WEEK 109: HOW PEACE WILL COME ABOUT BEATS ME
Monday 24 to Sunday 30 July 1916
In July 1916, Ione, the most independent and adventurous of the Armstrong sisters, began to toy with the idea of going to France as an ambulance driver. The first ambulance corps to accept female drivers had been established in August 1914 by Dr Hector Munro and had left Britain for Belgium in September of that year. However, it was not until 1916 that the first women’s ambulance convoy to work for the British Army was established under the directorship of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). Driving an ambulance was a highly dangerous job, exposing the driver to shelling, air raids, collisions and other accidents, and in the conservative ethos of the early twentieth century was not considered a suitable undertaking for a woman. Neither Ione’s mother nor her brother were entirely enamoured with her plan but, perhaps admiring Ione’s determination to contribute to the war effort, did not directly forbid her from pursuing it either.
Monday 24 JulyAlgie stayed in bed for breakfast, we did too. Then I went down the town to do the shopping & met Kitty, & walked about with her for a bit. Then Algie came out for a little walk. Miss Tremaine is taking my place at the tea rooms1 today. After lunch Muz, Algie & I walked down to the theatre & he got tickets for tonight, then we went out on the font, & then had tea at the Grand, Ione came up to us later. We sat there till rather late, then went to the hospital to have his arm & leg done again. They are a bit better, but still discharging a lot. Then we had dinner early, but went on talking for ages afterwards, as the theatre didn’t begin till 9, & we thought it was 8. “A Little bit of Fluff”. Two of Tom’s boys came & sat behind us. It was very good & very funny. […]
Tuesday 25 July
Algie stayed in bed for breakfast, then had to go up to London by the 11 train, as he has to be X-rayed at 2-30. We went up to the station to see him off. I did some tidying etc, then Kitty came round, & I went out with her. After lunch I sorted papers etc. Tom had three boys & Jean to tea. Ione had Mr Mundie, then went up to the Grand. Heppie came back at about lunch time, & is looking much better, but her eye is still a little bit black. Muz & I went round to Kitty, & Miss Carleton is still staying there, then we went out on the front. After dinner Muz & I went out for a walk again, we talked to Mrs Forbes for a bit, wrote to Algie when I came in. Tom had some of the boys in after dinner, to dance. Went to bed at about eleven. Heppie lay down, & then stayed there as she was very tired.
Wednesday 26 July
I stayed in bed rather late as I was very tired. Then gave out things etc, & did some tidying. Heppie started cutting out the blue morning room curtains, & started making the green ones for the dining room. Tom’s boys & Jean came to play tennis, & stayed for tea, & the boys came & danced after dinner. I sewed & darned all afternoon, finished making the pink satin bedroom slippers. Muz & Ione went to tea with Mrs Barrows. After tea I mended, & again after dinner. Ione went up to the Grand. Muz & Heppie planted some things Poppy sent for the Green House […]
My dear wee Mus.
[…] Well we’ve moved since I wrote to you last. The first night we left the trenches we marched to a wood just west of where I last saw Algie (ask him). Then on the 24th we marched on here about 10 miles. We had a very successful march and I’m thankful to say that everything went well & there were no hitches. It’s very slow work marching with an Infantry Brigade in comparison to a cavalry Brigade. It was just about all some of the men could do was to get the 10 miles and even so there were a good many who fell out. They were all pretty tired as we have now been up in the front line for six weeks on end. This life in the trenches spoils the men for marching. They all had a good rest yesterday and are as happy as sandboys2 now. To-morrow we go off to where I was before I went to Gallipoli. You remember the big chateau we all liked so much. Well we go to a town two miles from it, where we were for some days before we moved to that chateau. We look like having a peaceful time for a bit. I hope so anyway. It will be funny to get back to that spot won’t it. I must say I thought that I would never see that country again.
Percy’s lot go into the trenches that my Regt dug on the 13th of May. Things are very quiet there now, anyhow they can’t be worse than when I was last there. I’m sorry to leave here but I suppose that a change is a good thing. I went over in the buzz box yesterday afternoon and saw the Regt. It was really rather amusing. First I saw Joe Airlie, he was very nice but awkward, I could see at once that there had been a good deal of talk. Then I saw Watkin Williams he was in great form. Brock hadn’t got back so I waited about for him. I met old Sea Lad who of course is as nice as ever. Brock got back about 5 o’c. I went down to his Squadron & had a long talk to him. He is dreadfully fed up with the inactive life they are leading. They have been in that same little field since the end of last month and have done absolutely d— all. He says that it’s dreadful & wants to go and fly. Phil was over there & they were discussing it but didn’t come to any definite conclusion.
I saw that bloody little fool Gosling, he was downright rude. However old Brock was furious and is going to straff him. Apparently there has been a good deal of chat. As I thought Giblet is at the bottom of the whole thing and can say nothing bad enough about me. Squeaker backs him up. In fact he told Brock a short time ago that if he ever met me he wouldn’t speak to me. However as I told Brock that wouldn’t worry me much. I never did like the fellow. Brock has been splendid over it all. He was in great form yesterday & was delighted to see me. He says that everybody has been talking and throwing mud at me. So I told him that I thought it was rather a compliment that they should make such a fuss about one so small. Apparently they never said anything to Pedlar for not going back. Brock quite agreed with me about my show. He said that this is no time for sentiment & that one ought to be where one can pull the most weight. He asked Squeaker the other day who had done more work in this war he or I. That nonplussed him a bit. Brock is splendid about it & straffs them allround if they ever open their mouth about me. Personally I don’t care a damn what all the rag tag and bobtart say. As long as Brock, Pokes and Basil think I have done right, as I feel quite convinced myself that I have, well then I don’t care a damn.
I saw Philip Hardwick for a few minutes he was in great form. There is an awful nice lad joined them one Dermot Gough some relation of General Gough’s. He seems to be a real good lad. Old Pokes was away in Amiens having a bath so I missed him. I waited there till 8 o’c & then had to push off, as I thought that there might be some work to be done & besides I wanted to get back in the light. It was about a 1½ hrs run. I went along the road I thought that he’d be coming by but couldn’t see him. Sickening wasn’t it. Goodness only knows when I’ll see him again now. I’m very glad I saw them all as now I know how things stand. The only two people who are nasty are Giblet and Squeaker and I don’t care a curse for either of them. People are now coming round to my way of thinking. Percy has just come in and wants me to go out. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Thursday 27 July
Did some tidying etc, then went down the town to do the shopping, & pay bills etc. I met Miss Jervis & Mrs Howard, & they brought me back in their car, they want us to go out there on Sunday. Mr Arnoldi came round after lunch, & I walked down to the post office with him, then he & Ione, Tom & Thomas Knox went to the Leas Pavilion. Mrs Wood & her niece came for tea, & afterwards we went out to the garden, then took them to see Kitty […] Ione went up to the Grand. Muz got a letter from General Snow & he said that he had had Pat’s corps commander to dine, & that he had said that Pat was doing wonderfully well as a Brigade Major, but that the only thing was, that he was working too hard!
Friday 28 July
Stayed in bed rather late, then Tom & I went down the town, & met Kitty. After lunch Tom printed lot of photographs for me, but hadn’t enough paper, so I went down for more. Mr Arnoldi came for tea, & he & Ione went up to the Grand, & Muz & I went to hear Miss Edwards speak on theosophy3. Heppie worked at the dining room curtains. After dinner Ione went up to the Grand with Mr Mundie, Muz wrote letters, & I did a lot of tidying, & did about three drawers in my room, & went to bed at about 12-30. It was awfully hot all day.
My dear wee Mus.
Here we are in a delightful chateau not many miles from where I was when I left this country. Geoff and his General used to be here when we were at the other place. Our landlord is a charming old man and used to be in the French Cavalry. He took all our photos to-day and thoroughly enjoyed himself. He is a dear little old man but talks very fast and is difficult to understand, however we carry on quite well. He doesn’t live with us or anything like that but we see a good deal of him. We got here about 2 o’c yesterday and were rather busy getting things settled for the Battns. I spent all this morning walking round seeing them. They are all very comfortable and happy. This is a delightful place & we had the nicest day to-day that we have had this year. It really was quite hot. I went for a long ride with “the Boy” (I call Layard “the Boy”) this afternoon. We wandered about for some time & then went and sat in a wood it really was glorious, you’d have loved it. He is a great Boy, awfully young and jolly and comes everywhere with me. I am awfully keen on his being a success. He is so keen that I’m sure he will be. He rides quite well too & is awfully keen on learning all about it.
That place the General told you about wasn’t so bad really. I got a mouthful of mud one night from a shell but otherwise wasn’t worried much. They shelled the place a good deal but nobody seemed to worry about it much. It was really a very interesting bit of the line. I’m sorry that the praties aren’t doing well. Your old Irishman must be great fun. You gave me a good laugh about a fine lump of a house. The General has got a sister-in-law who lives at St Margaret’s. It would be nice for you to go and see her. Her address is Miss Field, Wanscourt Farm, St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe. He says that she’s awfully nice and lives quite alone on her farm. Go and ask her up. I’m sure she’d love to see you. No chance of seeing G. now I’m afraid. He’s a terrible long way away. What a pity Algie doesn’t like his girl. I must say she struck me the same. Quite ordinary. I’d pass her over in any crowd. It is such a pity he’s not marrying somebody really nice like Bunty. I hope that Bunty & Miss Wills will go and stay with you. She seemed an awfully nice little girl that. I’d like you to know her better & see what you think of her. I quite agree with Algie about Dolly’s looks they don’t appeal to me a bit. I didn’t take to her eyes they were so hard.
I’m glad that Algie is doing so well, he was devilish lucky to get off so lightly. Anybody who went over the parapet that day was lucky not to have been killed4. It is all rot about the General5 or H.W. being sent home. What awful rot people do talk. They seem to think that just because an attack is held up by strong opposition and Marching Gun fire that it is the General’s fault. Makes me tired that sort of talk. They praise a successful General to the sky & throw mud at the one whose attack doesn’t succeed. The same thing has been found all along the line that troops get on when they met moderate opposition but determined Bosch with Machine Guns were immoveable. We hear little or no news here. The last I heard was that we had the whole of Pozieres6. I’d like to hear that we had got Martinpuich7 too. Then things would go well. But these old Bosch are awfully good & dig like beavers. Personally I think it’s like Verdun all over again. To my mind things have come to a deadlock and neither side can advance any appreciable distance. But how peace will come about beats me. We’ve been at it nearly two years now & it doesn’t seem to be any nearer the end than it did a year ago. I must be off to bed now as it’s late. I hope that Bunty & Miss W. will come & stay with you soon. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 29 July
Tidied etc all morning, then Muz & I walked up to Shorncliffe to visit the hospital, & didn’t get back till about 3-30. Met Kitty on the way back, she had been down on the shore all morning, with Mrs Whitelaw. Mrs Ross came for tea, & Mrs Muir came in for a bit, then Lady de Hoghton came. Then Muz, Ione, Tom & I went to the club, & Kitty came too, we were very busy some of the time, but got back just after tea. Ione went up to the Grand at nine, & Muz waited for her, so we didn’t get to bed till late.
Sunday 30 July
Got things ready for lunch etc, as Capt. Wright came over from Surrey, & I didn’t know he was coming. Tom went to church with Jean, then we went out on the front. After lunch Mr Arnoldi came, & we all went over to Sibton8 in the car, there were a lot of people there & it was lovely & hot. Mrs Howard let us pick flowers to take back. We just got back in time for the club, & Capt. Wright came down with us then went back by the eight train. We weren’t very busy at the club. Muz, Ione, Tom, Kitty, Miss Walter & I were there. Ione went back at nine, & then Muz & Tom went back before us, & then Kitty & I walked about the gardens & talked. Went to bed at about 11-30. It was awfully hot all day. Heppie finished making the dining room curtains, the same as the smoking room ones.
My dear wee Mus.
We have had a glorious day to-day. We got hold of a car this morning and motored to Dunkerque. The General, [—] the Boy & I all went off about 11.30. We had a glorious run down there and had a bathe then went back to the hotel and had lunch, and left there about 3 o’c. It was a piping hot day & we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It is the first joy ride we have had for ages. The General thoroughly enjoyed himself. We have had a great time here these last few days. Very little work to do and lovely weather. The General and I motored up yesterday and saw the billets we will be going into. Nice little huts in a wood. That was nice of old Snow writing to you. But there is no question of working too hard these times. Things were a bit strenuous last week but now we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. It’s such a relief to be out for a bit.
Yes! I dare say it would be a good plan to send some of them over to Moyaliffe for a bit. Ione & Tom I’d say as he9 has seen Jess lately. Besides I think it would be best if she stayed with you. Don’t repeat this to them. But Jess looks after you much the best of the whole family. I don’t know anything about that Ambulance driving in this country but shouldn’t say that it was much catch. She’d10 be hauled out day & night & would be treated more like a private soldier than anything else. She’d be under military discipline anyway & would be ordered about like a servant. No I think I’d discourage her unless you find that it really is a good job. I don’t fancy it somehow myself. It would be much better for her to come out as a nurse than to a show like that I’d say. She’d be taking an old ambulance round some place like Boulogne & would knock up against all sorts of queer people. Make quite certain of what the job is before she launches off into it. […] Well wee Mus I have an early start in the morning so must be off to bed. 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.⇑
- Sand-boys delivered sand to pubs, theatres and homes in the 18th and 19th centuries for use as floor covering at a time when public spitting was not frowned upon as it is now. The saying ‘as happy as a sand-boy’ refers to the fact that sandboys compensated for the hard and dusty work by being frequently intoxicated!⇑
- On Friday 28 July 1916, Miss Edwards gave a lecture entitled “Re-Incarnation” at the Theosophical Lodge, Adyar, Folkestone.⇑
- The 15th (Service) Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Leeds Pals, commanded by Algie Neill at the time of the Somme, had suffered 528 casualties within the first few minutes of the advance.⇑
- Probably General Sir Henry Seymour Rawlinson (1864-1925) who was principally held responsible for the failure of the Somme offensive.⇑
- The village of Pozieres and the ridge on which it stands was captured by the British but not until a two-week battle between 23 July and 7 August 1916 which completely destroyed the village and caused some 23,000 casualties.⇑
- The village of Martinpuich was captured by the British on 15-16 September 1916.⇑
- Sibton Park House in Suffolk, which had been purchased in 1897 by Captain John Howard (1963-1911), MP and owner of Chartham Paper Mills.⇑
- Captain Marcus Beresford Armstrong.⇑
- Ione Armstrong.⇑