WEEK 17: YOU’LL BE A GENERAL BEFORE YOU’RE DONE
Monday 19 to Sunday 25 October 1914
The war on the Western Front was entering its bloodiest phase yet. The 1st Cavalry Division under Major-General de Lisle continued to hold on to its position on the Messines ridge but suffered substantial casualties. De Lisle’s headquarters came under direct shellfire and had to be evacuated. On 19 October, the First Battle of Ypres commenced with a series of assaults against the city, which formed the last obstacle to the German advance to Boulogne and Calais. For the next four years, German forces surrounded Ypres from three sides bombarding the city for much of the time, razing virtually every building to the ground. At Folkestone, life had settled into a routine giving Mrs Armstrong enough confidence to send for her daughters Jess and Tommy who were still in Ireland. On her return to England, Jess continued to be troubled by the uncertain fate of her friend Roger Wakefield and made futile enquiries to get to the truth.
Monday 19 October
Mended, & sewed at my dress nearly all morning. After lunch Tom & Heppie went in to Thurles, & I went for a walk with Poppy, to look at the mangles & the cattle, & came home by Gleeson’s road. Then worked again, & walked down to the Lodge. After tea I worked again & packed up some of my papers, as Muz wrote & said we were to cross over on Wednesday. It was in the paper today, about Pat being mentioned in despatches. I gave Duskey her supper. Sewed after dinner, & went to bed at ten. We sunk three German submarines1.
Letter from Leila de Lisle, 25 Elvaston Place, Queen’s Gate, S.W., to Mrs Armstrong
Dear Mrs Armstrong,
My best congratulations I ken he was to be recommended but dare not tell you! My Husband has now got command of the 1st Cavalry Division & I believe your boy has gone with him as A.D.C. He said in one letter to me “I must keep Pat”! – I only heard his a few days ago & have heard no details. I had a letter this morning of 16th – & all seemed to be going well but fighting was imminent.
Yours sincerely Leila de Lisle
Tuesday 20 October
Did some packing, then we went in to Thurles. After lunch we went for a drive, & went to see Molly, Johnnie Hayes, & Tom Boyle, to say good-bye to them. After tea did some more packing, & wrote letters. Then gave Duskey her supper. Mr Ainsworth & Mr Gilliat have been killed. There is a report that we have captured Ostend. I took photographs of the church when we were out. Talked after dinner, & then wrote to Ned. Went to bed at about 10-30.
Letter from Jess Armstrong to Ned Penrose
My dear Ned.
We have just heard great news, Pat has been “mentioned in despatches” – I thought you might like to hear – General de Lisle wrote & said “it was an honour he thoroughly deserved,” so we are all frightfully pleased! I don’t know whether you heard that he went out on General de Lisle’s staff – 2nd Cavalry Brigade – instead of the 18th. It was splendid luck, as it makes us feel much happier about him. But I can think of nothing else but this last good news! We hear from him very often, he is splendid about writing, & seems to write every spare minute he has, & such grand long letters too. The last was dated Oct 5, so it is nice to have heard from him as late as that. I wonder if you have heard any news of Roger? We are hearing horrid reports, – that he is dead, & all kinds of things; so I hope we will hear news of him soon. One of his mother’s letters to him was returned, which looked rather bad. It seems such a long time, not to have heard. But another man who was wounded at Mons, we only heard of a couple of days ago, so I am hoping we will hear of Roger soon. I am so glad Mr O’Donovan is alright, & that it was only his lip that was hurt. I heard from Algie last mail, & he said that he had wired to the War Office, to say that he would join either battalion, for active service only, so I expect we will hear next mail, that he is on his way back. Another man out there is going to look after his place for him. The letter before that – before he had heard of the war – he sent some messages to you! He is always saying that he misses the regiment so much. We have been spending most of the summer, with people up in Shropshire, but now that we are over here, I hope we won’t have to go back for some time! We have been going for some lovely runs in the car, we went to Lough Derg one day, & we are going to Tipperary next week. I am very busy making socks & with Daddy shooting, nearly every day, & take Duskey for long runs, with the pony trap. She was so good coming over, & didn’t mind the journey a bit, as I had her with me the whole time. We were so sorry to hear that old D’Oyly has been wounded, & wonder who will take his place. How is Aylmer getting on! I hope he isn’t giving you too much walking to do! Wishing you the very best of luck.
Yours very sincerely,
Wednesday 21 October
Wrote letters, & did some packing, & then poked about with Poppy all morning. After lunch, we saw the luggage off, & then walked about. Had tea early, & then went in to the station, & waited about, the train was very late. We had to change at Clonmel & Waterford, & had a very rough crossing. Duskey was allowed in the cabin with us, & she was sick.
Thursday 22 October
Jess Heppie & Tommy came back to Folkestone from Ireland. They wired us Duskie was very sick so we motored to Ashford to meet them & take her to Donisthorpe & motor them home. D. didn’t do anything for her but she was better after a rest it was just the sea making her bad inside
Oct 22 Hd Qrs I Cav Div
My dear wee Mus
Just a line to let you know that I am awfully fit & to thank you for some chocolate which I got from you last night. […] To-day we’ve done very little. Just sat about in a house & heard how things were going. There was a big fight yesterday morning. The Germans pushed in & got a village in our line. So they had to be shoved back, which they did after some hard fighting. They attacked again at dawn this morning but were driven back. The old 2nd Bde have been doing wonders one doesn’t realise how good they are till one is away from them. The 9th & 4 D.G’s are as good as the best infantry by their mobility. We have just heard that the Russians have won a big victory2 which is good news but we’ve had none of the details yet. We had a report in the afternoon that there were believed 800-1000 dead Germans lying in front of part of the position about 2 miles long. But we don’t know the exact numbers for certain. They got told of 85 wounded to day & sent in 55 prisoners yesterday. So we are making a bit of a hole in their numbers. I am longing to hear definite news about Russia as it ought to have a very great bearing on the war if they really have given them a good knock. All the prisoners who came in yesterday seemed fat & well fed but I think were quite pleased to be prisoners & be out of the fighting. I must be off to bed now. Best love.
Your loving Pat
P.S. Will you order 6 refills for my lamp also some new bulbs.
Friday 23 October
I put up pictures in our room & did a lot of tidying & then did some unpacking. Muz & I went up to the hospital at Shorncliffe to try & find quarter master Bunting in the 87th, who came home wounded, & Mrs Wakefield wrote & asked Muz to go & see him & ask him about Roger. We went to his house, but found he was alright again, & had gone over to Ireland. Mrs Bunting didn’t know much about Roger, but she thinks he was wounded in the leg & arm, & she is very afraid, that he was in the hospital that was burnt, but people say that they have seen him since that in a train. Major Grey isn’t dead after all, she heard from him on the 6th. Colonel Churcher is back too, he came back on the 16th Sept, he had a nervous breakdown, & Major Burrowes is colonel. We got back very late for lunch, & then I did a lot more tidying. Went to bed at about eleven.
Letter from E. H. Parry, Stoke House, Seaford, to Pat Armstrong
Delighted to see your name in despatches. Expect you are having a most strenuous time & wish you all luck. I expect you’ll be a General before you’re done. What a war! Things seem to be going better now, & I feel very confident. What we owe to you people is immeasurable & I only wish I was young enough to be with you. Stick to it, & let the Germans have what they deserve the brutes. Nothing but soldiers here, almost 20000 of them. Our house is a kind of hotel, chiefly for the East Lancs3. They find it pretty chilly & dull in their tents & are glad to use our sitting rooms & bathrooms. Quite a merry lot. 7 old Stoke boys mentioned in despatches, pretty good for a start. If you get near the Kaiser! which of course you will do, give him one or two extra for me. Yours E H Parry. You should see the troop knitting at odd times, it is a sight. They send off cartloads of mittens & mufflers.
Saturday 24 OctoberHarry came in from Dover after lunch, I didn’t go down. I carted boxes up & down to the box room, & then got some of the things ready for dinner, & made the savoury. Mrs Winstanley came for tea, she is a friend of Lady Winifred’s. I packed & unpacked hard the whole time, & then put Duskey to bed, she slept out in her house, for the first time. Harry was here for dinner, & then he & Ione went to the dance, & Mrs Thurburn chaperoned her. All the men go in uniform. I went to bed at about 10-30. All the lights in the streets are blackened on one side, & they are all turned down very low, & hardly any on the front. You can hardly see where you are going, after it gets dark.
Neuve-Eglise. Left 8 am. Rode down to Ploegsteert to Hd Qrs 11th Bde. Saw Archie. Heard that Germans were going to make a big attack all along the line. Heard that 6th Bde had been attacked in night but had driven off enemy with heavy loss. Germans reported to have come on singing hymn4
Hd Qrs I Cav Div On Service
My dear Mus.
I got a post card from you this morning something about typing a letter which I don’t think is a good plan. I don’t want other people to see my letters. But do whatever you like. I sent you off a post card this afternoon. Don’t say anything about how you get letters from me. You know what I mean. I have just got back to-night & found a parcel from you with these writing blocks in it. They really are awfully nice & just what I want. Thank you most awfully for them. I got a huge packet of chocolate from you yesterday. I got a parcel from Disi this morning with socks & chocolate and more chocolate from Jess to-night. So I’ve got enough chocolate to feed an army. It is rather funny that I have got so much now when we are having an easy time. I’d have given anything for it on that retreat when we couldn’t get it. But I’ll hang on to it & it will be awfully nice after a bit when we go on into the country which the Germans have been over. They just passed over this bit of country but weren’t in it long enough to make a mess of it. We haven’t done much this week but I’ll tell you my doings since last Sunday.
Oct 18. Left D. at 7.15 & rode to the Chateau with Hardress. Position unchanged enemy still holding the line of the river. A few shells came over in the afternoon & pitched in the garden. Hardress’s mare was killed but otherwise no damage was done. Slept in the chateau that night. Expected to be shelled out of it the next morning.
Oct 19. Breakfast 7 o’c. Rode round & saw trenches with General. Saw gun positions which were very good. We heard that 2 German divisions were advancing from the North, apparently the crush who had been invading Antwerp. Heard that the Regt had had a bit of scrapping. Had jolly good bath in the chateau.
Oct 20. Hardress went out with the General. Mouse & I were going out to shoot some pheasants. But the blighters started shelling the chateau. The first shell went over the chateau the next almost hit it. All the horses were saddled up so we managed to get them out fairly quickly. I had mine down at the lodge about 200 yards from the house so they were pretty safe. However it was very unpleasant as shells were bursting everywhere. Five horses were hit & had to be destroyed luckily all police & orderlies’ horses. I managed to get all the chargers to a place I thought they wouldn’t shell well to the right of the house. One chauffeur was badly hit & died that night & another got a nasty knock. The general’s servant was hit in the leg but some keys & money saved him a bit & he only got a bad bruise. He’s gone to the base but I don’t think he’s much hurt. We then went back to another chateau about a mile back where we stayed all day & moved back here that night. This is quite a nice house & holds us all splendidly. We’re living the best at present. The Blues had a hardish day. Peter Coombe came in that night having been hit twice but seemed quite happy about it. Nice cushy wounds they seemed to be.
Oct 21. Went back to small chateau. The Germans had made a bit of a bulge in our line. They had crept up in the night & taken a village in our line. So we had to make a strong counter attack & push them back. I was sent down to the trenches to see how things were going. It was a pretty warm corner. I had to go through a wood which they were shelling which was rather unpleasant. Our guns were firing hard all day & seem to have done a lot of damage. 50 prisoners were brought in that afternoon. Great strong well fed lumps they looked. They told us they didn’t like our maxims5 at all. We came back here again that night after dark.
Oct 22. We went to a small inn about 5 miles from here which is a more central position for reports to come into. I went into a town that day with a message which they had been shelling heavily. One of our cars got smashed up there that same evening. It got caught with a bit of a shell which went into the side & some bullets pierced the petrol tank. The driver luckily was away so he was alright. We came back here that night at dusk. Mouse & I are sharing a room & are very comfortable.
23. Went back again to the inn. Nothing much doing. Sat about most of the day. I rode about a bit with the General but we had a dullish day. In the afternoon Hardress & I went out for a ride to exercise our horses who are all getting very fresh & fat. A good complaint.
Oct 24. We rode round to see the Infantry. I saw old Archie who is looking awfully well & is in great form. I went back to the chateau to try & find a bit of the shot gun which was left behind in the rush to get out but couldn’t find it. You’ve never seen such a mess as they have made of the place. All the windows are broken & all the hall is splattered with shrapnel. There is a great big hole in the middle of the hall being [?] clear through the floor. Hardress went out in the car & saw Col Barnes & some of the Regt. Poor old Clem has been hit & I believe he is rather bad. Stewart the adjt has been hit too but I don’t think he’s bad. Bad luck isn’t it. I don’t mind not being with the Regt now that old Clem isn’t there. I’d liked to have soldiered under him. We heard last night that the Russians had won a big village on the Vistula. Good work isn’t it. And ought to have a big effect on the war. I am enclosing an account of it which may amuse you. We got a report in to-night to say that 1500 dead Germans are lying out in front of the trenches. They attacked pretty strongly this morning but all the attacks were driven back with heavy losses. I hear that against one Brigade they sent 5 Rgts in succession all in close masses. They were mown down like flies with rifle & machine gun fire. One Corps got into them with bayonets & did a lot of good work. They will get tired of attacking soon I should think. But I must say they are awfully brave the way they come pouring on. I was with the old 2nd Bde the other day when the Germans were coming on. They were moving about in the trenches like flies round a honey pot. Great clumsy looking objects. They wear great knee boots like waders. I don’t know how they get along in them at all. This looks like being another battle of the Aisne all over again. We heard this morning that they had been ordered to attack again to-day but it never came off. Then later on we got information that they were short of ammunition. Good job that. I hope the Russians push on well now & we might get this business done before so very long. It is going to be ghastly in the cold weather. I pity the poor devils in the trenches when it gets really cold. I am personally at the present moment living in the lap of luxury. We get home about 5.30 every evening. I had a good bath to-night & changed all my clothes. Had an excellent dinner & now I’m going to pop off to bed in a few minutes. Mouse is snoring away & I think I’ll be doing the same before very long. I had such a nice letter from Blanchie yesterday. She seems a bit depressed poor little girl. I’ll send you her letter sometime & get you to send it back to me. I wish you could get her to stay with you sometime & get to know her well. Couldn’t you get her down for something. She seems awfully lonely at Badminton. She says “Pa is cubbing steadily now that it’s rained & the ground is soft, but I haven’t been out for ages, one is too busy & I don’t somehow feel like it”. Then she goes on about her beagles & says “makes one wish one could have the same fun with all one’s friends – such as we had last year” So she can’t be enjoying herself much if she says that. I’ll send you the letter but I haven’t got an envelope big enough to hold it & I want to send you the thing about the Germans now I have my hands on them.
Best love to you all
Your loving Pat
P.S. Will you send me a packet of envelopes every now & again. Something fairly large & strong. A little bigger than this is best.
Sunday 25 October
Unpacked & tidied all morning. Muz & Tom went to church, & then went out on the Front afterwards. After lunch Muz & I went down to the Harbour, to see if we could do anything, but very few refugees came in, so we couldn’t do anything. I was talking to Mrs Hind, & she says she saw in the paper that Captain Carbery has been killed, & Capt. Wright wounded. She has heard that Capt. Kavanagh is killed too, but it hasn’t been in the papers. We got back at about 5-30, & Mrs Winstanley had come for tea, she stayed till about seven. It rained a good bit in the afternoon. Duskey slept out in her own house. Didn’t go to bed till after twelve. We got rather a scene about spies6 in a house round in the crescent, Tom saw lights flicking in a window, in an empty house, so Muz & I went down the town, & telephoned for a policeman. But when he came up, he said it was some reflection. But he said he would much rather be brought up if there was nothing, than not brought up at all!
Neuve-Eglise. Left at 7.30 & went to the inn. News came in that nothing was doing. Went back & borrowed Peter’s gun. Several of us went out after pheasants. Gen shot a hare. Went round to Klein Zillebeke & saw Rgt. Heard of Clem’s wound. Brock & J V came along. Rained hard at night. Saw some of the Royals. Went back to Inn just in time to take horses home. Rained hard that night.
- Jess is probably referring to the sinking of four German torpedo-boat destroyers by British warships off the Dutch coast on 17 October. ⇑
- The Battle of the Vistula River (29 September-31 October 1914), which was a Russian victory against the German Empire and Austria-Hungary. ⇑
- East Lancashire Regiment, an infantry regiment of the British Army. ⇑
- In October 1914 a rumour persisted that between 22 and 24 October German soldiers had been advancing against the enemy lines singing Deutschland über alles. The rumour appears to have been war propaganda, although German soldiers did sing The Watch on the Rhein during the First Battle of Ypres while advancing against enemy lines in order to prevent friendly fire. ⇑
- Maxim guns were the first automatic recoil-operated machine guns, invented by Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim in 1884. ⇑
- This episode reflects the outburst of paranoia over German spies which characterised the outbreak of the war in Britain. ⇑