Between January and March 1917, the British forces continued their preparations for the Battle of Arras while attempting to distract the Germans by carrying out minor operations on the Somme front to give the impression that the battle in that quarter was about to resume. One of these operations took place on 27 January, when a brigade of the 29th Division made a successful attack northwards near Le Transloy and took 368 German soldiers prisoner. The offensive was helped by the increasingly cold weather, as temperatures plummeting to -9 degrees Celsius froze the muddy ground and made movement easier. While Pat was luxuriating in a dug out in a pair of snow boots, his sister Ione Armstrong finished her packing and departed for France to work as a volunteer in Angela Forbes’s canteen in Étaples.
Monday 22 January
Ione goes. Muz & I helped Ione to pack etc, Tom got up for a bit, but still in her room. Mr Ectors the Belgian came round, & he is going to fix about her luggage, & have everything made easy for her on this side & the other. It is splendid as it will make all the difference to her. At one we went down to see her off, but of course weren’t allowed on; the boat gets over at 3-30, & goes straight to Boulogne. Muz & I came back by the town & talked to Mrs Battiscombe, then I left Muz back, & went down to the Dew Drop.1 When I came back gave Dus her supper, then Muz & I took the Great Dane back as he came up again. On our way back we went to see Mr Ectors, to give him a letter to send to Ione, as he can get them out quickly, he said Ione was settled awfully comfortably. We had dinner in the smoking room, & went to bed at about 11.
Tuesday 23 January
Muz went down to a meeting of the Red Cross visitors, & I went off to leave a lot of notes. After lunch we wrote letters, & after tea Muz & I went to visit York House2 & Manor Court,3 & went down the town afterwards, to do some shopping. We had dinner in the smoking room, & went to bed at about 10-30. Tom was down today, for the first time.
Wednesday 24 January
I went down the town to shop. Mr Ectors came round to call for a letter to take to Ione. I cleaned the smoking room, & the silver & got tea ready. Then went in to Mrs Lucas & talked to her for a bit. Mrs Neville came for tea, she is Kittie’s friend. I sewed afterwards, for the rest of the evening. I am altering a summer dress to wear in the evenings at Abbot’s Hill.4 We went to bed at about eleven.
Thursday 25 January
Heppie got a set of furniture for Ione’s room. Muz, Heppie & I went round to see the things at the auction in Julian Road, then we left Heppie there, & Muz & I got buns on the way back, & went down to the Harbour to meet General Snow, but we got down too early, so wrote letters. We only saw him for about ten minutes. We sent a box over to Ione with him. When we got back, Miss Peters was here, & she stayed for tea, & afterwards I went in, & she telephoned about rooms for Mrs Wilson & for Algie. I sewed most of the evening.
Letter from Angela Forbes, British Soldiers’ Buffet, A. P. O. S. 17, B. E. F. France, to Mrs Armstrong
Dear Mrs. Beresford Armstrong.
“Your Girl arrived safely”
Your Girl arrived safely and soundly and we were very pleased to see her. Luckily the Port was open and she was able to come straight to Boulogne. Thank you too for your letter. Of course, she shall stay in bed when she is seedy. I have every sympathy with a bad pain! Now I am afraid you will think I am being very tiresome, but I am sure when you have thought it over you will see that I am right. Your Girl tells me that you have means of corresponding by having letters taken across. Now unless I can satisfy myself that this is approved of I fear I cannot allow it. There are such terribly strict rules out here and I have made it a point; whilst I have been out here, not to break any and I personally should be held responsible for one of my Workers doing this. Really it is just as quick to get a letter to London as it is to Folkestone and I promise to wire if there is anything amiss with your Girl, or, under those circumstances, send you word over. Then as regards her working at Etaples. I got her wire saying that she could work two months at Boulogne and as she was leaving next day it was too late to reply, but you have no doubt received my letter by now explaining the situation. Your Girl, however, says you are adamant and that she must be in Boulogne. This, of course, means that she cannot be with Miss Hubbard. For the moment I am willing to let her go to Boulogne, but I cannot guarantee that she stays there and I am telling you this as I do not want to do anything behind your back. I have asked her if there is any ulterior motive for her wanting to be there, as she may have her best young man there, but she assures me that it is entirely your wish. You know Etaples is only half an hour’s motor drive from Boulogne and I cannot help feeling that not only would she be much happier here, but it is altogether a nicer place for a girl to be in. I have been obliged to bring her in here as her Permit was made out for her, as you must have seen for yourself in England. It is a great trouble to make these transfers and she is not allowed to stay in Boulogne without a Boulogne Pass.
She is quite safe here and very well and it is amusing to find that we are Cousins5. Constance Baird, who lives just next door to me discovered it for us yesterday. I do so hope you will be reasonable about Boulogne. I do not want to bring her out of sheer perversity, but we are very over-worked here at present and there is very little doing at Boulogne. The hours are the same, but the work at Boulogne, at present, is very boring. I also do hope that you will understand about the letters. I am sure you do not want her to be sent home by the Military Authorities, which is what happens if rules are broken or refusal to submit to discipline. I hear that you are staying with Kitty. Please give her my love. I will do everything in my power to make your Girl happy but you must also please not be unreasonable about where she works. If I was dispatching her to Havre I should quite understand your feeling in the matter, but really it cannot make any difference when the two places are so near to one another.
PS. I am letting her go back to Boulogne to please you – temporarily.
Friday 26 January
Heppie went to the auction. I tidied in the morning, & after lunch Muz & I went to the Manor House6 to do the searching work, & afterwards went down the town to shop. We got a letter from Ione written on newspaper. Sewed all evening & did some tidying. Went to bed at about eleven, went out with Miss Peters this morning to look for rooms for Mrs Wilson, then I walked to the laundry.
Prisoners of war enquiry form
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
Herewith two of the girl’s letters. I have a pile of yours to answer but it’s too late now. No news here atall. It is still devilish cold & freezing hard. I think it was awfully nice of the girl sending you that woolly. I wrote & told her so. I must off to bed now as it’s after 12 o’c & I’m cold dull & sleepy.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 27 January
Cleared some of the things out of Ione’s room & cupboards etc, & left the room empty, for all the new furniture to come in. Then Muz & I carried down some of the furniture to the hall. Heppie went off to get the things from the auction, & they had two journeys. Then we were here to see them bring it up etc, & then they left at about tea time, so when they had gone, Muz, Heppie & I worked at the furniture, & took Ione’s big cupboard down, & Muz’s, & then put up the new one in Muz’s room. We all had dinner in the smoking room & afterwards worked again, & Muz moved the things in her drawers etc & we tidied her room, it looks awfully nice. We went to bed at about 12. I went down this morning with telegrams for Muz, to Ione & Lady Angela, we haven’t heard from Ione yet, except a wee note written on newspaper, that Mr Ectors brought yesterday. The W’s7 were flooded again this morning but luckily the painter was here, putting up the door, so he fixed it for the time, until the plumber came. Algie & Kitty aren’t coming today, as he has to go to France in Monday.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
This has been a very busy day. We attacked this morning and bit off a bit of the Bosch line and got 362 men and 6 officers prisoner quite a good effort. The powers that be are awfully pleased about it. Do you remember the fellow who got out of the taxi the day I was coming back well it was his Bde. He went sick a few days ago & Percy has been doing B.M8 of this Bde. It has been a really successful little show our casualties (sic). One of the Battns was from where Christy lives. They fought magnificently. I came up to advanced Bde Hd Qrs about 4 AM this morning & have been helping Percy all day. He and the General are having a bit of a sleep now. We have been expecting a counter attack all evening but nothing has happened yet and it’s after 12 o’c however it may come off before the morning. I’m sitting on the telephone to-night for them as both the Gen & Percy are very weary. I probably go back sometime to-morrow. I have been sitting in the dug out all day on the end of the phone. It’s been a pretty busy day. I feel as if I had been here about a week. The Gen, Bobby & T came up this afternoon but they didn’t bring my letters which was rather disappointing. I asked Bobby to send them up but he didn’t do it.
“I’m afraid the films were damp”
It has been another perishing day but we are in a nice warm dug out quite comfy. I brought up my snow boots so my feet are grand and warm. I’m sorry for the poor devils in the trenches, they must be having a rotten night. Things are pretty quiet now but they’ve been noisy all day. I wish I had a book to read as it will be hard to keep awake later on. I hear that Rene & Baie [?] had a great lunch the other day, they must have done good coffee housing. I can’t tell you how pleased I am at Rene sending you that woolly. It was so awfully nice & the wee note was so sweet. I believe it is being with Mrs Curteis & Bunty that makes her selfish. Yes! You are quite right I oughtn’t to abuse the good lady. As you say she’s her chief guardian & could make herself very nasty if she likes. Besides Rene has to live with her & it only makes it more difficult for her if I’m nasty about her. After all I suppose she has been good to the child.
What a pity those photos of her on the old horse are so bad. I’m afraid the films were damp. They have been kicking about in my draw for a long time. I’m wonder when you are going to Kitty & don’t know where to send this. However if you have gone it will be forwarded on to you. I’ll try to go down & see Bonny9 as soon as I can but won’t be able to get away for 10 days at the earliest. I hope this old frost will have gone by then it would be horrible motoring in this weather. T. is going to join this Bde to-morrow as Staff Capt. It’s the next number to mine. Cookson the present Staff Captain is going home to some home billet. I wonder when this old show will end. I wish you could see the end of it. It is rather sad both Percy’s and the Boy’s puppies have been stolen so now the sole survivor is Quill’s. It is a nice little dog, the best dog of the three I think but not the same colour as Wipers which is a pity. The other two were.
Bromo Paper – a Perfectly Pure Article
As I have nothing else to tell you I’ll tell you a vulgar little story which may make you laugh. There was a new assistant in a sort of universal provider’s shop, his first day an old lady came in and asked for some blue ribbon and the boy said they had just sold out. The manager then came in and asked him what he had sold and the boy said “Oh I told her we had just sold out” so the manager said “oh you oughtn’t to say that, you should say we have green ribbon and pink ribbon and orange ribbon, perhaps they would suit, they’re all equally good”. Well! The following day a lady came in and asked for some bromo,10 so the boy said “Oh! I’m afraid we haven’t got any bromo but we have emery paper and sand paper and fly paper they are all equally good”!!! Rather nice isn’t it. But a trifle vulgar mother dear. Well wee Mus I have no news & I want to write a line to Bonny. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 28 January
Heppie stayed in bed all day. Muz, Tom & I went for a walk, & met Miss Peters, & she came with us, & we went on the Lower Sandgate Rd, it was lovely but rather cold. Then Muz & I took Dus: for a wee walk, she is still in her house. Muz & Tom had lunch in the smoking room, & afterwards I sewed & finished altering a dress to wear in the evenings. Muz darned for a bit, then wrote letters. Her cold is very heavy, but better than it was last night & this morning. Tom went to bed early, & we all had dinner in her room. Went to bed at about eleven. Algie & Kitty were coming down yesterday for week-end, but he couldn’t get his leave, as he goes out tomorrow.
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.⇑
York House in Folkestone was a nursing home which had been turned into a hospital at the start of the First World War ⇑
Manor Court in Folkestone was a nursing home which had been turned into a hospital at the start of the First World War ⇑
Abbot’s Hill was a school at Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, founded by Mrs Armstrong’s cousins Alice, Katrine and Mary Baird ⇑
The Armstrongs and St Clair-Erskines were both related to the Baird family ⇑
Manor House Hospital, where the Armstrongs had volunteered their services ⇑