WEEK 177: HE DID NOT WAIT LONG TO FOLLOW HIS FRIEND
Monday 12 to Sunday 18 November 1917
The Third Battle of Ypres, fought over the possession of Passchendaele Ridge, has become one of the most infamous battles of the First World War, not only for the atrocious weather conditions which caused men and weapons to drown in mud, but for the scale of its human cost. The eight kilometres of ground gained in the course of the three months of the battle incurred some 310,000 casualties on the Allied side and 260,000 on the German side. Such grim figures placed Field Marshal Haig under severe criticism for persisting with the offensive when it had become clear that it was unlikely to meet with success. For the Armstrongs, Passchendaele became synonymous with another bitter loss which affected them in 1917. On 5 November, Pat Armstrong’s closest friend Gordon Elton was walking towards Poelcappelle with his Divisional Commander, when a shell struck him from behind and pierced his heart.
Monday 12 November
Muz & I came down & got breakfast together, & then I lit the fire, then we went up to the station to catch the one train to Ashford, but it only goes on Sat: so Muz stayed up there, & I came back & got some sandwiches, & put Dus: in, & we went by the three train. We couldn’t see “Wipers” as the boy was away.1 We shopped & went to the registry office, & got back at about seven. We got dinner ready, & I lit Muz’s fire etc, & we went to bed at about eleven. We heard from Reenie this morning that Gordon had been killed. He was G.S.O. II to the 58th Division. She didn’t tell us any particulars.
Tuesday 13 November
Muz & I got breakfast together, then I lit the fire etc: Then Muz wrote letters, & I wrote too, & then we got lunch together. Then Elizabeth2 came round, she is married again! so is not coming back, but she says she will come by the day. We had tea, & then went down to the post, & then I lit Muz’s fire, & we wrote letters, then we got dinner, & washed up etc, & went to bed at about 9-30.
Wednesday 14 November
Muz heard from Bunty this morning, about Gordon. He was killed on the 5th, when we heard about it, Muz told me it was that day. He was killed instantaneously. We came down late, & got breakfast ready, as E. never turned up, her husband came for her box last night. I lit the fire, & then we got lunch, then Miss Peters came in & took Muz to both the hospitals, & then left her at the soldier’s club. I wrote letters etc. Then went to call for Muz at the Canteen, & waited till 7-45. After dinner Muz wrote letters, & I mended, & we went to bed at about ten.
Thursday 15 November
It was in the paper today about Gordon. Muz & I got breakfast etc, then lit the fire, we weren’t down till rather late. Muz wrote letters in the afternoon, & I mended, then Muz got tea ready, & we both got dinner ready etc, & I lit Muz’s fire, & afterwards we mended Muz’s clothes.
Notice of Gordon’s death
Friday 16 November
Muz & I came down & got breakfast ready, then I lit the fire. Then Duncan Heaton-Armstrong came in to see us on his way back to France. He was a prisoner for 1½ years, & then was sent back. Then Muz swept & dusted the smoking room & the stairs, & I mended. Then we got luncheon ready, & then we went for a walk with Miss Peters, then we went to call on Mrs Jackson, she is managing the Canadian Red X visitors now. We stayed there for tea. Then we got dinner ready etc, & I lit Muz’s fire, & then we sewed.
Letter from Irene Wills, 9 Southwell Gardens, SW7, to Mrs Armstrong
When I got home from Scotland I found Mum home, she had just arrived, he is back too but that doesn’t concern me. She is looking better than I expected and is not so thin, it’s very nice to see her again. What I’m really writing for is to know if you are at Clodagh and if so may I come to you for the weekend next Saturday? I do want to see you, darling, before you go back to Ireland and that’s my one chance. Mum will be away with Jimmy then so I could get away. I do so awfully hope you are back again, I want to see you just dreadfully and talk about Pat, I just miss him more and more every day. A year ago to-day I had my first engaged letter from him. I hope to have my miniature by then, I do so want you to see it. Much love darling and so hoping to see you.
Ever your loving Irene
Letter from Alfred Elton, Spring View, Bedlington, Northumberland, to Mrs Armstrong
A letter from Alfred Elton
Dear Mrs Armstrong,
Thank you so very much for your sympathy in this irreparable loss – yes, I am thankful to say Gordon was killed instantaneously – he was walking with his General up to the front line & through a village just captured, when he was killed by a shell.
Saw by your letter that you do realize what it really means to me – & you were always so good to him & all your family too – he did not wait long to follow his friend Pat into the Great beyond – God grant those two boys Peace they died splendidly as they lived – but it is all too cruel for words & to write about. My very sincere thanks to you not only for your sympathy, but for the very many happy days you & yours gave him – his was a sunny life.
Yours very sincerely
Saturday 17 November
Muz got breakfast, & I lit the fire, & afterwards got things ready for lunch, & did some dusting. Then we both got lunch, & afterwards went down the town to shop, & walked back with Miss Peters. Then Muz wrote letters, & I lit her fire, & then we both got dinner ready etc, then washed up, & went to bed at about nine.
I was passing through Arras yesterday & went to Pat’s Grave. It was looking well kept & flowers are growing on it: I have arranged to have the railings painted the same colour as the cross (oak) I enclose a leaf I picked from the head of the grave. We have been busy training after the disorganisation of the Flanders fighting, but our time will soon be over & we must expect to hold part of the line again.
The old crowd is in great heart after the 3 successful operations in Flanders and the very high compliments we received. The C-in-C 3 visited us 2 days ago & again expressed his appreciation of our good work. Alas there are many changes. At my H.Q. I am the only one left who was at Gallipoli & I doubt if you know any. Fuller & Abbot have left me on promotion, Cayley & Wilson are invalided; ditto Jelf. New officers & new men fill the ranks but the spirit still remains. I hope to get home in December for a month and shall then see you. After nearly 3½ years I feel I want a rest for a few weeks. Kindest regards to yourself & your charming girls.
Beau de Lisle
A leaf from Pat’s grave
Sunday 18 November
Muz got breakfast, while I did Duskey’s house etc: then I lit the fire, & then we went for a walk, up near Caesar’s camp, & watched the chinamen & S. A.4 niggers, in the camp up there, playing football. They stay there on their way out to France, where they go as labour people. We got lunch ready & then Miss Peters & Muz went to the hospitals, but the men were asleep, so they couldn’t stay so Muz went to church. I lit Muz’s fire etc, & got tea ready. Then we went to the club, & were fairly busy. We got our hot water bottles etc, when we came in, & went to bed at about 11.
Pat Armstrong’s dog Wipers had been sent to England after Pat Armstrong’s death but was held in quarantine for four months before being released to Pat’s family.⇑