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Monday 20 to Sunday 26 March 1916

Monday 20 to Sunday 26 March 1916


WEEK 91: COMING BACK TO FRANCE AGAIN

Monday 20 to Sunday 26 March 1916

On 24 March 1916, the French passenger ferry SS Sussex was on her way from Folkestone to Dieppe when she was mistaken for a minelayer and torpedoed by the German U-Boat UB-29. Although badly damaged, the Sussex remained afloat and was eventually towed to Boulogne for repairs. At least 50 of the 378 passengers and crew were killed and hundreds were injured, including three American passengers. The incident enraged President Woodrow Wilson and resulted in a threat by the United States to break diplomatic relations with the German Empire. As a conciliatory measure, Germany issued the so-called Sussex Pledge, promising no longer to target passenger ships, or to sink merchant vessels without provision for the safety of crew. Germany’s decision to retract the pledge and resume unrestricted submarine warfare in January 1917 caused the United States to declare war on Germany on 6 April 1917.

Monday 20 March

jess__diary_cameo
I sewed all morning. Muz & Heppie went to an auction & got a few things. Ione went to bed after lunch, & then went up to the Grand after dinner. After lunch I went down the town & did some shopping, & went up to Mrs Philpott to give her a skirt to alter. On my way back went to see Kitty, but she was out. The Stubbs came round to say good-bye, as they are going away for two months. Then May & Ethel’s1 mother came to talk to Muz. Then two servants came. We went to bed at about 11. Got a wire from Pat to say that he had arrived back at Marseilles. The whole division2 is going to be in France now.

Back from Egypt

Back from Egypt

pat_diary_cameoS.S. Miltiades3. Got into Marseilles about 9 o’c. Heard we were going to Abbeville4 leaving by 7.5 train. Walked up into the town with T. Had lunch on the ship. Went to station with Gen Williams & Fuller. Walked about with Scottie. Left at 7.5.

Tuesday 21 March

Hardress taking a break

Hardress taking a break


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I went down to the Y.M.C.A. at nine, & met Kitty & Miss MacDermit on the way. They stayed till 12-30, & I stayed on till 4-30. We had hardly a soul in, so we wrote letters some of the time, & the second shift Miss Duke & I were the only two left, so we played Dominoes! It rained nearly all day. I wrote letters when I came back, & wrote to Pat, Poppy, Mrs Pak, Zooie, Algie & Peter. Zooie sent me £1 this morning. Wrote again after tea, & then went to bed at about 11. Muz sat in the morning room & wrote letters, she was a bit hoarse.

pat_diary_cameoArrived Paris about 8.30. Had a good deal of trouble about luggage. Went to Ritz and had breakfast. Walked about with the Gen & Hardress. Left by 1.15 train arrived at Port-Remy about 7.30. Got up to Chateau at Long about 8.30. Took over papers from Col Fuller who had leave to go to England next day.

Wednesday 22 March

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Muz & I went down to the Y.M.C.A. at eight for an emergency shift, & we both stayed on as a crowd came in at about 9 till eleven. Then Heppie & Tom called for Muz, & they went & had Tom’s dress tried on at Ward’s . We were very slack after three & I stayed on for the next shift as well, to take Miss Duke’s place. When the 12-30 shift came, we sent them all away, as we didn’t expect anyone in, & Mrs Battiscombe & I stayed, & played dominoes & Halma. But suddenly at three 150 men came in, & we hadn’t a second’s warning to get anything ready for them. They were the R.F.5 & were coming back from France to a training school in England then going to get commissions. As there were only two of us left we had a terrible rush, but they all got something before they had to go off, they were all frightfully cold & hungry. Some of them only had French money, but I just took anything! They only had a very short time. Got back at about five. Miss Bald,6 Miss Blacklock & Mr Gendle came for tea, & Kitty & Pam. I went back with Kitty, & sat with her till 9-30. Presh came down, but had a horrid cold. Kitty gave me a photograph of herself. Muz & I had a bath & then we had dinner in the kitchen, & went to bed at about 10. Ethel left today.

pat_diary_cameoLong. Was in all morning going through papers. Col Fuller left for England about 8.30. The Gen & Hardress went round all the billets. Went out in the car in the afternoon with the General. Went to Port Remy & saw Abbott. Dropped the General at Chateau and went into Abbeville to get maps. Got back about 7 o’c very cold. Servants arrived.

Thursday 23 March

Tom and Jean

Tom and Jean


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Two letters from Pat written on the way back, dated 10th & 16th. The whole division is coming back to France again. Went down the town in the morning, & paid bills etc. Then did some sewing. After lunch I took Tom & Jean to watch the babies’ dancing class, Kitty came late, as Pam wasn’t coming, so I came back, & Kitty brought them back, & stayed for tea, then I took her home. Then Muz, Heppie & I worked in the garden. When it got dark, came in & mended all evening, Muz wrote. Mr Sutton came in, & Ione went to the theatre with him & the Balds. Ione & the Balds went to the Y.M.C.A. today, it was fairly full.

pat_diary_cameoLong. Dull and cold. Went through papers all morning with Sgt Holmes. Gen & Hardress went to Corps. Was in house all day. Very dull. T. took round maps & then went on to Abbeville.

Friday 24 March

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Letter card from Pat dated just saying “six miles west of Abbeville” Hope they don’t go any nearer Verdun.7 I forgot 9 o’clock shift, so flew down there at eleven, they were quite busy, a lot of Irishmen in. Muz & Kitty & Mrs Battiscombe came down at 12-30, but we had nothing to do, so played games. After tea Muz, Heppie & I worked in the garden till dark. May was out so I got the dinner, hot water bottles etc, then went to bed at about 10-30. Muz had dinner in her room, Ione went up to the Grand.

pat_diary_cameoLong. The Gen & Hardress went & had lunch with Charles Hunter. Snowed quite hard. Went out for a walk with Hardress in the afternoon. Col Hutton & Charles Hunter came to dine. […]

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

March 24.

My dear wee Mus.

I got 5 letters from you at Marseilles when I arrived and two yesterday. The ones I got at Marseilles were all addressed B.M.E.F.8 so I got none of the ones you sent to Cook. Somehow I never thought of asking him. I didn’t wire to you from Port Said as I thought it would be better to wire from Marseilles when I had got over the sea voyage safely. […] What a dreadful thing it was the Maloja9 getting mined wasn’t it. you must have had rather an interesting walk to see the wreckage. But I think that it was too long a walk for you, wee Mus. You ought to have gone there in the car. You all seem to be working very hard down at the harbour. It must be awfully cold down there this weather. […]

Horses in Marseilles Harbour

Horses in Marseilles Harbour

I am afraid I have been rather bad about writing since I arrived here but I absolutely haven’t had a moment. We left Paris by the 1.15 train on Tuesday & arrived at Pont-Remy about 7.30. We had to motor out about 4 miles and found quite a nice chateau to live in. Our kits didn’t get up till later that night so we weren’t in bed till about 1 o’c. Fuller got leave and went off home on 8 days’ leave next morning. Ovey hasn’t arrived yet from Egypt so I’m having a jolly old time doing all their work. It means an awful lot of work & means sitting in the house all day. I have hardly been out atall the last two days. I rode Melody round & round the garden yesterday for about ½ hr but otherwise I was in all day. The Gen & Hardress were away at Corps all day so I couldn’t go out. They have now gone off to Abbeville to lunch so I have another day in. I wanted to go out & ride early this morning but it was snowing so hard that I didn’t face it damnable the snow is. It started early this morning and is now coming down very hard. I’m longing to get out but can’t as I have to stay in and mind the house. I have really an awful lot of work to do but I must write you a brief scribe just to tell you the news. I don’t think we will be here much after the 30 of this month. I will tell you sometime when we are going. We hear that the sector of the line that we are going to take over is very quiet. There has been little or nothing doing in this part of the line for months. Before Fuller went home I told him to go & stay the last night of his leave with you so will you write and ask him. […] It would be nice if he and his wife came and stayed with you for the night. He is an awful nice little man. I’m sure you would like him. Melody arrived here looking awfully fit and well. I am hoping to get back my other two but have had no news of them yet. I am writing home to get Ames out too. It would be a great thing to get him back. I have got an awful nice old man now, he works very hard but of course knows nothing about doing servant’s work.

I got two letters from you yesterday of the 21st. Awfully quick isn’t it. I believe that there is quite a possibility that the 11th Div won’t come to this country atall.10 Egypt is much nicer than this. I hate this cold. Grand if you can get into the morning room soon. What are you going to do for a carpet for your room. I wonder will the one you had in your room be nice enough for the morning room. I wish I had got my letters from Thos Cook at Marseilles. I’ll drop him a line now & tell him to send them on here. I hope the wee odds and ends that I sent to you from Port Said will arrive alright. I am glad the centrepiece thing arrived. It is a thing to put on the middle of a dining room table the man told me. Then I sent some brass trays and some little trays which will be nice as ash trays. Great work your getting curtains for the dining room. You only have the drawing room & morning room to do now. Well wee Mus I think I have told you all the news for to-day. I have a good deal of work to do. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Saturday 25 March

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Muz & I went down to the Y.M.C.A. at 12-30 till 4. Kitty was down too. There was nothing to do , so we scrubbed tables & benches etc, then sat & talked. Miss Carleton said that I was the best washer-up that they had! Did some shopping, then Viva came for tea. I went to the club, & Muz & Ione dined with Capt. Bell at the Grand. We went to bed at about 11.

pat_diary_cameoLong. GOC11 inspected Sqdn of Surrey Yeomanry at 10 am. Inniskillings at 11 o’c & Border Regt at 12 am. Got back about 2 o’c. Glorious sunny morning. Had very good ride. Stayed in all the afternoon going through papers etc. Abbott and Hardress went round new billeting area. Glorious day some frost last night. Snow nearly gone.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

March 25

My dear wee Mus.

[…] We are having rather a cold snap at present. It snowed hard yesterday & the night before. Horrible it was. I had a rotten day and was in nearly all day. The Gen & Hardress went & had lunch with Charles Hunter at Abbeville. I couldn’t go away so rode about in the garden for about ½ hr. No that was the day before. I had quite a good ride yesterday was out for about 2 hrs. Then Col Hutton who used to command the K.D.G’s12 and Charles Hunter came to dine. Charles was in great form. It was grand seeing him again. Today the General, T & I went off at 9 o’c. First the Gen inspected the Squadron of Surrey Yeomanry our Div Sqd then the Inniskillings at 11 o’c & the Border Rgt at 12 o’c. Quite an amusing morning. We didn’t get back till about 2 o’c so had a great ride. I have been in all this afternoon & evening writing. There is a good deal to be done. It is now nearly 10 o’c so I’ll only write you a short letter. There is little or no news here really. I seem to spend most of my day in the office.

Pokes and his mother

Pokes and his mother

That is a grand letter you wrote to me about G. I feel inclined to send it on to him. It sums the whole thing up so well & is put far better than I could put it. It says more than I could say to him straight or you either for that matter. But if he saw a letter like that from you to me it just might make him realise his mistake before it is too late. I have just read your letter through again. Yes! I’ll send it to him. It may just do the trick. It is all so well put that he can’t possibly mind it. I will write him a wee letter & tell him that I got this from you & feel that he would like to know exactly what you think. He will have to have something strong like that or he will never pull back. Pokes had his mother behind him. She was dead against his other engagement & practically made him break it off. Well I think that now it’s up to you & I to make G. do the same. He will never do it on his own without something like that. It is such a pity if it goes on as I don’t think he is really in love with her. They are just great friends. I don’t know the girl but from what you say she doesn’t sound the sort that would make him really happy. I don’t know if G’s Div is coming to this country or not. There seemed to be some doubt about it when we left. The Gen told me one day that he heard that they weren’t coming, but of course he didn’t know for certain.

That sounds very expensive for the garden doesn’t it. Couldn’t you make friends with some of the officers & get them to give you a fatigue party. If you gave each man a bottle of beer after he had done his work he would go away as happy as a King. I expect that Gen Steel would probably do something to help you if you worked it right. No chance of leave for me at present. We might begin to think of it about June or July. There are too many other people who want leave for me to get away again. I must write a line to G & then go to bed as I have a busy day before me to-morrow. I have to work out march tables and all sorts of odds and ends. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Sunday 26 March

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Muz & I stayed in bed rather late, then I had a cold bath, & mended the rest of the morning. After lunch Ione went into Canterbury with the Balds. I went round to Kitty, but she had come round to us. Then she, Muz, Tom, Pam & I went for a walk. Then a Canadian woman, & Mrs Cleghorn & Miss Dalton came for tea. I went down to the club, & Kitty came too. Muz went to church, & came on afterwards. Ione went up to the Grand after dinner. We heard that one of our mine sweepers had been sunk just outside here. The passenger boat “Sussex” that was mined yesterday was supposed to have a lot of people on board, who were going to see wounded relatives. Sunk just outside here.

The damaged SS Sussex

The damaged SS Sussex

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

Sunday night

March 26.

My dear wee Mus.

Just a few lines to tell you that the Gen & I went over to-day to army Hd Qrs and saw old Archie. He is chief of the staff of this army. He is now a Major General. He is looking awfully well and sent you his love. On the way back I saw my little chestnut mare trotting along the road. I gave her to our liaison officer Capt Fresson when I went to Helles in June last. I wrote to him the other day asking for her back. He was at Cavalry Corps but now I find he is with the IV Army. She was looking awfully well. I will write to him again & hope to get her back soon. I got a letter from you to-day of March 23. Grand and quick that after the age it took to get letters out to Gallipoli. I wrote a long letter to G last night about Dolly and sent him that one of yours. A splendid letter yours was. Will you send the General a pocket book like that one I bought at Parsons when I was at home. I told him to-day that I was ordering one like mine for him. My book’s No is 523 and it is called “Walkers Loose-Leaf Book” taking refills size 5030. Will you also send him some spare refills for it. Will you get it and send it off as soon as you can. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.


Footnotes

  1. Domestic servants in the Armstrong household
  2. The 29th Division
  3. HMAS Miltiades (A28), one of a fleet of transport ships leased by the Commonwealth government for transporting troops of the Australian Imperial Force to overseas destinations
  4. A commune in the Somme department in Northern France
  5. Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)
  6. One of the three sisters of Ronald Lennox Bald
  7. This is a reference to the Battle of Verdun (21 February-16 December 1916) between France and the German Empire, the longest single battle of the First World War
  8. British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
  9. The P&O Liner Maloja was struck by a mine half way between Dover and Folkestone at 10.30 am on Sunday 27 February 1916. The after-part of the ship was blown up by the explosion and the vessel sank in 24 minutes. Of the 423 passengers and crew, 155 died or remained unaccounted for.
  10. Pat was wrong in his prediction. The 11th (Northern) Division received orders on 17 June 1916 to move to France where it served in the Battle of the Somme
  11. General Officer Commanding
  12. King’s Dragoon Guards

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