WEEK 107: PINK SATIN BEDROOM SLIPPERS
Monday 10 to Sunday 16 July 1916
Pat Armstrong’s dream of being made a Brigade Major had been realised rather sooner than he had anticipated. The promotion placed him in a position of considerable responsibility and some risk as it entailed the planning of brigade operations and put him in frequent contact with front-line troops. Working under Major General Williams, Commander of the 86th Brigade, Pat was given more or less a free hand in identifying and executing what needed to be done, a situation which pleased him a great deal. Having taken a liking to a young and enthusiastic soldier, Frank Stanley Layard, Pat also managed to pull strings and take the youth on as an understudy. A strong bond of friendship soon developed between the two soldiers and gave Pat a renewed sense of purpose and direction.
Monday 10 July
Algie is in the list today, as wounded. Muz & I went round to Kitty, as she is going up to London by the one train, to stay for a couple of days. Then I got tea ready & sandwiches etc for Heppie to take. She went by the three train, & is going home for a few days1. I went to the Dew Drop2 & we were very busy & it was fairly hot too. Afterwards I went down the town & did some shopping then took Dus out & then put her to bed then gave out things3 etc, did the accounts & went to bed at about 11-30. Ione is sleeping with Tom, but they went early. Pat has been made Brigade Major to the 86th Brigade – General Wilson – he took it on a few days ago.
Tuesday 11 July
Wrote letters, gave out things etc, then cut out a pair of pink satin bedroom slippers. Then Muz & I went down the town & did some shopping. After lunch I worked at the slippers. Two of the boys came round for Tom, & they were in the garden. Muz, Ione & I went to tea with the Donnellys, Miss Steele, Mrs & Miss Tremaine , Miss Gordon & a Canadian women were there too. Miss Steele did fortunes, then Muz went to Viva, & I took Dus for a run & put her to bed, then worked at the slippers again. After dinner I was going out to pick slugs & twisted my ankle, so had to come in, Muz bathed it for me, & then went out again. Went to bed at about 11.
Wednesday 12 July
Went down the town & did the shopping, gave out things & tidied first. Cut sandwiches etc & got things ready for tea, & tidied the smoking room, Muz & Ione went for a drive with Mrs Hemming in her car, & Miss Pinda drove. They brought back some lovely roses. Mr Townend (a Canadian tommy) Mrs Ross, Enid Hill, Clair Callaghan, Mrs Barrett, Mrs Hemming & Miss Pinda came for tea. Afterwards & settled the flowers & made the pudding for dinner etc. Ione went to the theatre with the Mundies, I gave out things etc, then wrote letters, & went to bed at about twelve. Muz heard from Gordon, that he has arrived in France.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
I have been very bad about writing but I’ve been awfully busy these last few days. I go out to the trenches every morning and don’t usually get back till after 3 & then have all the office work to do. To-day I didn’t get back till 3.30 & then went out again about 5.30 till 8 o’c. It’s now just after 11 o’c and have finished my work for the day. I got a long letter from you this morning of the 9th. I had a good laugh at your stuffing the tyre with straw. You must have had rather fun at the Howards. Are they nice. Philip’s wife was always thought rather queer.
I’ve had no news of the regt for ages. I wrote to Pokes twice but have got no answer out of him. I think they are somewhere near Albert4 but don’t think that they have been used atall yet, from what I see of this show I don’t think that there is much chance of their being used. I had rather fun the night before last. We took over a Mill on the river & I went out to see it & found all the men very jumpy. I wanted to see what was out in front so crawled off like snake amid armed to the teeth with a revolver & took another officer with me. We stayed out about an hour & then came back. We thought we saw a Hun but weren’t sure. It was probably a rat. One imagines all sorts of things on those occasions.
We have quite a nice little house here. I think it is the only good house in the village all the others are perforated. But we really are very comfortable. We are just in front of some of our guns which make a beastly row. They blaze away at all hours of the day & night. I agree with you about not sending that letter to the Colonel. It would do more harm than good. He may see it in the gazette when I get appointed in any case he will probably hear about it somehow. I think that he should hear it from somebody else & not from me.
The farm I told you about was in Auchonvillers5. We heard yesterday that we had taken Contalmaison6 and Mametz Wood7 where some officers & 300 prisoners were made. Also that we had beaten off 5 counter attacks at Trones wood8. The wind blew this away. Hence the mess!! You ask about armoured cars. I haven’t seen one since Helles where they dug themselves in behind a bank and did sweet damn all. We have had a certain amount of change on the staff since I wrote last. Fulton has gone to the Div and a fellow called Beckwith from the Royal Fusiliers has come in his place. He got a commission from the ranks & is a very good fellow & will do the job awfully well. Much better than Fulton really. I got an awfully nice boy in to-day to understudy him. A lad called Layard in the Border Regt. He was at the Div School & rode rather well. He was awfully keen & used to borrow a horse every day & go and ride about on it. The fellow who was doing understudy when I came wasn’t much of a fellow and was d—d lazy so I got him pushed out & asked the General if I could get Layard. After a little difficulty I managed to fix it up and he arrived to-day. He is an awfully nice child only about 19 & left Sandhurst last June. He joined in May & has done a couple of months with his Regt. Of course he knows nothing about the work yet but is awfully keen and quick to learn & I’m sure will do well. I hope he does as I made a great point of getting him & would like him to be a success. It will be rather interesting teaching him & he’s so keen to learn. He’s a real good jolly lad.
It’s a great thing having somebody I like. I like old Beckwith but I haven’t much in common with him. The General is a real fizzer. I like him as much as Cayley. He’s a much bigger man really. I think he is the best Brigadier in the Div. He was a great shikari9 in India and is quite a good horseman. In fact he’s a real good all round sportsman so we have lots to chat about. I’m sure we will be great friends. When I get to know him a bit better I’ll find out his wife’s address & then you could go and see her. It is a great thing for you to know all the wives of these people. Doddy10 came round the line to-day and was in great form. Yes! I miss the horses but I wouldn’t have much time to ride in any case. I’ll make up for lost time when we go back into reserve. I think that Algie made a mistake about my going to his clearing station. I sent Bobby Nickalls to a clearing station with Grant’s kit but didn’t go myself. That was in the afternoon of the fight & of course I couldn’t possibly get away. I’m so glad you met Lady Kitty, isn’t she a topper such good fun and so natural. The brother is one of the best. I enclose an awfully nice letter I got from Mrs de Lisle. It’s after 12 now so I must to bed. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Mesnil11
Thursday 13 July
Gave out things, & did some tidying. Then went down the town to do the shopping. On my way back & met Muz, Ione & Gordon coming in a taxi to look for me. He had just got back from France on leave, & only had till 1-30, so we went to Maestrani, & he had lunch there, then we went up the station to see him off. He has got till Tuesday or Wednesday. After lunch I cut sandwiches etc & got the teas ready, as Tom had two boys for tea in the morning room too. Mrs Barsdorf & Mrs Barrows came for tea, & Miss Steele & Colonel Peele came in afterwards. I made the pudding etc for dinner, I afterwards gave out things etc, then posted letters, & brought back two stones. It rained hard all the afternoon. We went to bed at about 10-30. Ione & Tom went early. Heard from Heppie this morning.
Friday 14 July
Muz, Ione, Tom & I sorted some of Pat’s photographs, to send away to be enlarged, the Gallipoli ones. Then Muz & I walked up to Shorncliffe Hospital, & didn’t get back till about three. Then gave out things etc, & chose lining for morning room curtains, & wrote to order it. Muz & Ione went to tea with Lady Raphael, & then Mrs Ross came round to call for me, & we went to “Adyar”12 to hear Mrs Greenside lecture on “thought” again13. Muz came in later. Tidied the store cupboard, & bathed “Laddie’s”14 leg, took Dus & him for a run, then put them to bed. Ione & Tom went to bed early. We went to bed at about twelve.
Saturday 15 July
Gave out things & tidied etc. Then Muz, Tom & I went down the town to do the shopping. After lunch Muz & I tied up the roses in the front then Mrs Battiscombe came for tea. Then Muz & I went to the club, & Ione & Tom came on afterwards, & Joan de Hoghton came too. We were very busy all the time. The lights had gone wrong & we had to have candles to wash up with. Mr Townend helped to wash, but we didn’t get back till nearly eleven. Gave out things for the morning, made a shape for tomorrow. Muz was awfully tired.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
July 15. Sat night.
My dear wee Mus.
Just a few lines before I go to bed. We moved back from your shell trap yesterday afternoon. We were living in the only habitable house in — . Every other house has been smashed to bits. Our own guns however annoyed us more than the Bosch guns as we were about 500 yards from a battery who fired straight over us & burst a couple of prematures in our garden one day. Then the day before yesterday some other little strangers arrived and dumped themselves down about 50 yds behind the house. The row was too awful. So the Div decided to let us move back here. So off we came yesterday afternoon. This is a delightful spot. We have got a splendid dug out for a mess, signal office & clerk’s office.
The Gen, Beckwith, & I all have Armstrong huts to ourselves. They are perfectly delightful. They are sort of canvas huts made on laths that fold up. And one has oceans of room. Then the Signal Officer, Intelligence Officer & Layard have dugouts just over the mess in a high bank. They are awfully comfortable too. It is great value being here & has made a new man of the General. He is as happy as the day is long. The only trouble is that one has a long walk to the trenches. I got my horses up to-night & have them about a mile away. But I have a telephone in my hut & there is another within 100 yds of where they are so I can always get them up when I want them.
Times are pretty strenuous and there is a lot of work to be done. However I love this job it’s so awfully interesting and one has one’s show to run absolutely as one likes. The General is an absolute topper. Rather the type of man of Ned Hope-Johnstone. Full of fun, absolutely human a real good sportsman to say nothing of being the best Brigadier in the Div. He is awfully good to me & lets me run the show just as I like. I just tell him what I’m doing & perhaps ask his advice about it & then fire away. He is very energetic and is always up and about. He goes off to one sector of the line & I go off to the other then we chat over things when we get back. You can’t think how nice it is to have a show all of one’s own. When I walk down a trench I feel this is my trench & what can I do to improve it. Well it’s usually not difficult to see what is wanted so off I go to the Battn Commander & as tactfully as I can I tell him what I want. I find the best way is to draw them on quietly & make them suggest the thing themselves, then they don’t feel that I’m nursing them.
We have got some very nice C.O’s. Magniac commands the —15 he used to be G.S.O316 to the Corps at Suvla. I know him awfully well, he is a great friend of mine. He is supposed to be a little difficult at times but personally I find he is awfully easy to work with. Swift commands Percy’s Regt. He’s not a bad fellow himself but so d—d lazy one has always to be trotting about after him. A fellow called Nelson commands the battn of my fellow countrymen, they are an idle lot, and one Col Hamilton Hall commands the 16th Battn of Nevy’s Regt. He used to be in the same battn as little Wild & knows him awfully well. He is an awfully good fellow, raised & trained the Battn himself. They fought like tigers on the 1st, but suffered very heavily. They had 21 officers knocked out.
I saw the General to-day, he told me he had heard from you & seemed awfully pleased. He said to me several times “I don’t know what your mother will say to me letting you go”. Now he feels you are happy about it. I like this life 50 times better than with the Div. I have much more work to do of course but I can do it how & when I like. I manage to do most of it by going & seeing people. I try to cut down paper all I can. But I must say I shall never regret having been at the Div as it has made me much better on paper than I was, & I learnt an enormous amount there.
Young Layard & I went for a great walk in the trenches this morning. Started at 11.30 & got back just before 5 o’c. We poked our noses into every hole & corner, & did a lot of good work. He is a grand boy & I’m glad to say is doing very well. I hope he is a success as I’m entirely responsible for his being here. He is awfully keen and energetic and always willing to turn his hand to anything. Beckwith is a good fellow much better than Fulton would ever have been. Fulton is now working in Abbott’s office & is thoroughly suited to the job.
No news here atall of the battle further south, we heard a rumour yesterday that the Cavalry had gone through but I think it’s rubbish. I hear that the Regt are about 12 miles off. I must go & see them if I can but it’s almost impossible to get away at present. Well wee Mus I must be off to bed. The reason my letters are always a day later than the General’s is because I always write them about midnight & they don’t go off till the next day. Now for instance I started this on the 15th & it’s now the 16th, and high time I was in bed. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
P.S. Did you see that I was in dispatches in the paper of 14th.
Letter from Vaughan ‘Pokes’ Stokes to Pat Armstrong
Dear old Lad.
Thanks ever so much for your letter. We are at a little spot called damn it I suppose I ought not to put it down but anyway it’s not a hundred miles from Albert. We are still in the same old division so if you can do come over and look me up. I hear from home that you’re a brigade major or something like that now at least that is what Bunty tells me. She’s an awful nice girl, Pat, and thinks a lot of you, I don’t mean Bunty. I was only thinking the other day — . No time for more now. So long old Lad, good hunting
Sunday 16 July
Muz & Ione went to early service. Then they went to church. I stayed in bed till about 10-30, then gave out things etc. After lunch lay down for a bit & read. Ione & I were going out, to Sibton Park17, but it was raining, so we didn’t. Muz & Tom went to tea with Viva, & they had Mrs Battiscombe too. Then Muz, Ione & Tom went to the club, & May18 went too. I had a tummy ache so stayed & wrote letters. Went to bed at about 10-30. Read for a bit, as the others didn’t come in till about eleven.
- Heppie’s brother had recently died from tuberculosis in Stirling, Scotland.⇑
- 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.⇑
- The Armstrong family were contributing to the war effort by providing food to soldiers residing in Folkestone.⇑
- A commune in the Somme department in Picardie, about half way between Amiens and Bapaume.⇑
- A commune in the Somme department in Picardie, often referred to by British troops as “Ocean Villas”.⇑
- The capture of this town had been one of the Allied objectives in the Battle of the Somme.⇑
- The capture of Mametz Wood was fought from 1 to 5 July during the Battle of the Somme; while the Allies succeeded in capturing the village of Mametz they failed to secure the adjoining wood, which remained in German hands.⇑
- The capture of Trônes Wood was fought from 8 to 14 July during the Battle of the Somme; it took the Allies 8 attempts and almost 4,000 casualties to gain possession of the area.⇑
- (Urdu) Big game hunter or sportsman.⇑
- Dorothy Hubbard was working as a nurse in France during the First World War.⇑
- This was Pat’s way of signalling his whereabouts to his mother.⇑
- Adyar was the name of a property on Shorncliffe Road, Folkestone, acquired by the Folkestone Theosophical Society in June 1914 for lectures and at-homes.⇑
- In this lecture Mrs Grenside attempted to explain the phenomenon known as The Angels of Mons, a vision in the sky of St George surrounded by angels and horsemen claimed to have been witnessed by a number of soldiers during the Great Retreat in the aftermath of the Battle of Mons in August 1914.⇑
- A stray dog rescued by the family in January 1916.⇑
- Lancashire Fusiliers.⇑
- General Staff Officer (Grade 3).⇑
- Sibton Park House in Suffolk, which had been purchased in 1897 by Captain John Howard (1963-1911), MP and owner of Chartham Paper Mills.⇑
- A domestic servant in the Armstrong household.⇑