WEEK 105: MOWN DOWN BY MACHINE GUNS
Monday 26 June to Sunday 2 July 1916
At 7.30 in the morning on 1 July 1916, whistles blew the signal to start the Somme Offensive. To ensure a rapid advance, Allied artillery had been pounding German lines for a week before the attack. However, the German trenches were heavily fortified and many of the 1.6 million shells fired had failed to explode. As the British divisions began their slow march towards the German lines at daybreak, the Germans left their bunkers and turned their machine guns on the approaching men. By the end of the first day of the battle, some 58,000 British soldiers lay dead or wounded. It remains the largest loss ever recorded in the course of a single day. The advance of the French was considerably more successful as they had more guns and faced weaker defences. However, without British backup they were forced to fall back to earlier positions unable to exploit their gains.
For a guest post by Nick Metcalfe commemorating the Battle of the Somme, click here.
Monday 26 June
Did the washing, & left out things etc, then Kitty came round for me, & she, Tom & I went down the town. She had Presh in the pram too, & then we went out on the Front, & sat there. It was rather close all day, & rained in the afternoon. After lunch Muz worked in the garden, & I went to the Dew Drop1, & we were very busy. Ione went to tea with Molly Meadows. Played with Duskey & Laddie2 when I got back, & put her to bed, then gave Muz & Heppie their suppers in bed, Muz was very tired. Heppie sat up for a bit in my room, in the afternoon. Went to bed at about eleven.
Tuesday 27 June
Gave out things, etc, then Tom & I went down the town to do the shopping & met Kitty on the way back. We walked back by the front, it was very hot & close, we met Ione, then she & Tom went to the Grand to telephone, & Kitty & I sat on the Front. Ione got a wire to say that Harry was off to France. After lunch I wrote letters & tidied etc, then Tom & I went down to do more shopping, then I got tea. Mrs Ross came for tea. Muz worked in the garden nearly all day, with Lizzie3. Heppie still in bed, she has got very bad tooth ache, so I put brown paper & brandy & pepper4 on for her. Gave out things again & after dinner Lizzie & I got sticks for the peas, settled Heppie off to bed, & went to bed at 11.
My dear wee Mus.
I’ve got so many letters of yours to answer that I scarcely know where to begin. I won’t be able to get to bed to-night much before 2 am so I’ll answer your letters. I have got to wait for Percy to ring up about a little business which is now in progress5. I have had rather a strenuous day. I was up at 5 o’c & then went to bed for a short time, then went for a ride about 7.30 & was then in the office till lunch. This afternoon I went and visited Hardress in his observation post and got back about 7 o’c. T. had rather an exciting day. He and Fulton are in an observation post which was blown in. They had just gone away to lunch & left a signaller there when the place was hit. The signaller was killed & the place blown to bits.
[…] You seem to be working very hard with your potatoes. Don’t work too hard wee Mus will you. I’m afraid he planted them very badly from what you say. Stupid of him wasn’t it. I hear that the Regt is coming up to these parts. I hope I see something of them but there is so much to be done that it will be hard to get away.
[…] Yes! I like Philip Hardwick awfully. He’s a real good sort. His wife is a bit odd. I don’t know her atall. Well wee Mus it’s 2 am so I must go off to bed. I have just been talking to Percy. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 28 June
Gave out things, then Tom & I went down the town & did the shopping, then went to Kitty for a few minutes. After lunch I tidied, & put away papers etc. Mrs Ross came round & she & Muz worked in the garden till tea. Then Mrs Burns-Begg came to call, & Kitty came in later. After tea I went back with her & played with the children6, & I strained my ankle. I walked back with it, but then it began to swell, so I bathed it. Ione was scuffling the front, so I went out & talked to Kitty there. After dinner gave out things etc. & went to bed at about 11. Muz bathed my ankle, & then she bandaged it again in the night, but I couldn’t sleep much. I don’t think Muz slept at all.
My dear wee Mus.
I got a long letter from you this morning […] You seem to be doing great work with your taties, but don’t go and work too hard. When you have done them will you sort out all my photos and send them up to be enlarged. Tell Jess that she can send any she likes to the papers. Some of those ones I took at home are really worth sending. I should think that Irish Life would be only too glad to get some of them. Tell Jess to write and ask them. I’m looking forward to seeing the enlargements of my Gallipoli ones.
I have done all my work early to-night & so I’m having a field day with my letters. I have a pile of unanswered letters here. Most of them from you. I sent you three parcels of clothes to-day. A coat, a pair of breeches, gum boots, ordinary boots and a pair of silk pyjamas. I find I have too much kit and want to reduce it a bit. T & Hardress have come in here for the night and go back to their perches to-morrow. I gave Geisha a great schooling yesterday she is coming on awfully well now & is really getting quite handy. I rode back with Percy to-night to his house. He is in great heat but has had rather a hard time the last few days. A Party from his Bde carried out a raid last night and the night before. So he was up all night. Both raids were unsuccessful I’m sorry to say. I’d love to go out on one of these raids they must be great value. We have got two official photographers coming round over lines & taking photos. One of them was out in Gallipoli & tells me he took a lot of photos there. He is going to bring some of them along for me to see. If there are any I like I will get them & send them to you. Apparently he was down there for some time so he ought to have some good ones.
Will you thank wee Tom for her letter & tell her that I will try to write to her soon but it’s an awful job to write letters in these strenuous times. It doesn’t matter about the compass I have a little one that will do me. Thank you so much for looking for it dear wee Mus. I’m afraid it gave you a lot of trouble. No I never took those butter biscuits. I’m afraid they didn’t send them. You ought to write and ask them about it. They are usually so awfully good at sending things. I’m enclosing a letter which I got from Pokes some time ago. I’ve had it on my table meaning to send it but forgot about it. I am also sending you back your letter to G. It’s been here for ages but I forgot about it. I went over & saw Algie yesterday evening he was in great form. I like him awfully, he is a real good sort and a grand hard working lad. He seems awfully happy with his new Battn, says that they are awfully fine men but from what he tells me they had been pretty badly run before he took them on. They used to crowd all the men into the front line & of course had masses of casualties. Those blighters at Aspreys7 made an awful bad job of my watch. They sent it back to me & it won’t go atall. I will write them a stinker to-morrow. I must be off to bed now. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
P.S. Will you put enclosed receipts away for me.
Thursday 29 June
Muz went up to London by the 9 train, to have her teeth done, I couldn’t go up, with my ankle. I sat in the smoking room on the sofa, & mended & wrote letters nearly all day. Gave out things etc. Heppie still in bed, but much better. After lunch Kitty came in for a bit, on her way to have tea with Miss Walter, we were asked too. After tea Mrs Battiscombe came in, & sat & talked to me for a long time, she is an awfully nice woman. Ione worked at the gravel for a bit in the evening. Muz came back by the late train. May8 went to meet her, she had had two teeth stopped, & been to tea with Mrs de Lisle. The W.O.9 was very pleased, hearing about the Rest Camp, & it is almost certain to be closed almost at once. We went to bed at about eleven.
Friday 30 June
Came down & gave out things etc, then lay up on the sofa in the smoking room & wrote letters, & worked at Heppie’s blouse. Muz worked in the garden. After lunch Kitty & Pam came round & we sat out in the garden, Tom was playing tennis with a Belgian girl, Monty Blair, & another boy, they came for tea, & Mrs Ross, Miss Peters & Mrs Battiscombe. Mrs B. stayed on late, & I worked at the blouse again. Heppie got up after lunch & sat in Muz’s room, & is looking much better. We went to bed at about 11.
My dear wee Mus.
I am sending you a collection of receipts letters etc to put away for me. Will you have a look through them as I have put some remarks on some of them. I have just heard that the Russians have taken Kolomea and 11 thousand prisoners10. Good isn’t it. The 86th Bde raid wasn’t much of a success. The 88th are doing one to-night. I’m waiting up to hear news of it. I had a peaceful day to-day but have had a lot of work in to-night. I went up with Hardress to his O.P this morning & got back about 2.30, then went out again about 4.30 to 5.30 so had quite a lot of riding about. We’ve had beastly weather lately & the whole place is in the devil of a mess. However to-day was fine & things have dried up well. It’s rather annoying as our trenches were awfully good before the rain came on.
I think I told you that I saw Algie a couple of days ago. What a topper he is. I wrote a letter to Irene Wills last night after I had written to you. I have a lot of letters I ought to write but somehow it’s hard to get at them. It’s not like the old days at Le Nieppe now when one had d—d all to do after dinner except to read the papers & write letters. One can never settle down to write in the daytime without being disturbed about 50 times on the telephone. I get awfully angry with the telephone sometimes & would like to break the thing. People ring up & ask absurd questions just as one is trying to concentrate one’s mind on something or other. I have enjoyed to-day, it’s been very peaceful. Thank you so much for writing to Harrods for a compass for me but I think my own little one will be quite good enough.
[…] It’s 1.20 now so the raiders ought to be back soon. They come out at 1.30. Percy will ring up & let me know how it all goes. I wonder if your prophesy about the war being over by Xmas will come true. I have great faith in there not being a third Xmas but don’t quit see yet how it will come about. I sent you that letter you wrote to “G” last night. It has been on my table for weeks but I forgot to send it. I wonder if he is coming to this country, it would be great to see him again. What a nice letter that was of the General’s. I saw he was writing to you one night when I went into his room but he didn’t say anything about it. I saw a letter in your writing on the table so made a guess that it was to you he was writing. How sickening about the curtains I do wish you could get something really nice. Write to London & get some patterns sent to you. […] If only you had the curtains now and a carpet for your room you’d be alright. You absolutely must get a carpet for your room before the cold weather comes on. It spoils the whole room having a bare floor like that.
T. has had rather a bad time in his O.P.11 and is a bit shook I think. They got a direct hit on the thing & killed the signal orderly. Fulton in the Lancashire Fusiliers who was with him isn’t a bit shook, he’s quite calm about it, but T is quite upset. It’s rather funny but I’ve often noticed how apt a fellow is to get shook once he has been wounded. Fulton of course was badly wounded on the Aisne. Had five bullets in him I think. But of course that was a long time ago & of course T is very young & has really seen awfully little fighting. He was only out here a few months. By the way I think you know Fulton, he says he met you all at dances at the Grand. I have been meaning to tell you this for a long time but have always forgotten it when I’m writing to you. He is quite a good fellow, it’s been great value having him in the office here. He’s been a great help. He ran the distribution of working parties which was a job that bored me. Well! I think I have told you all the news. […] Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 1 July
Sat on the sofa most of the morning, & worked at Heppie’s blouse. After lunch Muz & Ione went to call, & Kitty came round here & brought me some chocolates, & I walked back with her, I couldn’t stay still any longer! Muz & Tom did the shopping for me this morning, then Muz, Ione & Mrs Battiscombe went to the club, I got things ready for tomorrow, & got some flowers cut at the garden. Miss Steele came in after dinner, to say good bye she is going to nurse in France I didn’t see her. We went to bed at about one. “Push”12 has begun today, & was in the evening papers.
My dear wee Mus.
We attacked at 7.30 am this morning and up to the present have done no good. All our attack has been held up by machine gun & rifle fire. It’s now just after 3, but the situation is still very obscure. The Div South of us has got on pretty well except on our immediate right, which has been hung up. The Div to the north has got on a bit but nothing very much. In fact the whole business is very disappointing. We all hoped for so much. I hear that the French down south have done well. Algie’s lot have had a bad hammering I’d be afraid13. But we’ve had little or no news of them yet, except that they haven’t got on. These beastly Bosch fight so well & have the whole line absolutely bristling with Machine Guns. I can’t tell you any details at present as we don’t know them ourselves. No time for more now. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
I think Pierce is either a prisoner or else killed, as there is no news of him or of his Battn.
Sunday 2 July
Muz, Ione, Tom & I went to church, & then out on the front afterwards & walked about with the Brookes. When we got back we found Captain Wright had been, Heppie & I fixed lunch up. She was up yesterday for the first time. After lunch Muz, Capt. W. Tom & I went to ask for Mrs Ross, & went to the band, it was quite like old times again! Then we all went to tea with Mrs Ross, & Capt. W. went back to Sevenoaks by the six train. Then I fed Duskey, & left out things etc, & Muz, Ione & I went to the club, only Miss Walter there. Ione sat at the desk. We were pretty busy. Went to bed at about twelve. Kitty had a friend staying with her for the week end, so couldn’t come.
My dear wee Mus.
Just a few lines to tell you that we are all well. We had a bad day yesterday & got hung up all along the line. Too sickening. I am going on Bde Maj to the 86 Bde in a few days, to replace Grant who got wounded yesterday. No time for more now.
Your loving Pat.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
I wrote you a very brief scribble to-day just before I went up to the line. Our attack yesterday was unsuccessful being held up by machine guns. I can’t tell you any details at present as there might be trouble if the censor got hold of it. It is awfully disappointing considering the enormous amount of time and energy we expended in working out the plans. One would have thought there couldn’t have been a hitch. But immediately our barrage lifted onto the 2nd Line the Bosch had his old machine guns up and played the devil with us. Poor old Pierce is killed14 I’m afraid and most of his Regt with him. More of the battle some other time. I mustn’t go into details now or I might get into trouble. I rang up the — Div and hear that Algie was wounded in the leg and arm but apparently not seriously.
July 3. I had to stop last night as a lot of work came in & I didn’t get done till nearly 1 o’c & then thought it was time for bed. I am going to the 86th Bde as Bde Major. It isn’t yet decided when I go, but it will most probably be to-morrow or the next day. I’m sorry to be leaving the General but awfully lucky to get a job like that. It means an awful lot of work, & I do hope I can do it well. I’m so fearfully anxious that things go well as I want the General to feel that he can really rely on me. I’m so afraid of his being disappointed in me.
Later. I had to go off to Corps this morning so will continue now. The news from the south seems good, the 13 and 15 Corps are doing well & the French have got on well apparently the Bosch had concentrated all his strength against us here. The people down south apparently went through quite easily. It is rather sickening for us having struck a snag up here. Our fellows did fight so gallantly but they were absolutely mown down by machine guns. However we have the consolation of knowing that 10 thousand Bosch have fallen into our hands & that as many more again must have been killed. I am going to the 86th Bde to-morrow, so you mustn’t mind if you don’t hear from me for several days as there is bound to be an awful amount of work to be done. I think you might write and say some nice little thing to the General about it. Do whatever you thing best. But I feel that he would appreciate your writing to him. Yes I heard that about the Bosch putting up a board something about their knowing we were going to attack15. But don’t know where it was. I must stop now or I’ll miss the post. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
- The Dew Drop Inn at Bouverie Road West, which had been established by four Folkestone-based Canadian women. The proceeds of the tearoom were devoted to charities.⇑
- A stray dog rescued by the family in January 1916.⇑
- The family’s domestic servant.⇑
- Plugging a tooth with brown paper soaked in brandy and powdered with pepper was an old folk cure for toothache.⇑
- Pat is referring to the Battle of the Somme which began on 1 July 1916.⇑
- Pamela, Clement and Rosemary Winstanley.⇑
- Asprey & Co Ltd., goldsmith, silversmiths, jewellers, watch & clock makers, dressing bag & trunk makers, fine leather workers &stationers at 165-168 New Bond Street and 22 Albemarle Street, London.⇑
- A domestic servant in the Armstrong household.⇑
- War Office.⇑
- Kolomea, now known as Kolomyia, is a city in the modern-day western Ukraine. An important railway centre, it was bitterly fought over by Russia and Austria-Hungary during the First World War. Captured by Austria-Hungary in 1915, the city was re-taken by Russian troops in late June 1916.⇑
- Observation Post.⇑
- Battle of the Somme.⇑
- The 15th (Service) Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Leeds Pals, commanded by Algie Neill at the time of the Somme, suffered catastrophic casualties on the first day of the attack. They were met with heavy machine gun fire and blocked by German barbed wire, and within the first few minutes of the advance, 15 officers and 233 other ranks were killed and 9 officers and 271 other ranks wounded. It was said that at least one house on every street in Leeds was in a state of mourning when news of casualties rolled in.⇑
- 1st Battalion of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, which suffered 549 casualties on 1 July 1916, more than half its strength.⇑
- The Germans often put up signs to taunt the Allies. In this case they appear to have put up a sign saying that they knew an attack was imminent as a bit of well judged bravado.⇑