In Russia, the country’s participation in the First World War had resulted in catastrophic casualties, disrupted the economy and caused chronic shortages of food. These crises, coupled with a profound dissatisfaction with a corrupt and inefficient government, had resulted in the so-called February Revolution in March 1917, during which Tsar Nicholas II had been forced to abdicate and a provisional government had been established. However, the Provisional Government’s decision to remain in the war and its failure to instigate land reforms made it increasingly unpopular and allowed the Bolsheviks, a revolutionary minority party under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, to seize power. In an attempt to secure its position, the Provisional Government declared Russia a republic on 15 September but instead of strengthening the government the manoeuvre speeded up the disintegration of the state and paved the way for the October Revolution in November 1917.
Monday 10 September
Gave out things1 etc, & got things ready for lunch. Zooie went away by the three train, Muz & Ione went up to see her off, & I helped Elizabeth2 with her bed, & linen etc. Then I went & sat out in the garden & worked, & the Lucases came out & played tennis, & I sat & talked to them till late. Muz & Ione worked on the garden till late, & after dinner, they went up to the Burlington to have a bath. I went to bed early, & then worked in bed, & Elizabeth talked to me. Muz was awfully tired.
Tuesday 11 September
I stayed in bed nearly all day, except to give out things etc. I sent off a little coat to the Neill baby, as it is to be christened tomorrow. I began another coat, & nearly finished it. Wrote some letters. Muz wrote letters, & then worked in the garden for a bit. Ione went to the dentist, & did some shopping for me on the way back. I went downstairs & had supper, & then sat with Muz, while she darned linen, & we went to bed at about 10-30.
Exactly 24 hours after I was with you I stood beside your boy’s grave. I took over a very pretty cross made of some flower (violet) which looked something like sweet Williams with 4 white asters in the middle, all on a ground work of asparagus fern. The grave was very tidy (although most of them were not), and most of the flowers alive.
A flower from Pat’s grave
I was determined to find out who was tidying it so I found the caretaker who was an Irishman in the Dublins. I asked him who was tidying Capt. Armstrong’s grave and he said “Is that Pat’s you mean”. I asked him if he had known him and he said he had not, but that sometime ago a staff officer had asked him to look after it and he said that he & his pal, being Irishmen, generally looked more after the graves of Irishmen than of others. I picked the enclosed viola off the grave. Now that I know no one in the 29th is in Arras I have a good mind, if you agree, and I can do so, to have those railings painted brown. If you don’t like it done without leave from 29th Div I will write and ask De Lisle. I think they painted them white before putting them up, never thinking the cross was of oak. What do you say about it?
“I stood beside your boy’s grave”
The whole cemetery is being taken in hand and tidied up all through. I can account for you receiving the photo before the ones I sent. I’ve noticed that whenever I have asked to have graves photographed the Graves Commission always send a copy to the next of kin whose address they know. I do think you ought to leave Folkestone if only for the girls sake. I can quite imagine you wanting to hide like a hare and that you don’t want to go visiting but I should have thought you would have liked the quiet of Lenaghan.3 Anyway I cannot see the good of you being at Folkestone. I expect you would really find more relief in work than in resting really, but not necessarily at Folkestone. You never told me about Tommy being knocked down poor child. I quite understand all you wanted to say the other day and I carried the right messages to Arras. As far as I can make out that place is quite quiet now, at any rate round the cemetery district.
About myself – You see having once admitted I am not up to my work it’s very hard to turn round and say I had not meant it. You say “but others go round for you” but it is not a comfortable arrangement to sit behind and not take any risks. It would be impossible to go round to every officer & man and explain the reason!! And if one did the obvious answer would be “Then clear the way for someone who can”. No, I feel I must either get well or clear out. Whether I get something at home or not is a side issue. As we are now out resting I am going to propose to army commander today that I go away and take a month’s bathe somewhere or other to see if that will cure me. I don’t know what he will say. I should have thought that you would find most rest by sending the girls to Lenaghan or elsewhere and for you to nurse in a hospital but you know best.
Wednesday 12 September
Stayed in bed all day, except to go down & give out things etc. Worked at the wee coat, & got it finished, & am going to send it to Dick’s Kitty tomorrow. Muz wrote letters & then worked in the garden. Ione went to the dentist & then worked in the garden. I darned stockings all afternoon. Muz wrote letters before dinner, afterwards I went down & gave things out etc: we went to bed at about 11: Muz & Ione had been mending linen, & I rubbed Muz’s feet.
Thursday 13 September
Ione stayed in bed all day. I gave out things etc: Muz went out to the garden with the old man, & was out there nearly all day. I darned Muz’s stockings nearly all day. Mrs Edwards & Sir Arthur & Miss Marshall came to call, but we said we were out. Muz sorted potatoes after the man had gone, & then she made a loaf, & I got dinner ready, as E. was out, & then Muz helped me to wash up afterwards. Then I washed stockings etc, & got Muz some coffee, & we went to bed at about 10-30.
Letter from Irene Wills, Bella Vista, Woolacombe, North Devon, to Mrs Armstrong
A letter from Irene
Ever so many thanks for the photograph which I love to have, and also for Capt Gee’s letter, which I will return in this. He is a fine man and how well he appreciated our wonderful Pat. I like the way he writes of Pat being pleased about the man he taught doing that job, because I always feel too that he knows quite well what’s going on here, don’t you? Darling, it must have been just too awful for you trying to open the boxes, I know so well what you mean about Pat, he could look smart and well-dressed in an old sack, couldn’t he? Do you think now you are back in England you could post me the watch and photo I would so dearly love to have them. My address after Wednesday will be c/o Sir Hugh Fraser Stromeferry Ross-shire Scotland. It is sad that you are going back to Ireland before I have a chance of seeing you, but I expect is it nicer for you really, isn’t it?
No, of course I am not going to delay my scheme any longer than I need. As soon as I get to town I shall see my guardians about it. I wouldn’t put it aside for anything. This is a lovely spot, the house looks over the bay, it’s two miles across, with rocks on each side, and lovely wide safe sands in the middle for Jim to play on. The bathing is safe too if one doesn’t go out far. I hear Gil is to go to France, poor Queen she does just worship him, it will be horrid for her. She will perhaps come to town unless she is nervous for Anthony in the raids, it would be nice to have her there. Well, darling, it doesn’t get any easier, does it? I think of you such a lot. With much love.
Ever your loving
Friday 14 September
Gave out things etc: Then Muz & I went down the town to shop, & got our skirts altered etc, & we didn’t get back till 2-30. Ione stayed in bed all day. I wrote letters in the afternoon, & Muz read. Then I did Muz’s feet after dinner, & we sat in Ione’s room, & Elizabeth came in & talked. Then I made coffee for Muz, & we went to bed at about 10-30.
Saturday 15 September
Gave out things etc, & then went down the town, & did a lot of shopping. Ione stayed in bed all day, till tea time, & then sat in the greenhouse. I wrote some letters, & put away silver etc: Muz wrote letters, & then she & E. worked in the garden, & finished one half. I put away linen etc. & put a bolt on Duskey’s door, & was rather busy doing things. At about 6-30, I went off to Mrs Philpott’s, to call for our skirts, it was an awful long walk! but I got the bus back, from the Town Hall, & got back at about eight. Muz was lying down, very tired after working in the garden. We went to bed at about 10-30, I made some coffee first.
Sunday 16 September
I left out things etc. Ione went to church, & Muz wrote letters. Then we went down to the Harbour to meet General de Lisle, but the boat didn’t go till three, so we had a long time to wait. Got tea ready etc, & then Mr Colville came for tea. Elizabeth went out, so I got the dinner ready etc. Ione knitted, & Muz went to church, & Ione went to meet her. Then we cleared away & washed up, then I did some tidying, while I was waiting for E. We went to bed at about 10-30. We had to put all the clocks back an hour tonight. I got a letter from Kitty Winstanley this morning, asking me to be godmother to her wee baby.
‘Russia Proclaimed a Republic’
The Armstrong family were contributing to the war effort by providing food to soldiers residing in Folkestone ⇑