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Monday 19 to Sunday 25 March 1917

WEEK 143: PRINCIPLES OF COMMAND

Monday 19 to Sunday 25 March 1917

By 1917, Germany was beginning to experience a manpower shortage on the Western Front. The two salients formed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 between Arras and Noyon had created a line too long to defend with diminishing resources. In February 1917, Germany opted for a strategic withdrawal to the so-called Hindenburg Line, a much shorter defensive line east of the Somme battlefront constructed towards the end of 1916. The withdrawal took place between 10-16 March, gaining the Allies some 40 km of new territory in France. The withdrawal was a shrewd defensive move for the Germans, creating as it did a much stronger defensive position in a strategically important location. However, it was also a propaganda disaster as the retreating troops adopted a scorched earth policy, digging up roads, felling trees, polluting water sources and burning villages in their wake.

Monday 19 March

jess__diary_cameoHeppie & Tom drove in to the town. Tom & I went down to the Dingle after breakfast. Then Muz & I went to see Mrs Feutril & Mrs Bayliss. After lunch I did some mending, & later Muz & Heppie walked in to the town. I did more mending, & we went to bed at about 11. Heppie & Janet came up & talked to Muz, till late.

Tuesday 20 March

jess__diary_cameoForty more villages taken, & the cavalry in pursuit. It snowed since six o’clock this morning, & everything was white when we woke up. But it thawed very quickly. Muz Tom & I went for a run. After lunch Feutril drove us over to Broseley,1 to the china shop, & Heppie bought things. It rained a bit on the way back. We had tea when we got back, & then Heppie & Janet went into the town. I wrote letters & sent the lists of the London postal districts to Ione & Pat etc. They have just come out, so they won’t have seen them.2 Did some mending, & then wrote more letters. Muz wrote letters all evening. We went to bed at about 11.

Scorched earth policy

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

March 20.

My dear wee Mus.

I went down & saw Bonny3 on Sunday and gave her lunch but had to come away about 4 o’c as we had a lecture at 6 o’c. She was looking very well and seemed very happy. We had a lovely day & thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We had a scheme dished out that night which had to be handed in this morning. Then yesterday we had lectures till 12 o’c & were then given a scheme to be handed in the morning. It was the devil of a rush to get them both done. The one yesterday was an outpost scheme & we had a good long ride which was rather nice. However we got them both done by about 1 AM so it wasn’t too bad. I got a V.G. for that long scheme I told you about. I was awfully pleased as I didn’t think it good. We get an Essay to write to-night, go to Etaples to-morrow then have two very bad days Thursday & Friday. Friday will be a bad day. One scheme at 10 to be shown up by 2 then another issued there to be shown up the next morning. Sat & Sunday will be quite good days. I must go off to a lecture now. I won’t have time to write to-night so have just scribbled this now. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

March 20.

My dear wee Mus.

Just a brief line before I go & do a job of work. We have just been dished out with another essay “Principles of Command” d—d if I know what to say about it. I have just got your letter enclosing one from Rene. I see she tells you about clothes. She writes a dull letter doesn’t she. Doesn’t get at it the right way somehow. I don’t know what it is. I’ve seen Mrs Curteis is at the bottom of trying to shift the thing into the paper.4 It’s horrid & makes me very angry. She evidently wants to get rid of her, & why it’s difficult to know. I went over & saw the Regt once but they were all or nearly all away digging at Doullens. It’s awfully hard to get away, I won’t be able to go over there on Sunday, as we are going over to see the Tanks. I’ll try & get over again before this show ends. It ends a fortnight last Saturday. I think it’s about 1st. I must be off now. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Wednesday 21 March

jess__diary_cameoThe others stayed in, & Dus & I went for a lovely walk in the Dingle, up to the right, all along the river, & home by the fields, it was lovely. It snowed a wee bit later. After lunch, Muz, Heppie, Janet & Tom went to the town in the carriage to call for the wool at the station, & Muz & Heppie went to tea with Mrs Welch, & then walked back. Tom came back in the carriage. I read for a bit, & did some mending. Went to bed at about 9-30, & Muz didn’t come till later.

Consequences of the shortage of paper

Thursday 22 March

jess__diary_cameoIt snowed again, but melted fairly quickly. I stuck in photographs, then we settled some of the drawing room. After lunch we changed & went over to tea with the Miss Warrens, in the carriage, at Moreval Hall.5 There are five old ladies & an old brother.6 We got back at about 6-30, Janet had done quite a lot of the drawing room, when we got back, & it looked awfully nice, Bayliss had brought in a lot of plants too. We went to bed at about 11-30. The Allies occupy eleven more villages, & fifty villages cleared, & are now three miles from La Fere & about four miles from St Martin.

Friday 23 March

jess__diary_cameoMended all morning. Muz & Tom went in to the town. Heppie worked at the mats. I mended Muz’s stockings all afternoon, & got them all done. Mr Willis came to call, & Muz talked to him. We had a fire in the drawing room, as we thought they would be back by tea time, but we got a wire to say they wouldn’t be here till later. We had our dinner earlier, & they arrived at about 9, & we sat with them while they had dinner. Zooie is looking very well, but Jimmy a bit thin.

Saturday 24 March

jess__diary_cameoMrs Welch came up in the morning, & then Muz, Zooie, Heppie, Tom & I walked in to the market, & Jimmy & Mrs W. came to meet us, & the others went back with her, & Tom & I came back with Dus: after lunch I started a cap to send to Ione. Zooie & Jimmy went to tea with Mr W. & then went to church. I worked up in my room all afternoon, & again after dinner. Then they brought some of the wedding presents in to look at, & then I packed them away again. Muz & I had a bath, & went to bed at about 11-30. Janet gave Muz & Heppie tea, & came in & talked for a bit.

Sunday 25 March

jess__diary_cameoWe drove in to church, we went to St Mary’s, & Zooie & Jimmy to the other, then we walked out, & met Zooie & Jimmy on the hill, talking to some wee children. Boo caught a rabbit & Jimmy gave it to them. Heppie & Tom didn’t come. Mr Willis came here for tea. Muz & Heppie went in to church, & Zooie & Jimmy went to church too, & I wrote letters. We went to bed at about 10-30.

A new government order


Footnotes

  1. A town some 10 km north of Bridgend
  2. By 1917, some 70,000 postal workers had opted for military service, leaving the sorting of mail in unskilled hands. As a consequence, the notoriously complex postal system of the London area with 112 delivery offices had to be simplified, to which purpose a scheme for designating London postal districts by numerals (e.g. NW1, SW8, W11) was introduced in early 1917.
  3. Pat Armstrong’s nickname for his sister Ione Armstrong
  4. Irene and her mother wanted to publish a notice of the couple’s engagement in the newspaper while Pat and his mother were opposed to the idea
  5. Morville Hall, near Bridgnorth, Shropshire, now in the care of the National Trust
  6. Morville Hall had become famous as the home of seven unmarried sisters, daughters of Joseph Loxdale Warren (1798-1888) and his wife Mary Anne. The daughters, who also had five brothers, were Lucy Ann (1837-1918), Mary Lisette (1838-1920), Henrietta Matilda Astley (1840-1925), Wilhelmina Christiana Jane (1841-1917), Julianna Frances Minton (1843-1928), Georgina Maria (1844-1926) and Martha Josephine (1847-1906).

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