WEEK 51: THE AIR IS CHARGED WITH SAND
Monday 14 to Sunday 20 June 1915
Pat Armstrong’s sea voyage culminated in Port Said in north east Egypt on Saturday 12 June. With a few days to spare before his next sailing, Pat travelled to Alexandria by train to visit local sights. While there, he had the good fortune to run into an old school friend. The last leg of his journey from St Omer to Gallipoli began uncomfortably on 17 June in stifling heat on board the stinking cargo vessel Mercian. In Folkestone, Mrs Armstrong and her three daughters were delighted to be able to offer hospitality to Algie Neill who had completed his long journey from New Zealand. Gordon Elton also made a surprise appearance and shocked the four women with the state of his injured left hand. In between entertaining their guests, Ione, Jess, Tom and Mrs Armstrong began to move their belongings from their lodgings at Trinity Crescent to their new home at Grimston Gardens.
Monday 14 June
We went round & showed Algie the house early, & then went down the town. After lunch Ione went round to the Wyndhams, & we sat & talked. After tea we went down to see the Stubbses, they were doing bandaging. Ione went to the Leas Pavilion with the Wyndhams & Mr North. Algie took Muz & I to the theatre, it was very good. The Stubbses were there too, we talked to them when we were coming out. We sat & talked afterwards, & went to bed at about 12-30. We got a wire from Pat from Alexandria, to say “all well”.
Alexandria. Got up late. Went over to the Metropolis about 10 o’c. Met Mrs Davies & Brydon. Went & saw the Catacombs1 got back about 1 o’c. Had lunch with them & then left by the 4 o’c train & got back to Port Said about 10.50. […] Changed at Bina [?] & met Cholmondeley.
Tuesday 15 June
Algie was to have caught the 9-30 train but his watch was wrong, so he missed it! We went out on the Front, & then went up to see him off by the 11 train. After lunch I wrote letters. Mr Nicholson came for tea, but I didn’t go down, as I was writing. After tea Muz & I went round to the house, they are getting on very well. Jenner thinks he can have it done by the 24th. After dinner Heppie, Ione & I took a load of boxes round to the house, then Ione went to bed, as she was tired, & Heppie & I went with a load of china. We went to bed at about 11-30.
Port Said. Very hot morning. Went for a ride early on Blackneck. Walked about the town & bought some photos. Went out again & walked about in the afternoon. Changed about 4 o’c & went out for a ride on Streethorpe about 5. Had Palfrey & Melody in the sea. Saw Col Elgood & fixed up about going on Mercian.2 Dined with Maxwell & his wife. Wrote letters. P & O came in. Awfully hot.
Wednesday 16 June
Went round to the house with a parcel of china. After lunch I did some tidying, & then went round to see Mrs Boddam-Whetham, but she was out. Mr Nicholson came for tea, & Mrs Phillips came in later. Ione went up to the Grand. Angela came in, & stayed till about seven. After dinner Mr Nicholson came, & Muz & I took two loads of china round to the house, then when Mr Nicholson went, Tom came round with Ione. Heppie walked off the other side of Hythe to find a servant. We went to bed at about twelve.
Port Said. Very hot night. Went down to the stables about 9.30 & took horses down to the boat. Was told I wasn’t wanted till that afternoon. Sent them back to the Stables. Lunched at the Casino with Williamson. Saw Joe Laycock. Put horses on about 4 o’c. Then went on shore as it was so dreadfully hot & had a bath then dined with Laycock etc at the Casino Hotel. Went on board the Mercian about 12 o’c. Some breeze had come up so it wasn’t quite so bad.
Letter from Harold E. Rydon, Majestic Hotel, Alexandria, Egypt, to Pat Armstrong
I may not see you again before you go to Gallipoli, unless you return to the same hotel. Went over there yesterday to see where you had gone to. I shall probably be shifting round to the “Hotel du Canal du Suez” partly to economise, partly because, strictly speaking, I’m not supposed to be staying at the Majestic, not having the honour to be a commissioned officer! Lister is staying here – I remember him well at Eton; perhaps you do. I am in favour of returning to Gallipoli for several reasons: – I hope to find all my letters there, when possibly may hear from the W. O. I think the Dardanelles is probably a more interesting campaign; in any case, I want to see a little more fighting there & pay off a few old scores! I shall probably (with any luck) get promotion & perhaps in course of time a commission, though I can’t say a commission in the A.I.F.3 appeals to me greatly. If it is not too much trouble, I should be awfully obliged if you mentioned to your general that I would like to take a commission. It would be quite easy for me to transfer from the Australian Division to the 29th. By which time, I would probably have gained more useful experience in our own trenches at Saribair.4 You have an Irish Brigade up there, have you not? Perhaps they might have a vacancy. I shall not count on anything. On consideration, I think my best plan is to return to Gallipoli, where I have an idea my luck will be in this time! Hope you enjoyed your visit to Port Said. It is infernally hot here; the air is charged with sand. In case I don’t see you in Alex: I wish you the best of luck & bon voyage. I was delighted to meet you the other day; you were about the first Old Etonian I had met for over three years. Godfrey Davies returned to Cairo last night; Mrs D is still at the Majestic waiting for Cairo to cool.
Harold E. Rydon.
Pat has added the following note to the top of the first page: “This is a fellow who used to be at Eton with me. I met him at Alexandria – He is a corporal in the Australian force & I’m trying to get him a commission in the Div. I have talked to the General about him & he has applied to be allowed to offer commissions to one of the Australian force, so I hope to be able to fix it for him.”
Thursday 17 June
Muz & I went down the town & did some shopping. On our way back Algie & Gordon suddenly walked up behind us! They had wired they were coming, but we weren’t in when it came. After lunch we took them round to show Gordon the house. Ione went off to play tennis. Muz bathed Gordon’s hand, it is an awful looking thing. The middle finger gone, & the first pulverised. Ione dined with M. de Marotte, & went to the theatre. We four went too, & sat underneath them.
Mercian in Port Said. A good wind in the night seems cooler. Sailed about 7.30. Boat absolutely filthy & stinks like nothing earthly. […] 2nd Lowland Bde R. F. A.5 on board. Windy in the evening. Slept most of the afternoon. Nice cool night.
Friday 18 June
Muz bathed Gordon’s hand, & I brought them water & things. Then we went down the town, & home by the Front. Gordon took us all to the Tango Tea. Ione danced with Mr Nicholson, but none of us danced. Noel is engaged to Mr North! Gordon went back by the eight train, & we went up to see him off. Ione went to the dance. After dinner Muz went round to the house with Heppie, & Algie & I went down to post a letter, & then round to the house. We went to bed at about 12-30.
June 18. S.S. Mercian.
My dear wee Mus.
I wrote you a long letter on the night of the 15 & nearly boiled in the attempt, it was a dreadfully hot night. The Mooltan6 came in that night & went out again early the next morning so I’m afraid my letter missed it. However it will roll up some day. I think I told you that I had altered my plans & instead of going down to Alexandria we were to sail on the Mercian. I took the horses down to the docks about 10 o’c on Wednesday morning & found they weren’t ready for me so I sent them back to the stable & made arrangements to have them there again by 3 o’c. I gave the men orders to leave the stables at 3 o’c. I have never seen a boat in such a mess. She had come over with 500 horses belonging to the 4th Lowland Brigade Howitzer battery. When I first went on board the stink was too awful. The whole place was dreadfully hot, as a matter of fact it was the hottest day they had had in Port Said for some time so that accounted for a good bit of it I dare say, but nevertheless she was horrible & I wasn’t at all favourably impressed.
Then I went back on shore & for a change lunched at the Casino Hotel. I knew several people there. I saw Joe Laycock (the owner of Rory O’Moon)7 & had a chat with him. Then about 3.30 I went & got the horses on board. They went on very quietly but the man working the derricks8 was an awful fool & made me awfully angry. The heat was terrific. I got everything fixed up about 5 o’c & then found that the boat wouldn’t sail till the following morning, so made a B line for the shore being absolutely boiled & feeling rather sick from the smell. I took a change of clothes with me in a pillow case & had 3 baths at the hotel. I first had a warm one then a cold one, then got dry & waited about 20 minutes & then had another cold one. I felt awfully well after that. Then I went off to the Casino hotel & had dinner with Joe Laycock & some other people. I eventually went back to the boat about 12 o’c. but not to sleep. I lay out on deck where there was quite a nice breeze but the derricks were going all night unloading [—] & sleep was quite impos’. We sailed about 7-30 yesterday morning. It became much cooler once we got out a bit & we began to get things a bit clean. I got my horse boxes cleaned out & disinfected, not before they wanted it either. They did get things a little better but the boat is still in a dreadful state. I slept all the afternoon & made up for lost time.
June 19. I was disturbed yesterday to lay the table for tea so will continue for a bit now. The weather is perfectly gorgeous. We got to the first of the Islands last night & have kept on passing them all day. We ought to get to Lemnos9 to-morrow morning. There is a rumour that from there we go on in trawlers sounds quite possible. The photos I took on the boat were quite a success only one failure in 30 photos. I will send them along as soon as I can but don’t like to pack them up yet till I find out a little more about the posts. It would be a dreadful thing if they got lost! I got them done in Port Said, where they did them very well. They hadn’t any of the right sort of paper, so you will have to get other prints done for the book. I have written on the back of each what they all are. I have taken two more rolls since & will send them off next week. I will be bound to take a lot in the next few days. I got 12 rolls of films when I was in Port Said, so I have got enough to do me for a long time now. Good luck getting them wasn’t it. I took a few photos of the old boat this morning. She is much healthier now as she has had a thorough good cleaning. The scenery here is rather pretty all the little islands stand straight out of the sea, & are very rugged & mountainous. They are an awful nice lot the 4th Lowland Brigade. But they are all frightfully Scotch, odd tongue it is. I have never heard quite the same sort or accent before. I am enclosing you a couple of cuttings which may interest you. That is rather a nice thing that poor old Julian wrote isn’t it. I am going to send this back on this boat & then will write to you & send you the photos when I get to Gallipoli. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 19 June
Algie, Tom, & I went out, & we took Muz down to a Belgian meeting, then we went for a walk on the Front, & called for her again. Muz & Heppie went off down the town after lunch, & Ione went & played tennis with Madame de Marotte. Algie helped me to mend Duskey’s door, & went to the house. Ione went to the dance with the Wyndhams. Muz wrote letters. We went to bed at about eleven.
Mercian. Off Naxos island. Took photos of the boat. Walked all about the boat then read for a couple of hours. Wrote letters in the afternoon. Everybody very busy getting things packed up.
Letter from Percy Hambro to Mrs Armstrong
Dear Mother of Pat.
Many thanks indeed for the cigarette case, it is as charming of you to send it as it is of Pat to give it time, and I appreciate it very much. The envelope shall be no more. We miss him and his cheery optimism very much but I feel sure that he is doing good work where he is; and that Hardress will continue to take care of him – I fear that his distance from you adds to your worries and anxiety but the climate of the Dardanelles is good and if he his lucky he will gain much honour & experience out there. We lead a very quiet life here just now and some of us have been fortunate enough to pass through Folkestone but I fancy few have done more than catch the track northwards. I will write to Pat and thank him but my letter may be late so will you add to my indebtedness by saying the case has arrived safely.
Yrs very sincerely
Sunday 20 June
Muz & Algie went to early service. Then Muz, Algie, Tom & I went to church & went out on the Front afterwards. After lunch we went & sat at the band. Mr Nicholson came in, & he & Ione went off. Then we went & had tea with the Blakes, Mrs Fraven was there. Algie went off by the five train. Then we took the Blakes to see the house & the others went out on the Front. I did some washing & tidying. We took two loads over after dinner.
Mercian. Arrived at Mudros10 about 2 am. Nobody came near us till about 10 o’c. Sat about on board all day.
June 20. S.S. Mercian.
My dear wee Mus.
We arrived this morning at the island of — about 45 miles from — & have been here at anchor all day. We’ve had no orders yet but expect to go on to-morrow night. There was some talk of us going on in trawlers but I think that now we are almost certain to go on in this ship. They tell me I mustn’t call it a boat!! As a matter of fact she has rather gone up in my estimation, when I came on at Port Said I thought that she was the most filthy thing I had ever been on. The heat & stink were something too awful but now we have got her pretty clean & she is really quite comfortable. She has only got a very small upper deck so we haven’t much room to move about & one little saloon which we feed & sit in. I have got quite a nice little cabin which I share with an awfully nice little fellow from Glasgow.
They are all awfully Scotch these fellows. Talk a queer language but they are really awfully nice. I wrote you a long letter the day before yesterday which I have given to the Purser to post when he gets back to Alexandria. We are going to send a post off to-morrow to one of the ships here so I’ll write to you now & it will be interesting to see which gets back first. I have really had an awfully nice trip & have enjoyed myself thoroughly. I told you all my news in my other letter but will now just give you a brief outline of my doings since I got to Port Said. I got there on the 11th as I expected nobody knew anything about me. I got the horses off on the 12th & got them fixed up in some quite comfy stables. On the 13th I went down to Alexandria to find out about boats there. Then came back again on the 14th. I spent the 15th in Port Said & then came on here on the 16th. They told me they wanted the horses at 10 o’c but when I arrived I found they weren’t ready so sent them back to the stables & brought them down again about 3-30. We hadn’t much trouble getting them on but the heat & stink of the boat were awful. I went on shore again when it was done & had a good bath then went & dined with Joe Laycock & some of the Notts Battery11 at the Casino Hotel. Wilfred Jelf used to be their adjutant, they are all awfully fond of him. I came back that night about 12 o’c & we sailed about 7.30 on the morning of the 17th. We’ve had a glorious passage & the horses have done awfully well. The Palfrey has fed up all the time & is looking much better. He fell away a lot on the journey down from Marseilles.
We got to the Islands on the night of the 18th & were going all through them yesterday. Awfully pretty, some of them are. I’d like to have stopped & gone on shore of some of them. Lovely rugged looking little places standing straight out of very deep water. I believe their chief industry is olives & grapes. Funny quiet life it must be. This island is just the same but they won’t let us go on shore which is rather a pity. My prophesy about getting here was pretty good wasn’t it? Do you remember I said I didn’t expect to get here before the 20th of this month? This is a glorious climate, it has been lovely & warm & sunny all day, not too hot & now this evening there is just a little breeze & it’s lovely. We have to have all the port holes screened by 9 o’c so it is a bit fuggy in here at present. But I don’t expect I’ll feel like writing letters in the morning so will get them done now. These are awfully good little writing blocks. I have got enough paper now to do me for ages. I’ll let you know when I want some more. I have been very busy this afternoon doctoring a mule that was down with colic. I’m getting a bit of a vet in my old age! I am hoping to get some letters from you when I arrive to-morrow but from what I can gather posts are rather uncertain down here. However I’ll be able to let you know more about that in a few days’ time. Well! wee Mus I think I have told you all my news such as it is. Best love to you all.
Your loving Pat.
- The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa in Alexandria, Egypt ⇑
- Mercian was a cargo steamer with passenger accommodation, built in 1908⇑
- Australian Imperial Force ⇑
- Sari Bair, a hilly area running diagonally across the Gallipoli peninsula where the Australian army core had planted itself ⇑
- 2nd Lowland Brigade Royal Field Artillery ⇑
- SS Mooltan, launched in 1905, was a mail ship commuting between Australia and Britain; during the First World War it occasionally also carried troops and cargo. It was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine on 26 July 1917.⇑
- A racehorse ⇑
- Derrick = a crane with a movable pivoted arm used on a ship for moving heavy weights ⇑
- An island of Greece in the northern part of the Aegean Sea ⇑
- A town on the island of Lemnos, Greece ⇑
- 1st Nottinghamshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery ⇑