WEEK 10: IT ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE DAY
Monday 31 August to Sunday 6 September 1914
During the first week of September, the 2nd Cavalry Brigade continued the gruelling retreat through Compiegne and Chevrieres, with only distant and sporadic contact with the German army. After a much needed break in good billets at Thieux, the Brigade moved across the River Marne to Gournay, where the French army had also retreated. Here, men and horses rested for a further day, the more energetic of them organising an impromptu hare hunt. In the meantime, German armies neared Paris, which was bracing itself for a siege. The French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre determined on a counter-offensive strike, supported by the British Expeditionary Force, to exploit a 30-mile gap which had developed between the First and Second German Armies. The offensive on 6 September marked the beginning of the First Battle of the Marne. Pat’s mother and sisters remained uncertain of Pat’s whereabouts and anxiously awaited word from him while news of casualties kept rolling in.
Monday 31 AugustWashed my hair in the morning, & then read for a bit. After lunch Ione went to the Gilmores for tennis, & Tom & I walked in to Bridgnorth. Mr Gilmore brought Ione back here after tennis in his Rolls Royce. Tom & I walked in to the town again, & met Heppie & Janet there, & walked out with them. We got back at about 7-30. There was no fresh news in the paper.
Left our Chateau about 5 am marched through Compiegne. Bridge prepared for destruction. Saw Brock. Div messed in field just outside town. Thought we were going to scrap. Went into billets at Chevrieres & had a real good night.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
France Aug 31.
My dear wee Mus.
Here we are about 10 miles south of a place where we all stayed a few years ago. We stayed last night in a little village in the woods where we all had tea one afternoon if you remember. It was lovely getting all your letters last night. The best thing I’ve had since I came to this country and the first mail we’ve had. We have been absolutely cut off. Most of the stations are deserted & very few trains running. It would have been quite hopeless to have written to you as they would never have gone. As a matter of fact I haven’t had a second to write in since we started to trek. We have had a desperate hard time. Horses & men are dreadfully weary. I find it awfully hard to remember how things have happened, as everything has been such a rush. We have been marching at night as well as by day & it’s almost impossible to know what day of the week it is. I have kept a diary as much as I can so I’ll tell you what we have done every day but of course I can’t mention names. Not that they would convey very much to you even if I did. […] [On 21 August we] Left about 6 a m & marched north. The march was very slow as the advanced troops brushed up against some Germans. We got in about 2 o’c & then hung about all the afternoon expecting a scrap.
The 4th D.G’s. advanced & were out all night & had a scrap the next morning. They rounded up a patrol & killed about 10 of them & took 3 prisoners. Hornby in the 4 D.G’s stuck one & was the first of the English troops to kill a German. He had a great hunt of about 2 miles all along the road. They sent in 3 prisoners. Funny looking brutes who seemed thoroughly fed up with the war. […] [On 24 August] about 12 o’c we heard that the enemy were advancing. We had a bit of scrapping in the evening without a great deal of loss to either side but there were a lot of bullets buzzing about & a lot of noise. We then went south about 8 p.m. & spent the most uncomfortable night in our clothes in a garden. I slept with my head in a flower bed & nearly got walked on by a horse. It was beastly cold. We got going again as soon as it was light, and found the Germans advancing in hordes. We didn’t do much all morning. But in the afternoon we had the most desperate battle. It was the most unpleasant proceeding I have ever taken part in. They fairly poured lead into us. The 9th and 11th D.G’s. charged their infantry & suffered a bit. I think there was a good many losses on both sides. I was galloping about with messages & had bullets and shells whizzing all round me. It was most alarming. […] Aug 29 we thought we’d have a rest but they came on again in force & we had a bit of a scrap. I think we gave them as good as we got. Last night we stayed in an awfully nice Chateau in the big woods. I loved getting your letter. […] I am most dreadfully weary but feel awfully fit. I am afraid the old Bay is almost broken down. The other two are doing fairly well but are dreadfully tired. They have been worked off their legs. I am feeling awfully stupid & tired and am longing for a good long night in bed. I hate sleeping like this with my clothes on night after night. I think I have told you most of the news. It’s awfully hard to remember things as night & day seem more or less the same. In fact it always seems to be day.[…]
Your loving Pat.
Tuesday 1 September
We all drove in to the town, in the waggonette, & the others went for a drive, & I stayed to get the letters, & walked out. After tea Tom & I walked in to get a paper, we met Ione & went to look at the tennis club. Then we walked out with Capt. Welch. After dinner I started making a blouse, & Capt. Welch played the gramophone for us. […] No new news in the papers today.
Left Chevrieres at 6.30 Bays1 were cut up that morning. […] Bde went off a wrong road owing to a muddle in orders. […] Expected to fight but they didn’t come on. Heavy firing in the evening just as we were going into billets. Billeted in a big farm[.] 18th very despondent at being put into a big park
Wednesday 2 September
First list of casualties came out 35 officers killed, 52 wounded 62 missing2 Mr Soames is killed, Bob Hawarden dying, Victor Brooke reported dead, & lots of others we know in list. We are retreating all the time & it looks like a possible retreat into Paris & a siege if something doesn’t happen unexpectedly as the Germans are now advancing on Paris. We sent a box of things in Paris for Pat in case of siege, at Post Office for him to call for & a letter to tell him they are there as it’s no harm trying to be prepared for anything.
Mons l’Eveque. Turned out at 2 a.m. & did a supposed death ride through a wood. A few Germans reported to be about. Some guns were taken. Some of our motor lorries were captured but most of them were got back. Had very easy day. Sat by road in small wood. Went into billets at Thieux where we found terrible drunken old man. Geoff & I cleared the place up a bit & made tea. Baggage went off that night at 12 o’c.
Thursday 3 September
After lunch Capt Welch took Muz, Tom & I in the car to Ludlow, & we did some shopping there, & got things to send to Pat to Paris, while Capt W. was doing business. Then we went on to Little Stretton & had tea, & came home by Church Stretton, it was awfully pretty the whole way. This morning, Ione helped me to put in some photographs. The Germans are advancing on Paris, & are fighting at Compiegne. Ten guns were captured by British troops. It is in the paper that Mr Sherlock has been killed on active service, but I don’t think he was with the Expeditionary Force.
Thieux. Left at 4.30 & came to Gournay. Got Barracks horse. Went into Colles with Drury & got my boots mended. Sat about all day & grazed our horses. Saw Brock. Expected to go off on a flying column & all our kits were cut down & sent down to the base. Stayed night in wood had great fun catching hares. Was very comfortable. Gen went up & dined with Allenby in the station.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] Everybody is leaving their houses & fleeing into Paris. It is rather pathetic to see them. Women & tiny children & hardly any kit with them. [On 4 September] Geoff & I managed to make some coffee & cook some eggs & had a much needed meal. We had a good bath & shave & felt quite well after that. We had just got into bed when round came a message to say that the baggage had to start at 12 o’c. So we packed that off & then slept till we moved off at 4-30 the next morning. We had quite a nasty ride as we had to go through a big wood & we heard that there were a lot of Germans in it. I am glad to say they didn’t worry us. […] [On 6 September] I went in to the town & had the soles of my field boots sewn on. They had come off about 3 days ago, at least half off & were an awful nuisance. I had my other shooting boots stolen so now I have only got my field boots. […] We had to lighten our kits. The General said that mine was a sensible sized kit so I hadn’t to cast anything. I don’t know what I’d cast if I had to lighten it.
I saw old Brock & had a long chat to him. He’s awfully fed up with the 5th D.G.3 Says that they are a rotten lot. We are a present camped in a wood about 12 miles of where B. was this summer. How I wish she was there now. We are having a rest day which is rather nice & which we had all given up hope of ever getting. A rumour came round yesterday afternoon that we were to march 60 miles before to-night but I’m glad to say it never came off & we moved into camp here about ½ mile from where we were halted yesterday. I had the best night I’ve had since I came out. We didn’t get up till 6 o’c which was a great luxury. There was no need to get up then really but the General is an awful early bird, & gets fussy if one isn’t up early. […] I am afraid that if we have much more hard work that Howkins will go. He is sound as a bell but awfully thin looks dreadful & is absolutely dog tired. He has had several very hard days. I rode him in that first big battle we had & had to fairly gallop the inside out of him. I had to gallop in in the middle of the show to tell the Regts where to rally. It was the hottest corner I’ve ever been in. Shells bursting like hail & bullets fairly pouring in. It was a miracle how I wasn’t hit. I am sending you a letter I got from the Duchess. Awfully nice isn’t it. I will try & write as often as I can but we are probably moving again to-morrow & will then probably be working pretty hard & one never has time to write letters when fighting as well. […]
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 5 September
[…] Muz got a letter from Mrs de Lisle to say that she got a wire from him today, saying “well” from Compiegne. So now we know where Pat is. Another list of casualties came out this morning. 56 wounded 16 dead & 94 missing. Mr Rowley, Mr Helps Mr Loder-Symonds, & Hubert Knox, are wounded. Muz heard from Mrs Sloane-Stanley that Nevvy is wounded & Dick Phillips, but they weren’t in the paper. Finished reading “In the Palace of the King.”4
Champs. Was moved at 2 a.m. to get transport off. Started at 4.30 & marched to Lemages where we got everything settled & had lunch. Was very weary & went & slept. Moved off again at 4.30 to Ozouer. Went on in a car with General. Got into a shooting box & got dinner etc. fixed up. Horses arrived later. Had mine in a cyder press.
Sunday 6 September[…] Muz, Ione & Capt. Welch went & had tea with Capt. Acton. They met Sir Frank Hollins there, he is Vere de Hoghton’s father-in-law, & he told them that Barbara is engaged. I went down & took photographs of the Scouts, with Ione, as they camped here last night. Read out in the garden. Capt. Welch had supper with his mother. We read after dinner, & Capt. Welch came back at about ten.
Ozouer. Started 5.30 went on ahead with the Gun. Marched to Pecy through Gastins. Saw Germans advancing in a huge column down the road. They turned round & started retiring. Tompson was dreadfully slow getting into action took 1 ¾ hours. I’m furious. Very heavy shell fire. Ian Straker, Eric Smith & Martin Smith all hit. Marched off just before dark & burrowed in stubble field just outside Jouy-le-Châtel. Luckily it was a nice warm night, & we were fairly comfortable. Gen woke me up about 3 o’c as some horses were loose