WEEK 12: GOT THE GUNS ON THEM & GAVE THEM HELL
Monday 14 to Sunday 20 September 1914
Monday 14 September saw the commencement of the First Battle of the Aisne, an Allied offensive against the German first and second armies retreating after the First Battle of the Marne. For the Armstrongs, the week was dominated by confusion regarding news of their friends Lieutenant Roger Wakefield and Lionel Sloane Stanley. The increasingly alarming reports from the Continent caused Mrs Armstrong to become concerned for the safety of her youngest daughters to such a degree that she decided to send Jess and Tommy to stay with their father at Moyaliffe. In New Zealand, Algie Neill had wasted no time in joining the expeditionary force to seize and occupy German Samoa. Having sailed out on 15 August, the force landed at Apia on 29 August. The occupation took place without fighting, and Algie soon found himself frustrated by inactivity and his inability to re-join his regiment.
Monday 14 September
Muz heard from Mrs Wakefield . She hasn’t heard anything about Roger yet. […] About six, Ione & I walked to the station, & the others came in in the car. Muz, Ione & Janet came to see us off. We had to change at Kidderminster & Cardiff, & I gave Duskey a run & wrote a post card to Muz, at Cardiff. There were a lot of Irish people seeing two men off there. […]
Oeuilly. Started at 3.30 & went up to Vendresse where we ran our heads into the enemy. Came under heavy machine gun fire. Patrol of 9 Lancers got right up the hill. Rivey Grenfell was killed. Rained hard. Went long way to try & find guns who went off. Wrong road. Saw masses of Germans from top of nameless hill1. Were going to billet at Villeneul.
Tuesday 15 September
I gave Duskey a run at Rosslare, then we had 2½ hours to wait at Waterford, & I took her for a walk. I read for a bit. We had to change at Clonmel, & didn’t get to Thurles till 12-30. Poppy had been waiting since nine, we had great work getting Duskey into the market cart, I had to lift her in, then I drove out with her, & the others went out in the car. It rained hard on the way out & I didn’t get out till 3-30. I put Duskey straight to bed in the Kitten House as she was so sleepy […]
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Cav. Bde Head Qrs Expeditionary Force.
My dear Mus.
At last I have got a moment to write you a line. But shells are bursting just in front so I may be disturbed before I get this finished. Four horses were killed with a shell about an hour ago about 100 yards to my right. We are all getting used to it now and don’t bother unless they are actually bursting round one. I have just got the letters from you some clothes and some chocolate. Thank you most awfully for them …
I loved your post card & the wire to hear you were alright […] I don’t think we’ll stay much longer I’m going to Folkestone soon so as to be near Boulogne. I’ve sent a wire to Pat it only goes as post from the other side, but having a wire may get on I’m hoping. I sent a long one saying we hadn’t heard etc & asking if he got letters & parcels. No news of Nevy. Mrs S.S. has been at the W O2 again they know nothing, & she thinks he was only wounded when she heard from W.O. I’m afraid as he was wounded on 23rd he must be rather bad for no news to come through. We are going to have tea with Mrs Welch this afternoon, & with that Mrs Nelson on Friday. Have no excuse to give, as we are doing nothing I like this afternoon but ten minutes after tea is all I’ll stay Friday if as long. Mrs Nelson & a sister came to see us yesterday & had tea with us after she left Ione & I went in for the evening paper, it seems good news, & in today’s too. Tell wee Tom I ate the peach last night it was very good. Give the wee duck a kiss from me.
Write & tell me lots of news.
Your loving Muz
Wednesday 16 September
Thursday 17 September
Poppy got two letters from Pat, dated Sept. 3rd. Poppy sent him a pair of shooting boots as his had been stolen. Wrote letters, & then went in to Thurles, the new car is awfully nice. We talked to Mr Knox & Mr Madden, & then went on to Templemore. There are German prisoners in the barracks there. Went out for a walk with Tom & Heppie, & went down to the Glass House. After tea we went out with Poppy, then I wrote to Pat, after dinner I read for a bit, & went to bed at about 10. Major Lockett, has been wounded. The Austrians’ losses since the taking of Lemberg is estimated at 250000 killed & wounded, 100000 prisoners, & 400 guns.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Captain Maurice Beresford Armstrong
My dear Sir,
I am afraid I have been awfully bad about writing but we really haven’t had a moment for the last 10 days. We have had a very hard time & every easy moment we have we lie down & try to get a little rest. We never get into billets till after dark and are always on the move again by 4.30 & sometimes earlier. We had an easy day on 4th & gave horses & men a much needed rest. The next day we were moved at 2 a.m. & trekked most of the day getting in after dark that night. The next day we fought a biggish fight & got pretty heavily shelled, we ran into them the following day & the 9th Lancers took on a squadron with a troop of about 20 men & did a good deal of damage. The 18th H. killed about 60 in one place with rifle fire. On the 8th we had a desperate fight in a wood. It was very unpleasant, bullets were going in all directions. Later on in the afternoon the guns got at them & did some considerable damage. The next day we followed them up but didn’t do much. On the 10th we had a bit of a scrap in the morning. In the afternoon we had rather fun. We got away on the flank & watched a great battle going on between the French & German artillery on our right flank. We saw the French infantry advancing but it got dark before they got their attack home. We then followed them up for a day & ran into them again on the 13. They are now holding a strong position & we’ve been scrapping for the last five days. They have been pouring shells into this village. They try to cover the whole of France with their shells. Their guns certainly are good, but they waste a good lot of ammunition. Later. We have just had a great alarm that the Germans were attacking & I have been dashing about for the last hour with messages & got absolutely soaked through. The weather now is perfectly dreadful it pours with rain every day. We have been hanging on here for the last five days & it has rained practically every day. It was glorious at first but now it’s awful. There go the shells again one has just burst over this little cottage we’re sitting in. We’ve got a fire going and are really quite comfortable. About Frank3, I think that it is best to sell him now but I am afraid that we will only get a small price for him. But it’s not worth keeping him on as one can’t tell how long this show will go on. I don’t know if I told you that Hardress-Lloyd is out in the Brigade with the 4th D.G’s. He was asking for you the other day. If it would not be an awful bother I wonder if you could send me 3 pairs of brushing boots for my horses, some slabs of plain chocolate & some wax matches. There is hardly a match in the brigade at present.
Best of luck to you.
Your loving Maurice.
Friday 18 September
Letter from Algie Neill to Jess Armstrong
German School Camp, Apia, Samoa.
My dear Jess.
We have had no mail since leaving New Zealand six weeks ago so it’s a long time since I heard anything from the Armie family. A ship came in today but she was only a missionary schooner from the Islands so brought no mail. We are having a dull time of it here. The rains have started & we get drenched through every day & no means of drying clothes & of course no dry ones to put on. Last Monday we had a little excitement in the way of a visit from the German cruisers Scharnhorst & Gneisenau, two powerful ships. They steamed quietly to the entrance of the harbour where they remained for about an hour they were only two thousand yards from our trenches & we could see right down the muzzles of the guns which were all trained on us. We expected every minute to have a hail of shells in our midst however not a shot was fired & they steamed out to sea again & were soon lost to sight. I cannot tell you what we intended to do or what we had to oppose them. The whole show reminded me of a Gilbert & Sullivan Comic Opera we only wanted a dance for both forces in the evening followed by the marriage of the Hero & Heroine to complete it. The troops appeared to me not to realise in the least what the pressing of a button on those ships would have meant. Where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise. There is some slight chance of my now being able to get back to the good R.I.F & I hope it won’t be long before I am on my way to rejoin them. I wonder how they are faring & I trust covering themselves with glory. This is a typical tropical island with rich soil & dense bush. I arrested a German the night before last searched his house & got some very useful information. I wonder if you have all gone over to Ireland this year or if you are remaining in Folkestone if in the latter place you will see a good deal of the results of the war in way of wounded coming back from the front. I wish we could get some reliable news of how things are going with us in Europe. A ship has just come in & called for English mail which leaves at once so I must end.
My best love.
Yours affectly Algie
Letter from Duchess of Beaufort to Pat Armstrong
My dear Pat.
We were all delighted to get yr. letter of the 4th & to hear so much news of you, one longs for more details but of course one understands why one must not have them, but the picture of you resting in the wood while yr. dinner was cooking & having a battle in a little bucket pleased us very much & I expect that you are more than 12 miles from the “place where Blanchie was this summer” now!! I have this afternoon had a telegram from Maurice from Land’s End & he will arrive at the place you left from this evening, I suppose, & will be camped close to where you were this summer until “they came out”. Frankie is near there too & may be coming out very soon now, he thinks – he wants me to go & stay with Mr F. Hartigan, the trainer so as to be near them both & I think that Blanchie & I will probably go there for a few days next week. The girls are very well & they have been out hunting several times & have had their beagles out too & caught two hares already, hence great pride! but I have been too busy to go out riding yet & I don’t expect that I shall have much time for doing so – Master went back to Eton yesterday so we are quieter than ever, but Frankie got back last Sunday for a night & brought 2 old Xth, Sir J. Milbanks & Sir W. Bass who are both with him. The Duke is very well & hunts most mornings – the girls send you a message to say that they wish you had been out with them when the beagles caught the hares! I write you very trivial letters & I only tell you of our home doings because I feel that you must like the change of thought & subject & it is not because our hearts & minds are not full of all your wonderful doings that I do not talk of them.
Yr. very sincere friend
L. E. Beaufort.
I am having some boxes of my own special chocolate made & when they come next week I will send you one or two.
Saturday 19 September
Muz sent on three letters from Pat written on Sept. 2nd Aug. 31st & Sept. 3rd. On Aug. 31st they were about ten miles south of Compiegne. Wrote out a list of dates, & what Pat had been doing, then wrote letters. After lunch, Tom & Heppie went down to the Glass House, & Duskey & I went for a walk. We went down to Hogan’s wood, & right down to the river. It is much warmer today. Then I read for a bit. After tea we went for a drive in the pony trap, & took Dash with us. We talked to Mrs Ryan, Mrs Nugent, Brennans, Fitzgeralds, Mary Ryan, Mrs Hayes, Mrs Tom Hayes & Mrs Dan Ryan. Then came home by the creamery. Went down to the kitchen, & learnt more cooking. After dinner I read for a bit & then knitted. Went to bed at about 10-30. The battle was going on yesterday, along the whole of the front, from the Oise to the Woevre, without the situation changing.
Letter from Mrs Armstrong to Jess Armstrong
Darling wee Pet
such a lot of good wishes my pet for your birthday may your shadow never grow less! Is that a nice wish! We took that wee boy for a run in the car yesterday & he loved it we are taking him to Birmingham now as I want to go & interview soldiers to try & hear of Nevy, Roger & little O D there is a sergeant there of RIF & several Middlesex just arrived can’t write now or I’ll be late & will be back in dark it’s two hours’ or more run they say. Isn’t it lovely having had Pat’s letter but I’m longing again for more
your loving Muz.
Bell just now gives jumps!! Silly!
Sunday 20 September
My dear Pat
Mother says I can write to you & that we can correspond, so I thought you’d like to get some of our news although I’m afraid we haven’t very much – Maurice4 arrived here today looking most awfully fit & well, they don’t seem to know when they’re going out. But of course are simply longing to be doing something. The hunting is going on in a sort of way, we’re killing all the foxes we can, but its beastly work, with no hope of a bit of a gallop. The men are frightfully short of horses, several of our second-horsemen have enlisted also the second whip so goodness knows how we shall get along. Di & I do our share of being sworn at by Pa5 for not turning hounds quick enough etc! I think Mother6 told you how well the beagles are hunting & having killed two hares two days running! I do wish you’d been there to help Pat you’d have enjoyed it so – Do write to me & tell me all your news & if there is anything I could send you like cigarettes etc as I’d love to send anything if you’ll tell me what. It’s awful sitting here doing nothing & when Frankie7 & Rabbit are out there I suppose it’ll be worse if it can be!
Much love from all
- Mont Sans Nom, one of the hills of the Moronvilliers massif. ⇑
- War Office. ⇑
- A horse given to Pat by his father – see week 3. ⇑
- Her half-brother, Captain Maurice de Tuyll (1888-1915)⇑
- Henry Somerset, 9th Duke of Beaufort (1847-1924)⇑
- Louisa Somerset née Hartford, Duchess of Beaufort (1864-1945)⇑
- Her half-brother Captain Francois ‘Frankie’ de Tuyll (1885-1952)⇑