WEEKS 179-180: COOKED OUR SUPPER ON THE BEDROOM FIRE
Monday 26 November to Sunday 9 December 1917
At 1.30 am on 6 December, 19 Gothas and two Zeppelin-Staaken “Giants” crossed the Kent coastline to begin yet another air raid of London and the south-east counties of England. The anti-aircraft guns in Folkestone sprung into immediate action and, as recorded in Folkestone During the War, “had the grim satisfaction of bringing down a huge Gotha just off the Pier. The monster fell into the sea. Two of her crew were rescued and brought ashore. Our men did not follow the German plan of firing upon their helpless enemies. They saved their lives in in the old British way.” One woman to witness the raid in London was the author Virginia Woolf, who noted in her diary how “We took our clothes, quilts, a watch & a torch, the guns sounding nearer as we went down stairs to sit with the servants on the ancient black horse hair chest wrapped in quilts in the kitchen passage”. Eight people lost their lives and 28 were injured during the attack. However, the air raid paled into insignificance in comparison with the tragedy which struck the Nova Scotian port of Halifax in Canada just hours later. At 08.45 in the morning, SS Mont Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with 2,500 tons of high explosives destined for the war in Europe, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in a strait near Halifax harbour. The explosion which followed the collision laid waste to the town for a two-kilometre radius, instantly killing some 2,000 people and injuring a further 9,000. It was to be the largest man-made explosion ever witnessed prior to the development of nuclear weapons.
Monday 26 November
E.1 didn’t come, so Muz got breakfast, while I lit the fire. Then Muz wrote letters, & I tidied away silver & knives etc & then we went for a wee run with the dogs. It was very cold all day. Then we got lunch & got tea ready. Then I read the paper to Muz, the Mrs Evans came for tea, her husband was the Intelligence Officer in the 29th Division. When she left Miss Walters came, then we got dinner etc, & then wrote letters.
Tuesday 27 November
“Went down the town to shop”
E. didn’t come, so Muz got breakfast & I lit the fire. Then a soldier came & planted all the new shrubs, & Muz stayed out with him, & I ironed the servants counterpanes & curtains, & made the beds, & cleaned out the room, & lit a fire in the pantry, got her food ready etc. & got everything tidy for her.2 Then we got lunch, & afterwards I went down the town to shop, & Muz stayed with the man, we gave him tea before he left. Alice came at about six, & we showed her everything, & then we wrote letters. After dinner we went to leave “Bruser” back at the Blakes, as he had been round here all day. We went to bed at about ten as we were very tired. Alice is a nice bright little girl.
Wednesday 28 November
After breakfast gave out things3 etc, & then did papers, & wrote letters. After lunch we went down to see Elizabeth, as we didn’t think she was well. She wasn’t looking a bit well, but said she would try & come up on Friday if she was better. Then we went to the hospital & came back here for tea, & afterwards went to the Burlington & had a bath, & went to bed at about nine.
Friday 30 November
Gave out things etc: Then Muz & I dug potatoes, then she went in, & I finished them. Then I went out for a walk with Duskey, & then put paraffin in my hair. After tea I did some mending, & then Ione suddenly came, we weren’t expecting her till tomorrow. Got her bed ready & lit her fire & Muz’s too. Mended again after dinner, & then did papers, & we went to bed at about ten.
Letter from Irene Wills, 9 Southwell Gardens, SW7, to Mrs Armstrong
“I think continually of her”
It was good to get your letter. What are your plans I wonder? Is it to be Ireland soon or are you staying on at Clodagh long enough for me to come for a weekend? I can’t this week or next but after that I could. Dolly hasn’t been up yet, poor dear, I think continually of her.4 She couldn’t have quite such wonderful letters as we did I’m sure, but I do hope she has had some beautiful ones too. I’ve been seeing a good deal of my very great friend Beryl Overman, she’s in town for a motor course. We hadn’t met for over a year, and as we are a tremendous lot to each other it has been a real help to talk to her and show her the letters and everything. She and Bunty are my two chief friends. You’d love Beryl, there is a wonderful lot in her which doesn’t show on the surface till one knows her well. The dear Bairds are just devoted to her. Like you I am frightfully busy, but it suits me, really I’m much better since I’ve been at it in myself I mean, for nothing can possibly make the pain and blank any less in one’s heart, can it? I thought Ione looking fit and she seems happy at the hospital,5 I hope to see her again next week. My best love to Jess I will write to her soon. Much love to yourself, darling.
Ever your loving
Saturday 1 December
Gave out things etc: Ione went down the town & Muz went too. I went out before them, & shopped all morning. In the afternoon Ione went up to the Grand with Mr Hamilton, & then they had toast here! & went to the dance. Miss Carleton came here for tea, & afterwards Muz & I had dinner quickly & went down the town to get cakes & a loaf. I lit the fires etc, & went to bed at about ten.
Sunday 2 December
Gave out things etc, & laid the table, & helped Alice. Ione & Mr Hamilton went to church, & then he came for lunch, then Ione & he went up to the Grand for tea. Miss Allan came in after lunch, then Mrs Jackson & her husband & the daughters & the fiancée came for tea. They are Canadians, & she is running the Red X. Then we went to the club, & Ione & Mr H. came too, & he went by the eight train.
Monday 3 December
Tea & Bread & Jam!
Gave out things etc: Ione went down the town, & Muz & I went to a Red X meeting to settle about things for Xmas. Then we went down the town. After lunch did some mending, then Muz & I went to tea with Capt & Mrs Evans (he was in 29th Div:) & on the way back went to see the Walters. Mr Hamilton came down by an afternoon train, & Ione had tea with him, then they had toast here for dinner! & we pretended to be at the club! Then they went off & danced & I lit the fires etc, & then we went up to meet them, & we sat talking till late, & had tea & bread & jam!
Tuesday 4 December
Gave out things etc: then did some mending, most of the morning. Ione went down to shop. Then I got the table ready etc, & Mr Hamilton came for lunch, & went over to France by the three boat. Ione went back to London by the five train, we went up to see her off, & gave her food things to take with her. Then we ordered pots at the nursery. Mended after dinner, & went to bed at about 10-30.
Wednesday 5 December
Gave out things etc: Elizabeth came up. We went up to the Rest Room at 9-30, & were busy in the morning, & slackish in the afternoon. Miss Allan & a Canadian were up there, & Miss Carleton went home early. Some men came in & sang & played, & we stayed up there till after seven, & then came back in an ambulance. E. had gone when we got back, as we were late. We went to bed at about 11, but talked for a long time afterwards.
Thursday 6 December
The Raid siren went at 2 A.M this morning, so we got up & dressed & came down, & Alice too. We heard the firing in the distance at first, then at 3 the “all clear” went, but a few minutes later the warning went again, & then the firing got very heavy, & we heard the engines above our heads, & once it sounded as if the Peters’ house had gone into the air! The firing was terrifically loud, & the house shook. Alice lit a fire, so we were quite warm, & then we had tea & toast. The “all clear” went at 7-30, so we went & telephoned to Ione, she hadn’t heard much of it. Then we went off to Cherry Gardens air guns to hear any news, two had been brought down, one at Canterbury & one at Rochester, & six men taken prisoner. Then we walked round the golf course, & back for breakfast, then we wrote letters, & Alice went home for the day, & as E. wasn’t up, we couldn’t go to bed. But Muz had lunch in bed, & then slept afterwards, then we had tea up, & then had a bath, & went to bed at about 5-30. At about ten we got up & cooked our supper on the bedroom fire! & had it in bed. Alice didn’t come back. We thought there was sure to be another raid at night, so we stacked the smoking room fire!
The Zeppelin-Staaken “Giant”
Friday 7 December
Alice didn’t come till about 12, & E. didn’t come. I went up to the Rest Hut at 9-30, & Muz stayed here, as there was nobody in the house. We weren’t very busy, so I worked at the chemise I am making for Muz, I cut it out yesterday afternoon. I came back at about three in an ambulance, & just missed Muz as she came up for me, but then she went up to the camp & got an ambulance to come back in at about five. We wrote letters.
Saturday 8 December
Gave out things etc: then we went down the town to shop, & went to see if E. was alright, she is coming up again on Monday. I did some sewing in the afternoon & Muz wrote letters. Then Colonel McGloclin [?] came for tea, & stayed pretty late. He is the Canadian, who visits all these hospitals. Aubrey Vernon came to see us, he is quartered at Margate.
Elizabeth, a domestic servant in the Armstrong household ⇑
Jess was preparing the servants’ quarters for the arrival of Alice, a new domestic servant ⇑
The Armstrong family were contributing to the war effort by providing food to soldiers residing in Folkestone ⇑
Dolly’s husband, Gordon Elton, had been killed in action on 7 November ⇑
Ione Armstrong was volunteering as an ambulance driver at Waverley Abbey Hospital in Farnham, Surrey ⇑