WEEK 32: AN AWFUL STRUGGLE WITH A HEIFER
Monday 1 to Sunday 7 February 1915
The first week of February 1915 was quiet on the Western Front except for German attacks near La Bassée and in Champagne which were successfully repulsed. Pat passed the time by visiting his regiment who were getting ready to go into the trenches at Klein Zillebeke. Cavalry divisions were at a disadvantage in trench warfare since horses, even when not used in the fighting, needed to be looked after. As a consequence, only little more than half of a cavalry division could be deployed in the firing line at any given time. In Folkestone, Mrs Armstrong was finalising the lease of a house at Grimston Gardens and began a round of bidding at auctions to equip the new family home. Longing to be part of this exciting development, Pat showered his mother with advice on furnishings and worried about the cost of the enterprise. He also found himself face to face with an unusual foe!
Monday 1 FebruaryDoddie off by the eleven train. Then I went down the town with Florence, & shopped all morning, then I went down again, & tried on hats. Did some darning after lunch, & after tea Muz, Ione & I went to the bandaging class. When I was changed I wrote letters & things. Letter from Pat dated 30th. It was in the paper this morning that Mr Gramshaw had been killed. Went to bed at about ten. Helped Mary with her diary after dinner.
Le Nieppe. Thawed. Glorious day. Rode into Hazebrouck with Percy. Gen had cold & stayed in bed till lunch. Rode over & saw the Rgt at Sercus. Had tea with Basil. Rode back with Jerry Ritson. Maurice & Pokes are to stay behind to look after the kit horses etc.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Feb 1. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
Ever so many thanks for sending B’s letter. No news from her yet but I don’t expect to hear till about Thursday. She will probably have written yesterday so I will get her letter either Thursday or Friday. It is trying waiting but it’s no good being impatient. I am awfully pleased about the house & do hope you will take it. I’d like to have known what your notes were. I hope that the man agrees & that you take it alright. You will have great fun furnishing it & getting it all settled up. I’d be inclined to take it from April then you would have a good 2 months to collect furniture etc & would be comfortably in by the summer & could probably let it about July. If you don’t take it till June you will have to stay there all the summer. You won’t want to go into it in June & turn out again in August. If you could let it for a couple of months the first year it would just make all the difference. Of course if the Boss gives you what I asked him for then all will be well & letting in the summer won’t be a necessity. I do wish I was going to be at home to help you to furnish it. When you decide about it you must let me know who is in all the rooms. I suppose it will be another month or so before the lease is absolutely finished won’t it? They had none of the electric light fittings in when I was in it. Lovely it will be having a house won’t it. How you will love it & you ought to be able to make that garden very nice too. I like the house awfully & think it is just what you want. I do hope that the Boss will help. Mean of him if he doesn’t. It all depends what mood he is in when he gets my letter.
[…] There is nothing much doing here. There is a big German concentration at Courtrai of 3 Corps & we don’t quite know what to make of it. We are more or less standing to, not saddled up or anything but just ready to turn out if necessary. We went to the II Corps Hd Qrs yesterday & they said that everything was quiet in front of them & the III Corps. They are expecting a push somewhere. Some people say that it is only reliefs which I think may be probable. The people in that part of the line have been there for months. The Rgt goes up to the trenches on Wednesday. I’ll let you know where they are as soon as I know the exact line myself. They are quite close here at a place called Sercus. […] Best love dear wee Mus. I’m longing to hear about the house.
Your loving Pat.
Feb 1. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] this afternoon I rode over & saw the Rgt. I talked to old Pokes for a long time & then went up with him to A. Sqdn & saw Basil & had tea with him. They are in quite a nice chateau. Basil tells me that old Brock is very cantankerous these times & fights with everybody. He is only third in command of C Sqdn now & is rather fed up from what they say. I didn’t see him to-day. He was very grumpy the other night when I saw him & I haven’t seen him since. Poor old thing. He is a rare ‘un. […] I saw Maurice for a few minutes this afternoon. I saw a lot of him yesterday so thought that I would go & see some of the others to-day. He is being left at Sercus to look after the horses & men who are left behind. Pokes is being left too as he is rather seedy. I’m glad that they are leaving them here as they are so close that I hope to see a lot of them. Things seem pretty quiet now. […] I hear that there was a rumour of sending the cavalry home & talk of sending us to Egypt. I wish they would that would be a good show. As they aren’t going to send us home they are putting us back in the trenches just to show that we can work. How long it will go on for I can’t say. They may just give us all a turn & then take us out or keep us going on at the job. Best love dear wee Mus. I’m hoping to hear tomorrow about the house.
Your loving Pat.
Tuesday 2 February
Went round to the house in Grimston Gardens with Muz & Heppie, & then went down the town. It rained all day. After lunch, I read the Red Cross Book. Ione went to the Tango Tea1 with Mrs Blake, & Capt. Robinson went too. Mary & I went down to Seabrook in the bus, & then we walked up to the Hancox for tea. Colonel Hancox came in later. It was raining hard when we were coming back. Then we went in to the Grand, but it was just over. Capt. & Mrs Long were there. The Blakes walked back with us. Muz went round to the Stubbses, but I was feeding
Feb 2. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] I went over to Cav Corps this morning with the General. We stayed there for some time but didn’t get much news. Apparently the Guards had a good show yesterday at La Bassée.2 They gained a bit of ground captured a machine gun & blew up a lot of Germans with bombs & hand grenades. This afternoon I went out for a ride with the General but it was a miserable afternoon sort of drizzling & very windy & we came in quite early. I met Brock on the way back who rode over here to see me. So I gave him some tea & then rode back with him. They go up to the trenches to-morrow. Leave all the horses at Sercus & go up in motor busses. They are quite close to Ypres near Klein Zillebeke. A rotten place too. But we can’t grouse we’ve had a jolly good rest & 10 days isn’t long. Such a lot depends on the weather. It’s a miserable night to-night. I’m glad I’m not out in a beastly trench. It’s on a night like this that one realises how lucky one is. That concentration at Courtrai doesn’t seem to be coming to much. People now seem to think that it is only reliefs coming up. What a nuisance that submarine is off Liverpool3 I wish they could blow her up. […]
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 3 February
Le Nieppe. Nice sunny day. Rode into St Omer with the General. Got back about 1 o’c. Went out again with him on Melody at 3 o’c. Schooled in a ploughed field. Then rode Nutmeg over to Sercus about 4 o’c to see Pokes who was in bed with flu. Left about 6.30 & got back about 7. Regt went up to the trenches in front of Ypres in motor busses. Mouse goes home to-morrow. Wrote to Archie Lion about Roger.
Feb 3. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] I am glad that you think that letter to the Boss is good. I only hope that it is successful. But I really think that it is worth taking that house in any case. The Regt go up to the trenches to-day. Maurice is being left behind in charge of the horses etc & is very pleased. […] I can’t worry Bretherton any more about Roger at present. His sister has promised to do all she can & he has been awfully nice about it. So I can’t ask him to do any more at present. I am beginning to be rather pessimistic about it & feel that there really is very little hope. I’ll write to Archie soon but I feel that it is hopeless. It’s most unlikely that he should have seen him. He was wounded before we got to Le Cateau. It is hard luck on him having to have his leg rebroken. But it will keep him away from this show which will be a relief to his mother if nothing else. I am sending you back the Tuftons’ letters. I don’t call his a bit nice. I hate when he says “we would never consent to such an “engagement” on any conditions whatever.” That looks to me as if he meant that even if Harry was old enough he would never let him marry her. But of course he may just say that to give an air of finality to it. He is not a nice man in any case. So it’s hard to know how to take it. But I don’t think it is a good plan for them to meet at dances & things. If his father hears of it as he is bound to do he will only cause trouble. I must write to Bonbon about that.
[…] The Regt went off to the trenches this afternoon. It is a nice fine night so they ought to be pretty comfortable their first night anyhow. Mouse goes home to-morrow for a week & will take this for me. I sent you off a parcel to-day with a lot of clothes etc I don’t want. I’ll want them again in the summer but not at present. There are a pair of shooting boots, some sand shoes, shorts, stockings & an old pair of brushes. Will you get Ward to clean & repair them & keep them with that coat that he is mending for me. They are the old things I had on the retreat. If they are cleaned up & patched they will have a lot of life in them yet. I will write & let you know when I want them. Will you get my jodhpurs from him sometime too. He has had them for ages. They just want cleaning & repairing. I saw a lot of furniture advertised in the last page of the Times which might be some use to you. I am longing to hear what the Boss does. I do hope it all works out alright. I won’t hear from him till the end of the week in any case. I have been thinking about B. I expect she has probably written to — & is waiting for his answer before writing to me. Do you think that is likely? […]
Your loving Pat.
Thursday 4 February
Muz, Heppie & I went round to the house in Clifton Crescent, to look at the things for the auction this afternoon. Then I went down the town with Florence, & when I got back, had lunch quickly, & went to the auction. We stayed there all afternoon. Molly Fitzgerald was there too. We didn’t get back till nearly seven. Ione went to help at the Soldier’s club. We went to bed at about eleven.
Le Nieppe. Glorious day. Mouse left for England on leave. Heard from B. Went for a ride with the General, schooled our horses in the plough. Went out again after he came in. Went out with him again at 2.30 jumped fences & rode about. Gold overreached. Rode over & saw Pokes got back about 7 o’c. Sgt Maj Cockayne drunk. Sat up late writing to B rather worried. Told Pokes everything.
Friday 5 February
Went round to the house with Muz & Heppie, & we put all the things we bought yesterday, into one room. Then we had lunch early, & went round to the auction again, & stayed there all the time, till after six. Muz got a lot of white furniture for the servants’ rooms, & all kinds of things. Capt. Robinson came to dine & then he took us to the theatre, it was a variety thing, & very good. The Stubbses were there too, & we walked home with them. Went to bed at about one.
Feb 5. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
[…] We go into the trenches close to Zillebeke, just in front of Ypres. They are good dry trenches I hear. I’ll be able to tell you more about the place next week when our lads come out again. I like the idea of calling the house Coral. It really is a lovely base. What fun you will have fixing the garden. The green house will be so nice too. You ask me about the Regt. They are in the 8th Bde II Cav Div. The casualties in the 27th Div they tell me were mostly owing to bad staff work. Trenches were bad & weren’t improved & in places the men had to lie down all day. Then when they came out they had to go 11 miles to their billets. Most of the trouble was from their feet they tell me. Poor old Pokes has been in bed for the last few days with flu. I went & saw him yesterday & took him some oranges which made him awfully happy. […] The Gen, Col Home & I went off to Corps. We stayed there for some time & discussed what was to be done in case we were called upon to support different parts of the line. It was really very interesting. Now I know exactly what is to happen whatever part of the line we are called to. […] Well wee Mus it’s almost 12 o’c, so I think bed is the order. It’s a bad fashion this sitting up late.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 6 February
Feb 6. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] I’ll send you a cheque for the amount £100 […] I would love you to have it wee Mus as I already have a good credit at Cox’s & I hardly spend anything out here. […] It would be a great help to you the first year as getting settled in & everything is bound to be expensive. I am longing to hear that you have definitely settled it & to hear that you are starting buying furniture etc. I have got enough pictures etc at Moyaliffe to do two or three rooms. You remember at Eton we used to absolutely cover the walls with them. Several of them are quite good enough to put up in the dining room. The drawing room will be the job. A couple of mirrors would fill up the walls well, & I just might get home after this Ypres business but I’m afraid it’s doubtful. Hardress came back last night & says that they are betting 3 to 1 on in the city that the war will be over by June. The Gen, Home & Percy went up to Ypres to day to have a look round. They didn’t see much as they couldn’t go up to the trenches in the day time. I’m afraid it will be a dull affair but I do hope that the walks will be good when we are up there. […]
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 7 February
We all went to church, then Muz & I walked about with Mrs Seymour. I came in early, to write letters. After lunch we went out on the front, & Capt. Robinson came round, & we went to the Grimston Garden’s house to measure the tennis ground. Then he came back to tea. Major Ward, & Miss Castberg came too. I wrote to Ned, then at seven I went down to help Miss Walter at the Soldier’s club & Mrs Walter brought me back. Muz & I went sat up talking, & we went to bed at about eleven.
Le Nieppe. Went to church with the General at 18th Hussars then went on to Hd Qrs 2d Cav Bde & saw Raymond. Went for a ride in the afternoon on Melody. Went through Wardrecques & Blaringhem. Had some amusement training a heifer. Rode on & saw Pokes. Stayed till 6 o’c. News of a good attack at La Bassee which seems successful.
Feb 7. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
I’m so pleased to hear about the house. It is simply splendid. Now you’ll have great fun getting it all fixed. It’s a pity you can’t get it for 14 years. As the rent is bound to go up in that time. But 10 really ought to do you quite well. You can never tell what will happen in that time & we mightn’t want a house in Folkestone after 10 years. But won’t it be lovely after those old lodgings. You will have great fun getting the garden fixed up. What arrangements do you make about paper. Will he let you choose your own paper & does he do all that. I wonder how you did at the auction if you got a lot of stuff or not? No news from the Boss yet I suppose. He hasn’t written to me yet. It is some time now since I wrote to him & I’m beginning to be doubtful about his writing at all. I really think that it might be a bad plan if you wrote to him. What do you think? […] The trenches we go into are quite close to Zillebeke. You can see that on your map. The 5th Corps are on our right which consists of the 18th & 27th Div. That is taking them from north to south. They say that the trenches are pretty good but you can’t get up to them in the day time as there are no communication trenches. The General says that the first thing he is going to do is to make communication trenches. At the present moment the Brigades are entirely dependent on the telephones for communication with the trenches. Well if the wire is cut by a shell they are cut off altogether. It seems extraordinary the French being there for two months & have been quite contented to go on like that.
The General will alter things a bit I know. There was a good show yesterday at La Bassee by the Irish Guards. Eric Greer & Musgrave led a successful attack & took some trenches. Musgrave was killed but from the account that came in to-day it looks as if Eric would get a D.S.O over it. The news everywhere seems good which is very satisfactory. […] This afternoon I went for a long ride & had quite fun. I came across a farm where a man was having an awful struggle with a heifer. He had a ring in her nose & a rope round her horns. So I stopped & asked him what he was doing & he told me that there was a fair in St Omer to-morrow & that he was going to send her there & wanted to practice leading her. So I made him take out the ring & made a halter for him & helped him lead her about. It was quite amusing. She ran me into a ditch & actually got away from us both & in her endeavour rolled him in the mud. However he was quite happy & very pleased that I had helped him. I messed about there for about half an hour & then went on & saw Pokes who was in much better form but isn’t really looking at all well. We had a long buck. […] He’s engaged & is awfully happy lucky devil. But hush not a word. It seems a regular epidemic. Everybody is getting engaged or married. Brock & I will soon be the only two who aren’t engaged. […]
Your loving Pat
- An early evening dance usually held between the hours of 4 and 7 pm. ⇑
- A German attack to the west of La Bassée was repulsed by the French and British on 1 February 1915.⇑
- On 30 January 1915, three British steam ships – Ben Cruachan, Linda Blanche and Kilcoan – were sunk in the Irish Sea near Liverpool by the German submarine U21 under the command of Lieutenant-General Otto Hersing. Five days later, Germany declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone and submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean intensified. ⇑