The First World War was the golden age of revues, variety shows and musicals. Audiences flocked to music halls and theatres to be entertained and to be diverted, if only for a moment, from the harsh realities of war. Particularly popular were comic plays and musicals such as Theodore & Co., Chu Chin Chow and The Happy Day which provided audiences with light and uplifting entertainment. Jess Armstrong enjoyed a whole string of such performances on the run-up to Christmas 1916 while visiting London to attend the wedding of her brother’s friend, Percy Wilson. Pat Armstrong, too, had marriage in mind. Having spent weeks in an attempt to back out of a hasty betrothal with Irene Wills, he suddenly proposed to her again during his leave and the couple became officially engaged. The reason for his sudden change of heart remains a mystery.
Monday 18 December
Ione went off to have her photo taken. Muz & I went to shop, & Pat went to see Percy. Then he & Ione lunched with Colonel & Mrs Kerrens at the Berkeley, & then came to the church, & Muz & I met them there. He is marrying Bea Pringle, an awfully nice girl. They were married at St Marks, North Dudley Street, & the reception at the St Petersburg Hotel. It was rather fun. Pat was best man. Afterwards Muz & Pat went to a fortune woman, but she wasn’t there. Irene came round & we all dined at the Berkeley & went to “The Bing Boys”1, it was awfully good. Muz & Ione went to the Savoy afterwards, & Pat & I took Irene home in a taxi, & then came back by underground & sat in the hotel waiting for the others to come back. We had a lovely bath, & went to bed at about 1-30, Pat came up & talked to us in bed.
An uncertain wedding
[No year but probably 1916.] Letter from Sylvia Brooke, 52 Portland Place, London, to Pat Armstrong
My dear Pat,
I have been meaning to write to you for centuries but between one thing & another don’t seem to have been very successful. I got such a nice letter from your mother the other day – it was so nice of her to write. She was so happy at having had you back. I came over here about a fortnight ago to see old Basil – he was looking so well then but I hear from him to-day that his jaw has been bothering him again – it is a bore for him, but I hope it won’t be much. I hear you are all on the move again – a man told me at lunch to-day that the Gordons2 & the Inniskilling Fusiliers have been terribly cut up – it is so awful to think of all this going on & on, it all seems so endless, doesn’t it? But some people seem quite hopeful about it ending in the spring or summer. Wish the Russians would stop taking it in the neck. I have just come down from staying with the Clems. He is going on very well now, but like all men, is very disobedient & the moment the backs of his loving women-folk are turned he runs about & does all sorts of things he ought not to do – It reminded me one of the old times staying there with them both – only it was so different – I go home on Mon. which I am not looking forward to very much, as I shall be alone with my Mamma – & Ireland is not a lively spot these times, one feels so terribly cut off from all news. I suppose there is no good my wishing you an exactly happy X-mas – but I can at any rate hope that you will have very many of them, & that now & always you may be attended by the very best of good fortune.
Tuesday 19 December
Irene came round & went out to shop with Pat. Ione went to have her photograph taken. Muz & I went & did a lot of shopping, & we all met for lunch at the Hotel. Then Irene & Pat went for a drive & got engaged again! & we all met for tea at the Piccadilly. Then we dined at the hotel & went to “Razzle-Dazzle” 3 , which was awfully good. Irene & Pat dined with Mrs Curteis & they went to “The Widow’s Mite”, & then we all met afterwards at the Savoy. Pat took Irene home & we were I bed when he got back, & he came in & talked for a long time.
I got my General home last night. Very well & very cheerful. I am so glad to hear Pat was well enough to attend Capt. Wilson’s wedding yesterday. I heard from a woman who was there. My Gen: sends Pat a message to say he hopes he really is getting on well & is feeling better & rested (Private for you!). He says Pat has had a very hard time & has done all his work so well – This is a Xmas present for you!! – We shall be here for all the leave but I fear there is no chance of seeing any of you in London. If there is be sure & let us know. A Happy Christmas with all your bairns & may 1917 bring us Peace is the wish of prayers.
Leila de L.
Wednesday 20 December
Irene came round & she & Pat went to shop, & we went off & shopped too, & then met at the Froe [?]for lunch. Irene went to have her dress tried on, & we all went to choose her engagement ring. Then I met her at her club, & waited till the others came. She chose an emerald & diamond one from Aspreys. Then we all went to tea with Mrs Curteis, but didn’t stay long. We met Bunty on our way out, for a few minutes. Then we went round to see General & Mrs de Lisle, & tell them about the engagement. Then we dined at the hotel, & Irene too, & went to “Theodore & Co”4 which was awfully funny. Mr Petherick sat beside us in the theatre. We went home afterwards & Pat came up & talked to us in bed. Muz gullipigged5, & didn’t feel at all well. She nearly fainted too.
Thursday 21 December
Muz, Ione & I did a lot of shopping, & then met Pat & Irene at the Froe, & then said good bye to them there. Pat goes to Badminton this afternoon, for a couple of days, & to have a hunt. We shopped hard all afternoon, & then came down by the seven train. Heppie had supper ready for us, & fires & everything. She hasn’t been able to get a servant yet it will be awful if we don’t get one before Christmas. Went to bed at about 11-30. Got a letter from Kitty to say she & Dick left today, he had a special invalid carriage.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
The whole d—d country is covered with snow so there’s no chance of hunting. Sickening isn’t it. I’ll catch the 2.35 up from here on Saturday which gets to London at 4.30 pm so I’ll be able to take the girl to a theatre or do something with her at any rate. Will you send me a wire to the York Hotel if there is snow your end and you think that we won’t be able to motor down on Sunday. If the roads are really bad we’ll go by train. Di is in bed with flu and Mater is in bed with a cold, so it’s luck I didn’t bring Tommy isn’t it. The Duchess asked me to stay on over Xmas awfully nice of her wasn’t it. She’s wonderfully nice. I have just written a long mad letter to Rene and I also wrote to the Boss & told him all about it. Good night dear wee Mus I do hope that you are quite alright and not too tired. Best love dear wee Mus.
I haven’t heard from you for ages but I heard of you from Zoo the other day. I went over to Blessingbourne to see Archie who is home for a bit of leave. He is very well & very optimistic. He gave me great accounts of how well Maurice is getting on as Brigade Major. I had no idea he had become that. You must be rather proud of him! I dare say he will get something better before long. Zoo & Christy were very well, I never saw Christy in better form.
We shot at Ely Lodge two days & the final day got 40 cock which wasn’t bad. I found myself at one time just above the quarry near Gretta’s, I have never seen anything anywhere to equal the view, it was marvellous. The lake dead still with just a thin haze over the island & a mist in the distance with the hills appearing just above it. I wish you could have seen it it would have done you good & given you something to dream about! Talking of dreams. I have told them to send you a book which you must read: I know you can’t read or won’t read much these days but you must read this, I want to know what you think of it. It is beautiful I think although sad, full of hope & faith.
Tony has gone to the “Tanks” I am sorry to say, he got completely bored with the A.D.C. 6 job which I am not surprised at & he wanted to be really doing something. I can’t make out yet which he has gone as but I have told Archie to find out & let me know. They can’t be used for another two months anyway I suppose. I think really we can just see the beginning of the end don’t you & things may go quicker than we expected if only the infernal Americans would keep their fingers out of the business.
I wonder when I shall see you again. I wish you would take a holiday & come over to this country, it would do you good. I heard from Nellie she seems very well, do write her a line. I think Lloyd George will do very well as far as the war is concerned but I am afraid he will make a mess of this country, he has begun badly anyway. There’s nothing to be done except govern the country & that no-one seems prepared to do. Best love & every good wish to all of you for Christmas & the New Year. I hope & think this will be the last war Christmas.
Ever your loving brother
Sunday 24 December
Did all the calling etc, & brought up the breakfasts. We were awfully busy cleaning & settling all the rooms, & I polished the hall. Ione went over to Dover to get the car. Heppie went off to look for servants. The old woman who came last night is useless, so she goes today. Muz settled Pat’s room, & did all kinds of things. Then Pat & Irene arrived back suddenly & had cold lunch, we were frightfully busy. Miss Carleton came for tea. I didn’t see Irene till late, as there was such a lot to do. Then we all dined at the Metropole. Before we went out, Muz & I did up the parcels for under the rug. After we came back Pat sat with us in Muz’s room, while we finished the parcels, & then we took them down. We had great fun.
Monday 25 December
We had parcels & letters on the breakfast table, then we all went to church, & stayed for second service. The others went out on the front, but came in early; I came back & got the lunch table ready etc, & did the rooms. The new servant came early this morning – Sampson – but I had to do all the calling. After lunch cleaned away & laid breakfast etc. We had tea early, & had the rug game7 , it was great fun, & Irene loved it too, I think. Then we flew up & changed, & went up to the Metropole to dine, Heppie didn’t come, as she was tired. Then we went over to the Grand afterwards to a coon show8 , & then danced afterwards. We got back at about two.
Thursday 28 December
Cleaned away breakfast, & laid the table etc, & did the rooms. Then Muz, Pat, Irene & I went down the town, they shopped & Muz & I went to Mrs Harrison to have my dress made up, then we went over to Canterbury for lunch, & then looked for servants, but had no luck. We got back here at about 4-30, then laid dinner & got tea etc, then brought down Pat’s clothes for him to tidy in his room, & Irene sat with him.
Friday 29 December
Cleared away breakfast etc, & laid lunch, & did the rooms. After lunch wrote letters, Pat went down to get horses for him & Ione to go for a ride, but the horses were out. Irene & I wrote letters. Then Major [blank] came in, & he & Ione went to the Tango Tea. Then Pat & Irene went for a walk & Muz & Tom went too. After tea Pat & I went for a walk, & went down to get lampshades. Then got things ready for dinner etc. & cleared away after dinner. Ione dined at the Grand.
The Bing-Boys Are Here was the first of a series of revues which played in the Alhambra Theatre, London during the last two years of World War I. The revue first opened on 19 April 1916 and included the now famous song If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)⇑
A revue by Albert de Courville, which had had its London premiere on 19 June 1916 ⇑
Theodore & Co. was an enormously popular English musical comedy in two acts by H. M. Harwood and George Grossmith, with music by Ivor Novello and Jerome Kern, which premiered in London on 19 September 1916 and ran for 503 performances ⇑
Jess’s euphemism for vomiting, possibly derived from the word gullop, to belch up ⇑
The rug game was an Armstrong family tradition which consisted of putting all the family’s presents in the centre of the room and covering them with a rug. Each family member took turns to pull out a present. If it was for them they opened it under the gaze of the whole family. If it was not for them, it was returned to the pile and one lost one’s go ⇑
A form of entertainment popularized in America which consisted of comic skits and variety acts lampooning black people, usually performed by white actors with blackened faces. ⇑