Tuesday, 14 August 2007

His lordship taking his rum ration

This image, much later than any of those presented in this blog thus far, is one taken from my own collection. I have included it, as it is an example of how many different aspects, some perhaps not directly related to the photograph itself, may be used to discover more about the incident represented in a photo. It is sometimes astonishing how much can be ascertained.

I knew who it was - my grandfather Charles Leslie Lionel Payne (1892-1975) - and approximately when and where it was taken, as it had the following inscription on the reverse:
Will... (?sp) Kent, August 1915
However, I never really knew my grandfather, having grown up thousands of miles away from Derbyshire, where he and my grandmother lived. During my investigations into his life, and more specifically while researching his military service during the First World War, I decided that there must be more to to be found.

First, I looked at the style of the photograph - it was a standard print of the times, probably taken with a cheap camera by an amateur. There were therefore no markings such as a studio name to assist further in that direction.

Secondly, I investigated the provenance. My father was able to refer me to a letter in the collection of family papers. It was written to Leslie Payne in 1936 by an old friend of his, Ed Pye. As young men they had worked together for the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1912 and 1913, and both subsequently served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) - although in different units - during the Great War. Obviously written after they had been out of touch for many years, the letter reminisces on some of their shared experiences, both before and during the war, and mentions several photos which Ed Pye had enclosed with the letter, including the one shown above:

"His lordship taking his rum ration - The latter I have removed from my war picture album."
Presumably Ed Pye was present at the time the photo was taken, indeed he may have taken the picture himself.

Next, I looked at the photograph itself. The photo shows Leslie, dressed in typical CEF military uniform, sitting on the grass in a field, legs outstretched, and holding a mess tin (or billy can) in his right hand, presumably containing his "rum ration." Unfortunately the scan that I have is not clear enough to show what the items are on the ground next to him, but his boots are hob-nailed, and he appears to be wearing spurs. In the background, there are a couple of horses grazing, and at least three other soldiers, lounging around in the shade of a belt of trees, which appear to mark the edge of the field. The image below, from the web site of the PPCLI Living History Unit, shows the standard "D" model mess tin in use by the British and Canadian Forces at the time:

The inscription on the reverse of the print suggests that it was taken in August 1915. Certainly Leslie looks much the same as in another photo of him in the family collection (see below). This was taken at the studio of E.M. Treble in Derby, and I believe the sitting was probably during a visit home on leave from the army in June or July of 1915.

To investigate further the movements of my grandfather in the spring and summer of 1915, I resorted to his CEF war service records and the war diaries of the unit in which he was serving at the time, the 2nd Divisional Train, Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC). His service records I had previously ordered from the Library & Archives of Canada (LAC), and scanned images of the CEF War Diaries are now available online from the same source.

Leslie Payne and his unit spent four and a half months in the south of England training with the Canadian forces prior to their embarkation for France in mid-September 1915. They were based mainly at Dibgate Camp, near Shorncliffe, west of Folkestone in Kent. According to the War Diary for August 1915, the entire Canadian Second Division including my grandfather's unit, spent four days from 23rd to 26th August doing "manoeuvres."

The entries show that the 2nd Div. Train bivouacked at Willisborough Lees for two nights on the 24th and 25th August. They camped at nearby Hatch Park on the 23rd. It is clear that the inscription "Will... (?sp) Kent, August 1915" is in fact "Willisborough Lees" - or Willesborough Lees as it is spelled on contemporary Ordnance Survey maps.

The hamlet of this name is located just to the north-west of the town of Willesborough, near Ashford in Kent (see portion of 1945 one inch to a mile Ordnance Survey map, above). From what I can tell, this is the only occasion that they were near this location, or indeed near anywhere with a name starting "Will.."

While I am unlikely to ever find the exact location of my grandfather's bivouack site in a paddock near Willesborough Lees on the 24th and 25th August, I am confident that the photo was taken there. I will be visiting the Shorncliffe area briefly in October, and may get the opportunity to at least drive through the Willesborough Lees area. It will provide a fitting conclusion to my research into this photo.

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