Lady Angela Forbes’ canteen in Étaples was growing increasingly popular among both French and British soldiers who came to know it as “Angelina’s”. However, as Lady Forbes was to note in her memoirs, the monotonous routine of pouring tea and cutting sandwiches had very little glamour attached to it. The work “is strenuous as well as kaleidoscopic, people come and go in such rapid succession, that there is no time to think of them as individuals.” Nor was there time for idle chat or gossip. As a result, many of the canteen’s female volunteers started off full of energy but within the first few weeks grew weary of the work. The mercilessly long and repetitious days, strict discipline and lack of respite took their toll on the easy-going and fun-loving Ione Armstrong, dashing her hopes of romance and adventure.
Monday 26 February
Muz & Heppie did the calling. We were expecting a servant to come today, but she wrote to say she couldn’t come. I did out the smoking room & the hall & stairs, & dusted the morning room & landings, & ball room, & then got tea ready, & lit the fires, & then changed, & Viva & Mr Michial came for tea, then Col & Mrs Murray came & Mr Ectors later. They went into the ball room while I cleared away tea, & then we played “Prawn Eye”,1 & the Murrays stayed on till nearly eight. Then I took Dus: for a run, & then lit Muz’s fire etc. Wrote to Reenie & Ione, & we went to bed at about 11-30. We heard from Reenie last night that Bunty & Vaughan have got a daughter, she is to be Godmother.
it was just too lovely getting your letter & that you have forgiven me about Laddy,3 you did write me such a frightfully nice letter, ta so much Popsy – Poor Laddy, I suppose it was as you said that he couldn’t understand that he musn’t [sic] hurt the cattle, & sheep & oh it’s awful about ‘Grouse’,4 I am so sorry, he is a brout [sic] to do that, but never forget it is the way of the dogs at Folkestone[.] he, & “Duskey” used to chase little dogs, but he never fought – I do hope Grouse is getting better, poor little man, & Popsy, he was your favourite dog too, wasn’t it, it’s so awful to think my dog did it.
Well Popsy darling, I have been out here a month last Monday I think it was, & have been on sick leave twice! The work here is awful & at last they have found I cannot stand it, & I go to Boulogne tomorrow – this is what I have to do everyday, walk ¼ mile catch the 9 tram (from Paris. Plage [?] into Etaples, where the Buffet is) the tram ticket is 5d (just to show for the distance,) then I walk ½ mile, from tram to Buffet, work there all morning, as hard as I can till 12 lunch time, then I walk ½ mile to a little Hotel have lunch & walk ½ mile back to Buffet & all that, has to be done in 1¼ hours, then from 1-15 I work till 5 o’clock get 10 minutes off for tea then back into the Buffet again till 8-30, then the same little journey back, & then you can imagine what I felt like
Ione and Popsy
– Popsy I thought I was the strongest girl in the world till now, & I am just done now, & have been on sick leave for the last 2 days & the doctor refuses to let me go on with the work so off I go to Boulogne tomorrow, where I hear it’s easier – my address there will be C/o Lady Angela Forbes – British Soldiers Buffet Boulogne – when I got out here to drive a car, this is the job I was told to do!! Sleep all day at Boulogne, drive the car out to Etaples 30 miles with stores that night, work at a Buffet at the Etaples Station all that night, & back to B. in the morning to sleep, & then start again – the motor driver man told me not to do it on any account so thank Goodness I took his advice, & said straight away, that I hadn’t said, I would do night work, & drive, so I was put on with the others, to do the Buffet work – two men have had my job since I came, & have left as it was too hard. So just think of me!!
I think B. will be alright, & that was where Mum has insisted on me going from the first & at last Lady A sees that Mum means what she says, so I go there tomorrow! Oh Popsy it [is] just frightfully nice of you thinking of sending me things to eat but I don’t want them here as I don’t want to eat atall, & I think at B. we are well fed, or so Lady A. says, butthat means nothing!!! Popsy, I would just love a box of bickies, just to have, just a wee one, would be just lovely to keep under my bed, but I am too tired to even eat bickies here, & do hope it will be better at B – I will write, & tell you all about it, when I get there. Oh Popsy, I have such heaps more to tell you, but I must stop, & start by that old tram, I have written this at breakfast, but must fly now. Best best love Dr. Popsy, & ta soso much for your frightfully nice letter.
Your loving Ione.
Tuesday 27 February
Cleaned & tidied all morning. Then went to the Dew Drop5 in the afternoon, but we weren’t very busy. Muz went to tea with Viva in her new house, & didn’t get back till late. Washed up, & took bottles up etc, & went to bed at about 11-30. Muz & I did the calling etc. this morning.
Wednesday 28 February
Muz, Tom & Heppie went down the town. I finished tidying Ione’s room, & worked at it all morning. Tom went for a walk with Mrs Thurburn & Ian Younghusband. Got tea ready, & Mr Michel came, but I didn’t go in, as I was very busy, & put up a lot of pictures in my room, & did a lot of tidying. Washed up & brought up bottles etc, & went to bed at about 11-30.
Thursday 1 March
Muz brought up the hot water etc, & I came down later & lit the fire. Muz & I went to the service at 12, Canon White-Thompson preached, then we went on to the Nursery to order seed potatoes, but couldn’t get them. Then we went to York House6 & Manor Court.7 On our way back we saw an ambulance so said we would go up to Shorncliffe to Miss Carleton, so hurried over lunch, & went up, & took Tom & Ian Younghusband up, & they walked back. Miss Allen, Mrs Allen & her sister-in-law were up too, but Mrs A. was going to sing at Moore Barracks, so we did the work. When they came back, Miss Carleton left, so we didn’t get back till 5-45, but got back in an ambulance, & went straight to church. Took Dus for a run, then did some tidying, & brought up bottles etc, & went to bed at about twelve.
First World War ambulance
Friday 2 March
Tom & I went down the town to shop, & to pay bills etc. Afterwards did a lot of tidying, & got out clothes to pack, & then did my papers. We were awfully busy all day. Tom went to tea with the Thurburns, with Ian Younghusband. Muz wrote letters. I cleaned all the baths & basins etc, till my back ached! Went to bed at about 11-30. Muz & I did the calling.
Saturday 3 March
Muz called us, & I came down a bit later, & lit the fire etc. Then I did things in my room, then cleaned out the servants’ hall, & put all the silver away, & did the dining room, & put all the silver away. Muz & Tom went out in the morning, Muz went to see Mrs Bowie, about the visiting while she is away, then took Dus to Gillard, but he was out. Heppie went out in the morning, to pay bills etc. I got lunch ready. Muz took Tom to Jean’s for tea, & then went back to call for her, early, & went in to see Mrs Ritchie. I helped Heppie to put up pictures on the top back landing & I brought tea up there. Muz was awfully tired when she came in. She wrote letters. Afterwards washed up & brought up the bottles etc, & went to bed at about twelve. Heppie cleaned all the knives, & didn’t get to bed till one. Muz took Dus: to the vet again tonight, she has been locked up since Jan 15th.
Sunday 4 March
Muz did the calling & then I got up & lit the fire. Then went out & cleaned Duskey’s house, & hung her sacks up. Sorted photographs & papers etc. Tom went for a walk with Jean. Muz wrote letters. Heppie did some of her packing. Lit Muz’s fire early, & she sorted papers etc in her room all evening. I did the newspapers, in her room & did up some parcels. We were going to start tomorrow morning but Muz doesn’t want to go till Wednesday.8 Washed up etc, & wen to bed at about 11-30.