WEEK 43: THEY SAY IT CAME ON LIKE A THICK YELLOW FOG
Monday 19 to Sunday 25 April 1915
The third week of April saw the commencement of the Second Battle of Ypres, the only major offensive launched by the German Forces on the Western Front in 1915, as an attempt to divert Allied attention from the Eastern Front. It is now best remembered for the events on the day of its commencement on 22 April, when the Germans released 168 tons of chlorine gas at sunrise against 10,000 French Algerian and territorial division troops. The attack killed 5,000 soldiers through asphyxiation within ten minutes of it reaching the front line. A second gas attack was made on 24 April against Canadian troops to the north-east of Ypres. In spite of suffering heavy losses, the Canadians put up a violent counter attack. ‘This’, Sally Home recorded in his diary, ‘is one of the greatest battles of the war. I have seldom heard so many guns firing.’ In Folkestone, oblivious to the drama unfolding across the English Channel, Jess Armstrong continued her fundraising efforts for wounded soldiers.
Monday 19 April
Stayed in bed for breakfast, Ione did too. Then Muz, Tom & I went round to see the house, & then went out on the front, it was lovely & warm. After lunch Muz went & lay down, & I wrote letters, wrote to Ned. Then after tea I wrote to Kathleen. Muz came down again after tea. One of the baby bunnies died this morning. The Penroses left Dover this morning. Wrote after dinner, & then went to bed at about 10-30.
Le Nieppe. Glorious sunny day quite hot. Rode early for a short time. The General inspected the 19th & 15th. Got back about 2 o’c. Rode in the wood with Mouse & Hardress. Then drove Babe’s car over & fetched Gyles Corsage.
Tuesday 20 April
Muz stayed in bed all day, with an awful headache. I stayed with her, & held her head, she hardly ate anything. Doddie came over at about eleven, for the day. She & Ione went down the town, & in the afternoon went to the Tango tea. She went back by the six train. I didn’t go out all day. We went to bed at about 11-30.
Le Nieppe. Rode with the Babe. The Gen & Col Home went up to the 2nd Bde & saw them doing a scheme [?]. Rode most of the morning. Knocked about in a field near Echelon B. Then went for a ride on the Palfrey. Walked down to Echelon B with Mouse & Hardress.
Wednesday 21 April
Le Nieppe. The Gen & Col Home & Hardress went & saw Machine gun school. Rained early but cleared up later & was glorious day. Rode in by field near Echelon B. Saw Leicestershire Yeomanry. Knocked about in the afternoon & then rode over & saw A Sqrn.
Thursday 22 April
Went down the town in the morning, with Tom, & Heppie stayed with Muz, she is still in bed, but her head is much better. Madame de Marotte came & asked us to go up to a little dance at the Grand, Ione went, but came home early; but I had to go to the club. Mr Murray-Smith, & Mr Kirby came in for a little while. I went to the club at 7-30. Mrs Murray, Mrs Olive, Miss Hamilton & Miss Callaghan were there too. Muz got up for a little while in the evening, then we went to bed at about eleven.
My dear wee Mus.
I got your letter of the 19th last night enclosing one from Tony. No I don’t want trained horses. I would much rather they were green. He ought to be able to get a really good untrained 4 y. o. for about £40. Tell him to look out for something that I could make a bit of money on. I will write to the Boss to-day & do as you suggest say that I have asked him to try two four year olds for me. Then when they are bought there will be no difficulty about sending them down to Moyaliffe. I think it is quite a good gamble. I ought to get good untrained horses very cheap now & they won’t cost me anything till I want to start & train them. I will write Tony a line but I think it would be good for you to write too. He would take a lot of trouble if you ask him I’m sure. […] I think I’ll say I want to go home on family business. I do hope you won’t get measles. If I don’t go home soon I may not be able to get away at all. Perhaps it would be better to wait another week but I don’t like to leave it any longer than that. I am so glad you have seen old Charles & that he’s doing alright. He is a dear old man that. I am hoping to hear from you to-night that you have got rid of your headache it would be horrible if you get that beastly disease.
We have had no news in this morning about Hill 60. They have had a lot of hard fighting there.1 On Sunday the Germans pushed an attack night time & they had to fight with the bayonet but the attack was driven off. Then on Monday they attacked again at 6 pm-9 pm. Both attacks were driven off with heavy loss to the enemy. The casualties both sides have been very heavy I believe. We got a message in last night which said that the position had been shelled heavily all day but hadn’t been attacked. It is a very important place as they used to use it as an observation post & could overlook part of Ypres from it. They seem very determined to get it back & have been coming on in their thick masses like they used to do at Messines. It rained rather heavily early yesterday but cleared up about 10 o’c & was a lovely day. The Gen, Col Home & Hardress went & saw a school for the machine gun that was just been started near St Omer. I rode about on the Palfrey. Then in the afternoon we went & knocked the polo ball about for a bit. None of my horses are much good. Nutmeg is too awkward. Melody is hardy enough but yet so excited that you can do nothing with her. The Palfrey is pretty hardy & may be alright.
Later. […] We went to the II Corps but they had no news from hill 60. Apparently things are pretty quiet there to-day. I rode over & saw A Sqd yesterday. Basil is going as A.D.C to Byng he commands the III Cav Div. I am awfully glad he has got a good job. He was awfully fed up with commanding a troop. It must be deadly dull at present. I must post this now. Best love wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Friday 23 April
Went down the town with Ione & Tom, & went to see the Stubbses, & ask how Florence was, as she has had measles. Ione went to the tango tea with the Sassoons. I went with the Wyndhams to pick primroses out at Postling. Noel & I went & picked, & Mrs Wyndham looked after Myrtle, afterwards I went back there to tea, & Raymond came here to tea with Tom. I came back early, & brought the flowers up to Muz to settle. Then Ione & I went to the dance at the Metropole. Two Canadians came back with us. […]
Le Nieppe. Babe woke me about 5.10 saying that the Germans had broken the line between Bixschoote. Gen went off about 7.30 left with horses about 8 o’c. Went to Eecke. Then moved on again about 11.30 to an inn just south of Poperinge. Moved on again rode over Hd Qrs on the 4th Kilo stone on the Elverdings road. Stayed there till about 8 o’c then came back & spent the night in Poperinge.
Saturday 24 April
Went out for a walk with Heppie & Tom. Before we went out, I settled all the flowers, & Muz got up, & came down in her dressing gown, Ione stayed in bed with a headache. Madame de Marotte came in for a little while, then Mrs Vaughan came in for about ten minutes. She came down to see General V. off, as he was wired for. Went down the town with Heppie & Tom after lunch. After tea I wrote a lot of post cards & notes, as I am starting a shilling fund to get pyjamas for the Front. We went to bed at about eleven.
Poperinge. Nice morning but windy. Went round & saw the V Corps. Lot of shelling in the night. Position more or less unchanged. Sat about all morning at the 4th Kilo stone. Wind awfully cold. Had lunch in a field, then Hardress & I went for a ride with the General. Nothing much doing. Walked home in the evening.
Poperinge Saturday evening.
My dear wee Mus.
I don’t seem to have had a moment to write to you. I scribbled Jess a few lines this afternoon but was sitting in a motor on the road at the time & was dusty & cold & didn’t feel a bit good at writing letters. Well! Yesterday evening (Friday) we were suddenly called out about 5.30 & sent up here as the Germans had broken the French line between Bixschoote & Langemark & driven them right back onto the line of the canal & in places they had succeeded in crossing it. The General & the Staff started off about 6.30 [7.30?]2 & left me to bring on the horses. We first went to Ecke where we stayed till about 11.30 then went on to Poperinge & took up a line some way in rear of the French. Just to stiffen them in case the Germans got through again & to watch the left flank of our Army. We were awfully lucky & managed to get into quite a comfortable house & had really quite a good night. But the bombardment went on practically all night.
Sunday 25. I started this last night when I got in here but we had to go & see the V Corps & didn’t get back till pretty late. We stood about in the road all day yesterday & had rather a trying day. It was bitterly cold & horribly dusty. The French retook Lizerne which they had lost the night before & we got a message in about 3 a.m. this morning saying that they had lost it again. The Canadians were having a pretty trying time at St Julian yesterday afternoon but we’ve had no news about them so suppose that they have hung on alright. They have had a very hard time these past few days & have been fighting very well indeed. We heard that the Germans were trying that gas business on them yesterday. The General has just come in from seeing the V Corps & says that the French have ordered an attack all along the line here. There is the devil of a noise going on now so I suppose they are doing it now. But such a noise goes on all day that one never quite knows what is happening. But we hear that a regular battle is going on on the east side of the canal.
A message has just come into say that the Zouaves made an attack at 3 am. & that the French attack on Steenstrate & Het Sas started at 3.30 but nothing has been heard yet how it got on. It now looks rather as if Lizerne hasn’t been lost at all, & that it’s only another case of the old French not knowing what is happening. It is a very important place so I hope it is alright. The French are bringing up stacks of troops & once they arrive I expect we will be pulled out. We had quite a good night last night but were pulled out very early this morning. The General has gone as to field head qrs & I’m staying here for the present with the horses & bring them out later. It is a terrible sort of day dull cold & was raining early but has stopped now. I think it is almost preferable to yesterday which was sunny but there was an east wind blowing that would cut the face off you.
This is a most disturbed letter. I had to go away & will now continue for a spasm. All the staff have gone off & left me alone in my glory. There seems to be a lot of doubt as to what is happening at Lizerne. We have had no news in from the 1st Bde who have got patrols out that way so it looks to me rather like an alarmist report. It is wonderful how hard it is to find out what is happening. The French Generals never go into their trenches so consequently are always vague as to what is happening. We went & saw the French General yesterday morning who is commanding the troop in this sector, he knew what was happening but his staff were awfully vague. We heard there that the Germans had been killing the wounded Canadians. Dirty brutes. I expect there is a good deal of truth in it too. If it is true I don’t expect the Canadians will take many prisoners either. The annoying thing is that this will break the brutes up so much. They have advanced from a mile to two miles in places on a front of about 5 miles. A big lot of ground that & from all accounts their casualties weren’t heavy. The French say that the Germans had pipes in their own trenches & pumped this gas out of them. The wind was blowing towards the French at the time which blew the gas along. They say it came on like a thick yellow fog & has a smell of sulphur & that it asphyxiates everybody within reach. I haven’t seen anybody who has seen it so can’t say for certain but that’s the “gup” .3 Anyhow what is certain is that the whole French battalion who got the full benefit of it is missing. Either dead or captured. Dreadful muck it sounds.
8 a.m. I have just seen Freddy Bretherton who has come in from Woesten & he says that Lizerne was never retaken from the Germans & that the place now is bristling with machine guns. The Zouaves attack was apparently driven back with heavy loss. There is a stream of them going past this window as I write. They look dreadful, only slightly wounded ones. Mostly seem to be wounded in the left hand. I expect we will probably be up here for some days at all events. They are sure to keep us here till the situation is cleared up. Of course we may be taken back a bit & one of the other divisions brought up here. The III is in readiness quite close here & the 2d is on our right. I am longing to hear how you are. The President went off last night to get our letters. The General has managed to send him off the last two nights. It is such a nuisance when we are all crowded up like this. So the Gen sends him off then he sleeps at Nieppe & comes back here next morning. Quite a good plan. I’ll put in for leave as soon as we get back from here. I’m going to say that I am wanted home on family business. He will let me go alright. What luck I didn’t go this week. I should have been lugged back. John Vaughan got back yesterday having had about 6 hrs in England. I wasn’t very anxious about going early next week as Newmarket is Tues, Wed, Thurs, & B most probably will be there. What do you fancy for the [—] & Derby. Have a bet on anything you fancy for me. Put £5 each way on anything you think grand. Well wee Mus I think I have told you all the news. Best love to you all – I do hope you will be well again soon.
Your loving Pat.
5.30 P.M. Have just got your letter of the 22d enclosing one from B. I am so glad you are feeling better. What a horrid disease that is. Nothing much has happened to-day. It’s pretty quiet just at present. More troops are coming up we hear so we ought to be able to stop the brutes getting on any further but one can’t deny the fact that they have had an enormous success, for far surpassing anything we had at Neuve Chapelle. I think the line will just be consolidated now & hang on when it is. I don’t think that there is a chance of retaking the ground that we have lost. I am sending this down with Percy so I’m afraid it will be slower than usual, so you mustn’t mind letters not coming punctually but I’ll write whenever I can. Best love dear wee Mus.
Letter from Blanchie Somerset, Badminton, Gloucestershire to Pat Armstrong [dated ‘Saturday 1915’ and probably written on this day]
What lovely photos you sent me I’m getting quite a collection. Yes, I’m sure we shall be here from now on till the end of May. I am perhaps going up to London for a week or so sometime, but I don’t think that’ll be just yet. It will be splendid seeing you & if you’ll wire to Mother I’ll do all the agitating to make it alright. The hunting is all over so it’s very quiet down here & one loves seeing people. Awful excitement yesterday as Di’s poor little terrier had the most awful sort of fit, but she’s quite alright again now. Di was awfully upset. Darling Pat we’ll have long talks when you come, I do hope you’ll be able to get away. Frankie is waiting to go out there again & has got some job that is to do with the transport of their brigade. But what it is exactly I’m not quite sure. Tons of love darling & am longing to see you
Yr loving Blanchie
Sunday 25 April
Ione stayed in bed all day, with a headache. Muz stayed in bed till about twelve. It rained nearly all day. I wrote more notes for my 1/- fund, I have written four dozen notes & two dozen post cards now. Went out for a little walk, & got grass for the rabbits. At seven I went down to the club, & went to the waiting room. There were very few people. We went to bed at about eleven.
Poperinge. Raining early. Breakfast 5.30. Situation unchanged. Was left here to bring on the horses. Rode forward about 18 o’c & then brought the horses up arriving bout 8 o’c. Nice & sunny in the afternoon.
- Hill 60 was a low ridge near Ypres artificially created during the construction of a nearby railway line. Located in flat terrain, it formed an important observation point and had been captured by the Germans in December 1914. The Battle of Hill 60 on 17-22 April and 1-7 May was an unsuccessful attempt by the Allies to seize control of the hill.⇑
- The digits 6 and 7 are superimposed but it is impossible to tell which replaces which ⇑
- Gossip ⇑