WEEK 116: RIGHT IN THE FIRING LINE
Monday 11 to Sunday 17 September 1916
In early July 1916, cameramen Geoffrey Malins and Edward Tong (later replaced by John McDowell) were authorised by the War Office to move into the front lines during the Battle of the Somme to shoot footage of the ongoing conflict. Part documentary, part re-enactment, The Battle of the Somme was an early example of a propaganda film which, it was hoped, would encourage hitherto neutral countries such as the USA to join the war on Britain’s side. Premiering in London on 10 August and released generally on 21 August 1916, the film was an instant success. In Britain alone, it was seen by some 20 million people – almost half the country’s population – many of whom had never been to a cinema before. Although the original aim of the film had been to glorify the British Army, its harrowing scenes of death and suffering have over the decades transformed it instead into a poignant reminder of the futility of war.
Monday 11 September
Muz & I were up early, & gave out things1 for the day, & then we went round to Colonel Battiscombe at 8-30, & he took us up to the Rest Room in his car; we put on the kettles etc, & had all the water boiling etc, & them Mrs Morrow & Mrs Currie came up at 9-30, & we gave it over to them, & we came down in their car. Went in to Kitty, to ask her to come to the “Battle of the Somme Pictures” at 11, we came back here first, & Muz had some bread & milk, & Kitty came round to us, & we went down. It was at the Electric Theatre, it was most awfully good, & was taken right in the firing line on July 1st, it was very gruesome, as you saw people being shot & everything, it is a wonderful picture, & lasted 2½ hours; Viva, Miss Dalkin, Mr & Miss Daniels sat with us. After lunch, Muz & I lay down till tea time then Muz wrote letters, & I worked out dates for Pat. Ione came back at about 7, she has been in Dover with Mrs Hemming since Friday.
My dear wee Mus.
I got a long letter from you to-day of the 9th and two yesterday of the 7 & 8th. I am so glad you went and saw the General’s sister-in-law. You seem to have had rather fun finding the house. It was great the police letting you through. I am so glad you all liked her. I wish you could meet his wife. I’ll get her address and you could ask her to go and stay with you. I’m sure she’s nice, he is such an absolute topper.
[…] You seem to be working far too hard these times. I think it is very bad your wanting to go and sleep like that on a lot of papers. Do knock off a bit wee Mus or you will be making yourself seedy. I hope you are right about not having another Xmas fighting. How nice it would be. I don’t fancy this place in winter a bit. I saw quite enough of it that first year. My coat arrived this afternoon quite safely, thank you so much for sending it. The weather has been quite good since that day I told you I had the soaking. However we went to a nice camp that night so I didn’t mind. I am glad that Elkington has got his Regt again. Poor devil he had a dreadful time in St Quentin2. It was under very extraordinary circumstances. The General knows him and says that he is an awfully good fellow. I had rather a nice letter from Miss Steele this morning. I’ll send it to you. She writes a comic letter.
That was a nice letter that Leila wrote you. No the stables mean nothing. It is just improvement generally, they were very bad when we took them over. How queer my dating a letter the 9th. I must have been very absentminded. Yes our joy rides were great fun. The General thoroughly enjoyed his day. It did him a world of good. You ask about Crombie, he was a dreadful ya-hu. He looked after our transport. He was a wild Australian of sorts dragged up in a dirty stable but knows a good deal about livestock in general. The fellow beside him is our French interpreter, he was a rotten fellow he used to live in our mess but I was rude to him & he went and lived with the Div Interpreter. The General says that it was the best day’s work I ever did. Our signalling officer looks like a Bosch, I forget if he is in that photo he has a blue & white band on his arm. A very worthy fellow but a dreadful cockney.
The Boy of course is a topper I like him awfully. It would be a dreadful tragedy if they took him away. I like Quill our Staff Capt very much too. He is a real good fellow & is getting awfully good at his job. Daniell is our bombing and intelligence officer. He is a dear old thing. He was an architect in Cairo. Knows d— all about soldiering but is an absolute sahib which is the chief thing these times. “Wipers” gets nicer every day. She absolutely won’t leave me now & takes little or no notice of anybody. I went for a walk with Daniell this evening & hid in a shell hole & made him walk on. After he had gone about 100 yds she spotted I wasn’t with him & came rushing back to find me. She is very like Dusky in many of her ways but is much more energetic. She rushes about everywhere & is full of life & fun. She caught a rat this afternoon but let it go again. I must teach her to kill them properly. You’d love her she is an awful nice thing.
Yes old G seems very happy about things. I quite realise what happened when he went home. I think you have summed it up very well. I’m sure he will be very happy. We must just get to know Doll well & like her. I’m afraid I didn’t take much interest in her that day at the wedding. I sort of felt you didn’t care for her & then had so many other people I wanted to talk to that I didn’t pay much attention to her. Your theory about the piano is quite right. Brand has it now. I dined with Percy to-night. I always enjoy seeing him. I always have a good laugh when I go & see him. He is such a topper. We had a great dinner there his General, he & I went off to see some men training in the dark. I got back about 11 o’c & am now beginning to think of shut eye. I was up soon after 5 to-day & started off before 5 yesterday. It is after 12 o’c now so I think a little bed would be a good plan. Will you send me back Miss Steele’s letter so as I can answer it. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Letter from E. H. Parry, Stoke House, Seaford, to Pat Armstrong
So glad to hear you are flourishing & many congratulations on your honourable & responsible past. I expect you’re pretty busy. We seem to be doing well now, & I hope will soon get Combles & so to Bapaume. The enemy are being pretty hard pressed on all fronts now, & if we can only turn out enough big guns & shells we shall do. Going to the cottage at Stoke tomorrow for a week before the boys come back. No, I never met General Williams, though I rather fancy he was down here for a bit. This place crowds with soldiers at various stages of training, also a number of convalescents of all sorts. Dolly’s husband in the R E3 has come back from [—] invalided, pretty bad, but I suppose he’ll pick up now. The VC exploits are amazing it’s perfectly wonderful what men do. Hope you keep fit Best of luck
E H Parry
Tuesday 12 September
Gave out things etc, then went down in the car, with Muz, Ione, Tom & Heppie, & went to the Somme Pictures again, Ione went off & met Mr Mundie, & then met us there at one, after we had got buns etc. Then we went to Dover & on to Goodnestone Park4. Cousin Fitz took us all over the hops, & we saw them being picked, & dried & packed & everything it was awfully interesting. Then we came back & saw the garden & got some cuttings etc to bring back, after tea we went out again, & started back at about 6-30, & left Mr Mundie in Dover, we got back at about 7-30, it was a lovely drive back. Gave out things & got some flowers, & went to bed at about 11-30. Ione went to the theatre, but came back early.
My dear wee Mus.
Just a brief scribe before I go to bed. I got two letters from you to-day one of the 8th the other of the 10th. G’s General is General Hill. He is an awfully nice little man. I’m sorry he’s gone there it’s a nasty spot. But I’d rather spend the winter there than here. This will be a horrid spot in winter. But after this wet summer we must hope for a dry winter. I think that is quite a good idea Ione coming out to drive that good ladies car; much better than an ambulance. I can tell you awfully little these times as the censor is so strict. I will explain to you about Percy’s house some other time. Carden Roe came up here this afternoon, he seems quite a nice fellow, he’s very young. Doesn’t strike one as the sort of fellow who would make a B. M.5 If you are in London it might be worth while asking about that Bar at the W.O.6 I don’t know quite how it is worked, whether it is only to take effect in the future or whether it covers past things. G’s story was about the 1st July. He has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. The attack opposite B. H7 was held up and Grant then Bde Maj went over the parapet to try & see if anything could be done. Our fellow countrymen were lying down & being murdered as the General puts it. Well he tried to shove ‘em along. Then he got hit. Then Gee the Staff Capt went out and got hit too. I didn’t think much of your blotting paper, but I suppose times is hard. Good night dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 13 September
Muz & I went up to the camp at 8-30 in Colonel Battiscombe’s car. We were fairly busy. Then we came down in an ambulance, & we went to the Connaught Club8 to work there, but found they didn’t want us, as we weren’t busy, so we came home through the town, but forgot it was early closing. Tidied, wrote letters etc. I went to the dentist on the way back, as I had toothache. Then Mr Arnoldi & three boys came for tea. I made more lavender bags, & filled others & tied them up.
Thursday 14 September
Muz & I went up to the camp at 8-30, in Colonel Battiscombe’s car, & we went to visit the hospital first, & then went down to the Rest Room, till about 12, & then Mrs Lambert came, so we went back. We came back in an ambulance, & it took me down the town & then left Muz back. I did a lot of shopping. Then tidied, did accounts etc, & wet to bed at about 12. Mrs Boddam-Whetham came round with Mrs Blair to ask me to sell in the Grand on Saturday, I worked hard at the lavender bags. Kitty sent us round a lot, & Tom filled them & I sewed them up, we have got 200 now.
Friday 15 September
Got luncheon ready etc. Miss Field & her cousin, & Dick Lewis came for lunch. Afterwards Kitty came round, & we went down to the flag Depot to get flags, lavender bags etc to sell tomorrow. Kitty went to tea with Mrs Ross. Miss Field & her cousin had tea early & caught the bus back to Dover. Viva, Sally Dalkin, & Miss Dalkin came for tea. Decorated mine & Tom’s basket for tomorrow & filled them. Gave out things etc. Went to bed at about 11-30.
My dear wee Mus.
Of course don’t pay in my allowance this quarter. I won’t miss it a bit. I got my bank book out last week in fact I have it here in front of me & I have a credit of about £500, so I’m really well off and won’t miss it a bit. Dear wee Mus I just love you having it and am so awfully glad that you wrote to me about it. I think it is wonderful how you manage. It is great how you don’t get overdrawn. Of course our money is the same thing & it’s so nice to feel that you really will ask when you want it. I can’t tell you how I appreciate that letter wee Mus, as I know it was difficult to write but I love to feel that you will ask. I have often been afraid that you wouldn’t. I can quite see you wee Mus wondering if you would write to me about it or not. I’m perfectly delighted that you have, it gives me such a nice feeling to know that it’s a case of
“You can use his purse with no more shame
Than he uses yours for his spendings
And laugh and mention it just the same
As if there’d been no lendings”9
No I think it would be a pity to let the house now. You’d go over to Ireland then I’d probably get leave & you’d have to rush back & perhaps lose a day. We have two men per Bde going on leave every day now. They get 10 days from port to port. I think I’ll probably get home about the end of October. It is quite impossible this month because I visit Percy on the 19th. Irene Wills sent me a box of awfully good apples last night, awfully nice of her wasn’t it. Yes! I think that a good idea of yours, do write and ask her to stay with you. I’d like you to get to know her. I don’t think it matters a bit not asking Bunty at the same time. Let me know if she’s coming. You know her address 9 Southwell Gardens London S.W. I heard from Brock this morning he is at home learning to fly and wants to get back as he thinks the Regt may get a show. Queer lad isn’t he. I’ll send you his letter. I must be off out now as I’m going off with Beckwith who commands our Machine Gun Coy to look for a new emplacement. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Jess Armstrong
My dear wee Jess.
I have just had a letter from Mus saying that she is a bit worried about the money question. I’m sending you a cheque for £20, cash it & give her the money. Don’t show her the cheque till it’s cashed. I hate finding she is hard up when I have got so much in the bank. Be sure you don’t let her lay an eye on this till it’s cashed. I’m just writing to tell her not to put in my allowance, so just slip this into her hand one day when she is going off shopping. You’d love “Wipers” she’s an awful dear. She will be insulted if you don’t pronounce her name right. It is pronounced as it’s spelt. She is awfully faithful & never leaves me. She was very naughty last night & wouldn’t come to her band, when I called her she ran off to my room & lay down on her mat there so she had to be beaten. I hate beating her as she’s such a dear, she is so awfully like Dusky in many ways. She talks to people just the same way as Dusky does is just polite but master first. The General took her out yesterday while I was up in the tunnels she followed him for about a mile & then trekked back here to wait for me. She is awfully good in the tunnels but I’m always afraid of her going over the top. Well wee Jess I must end now as I want to write to Mus before I go out. Best love dear wee Jess.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 16 September
Gave out things etc. Stanley Dalison came round for me at 8-30, & we went up to the Grand to sell flags etc.10 Tom is selling with the Crofts in Sandgate Road, & Kitty is too. We got a lot of people at breakfast, & we were there for lunch too, then I went & had tea with Kitty then came up again to sell at the Tango tea. We had tea there & then danced, & afterwards went out to sell on the Front. I think I got about £5. We came back at about 7-30, then Muz, Tom, Heppie, Kitty & I went to the club. Kitty went home early.
Sunday 17 September
Stayed in bed rather late, then gave out things, & did some tidying. Muz wrote letters. After lunch Kitty & Presh came round, & we stayed in the garden. Tom & Sammy went to tea with the Crofts. Went to the club, & Muz was asked to be on the committee. It was pelting when we came out. Went to bed at about 12. Ione went up to stay in London yesterday for a few nights. It was in last night’s paper, that we have taken the whole of Flers, High Wood, Martinpuich & Courcelette11. We have taken about 3,500 prisoners. We used our new armoured cars for the first time. They can go over the trenches & through barbed wire. They are supposed to be 15 [—], & go 5 miles an hour, & hold 150 men. Their chief work is to find the German machine gunners, & blow them out of their positions. It has all been a huge secret.
- The Armstrong family were contributing to the war effort by providing food to soldiers residing in Folkestone.⇑
- Lieutenant Colonels John Ford Elkington and Arthur Mainwaring were court martialled for attempting to surrender at St Quentin during the Great Retreat in 1914. They were cleared of cowardice but dismissed from the army.⇑
- Royal Engineers.⇑
- Goodnestone Park in Dover, Kent, was the seat of the Plumptre family.⇑
- Brigade Major.⇑
- War Office.⇑
- Beaumont-Hamel, a commune close to the front lines of the conflict which saw heavy fighting during the Battle of the Somme.⇑
- A club in Folkestone run by Canadian women and “the only place around here where you can get Canadian cooking”, as Gordon Stepler wrote to his mother on 1 October 1916.⇑
- An approximation of The Thousandth Man by Rudyard Kipling, which contains the lines “You can use his purse with no more talk / Than he uses yours for his spendings, / And laugh and meet in your daily walk / As though there had been no lendings.”⇑
- A flag day was held in Folkestone Saturday 17 September 1916 to collect money for Kentish prisoners of war. Jess and Tom Armstrong were among the volunteers collecting on the day.⇑
- This is a reference to the Battle of Flers-Courcelette fought between Britain and Germany from 15 to 22 September 1916. It was the third and final general offensive launched by the British Army during the Battle of the Somme, and the first time tanks were used in warfare.⇑