no daily record of our target etc. but a summary with a sketch showing changes in position.

Letters from the Same Time

Saturday Sept 5th, 1914

Dear Leonard,

Still going strong, & everybody fit in the battery. The weather has been very kind & very hot – rather too much so. Not much taken with the country I have seen – which has been no small amount considering the time we have been here. We have not had any letters for a long time, ours seemed to have got hitched up somewhere as other people have been getting them – still we shall enjoy them all the more when they do turn up. We heard the most wild rumours of course here; but practically nothing believable from the rest of the world – in fact we do not know anything beyond what we see ourselves.
I flushed some partridges all night on the 1st, but at the time was rather more intent on two legged 'game' which however I did not find.
Will send me out some 'carriage candles' – chocolate is always acceptable (in tins if possible) in any form – 2 lb tins of vaseline (for anointing horse sores) – 2 dozen boxes matches (small size) – tin of tooth powder (small will do – only weekly washes!)
Any news of Charlie – what are Alec & Colin's movements?
We often wonder how much you are told of our doings – all we have to say in our letters is that we can't write any news – but, by Jove, some of us have done a bit of 'thinking'! – & could make a few remarks if allowed. I shall if I am not careful & then you won't get the letter.

Love to everybody,
Harold

Sept 6th: no time to post this last night – fitter than ever today having had an excellent breakfast – & more than 2 hours sleep!
Cheer oh!!
H.

Thursday September 17th, 1914

Dear Father,

Please thank L. for his letter dated Sept. 4th which I got last night. You & Mother will be very pleased to see Jimmy again I expect – give him UnCow's love. I suppose Alec's lot have got pretty near here by this time – we had heard rumours that they were coming – I wonder if I shall run across him. I am afraid they will find it pretty cold. It has turned very cold lately, & keeps raining a good deal. Luckily there are a good many stacks of straw about this country & one can generally get hold of a bundle for a bed at night. The ground is very heavy for our guns & we have a good deal of digging out to do. Our horses have done extraordinary well considering the hard work & long hours they have had & also rather irregular feeding.
I do not know whether I asked for it before, but we would very much like a few lbs of Cocoa as we have run short & it is very comforting at night, specially with a good dollop of Rum in it, of which we get a ration now & then.
I believe we had the distinction of being watched by Prince Arthur of Connaught yesterday – I did not recognise him as he just walked up with another staff officer while we were endeavouring to annoy a German Long Tom at about 5 miles range!! ; but the Major said afterwards he thought it was him.
We are keeping very fit. – my hair is an appalling length & I have a good beard on at present, which makes me look even dirtier than I really am. The sea at home must be very dull now with never a ship to look at.
I thought of you & the telescope as I have been spending a great deal of my time the last few days with a big telescope looking for anything I can see on the opposite ridge. I wanted the telescope stool to sit on very badly.
I have just had a cup of most excellent vegetable stew made by some of my men; very acceptable as it is in the vegetable line – of course I do not inquire where these vegetables come from – the stew was much too nice! Up to date we have really had plenty of rations – rations consisting of bully beef & biscuit – occasionally bread but that is generally a fortnight old when it arrives – also jam & marmalade tea & sugar – and now and then bacon – we fairly often manage to buy some eggs & butter & fresh bread so we don't do badly at all! – but things are more difficult to get when the Germans have been there first naturally; they ransack pretty thoroughly & their tracks are nearly always very thickly marked with empty wine bottles.
Just at present the battery is split up, though not very far apart; the major & Shedden are with my section, & Caldicott & Cruickshank with the other section.
We are now doing our 5th day at this battle – just at present my section is not busy, so I have time to write – goodness knows how many millions have been blown off in these few days alone.
The firing is very heavy – more than this I dare not say because of the blessed censor who will tear the whole lot up – if what I have said is too much for him I hope will only scratch it out.
Mind you all keep well & don't worry – we have not found a German gun to out range us yet.

Much love to all,

Your loving son Harold.

Sunday 20th September, 1914

Dear Mother,

Just a scribble to say I am still all right. Weather absolutely Arctic. Please send me out a sleeved waistcoat (knitted!) – rather lighter than a cardigan if possible – but cardigan will do.

Love to all,
Harold

Our thanks to Major Paris’ granddaughter Sue Udy, who provided these extracts.

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