WEEK 20: I’M GOING TO CAST MY SWORD AS IT’S QUITE USELESS
Monday 9 to Sunday 15 November 1914
On 11 November, the Germans made a final push against Ypres. Attacking along the Menin Road, the brunt of their assault fell on the battered British II Corps. Initially successful in their attempt to break the British lines, the German forces failed to exploit their gains and, although stretched to the limit, the British forces succeeded in sealing the breach at Noonebosschen and driving the Germans back. Fighting around Ypres continued sporadically for another week but failed to gain the German armies further advantage. As the situation quietened down, Pat managed to make contact with his regiment only to receive sombre news of heavy casualties and the deaths of several fellow officers. In Folkestone, Mrs Armstrong and her daughters had more cheering news when a long-awaited message from Nevvy Sloane-Stanley finally reached them, while in Samoa Algie Neill continued his frustrating vigil. During this time Algie began to realise the enormity of the task that lay ahead when he wrote ‘I fear we shall not see the end of the war before the latter end of next summer’.
Monday 9 November
I took the baby out again, for a walk, & Muz came with me. We met Mrs Congreve in the town. She has been nursing in Antwerp. She had a girl with her, dressed like a man, she is 36 & has never been in a skirt! […]
Saint Jans Cappel. Rest day. Breakfast 9 o’c. Went down to the Corps at Westoutre with the Gen. Saw one of 12 Lancers who told me about Jack Eden being killed. Rode round to 9 Lancers Hd Qrs with Gen. Sent David Campbell’s horses off. Went out again after lunch. Gen rode Gold for first time. Rode on towards Bailleul & met Bernard Neame. Situation unchanged. 11th Bde had not yet regained their trenches.
Postcard from Lieutenant L. F. Sloane Stanley, 9th Middlesex, to Mrs Armstrong.
My dearest Muz.
Thanks so much for writing, but will you put my full name next time instead of initials? I am fit but lame. The last I can get of Wakefield is that he was wounded at Mons but not dangerously. I heard from Gray of his regt. now here. I wish I could see you, I miss you awfully. Will you send me your photo? The nicest you have! Hope you are fit & well. Give my love to all. Thanks for your congrats. I don’t know what I did.
X X Nevvy
Click to see postcard
Nov: 9th Monday. Badminton, Glos.
Thank you ever so much for all your letters. How I love them – I’ve just got in from hunting which was rather fun as we had 3 rather nice little darts only the fences are horribly blind – I rode a mare of Dolly Miles’ which fly-jumps over everything, too divinely, & then I got on to Ma’s best & jumped a fine gate! & a fence with rabbit holes & a ditch on either side. We had Master back for long-leave & he went the best, I had to restrain him several times – Wasn’t it awful the other day I got on Quaker & the old brute kicked me off – oh Pat I did feel a fool – but I hope to ride him again soon & get my own back. Di & I had a great ride on 2 of Rabbit’s who went the best & never put a foot wrong although one had to feel for the ditches? I had a long letter from Frankie this morning, rather depressed but otherwise well – I’m afraid Rabbit’s inside is rather troubling him – Tib Curzon is here (you remember her at the Show in August) & she sends you much love & a kiss! Rather forward don’t you think? We have now killed with the beagles 5 ½ brace, but have never again had such a good hunt as we had the day you were out – when I got your letter I worked far into the night & finished you a pair of cuffs which I enclose – I hope they’ll keep you warm for a bit & then you must tell me if you’d like another pair – We had 16 wounded come into our hospital today, mostly Belgians, they are so attractive – I think as I’m not a nurse, my job is to be to take them for long drives about the country in a motor, which I should think would be rather fun & give me something to do – We met Today at one of the best meets & I don’t suppose there were more than about 20 people all told & when hounds ran there was only the hunt servants, my uncle, Bill Harford, the “great” Lord Cowley, Master & myself. It seemed so funny & of course if it was for any other reason it would be divine, no shoving & pushing & jumping just where one liked. The “great” Lord Cowley as I call him has a certain attraction, I must admit, although I’ve always hated him like poison, but he does ride & go well to hounds… Well, I must stop this awful rigmarole I doubt you’re getting through it – Mother sees all your letters, so continue to be discreet in them! Do take care of yourself & don’t be rash, will you? Lots of love,
Tuesday 10 November
Our work now lies about almost altogether with these babies & their mothers & helping Belgian work.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Nov 10 Hd Qrs I Cav Div
[…]The General had a narrow escape this morning. He was driving through a village with the President & Hardress & a shell burst over them one bullet went through the radiator, & another broke the windscreen, & a Frenchman was killed beside them. Luckily they all escaped unhurt. The President had to go off this morning to G.H.Q to get his car mended.
The poor old car has had a lot of knocks. It got hit the day the inn was blown down & again last night & now to-day. The General is always going running round among the bullets & shells just to see how things are going. It’s silly as he does no good. But you can’t stop him as he thinks he does good. […]
To read full letter, click here.
Wednesday 11 November
Went down to see the babies, but it was too cold to take them out, then I walked about with Mary Stubbs. After lunch Ned came in to see us for a few moments. Then we took the car down, to take my baby to be christened, we took the father down in the car too. I was its godmother, & it was christened Maria Maude (D’Hondt). The Stubbs’ came down to the chapel too, & then came back here for tea. Mrs Yates came for tea too, & they stayed till about seven. Went to bed at about 9-30.
Saint Jans Cappel. Left 7 o’c & went out to Neuve-Eglise. Things pretty quiet. Town had been shelled during the night. II Bde Hd Qrs in town. Smyth came round & said that Gen Fosch was worried. Rode down to Romarin with the General to 11th Infantry Bde Hd Qrs. Saw Hunter Weston. Archie was there. Gen wanted to go to the Chateau at Ploegsteert. Shells were pitching in wood, close by. Rode back behind French battery, just after we had passed coal boxes1 burst close by searching for them. Rode back over high ground & had a few shells close by. Went back to billets about 3.30. II Div took over the line. Got orders about 8.30 to be ready to move on receipt of destination. Started at 11 up for Ypres, arrived about 2 o’c, had a couple of hours sleep in small house at 1 mile [?] stone
Malifa Camp, Apia, Samoa.
My dear Jess.
Life in Samoa gets daily more & more weary in fact I feel like a piece of chewed cotton hardly being able to claim the strength of the proverbial piece of string & I take unto myself the honour of claiming to be the second largest man in Samoa. Last Sunday we had quite a pleasant little trip into the centre of the Island. Head 2nd in command Eastwood & myself went. We had a strenuous tramp, for about 12 miles over an awful track through dense forest up to our knees in mud, eventually we arrived at Lanatoa a lake in the crater of an old volcano. It’s an awfully pretty wee lake surrounded by bush. There is a boat on it & we went for a row & a bath, coming back Eastwood & I started playing the fool & upset the boat which didn’t matter much as we were all in our birthday suit but we had a terribly hard job pulling the boat ashore as she was full of water & the lake goes straight across right from the water’s edge. Today, it’s raining cats & dogs in fact I don’t know that I ever saw such heavy rain before. I enclose a cutting out of “The Pull Thro’”2 which may amuse you. I’ve never had odes dedicated to me before & this one clearly proves that never-the-less I am “odeous”. I ought to be shot for making this pun but really I feel so safe from shooting on this form of active service that I’m prepared to take the risk. Today we heard the good news of the sinking of the Emden also that the Russians had taken 200,000 prisoners the later I’m sure is a d― lie manufactured in St Petersburg I don’t put very much faith in all these glorious Russian Victories though doubtless the Russian Army has much improved in the last few years. I fear we shall not see the end of the war before the latter end of next summer. I can gleam no information about the regiment & its doings at the front so I hope when you write you will tell me all you have heard. I have just received a copy of the Weekly Times containing a list of officers of the R.I.Fus wounded. I see the Bogman is among them I do hope his wound is not of a serious nature & that it will leave no permanent injury. I hope O’Donovan will turn up all right. The regiment seems to have had its share of the fighting & I’m sure they have done well. The mail is about to close so I must end up. My best love to you all Jess.
Yours affectly Algie.
Thursday 12 November
Went down at ten & got a wee silver brush to give to my baby, but I didn’t give it, as it has got, to have the name put on. Then I took her out at eleven. The two Miss Stubbs’ & Mary & I went up to the other house, but there were no more babies to go out. So we went down to the one near the Victoria Hospital, & got one there, & walked about Radnor Park. I brought mine in at about one. Wrote letters after lunch, & then went down the town with Muz & Ione to see some of Kitchener’s army & then went down to see the soldiers’ library with Miss Hind. Muz went to tea with the little Belgian woman. We got a letter form Pat written on Nov. 8th but posted on 10th. I wrote letters, & then did some knitting. When Muz came in, I went down the town with her, & we talked to Mrs Coombe in Parsons. Her husband was shot in the neck, but is almost alright again. Went to bed at about 9-30.
Ypres. Left 1 mile [?] stone about 4 o’c & followed 1st Bde along a path by the canal on the eastern side of Ypres. A good deal of shelling going on. Went out to II Div Hd Qrs near Potizge where Hardress & I waited till about 7.30 for the general. Made our Hd quarters about a mile up the road Ist Bde set out to Hooge as a corps reserve. II Bde held in readiness round Chateau. Was sent over to Gen Briggs’s Hd qrs. Road was being shelled at the time, was most unpleasant. Went to 1st Army Hd Qrs with Hambro. Dreadfully cold day. Went back about 4 o’c & billeted in quite a nice chateau. 9th Lancers were in farm near to us. Rumoured that the Germans have had 750 thousand casualties.
My dear wee Mus.
Not much news this morning but what there is seems good. The Germans have been shelling Neuve Chapelle heavily & as far back as Vieille Chapelle. They counter attack at Port Arthur at 5.30 this morning but the Black Watch had driven them back by 6.30 a.m. That means that we have consolidated all the ground that we have gained. The II & III Cav Div have moved. They moved yesterday. I can’t tell you where they are. Not for a day or two anyway. We are standing to but I don’t think we will be wanted. Things seem to have gone pretty well. That attack seems to have come as a surprise to the Germans. Yesterday morning we had a message in saying that we had got 750 prisoners and later on in the day we heard 1080. But it’s not officially confirmed. It is in yesterday’s paper but even that doesn’t prove it’s true. However I should think it probably is. The fog yesterday morning prevented our gunners from observing & greatly hampered them. The aeroplanes had to go so low before they could see that four of them were hit but luckily came down in our lines. It is foggy again this morning so it will be difficult for them again. But the whole thing seems to have been a great success. I wish we could get that Wytschaete-Messines ridge. It would be a great thing to get that as it gives us good gun positions. It was bad luck we ever lost it. I don’t think that we ever would have if it hadn’t been for the 59th Wilde’s Rifles coming back & leaving the right Squadron of the 9th Lancers in the air. I got your letter yesterday of Monday. Put the dates on wee Mus. It makes it much easier to know when they were written. Monday might be any date. Col Home got back last night & says that the 29th Div is still in England. He says that the idea is for England & France each to send 75 thousand men to Constantinople & Russia to send 120 thousand. I expect K’s army will go there. Some of it I mean. Splendid about Roger isn’t it? I’ve sent the letter on to Freddy & asked him to do all he can. Best love wee Mus.
Your loving Pat
Friday 13 November
It rained all morning so I couldn’t take the baby out. Tidied our room, & settled the flowers. Doddie came at about 12-30, & then Captain Wright came for lunch. He has been in a hospital in London, but came down to see us for the day. He was shot through the rib on the right side, & it went straight through him, & out of his hip on the left side. He didn’t look a bit well. We took him for a short drive in the car, & on the way back, we called for Dickie Holland, & brought her back for tea; Miss Hind came for tea too. Capt W. went by the train, & then Muz & I walked home with Dickie, then we went down the town to get a comb, & we gave the brush to the baby, but didn’t stay long. Doddie went by the 6-30 train, & Ione & I went up to see her off. […]
Saturday 14 November
Went down the town with Muz, but it was too cold to take the baby out. Did some shopping & talked to people in the town. Did some knitting after lunch, & then wrote to Poppy. After tea Muz & I walked down to the Harbour. There were a lot of Belgians, who had come over from Holland, & they stay here the night, & then go back to France the next day, & get uniform there & go & fight again! The ones that aren’t soldiers, go & train at Cherbourg. We found one man whose mother is over at Ramsgate, so we sent her a wire to come over & see her son tomorrow. We got back at about 7-30. Ione went to the dance with the Blakes. Went to bed at about 9-30. We got two letters from Pat, dated 9th & 11th.
Nov 14 Hd Qrs I Cav Div
[…] The Rgt [10th Hussars] was quite close yesterday so I went round to see them. I was awfully sorry to hear that poor little Willie Cadogan had been killed. They have had pretty heavy casualties. Rotten isn’t it. Rose & Turnor, as you know have been killed. The Colonel, Charles Crichton, Clem, Gibbs, Fielden, Billy Palmes, have all been wounded. Clem is the only one that is bad I believe. I saw old Basil yesterday, it was awfully nice seeing him again. His accident hadn’t altered him much really: Makes his face look a bit one sided. Parker is looking awfully well & was very cheery. They have had a pretty hard time poor brutes. I feel an awful brute leading this easy life when they have to go in the trenches but if I didn’t do it somebody else would. So I must think myself confoundedly lucky. […]
To read the entire letter, click here.
Sunday 15 November
Wrote letters, as I couldn’t take the baby out, it was too wet. At 2-30, Helen Walter came round for me, & we went up to the camp in the bus to help at Mrs Lloyd’s soldier’s home, at Enbrook. Everything is a penny. We were kept busy the whole time, & never sat down for a second, but it was great fun. We had tea & dinner with Mrs Lloyd, & came back at about ten. I suppose there must have been about 200 soldiers coming in, the place was packed the whole time. Muz was up when I came back, & we talked, & went to bed at about eleven.
Nov 15 Sunday Hd Qrs I Cav Div
My dear wee Mus.
[…] This afternoon I had a great death ride. I was sent over to Gen Mullens with a message. I had to go I suppose about 3 miles. When I got within about ½ mile of where he was four black marias burst about 500 yds to my right, then a couple of minutes afterwards some more burst in a wood to my left front where a battery was in action. I went a little further & 4 burst on the front of the wood about 300 yds short of the allies. I was trotting up to the town I thought he was in & one burst on my left & a second afterwards 3 more came one without exaggeration was 20 yds from me. I saw it for a second when it was about 6 ft from the ground, then there was a deafening crash & I was splattered all over with bits of earth. Luckily I was just on level with it & all the concussion & shell went forwards & upwards but if I had been a few yards back it would probably have got me. […] The Russians seem to be doing well. They have apparently driven back the Austrians with their backs to the Carpathians which are impossible & so have driven a wedge in between the Germans & Austrians. If both rations get pressed Germany will draw back towards Berlin & Austria towards Vienna & on their way they will lose touch. If they can only give the Austrians a knock out blow now it will leave their hands free to deal with Germany. Of course Turkey is a thorn in their side but with their masses it oughtn’t to make very much difference. I hope the Germans have to withdraw Corps from here to send over against Russia. Few people realise what we owe to Russia for sacrificing her two Corps at the beginning of the war & drawing the German Corps over there to protect Berlin. It absolutely saved us. […] I want the revolver to put on my saddle. I’m going to cast my sword as it’s quite useless. I’d always use a revolver in a nasty place & my sword cuts a hole in my coat, it sways about. […]
To read the entire letter, click here.
- Any shell explosion causing a cloud of black smoke, also known as a Black Maria.⇑
- The press cutting (a satirical wartime poem) remains attached to the letter.⇑