WEEK 93: BURSTING WITH YOUTH, HEALTH, AND GOOD SPIRITS
Monday 3 to Sunday 9 April 1916
By early April 1916, the last of the troops of the 29th Division had settled in their new billets in the Somme department of Picardy. The headquarters of the 29th Division were established in a chateau at Acheux, and extensive preparations began in advance of the battle of the Somme. To make provision for the 400,000 men and 100,000 who would be billeted here by the end of June, the existing railway system had to be expanded, miles of water pipes laid and tens of thousands of tents and huts erected. Pat Armstrong attended to such duties with his usual vigour but the spectre of having to re-join his regiment kept plaguing him. In Folkestone, all eyes were on Tommy Armstrong who was confirmed by the Bishop of Dover at St John’s Church on 4 April. Friends and family gathered together to share in Tommy’s big day.
Monday 3 April
Went round to see Miss Peel, & she showed me the flowers she makes. Then went down the town & then went to see Mrs Tinker about making my “tea room” dress. Then Muz & I went & had tea with Mrs Cleghorn & Miss Dalton at the new tea rooms,1 & am going to help next Monday, but couldn’t this [Monday] as I hadn’t got my dress. Afterwards Muz went to see Kitty, & I went to Mrs Tinker’s again. Then sewed when I got back. Tom went out with Ione. […]
Acheux. Glorious warm day. Shut down office at Beauquesne at 11 am. Rode on to Acheux and got settled into our new billets. Went to see 87 Bde in Mailly-Maillet in the afternoon with the General. New mare very lame had to bring her along in a float.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
I have just got your letter of April 1st enclosing two you wrote to the General. I haven’t heard from the Colonel yet but if he wants me back I don’t see how I can very well get out of it. I am afraid that it will only make things worse if he does anything about it. There will be awful trouble if he writes & says he can’t spare me. No I’m afraid my letter wasn’t very good but it’s a difficult letter to answer. I wish now that I had written to you first & waited to hear from you before answering. Anyhow now it’s done & I will have to hope for the best. I ought to hear from the Colonel to-morrow. If I don’t I will write to him again the way you say and will send you a copy of what I write. It is a d—d nuisance as I don’t want to give up this job unless I have absolutely got to. But as Hardress says the Regt won’t be very pleased at the end of the war if I roll up & haven’t been with them the whole time. I will have to wait now & see what the Colonel says if I get half a chance I’ll slip out of it someway but what I don’t want to happen is for the General to write & say he can’t spare me. That would put all their backs up. No more to-night wee Mus as it’s awfully late.
Your loving Pat.
Tuesday 4 April
“Tom looked very nice”
Tom’s confirmation. Viva sent her car round to call for us, & take us to the church. Ione went to the Y.W.C.A. at eight, but got back for the confirmation at eleven. The Bishop of Dover confirmed them, he is a dear old man. Tom looked very nice, Kate gave her, her dress. After lunch Muz & Ione went to Canterbury in the car, to look for servants, & took the cook from the Y.M.C.A. for a run. Tom went out with the Crofts. I washed up, then did some ironing then painted the rings for the smoking room poles, then did some sewing. Heard from Algie, he is back on leave, & wants us to go up to Town tomorrow, & go to the theatre but we can’t. Muz & Ione got back at about 9-30, as they had a puncture. The cook loved his run. Went to bed at about eleven.
Acheux. Col Fuller went round the line. Div took command of the line at 9 am. Stayed in all morning. Left at 2.15 for Intelligence Conference at Corps. Corps commander watched 86 and 86th [sic] Bdes march past en route to their new billets.
Wednesday 5 April
Ione went down to the canteen2 at nine, & Kitty was down there too. I went to the dressmaker at ten, the dress for the tea room is going to be very nice. Ione telephoned up to us, to say that German aeroplanes were coming over, & they had been warned from Dover. We went out on the Front, but couldn’t see anything. Kitty came round, & she, Muz, Tom, Pam & I went to church, Mr Marriott preached, but not as nice a sermon as last time. Then we went back to tea with Kitty & played with the children. Then I started to make an apron. Went to bed at about 11-30.
Acheux. Left 8.30 with the Gen & Col Pine [?]. Went round 87th Bde line. Got back about 2.30. Made a map of the trenches in the afternoon.
Letter from Leila de Lisle, 5 Queensberry Place, S.W., to Mrs Armstrong
“I don’t think he’ll leave”
My dear Rosalie
I heard from my Gen: to day written on the 2nd & saying how well Pat is doing his job in the Staff & not hinting at any change, so somehow I think he won’t leave. [— —] Wilson (R. F.) was here yesterday & I told him what I had heard from you & he said “I don’t think he’ll leave” – & was full of praise of Pat & what a really nice boy he is. I feel this will please you – I ken it would please me if it was my Boy! Nothing else matters, if they are really nice & good! Let me ken if you hear anything for certain as I do want Pat to stay.
Don’t mention I have written this abt. Pat & what my Gen. says, but I write as one mother to another!
Yrs ever Leila
Thursday 6 April
Heard from Algie, that he goes back to France tomorrow, he has been going to the dentist every day. I cleaned out Pat’s room, the room next it, & the dressing room. Then Capt. Wilson (Bge Major to 88th B.) came to see us, he is on his way back. We went down to the Harbour with him, Capt. King was there too. When we got back I went on cleaning, & finished all the rooms, china etc. on that floor. Muz did brass & all kinds of things. Muz & Tom had their supper in the morning room, Heppie & I in the pantry. Ione dined with Mme de Marotte. We went to bed at about 10-30, was rather tired. Kitty came round, but we said we were out, as we were busy.
Friday 7 April
Muz & I went down to the Canteen for an emergency shift at 8-30, we were very busy all the time. I came back at 12-30, & Muz stayed on till 4. Mrs Paul brought me back in her car, & dropped me in the town, to shop. When I got back, did the washing up & finished off the four rooms on the first landing, then finished the drawing room & did the ballroom out. May3 did the dining room. Then wrote letters. After tea I washed my hair, & didn’t get it dry till rather late, Muz was rather tired, she wrote letters. Ione packed her things, to go to London tomorrow.
I’ve just seen Pat. I did not know him the least. Last time, in fact the only time, I saw him he was pale with a nose like Anthony’s. Today he appeared to be an unusually good looking young man with a high colour and would have done to sit as a portrait for “Health”. He seemed to be bursting with youth, health, and good spirits. I must say I congratulate you on his appearance. Curiously when I went in to their Hd Qrs I asked for “Maude”, why I don’t know, but I was thinking of his mother as I used to know her years gone by. He looked so much younger than when I last saw him – I find that he is a friend of my A.D.Cs. When I told the latter I thought he looked very different from 2 years ago he said “Yes he does, but that was after his smash up at polo”. I asked Pat to dine one night and I’ll ask his General on the same night so trust they can come together. Their Hd Qrs are only about 6 miles from here. I suppose I was about Pat’s age when I first met you. Last time I saw him I only saw a likeness to Anthony, but this time I could see a likeness to you and wee Mary as she was.
What a good thing he has got down in these parts and not in Flanders. I’m not due for leave for a very long time yet, about another 7 weeks. By then perhaps we shall be too busy for leave but one never can say. What a wonder you are to get up at 4 a.m. Still I know you like to be doing your part. I think things are looking up all round. I was much taken with Pat, and own if I had not known he belonged to you, I should have thought him very good looking – Now you must not tell him this –
T. d’O Snow.
“An unusually good looking young man”
Saturday 8 April
Ione went up to London by the 8-30, to stay with Miss [blank]. Muz & I went down to the Rest camp4 for an emergency at 8-30, Miss Hindley took us I her car, we were awfully busy, & stayed on till four. We had over 4000 men in. We sat out on the shore for a bit, then I went & paid bills, & went to call for my dress. Then did some tidying & then wrote letters. Muz & I went down to the other club at seven. Went to bed at about 11.
Sunday 9 April
Muz, Tom & I went to church, then they went out on the front & I came home & did the washing up, & laid luncheon etc. After lunch I copied things for Muz, did some tidying, then worked at my apron. Tom went to tea with John de Marotte. Muz & Kitty went up to visit at Moore Barracks hospital, & they brought back the smoking room curtains on their way. Then Muz, Kitty & I went to the club, & had a very busy night. One of the men showed us a man who they all think is a spy, he came over from Canada with them, & he was watched all the way over. We went to bed at about 11-30.
The Dew Drop Inn at Bouverie Road West, which had been established by Mrs Cleghorn and Miss Dalton who were both Canadian. The proceeds of the tearoom were devoted to charities.⇑
The YMCA hut in the Pleydell Gardens in Folkestone which had been opened in early February as a recreation centre for soldiers and where the Armstrongs worked as volunteers ⇑
Blocks of houses known as Marine Terrace and Marine Parade were opened in January 1916 to provide accommodation for 2,200 men and became known as No. 1 Rest Camp. A large YMCA hut formed part of the complex.⇑