WEEK 14: THE SUFFERING WE SAW WAS DREADFUL
Monday 28 September to Sunday 4 October 1914
The First Battle of the Aisne ended indecisively on 28 September. Although the Allied Forces had been able to advance their positions, they had failed to break a gap in the German defensive line. What followed was the so-called Race to the Sea, a series of battles fought in a futile attempt on both sides to outflank the enemy in order to reopen a war of movement. The terrible reality of war was beginning to make itself felt in Folkestone, where terror-stricken Belgian refugees had begun to arrive in their thousands in fishing boats and coal carriers from late August. A Refugees Relief Committee was rapidly formed, and tireless volunteers, including Ione and Mrs Armstrong, kept vigil in the harbour with food and hot drinks. Clothing and financial assistance was also provided, and a Maternity Home was established to administer to the needs of expectant mothers.
Monday 28 September
Wrote letters, then darned stockings. After lunch we went off in the pony trap, to Thurles, & had tea there. I talked to Major Phillips & Hope Trant. The Phillipses haven’t had any news of Dick yet. We got back at about seven. Then I went down to the kitchen. I darned after dinner, & went to bed at about ten. Muz sent us on a letter from Pat, written on the 15th, a grand long one. Capt. Hare has been killed. Mr Grey-Wilson wounded. “The situation is satisfactory, & counterattacks on the British front have been beaten back with heavy losses to the enemy.”
[This diary entry covers the period from 28 September to 19 October]: … began our first taste of war work at the Harbour meeting and feeding the refugee Belgians & taking any care possible of wounded soldiers. The suffering we saw was dreadful, the first boatload we saw coming had refugees & wounded soldiers all together hardly standing room & all hungry & thirsty, ambulances carried off the wounded to various Hospitals & the refugees were dealt with at the Harbour. After being fed they were sent on to London, as each train was filled it was sent off & another taking its place, some were sent to refugee homes to be dealt with & others to Hospitals or a Maternity Home started by Mrs Muir, a very good work indeed as these maternity cases before then had to be sent to the Victoria Hospital, & for numerous reasons this was not advisable, it was all very sad to see old women hardly able to walk carrying the little all [?]. I saw one old woman dragging her small boy as she hadn’t strength to carry it so I ran & took it & helped her & then her old husband into a carriage & having done this said a few words to her, I then found that her husband had been taken by the Boche1, because he had objected to civilians being shot, made walk for miles & when they ate themselves he was given sugar & water & only left behind when too exhausted to go on, & he finally had found his way home again & they had all fled to England.
Another poor old lady at intervals crouched down holding her hands above her head as if warding off a blow, & making a noise as of shell bursting, & her daughter explained that they’d walked 14 miles hearing shells bursting & that her mother had done nothing since but this, & she feared her brain was affected. I felt glad she had a daughter; & the women near their confinement make one feel so helpless but try one’s best to cheer them, food had a great effect on a good many, & coffee tea & sandwiches did wonders, & toys for children, I brought down baskets of toys daily for a long time, till that besides other things, made my bank book low. As people fled in every imaginable kind of boat some came over in fishing smacks & were possibly there days without food & I’ve seen some arrive looking almost inhuman. One boat load was so packed that the coal cellar was full of humanity. I went down the staircase […] to people who did not look human they were mostly covered with coal dust. The atmosphere was deadly. Some had been sick, no one minded anything, & we were glad to feel our work aided them & later to see that a train was waiting & they could all be got off & into it & sent on to London. In the upper decks they were hungry & thirsty but naturally so but down in this den it was ghastly & the only thing one was thankful for was that there were no wounded. They were above on the top deck. Usually we did not go on to the boats the people were taken off so many put into a train fed & sent off with the greatest regularity, but occasionally there were too many arrivals for train service to deal with & also occasionally wounded arrived too quickly for ambulances & Hospitals & then we saw great suffering.
Men with a thirst that no wells could quench, & we handed water out of buckets till our arms ached; filled & refilled as fast as both men & women could work. There was all kinds of work to be done in the Harbour, from fixing a bandage, helping a nurse, or soothing the nerves of a shell shock man. One poor boy of not more than 19 or 20 was a pitiful sight an elderly nurse who had mothered him in the ship had on arrival at Folkestone been sent off with others to sort some of the worst cases in ambulance & he was missing her care & shuddering shaking & nearly mad, & nothing I could say would get him quiet. So I put my arms round him & got him to lie down, & just mothered him till he fell asleep & stayed till the shivers & jumping nerves ended. He was dreadfully wounded about the head & jaw. I was grateful that he had some good sleep before being taken off the boat & sent to Hythe to the Imperial Hotel there. There are some other bad cases also went there, but when I went with Ione next day to see them they had all been sent off only had been there one night. I was pleased to see the effect they had had on a man in the bar who told me brokenly that he’d never thought of joining the Army till he saw these men but now felt a cad at not having done it before & was going to join the army at once – all this time since my last date I quite lost count of time or days as we were often up till 3 o’c at night having fed & cared the last boat in […]
Tuesday 29 September
Letter from Mrs Armstrong to Jess Armstrong
Darling wee Jess
Grand the wire saying you’d heard from Pat dated 21st. Janet sent us on one too came same time almost as your wire so I won’t wire to you, I’ll send it to read. Mrs Wakefield sent me enclosed wire I don’t know why she wired, I think it must be for me to try & find out more for her. I’ll do all I can & have written to ask Mrs Sloane Stanley how she found out Nevvy was a Prisoner I sent her letter to Mrs Phillips, & advised her to write & ask Mrs S. S. as I think Mrs Phillips might like to do it herself, but I wrote for Mrs Wakefield! I’ve also got their names with nurses so may hear something. I got an awful fright last night (Ione must have had a nightmare from me going too quickly round corners yesterday!!) I’d been sleeping badly & had just gone off I think, when a quick startled “Mud” woke me, for ages I couldn’t think it wasn’t Pat but of course it was that little ape! having a nightmare & our doors were open, it was such a drawn up long “Mud”2, was called in & woke me so quickly that it made me horribly scared!!! […] General Vaughan has got command of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade Geoffrey Brooke is his Staff Captain Brock his ADC. General Kavanagh has got command of the Guards Brigade. Mike Wardell is in the 10th from Sandhurst. I’ll write again soon I seem to have a lot to tell you but I’ve got some letters must be written now, & I can’t settle my thoughts after the scare that horrid little girl gave me last night, silly fright to get
best love ducks
your loving Muz.
Wednesday 30 September
Went in to Thurles, & posted a cake to Pat. After lunch we went off to Graiguenoe, to a concert the Clarks got up. Miss Barry, & Kitty Morgan sang, the Trants3 acted Miss Poe & Miss Webb sang. Then we had tea, & talked to them all, & got back here about seven. Went to the kitchen. After dinner worked at my collar, & went to bed at about ten. “On the left wing of the allies the enemy has again tried by day & night to break the line, only to fail again.”
Letter from Duchess of Beaufort to Pat Armstrong
My dear Pat.
I don’t think that I have written to you for some time but I was waiting till I had actually seen Maurice & since he came 10 days ago I have been so busy with every sort of thing that I have not had a moment, for one thing I spent the whole of 2 afternoons in Bristol at the big hospital there talking & giving cigarettes to all the wounded there most of whom had “got it” (as they called it) in the battle that is still going on! Maurice is looking very well & they had a good & uneventful journey home – they are now at Windmill Hill which you know & their horses which followed them, have now arrived. You will be interested to hear too that Frankie has joined them [the 10th Hussars] also I believe Caryl Annesley so there will be two pairs of brothers in the party! They are too busy to get here much but they get here sometimes for a Saturday night. We are having very fine weather again now, cold nights & very hot days, indeed the country quite wants rain & the ground is so hard now that the Duke has stopped the hounds hunting but they had killed 46 brace foxes up to today. The girls are very well. Di has had to begin lessons again with old Mademoiselle (who is odder than ever!) but Blanchie is supposed to be “grown up” & does so much for me now that I fear she does not do many lessons! “Master” has gone back to Eton I think that he hoped up to the last moment that the war might prevent Eton opening again! but of course that was never thought of. I fear I have no more news for you, we naturally think & talk & dream of nothing but the war & all that you are all doing for us at home. We hear rumours of very good news today but not authenticated yet but I pray it is true. I am sure that you will be also interested to hear that the precious “Ming” is very well except that he has a sore paw!! Many messages from us all.
Yours very sincerely L. E. Beaufort.
With so many thanks for letter of 21st received today I hope you got the one I wrote you 2 days ago.
Yours L. E. B.
Oct. 2. 1914. All well here – your letter was most interesting.
Thursday 1 October
Went in to Thurles, & when we came back finished my collar, & then did some mending. After lunch, we went over to Dovea4. Hope was ringing a young horse, then Ruth took us round the garden. After tea we talked, & left at about six, but didn’t get back till about eight, as it was rather dark. I did some mending after dinner, & went to bed at about ten. The German Emperor’s orders issued Aug. 19th is “to exterminate first the treacherous English, & to walk over Gen. French’s contemptible little army.” Mr Leechman is missing. […] “The action on the left wing of the allies to the north of the Somme “continues to develop more & more to the north.””
Saturday 3 October
Went in to Thurles. Wrote letters. After lunch we went out for a drive in the pony trap, & took Duskey & Dash. We went out towards Dundrum. After tea, Tom went for a ride on Bryan, for the first time this year, & Poppy & I walked with her. We took all the dogs. Then I went down to the kitchen. Did some mending after dinner, & went to bed at about ten. “On our left wing the battle is continuing very fiercely, particularly in the neighbourhood of Roye, where the Germans appear to have concentrated considerable forces. The action is extending more & more towards the north. The battle front at present reaches as far as the district south of Arras. On the Meuse the Germans attempted to throw a bridge across the river near St Mihiel, but it was destroyed last night.”
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Oct 3 Villeneuf
My dear wee Mus.
So sorry I’ve been so bad about writing but I really didn’t have a minute since I wrote to you last from Longueval. On 26: We were going to have a rest day we had been up in support the day before during doing the same old job getting well shelled. When I got down to breakfast at a nice gentlemanly hour of 7.30 the General told me that I was to go down to the base to get him some horses. He had one sick & the other had been wounded some time ago. I had to get six altogether 2 for him 1 for Geoff 1 for Rattle […] one for myself & one for the Signal troop. I intend to take 2 of them for myself & give Howkins to the Signal troop. Then I’d be pretty well mounted. […] I went to the Remount Depot but they only had a few old socks & were expecting another load in. I then went out to the Cavalry Details camp that is where they are refitting & mounting men who are going up to reinforce. […] [On 29 September] We rode out to the Remount depot about 8.30 & then at 10 o’c we started off to Nantes in a car which Wood had got hold of in Paris the day before. We had quite a good run & punctured about 4 miles short of Nantes. I went on in a French car & got a bit of red felt round my hat. I thought it would give me authority & I must say the effect is wonderful. It is wonderful what a bit of red can do. We had lunch about 2 o’c & then went off to the Remount Depot. I spent the rest of the day there looking for horses. […]
I got both electric lamps from Stewart. I am sending the torch back as I bought 2 in Le Mans & don’t want 4. I also got some boots from the Boss, which are simply glorious, brand new & fit me like a glove. I have been wearing some tommy’s boots which are very hard & heavy & rather hurt my heels. They are awfully hard down the back. I also got some vests & drawers from Moyaliffe. Don’t send me any more clothes unless I write for them as space is very limited & I have already got too much kit. I have been able to get things washed pretty well all the time. Anyhow I’ve got enough stuff to last me for some time. I bought two thick vests in Le Mans & as soon as the weather gets cold I’ll send all my thin stuff back to you, I hate throwing stuff away as this d—d show can’t go on for ever. I think that those peace proposals you talk about look good. They must all be heartily sick of this show. I’m longing to get home again to see you all. I am afraid I can’t wire to you as they won’t take private wires here. If ever I come across a King’s messenger I’ll get him to take a wire in to you. I am going to write to the Boss & get him to get the ponies over to Moyaliffe. I think they would be absolutely safe there now. I’ll always long to write when I can but this last week or so it’s been impossible. Geoff will write & let you know if I go sick or if anything happens. But I always do what you say & hope I will be alright. Anyhow I know you will know if anything is wrong long before a letter can reach you. Now I am better & fitter than I’ve been for ages.
Best love to you all dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat
- Colloquialism for German soldiers ⇑
- Ione’s nickname for her mother ⇑
- Fitzgibbon and Emily Trant of Dovea House, Thurles, County Tipperary, and their children ⇑
- Home of the Trant family near Thurles, County Tipperary ⇑