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Monday 16 to Sunday 22 April 1917


Monday 16 to Sunday 22 April 1917

The Battle of Arras saw one of the few mounted cavalry actions of the First World War. This took place during the capture of the strategically important village of Monchy-le-Preux on 11 April, when three regiments of cavalry – the Royal Horse Guards, 10th Hussars and Essex Yeomanry – were called to the aid of the 111th and 112th infantry brigades. The charge of the cavalry helped to consolidate the village but at a terrible price. In entering the village the mounted troops came under intense artillery fire and were mercilessly mown down, leaving some six hundred cavalry men dead or wounded and destroying more than a thousand horses. News of the tragedy began to trickle through in the middle of the month and reached Jess Armstrong on 17 April. Meanwhile in France, Algie Neill was once again frustrated in his attempts to join his own regiment, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and was growing increasingly cynical about his prospects in the war.

Monday 16 April

jess__diary_cameoTook Dus for a run in the Dingle, & then went on to the town to post letters etc. I met Tom coming in, & waited for her, & walked some of the way out, she went straight back, & I went through the Dingle & the garden, to get the Russian potatoes to send to Poppy & Mr Penrose. It rained nearly all morning. After lunch Muz, Tom, Heppie & I went to Coalport in the waggonette. It rained a lot, & hail some of the time, but was a lovely drive. We saw all over the china works, it was awfully interesting.1 We stayed about 1½ hours, & it rained a good bit coming back. We got back at about seven & changed early & then read for a bit read again after dinner, & finished “Daddy Long Legs”.2 We went to bed at about 11-30. Muz told me a story she had been reading while we were having our bath. We have taken Vimy Station, La Chaudiere, & Buquet Mill. We are a few hundred yards from St Quentin.

pat_diary_cameoH 34. Got back from the line about 3.30 am. Stayed in bed till about 11 am. Stayed in till after lunch. Had shower and good wash. It was very cold. Started raining after lunch. Went over and saw R.F3 in who had done no work. Told B— to move his Hd Qrs into MONCHY. John Cowan was hit when he came to visit us. Gee took his place. Clark [?] of Dubs ordered off so Wilson had to go back.

Algie_cameoLetter from Algie Neill, 1st R. I. Fus., B.E.F., to Mrs Armstrong

My dear Mrs A.

“Avoid anything to do with the Home Forces”

I got your letter of 7th Ap. The first day of the Battle to Arras was really a very great success indeed but unfortunately the weather since has made operations exceedingly difficult & given the Bosch lots of time to get reinforcements & dig fresh lines. I can’t say any more the censor & I might quarrel & I would not like that.

I have not been with the regiment all through but was sent up twice only to be hunted back again. I am still doing “nothing” & now Capt Kavanagh is actually in the country on his way to rejoin so I can hope to get command of a platoon very shortly. Unfortunately General Gosling was killed the second day & Gen L. is a pet. However I have learnt one lesson & that is at all costs in the future to avoid anything to do with the Home Forces. I really think I’d be doing more good with my sheep than wasting my time here – & I’ll tell some of the Powers that be that should I ever encounter them après la guerre4 – In the meantime I have no option but to do nothing to the best of my ability. Did I tell you K likes Irene so very much. I’ve not seen Pat & don’t know where his Division is but I look out for it. Kitty seems to be very much better now I hear she is looking very well & very pretty. I’m so glad she likes you all so much, always has something nice to say about you in her letters. Must stop now my own Mrs A. Love to you all.

Yours affect Algy

Tuesday 17 April

jess__diary_cameoWe have taken the village of Villenet, & have made progress N. W. of Lens. We have taken over 14,000 prisoners, & 194 guns since the 9th. We heard from Pat this morning, & he says the 10th have been in it, & Capt Greenwood has been killed,5 & Col. Hardwick & Gosling wounded. Muz & I went down to the dingle in the morning, & met Tom there. After lunch wrote letters & looked at the papers. Then Mrs Layton & Mrs Pesk came up for tea, & we walked back with them. Muz went in to see Mrs Welch, & I took Dus: for a walk. After dinner & wrote letters, Muz read, & Heppie worked at mats. Tom went straight up to bed.

pat_diary_cameoH 34. Got up about 9.30. Wet and cold. Stayed in the office all morning. The Gen went up to Monchy with Fuller. Got back about 2 P.M. Went out about 2.30 saw Dublins then went on to Monchy which they were shelling pretty hard. Saw Lancs6 & Middx.7 Went round inner defences. Think Bosh8 has a double line in front of us. Got back about 7.30 P.M. A lot of paper in. Issued orders for the relief of Lancs & Middx. Bosh took Wancourt line last night. French took 1100 prisoners. Heard we had to push on 20th inst.

Wednesday 18 April

jess__diary_cameoWe have taken Tombois Farm. We have gained ground & taken a few prisoners. Muz, Tom & I went down to the dingle, & had a lovely walk. It rained some of the day, after lunch Muz & Heppie walked in to the town, & looked at an old furniture shop, & didn’t get back till late. Tom read, & I sorted out the wool, for Heppie to cut, & did some darning. Sewed after dinner, & we went to bed at about eleven.


H 34 central. A wet dirty morning. Miller came up & discussed plan of attack. Went into Arras with him in the car. Discussed the plan with the Gen & Fuller. The Gen had been up to Monchy. Went round and saw Gee and fixed up about pack animals to carry forward bombs etc. Conference of 19 Gunners arranged M G9 barrage plan. Got back about 8 o’c. Stayed up very late getting out instructions.

Thursday 19 April

jess__diary_cameoTom & Heppie went in to the town. I wrote letters all morning. After lunch Heppie went in to the town to an auction, & Muz, Tom, Janet & I walked across the fields, to Turner’s farm, & met him there, & he took us to look for plover’s eggs. It was pretty heavy walking, but great fun. We got 15 eggs. We got back at about six. I did some washing, & then read for a bit, read again after dinner, & went to bed at about 11-30. We have taken Auberive, Chavonne, & Chivy. The prisoners now number 14,000.

Living on a farm

pat_diary_cameoH34. Dull day but no rain. Stayed in the office all morning a good deal of paper. Percy came up about 2 pm. and the 88 H.Q relieved us. Went round with Percy about 5 km to see Kerans then went back to ARRAS. Glorious to be in billets again. Royal Fus & Dublin Fus were in line. Heard that the attack was to be carried out by 87th Bde & not by us.

Friday 20 April

jess__diary_cameoCut papers, & then read for a bit, & finished “In Action”. After lunch went out to the garden to get some flowers to send to Mrs Ross, she had an operation for appendicitis yesterday. We went in to the town in the waggonette, & did up the parcel on the way. Muz sent some plover’s eggs to General de Lisle. We called for Mrs Layton, to take her with us, but she was out, so we went for a drive round by Bromley, & then back to Mrs Welch for tea. Heppie & Tom went home. Afterwards Muz & I shopped, & then walked home. We went to bed at about 11. We improved our position slightly, last night, south of Monchy le Preux – where Pat is now – & we made further progress east of Fampoux, in in the enemy’s trenches south-east of Loos, where we again captured prisoners.

pat_diary_cameoARRAS. Glorious morning. Got down rather late. Magniac came in to see me. Went to WANCOURT with HEWITT. Got shelled on hill. Got back about 3 pm. Went for a short ride about 4. Rode round to Battn Hd Qrs as they had to move. Got 151 Bde turned out of 71 Rue d’Amiens. Another late night as there [end of entry]

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

April 20.

My dear wee Mus.

I got a grand long letter from you to-day of the 17th. We got back here last night and had a great wash and clean up and felt like new pins. We hadn’t had our clothes off for 5 days and felt a bit dirty and tired. However I had a good sleep last night in a bed & feel a new man to day. We lived in a horrible Hd Qrs the whole place was about as big as my bathroom. I rigged up a little wigwam outside with a few sheets of tin. I could just lie down in it but that was about all. Percy is in it now. You are right about the Corps Commander, and the town too. No more news about the Regt. We have been where they had their show. The place is full of dead horses. It is the worst scene I have seen in this war. An absolute shambles. Yes! I agree with you about that crud. It’s a horrible thing but clever in spite of that. People laugh at it but I must say I feel rather like you do about it. I don’t know where G. has gone to. I think he has the Lincolns & Sherwood Foresters. I can’t remember the others. I’ll try & find out for you.

“The place is full of dead horses”

The French seem to be doing well don’t they. It is rather interesting as of course we fought over all that country at the beginning of the show on the advance. We had a lot of fighting round Troyon and those parts. I’m sorry to hear that Mrs Ross is seedy. Poor old T it will worry him & these are rather busy times for him too. It is after 1 am so I ought to go to bed soon, I have just written a couple of lengthy screeds and am waiting to have them typed and signed. I got a new pair of boots yesterday. Things I call lion tamers with hooks down the front. They are horrible to look at but are awfully good. They are so easy to take off and put on. Thank you so much for Robertson’s book.10 I haven’t had time to read it yet and don’t know when I will. There is a lot of paper flying about these times. I started this last night but couldn’t finish it as it was so late. I had a good day yesterday I motored forward to a hill to have a look at our lines from the flank and got quite a good view of it. In the afternoon I was rather long going round billets etc. Then I had a really strenuous evening. I have had a busy morning too. It is now 1 o’c & I haven’t been out yet. I must dash out now for a breath of air. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Saturday 21 April

jess__diary_cameoOur troops gained ground during the night in the neighbourhood of Villers-Guislain. The French continue to make progress at various points. Tom & I went in to the town, & we walked out with Heppie. Muz & I went to tea with Mrs Pesk, & then went in to the Welches afterwards.


ARRAS. Got up late. Wrote instructions all morning. Didn’t get out till about 1 pm. The Gen went to a conference t Div H.Q at 2 pm. Went for a ride through DUISANS. Had good hunt after a hare. Got back about 6 pm. Did orders & Div Instructions. No 5 received. Lancs & Middlesex returned Dublins and Royal Fus in MONCHY. Col Thompson went sick. Too fat and soft. Quill came to dinner. Nice fine day.

Sunday 22 April

jess__diary_cameoTom & I went to church, Muz wrote letters, & Heppie worked at the mat, after lunch I read. Muz & Heppie went in to church in the evening & Tom & I read, I finished “The Rosary”. After dinner I mended, & then we went to bed at about eleven.


ARRAS. Got up late. Finished off some papers. Went out to ride about 11.30 am. rode round to Div to try and fix for Royals & Dubs to stay in town. Could not arrange it. Lancs & Middlesex were each relieved by two Battns of the 87th Bde. Innis11 on left KOSB12 right. Border13 do. S.W.Bs.14 Our units came back to brown line. Relief not complete till about 4 am. Moved Bde Hd Qrs from ARRAS to H 30 central to relieve 88th HQ. who went to N 12 a 8/1. Gen Cayley went sick. A gas shell had burst in his dugout. Percy not too well.


pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

April 22.

My dear wee Mus.

I enclose an old bill, will you pay it for me as I haven’t got my cheque book here and won’t be able to get it for some days. It is an old thing from India which I forgot all about. I am enclosing a lot of letters from Rene too. You are quite right about where we are. The horses rolled up quite safely. Geisha looks quite well again. I went for a long ride yesterday afternoon on Melody & had a great hunt after a hare. She eventually got away as I got held up by the remains of a wire entanglement. It was great value having a gallop over the country again. Melody was in great form & wasn’t the least bit weary after it. This is the first peaceful night I have had for ages. I was up till 2 am this morning so intend to go off early to-night. I’ll try to write Bee a line.

Faulkner & Son

I have just got a splendid pair of boots from Faulkner.15 Things I call lion tamer. With Norwegian feet and hooks up the front, they look like nothing human but are awfully comfy and very easy to get off and on. Field boots are too difficult to get off and on under these conditions & I hate putties they always fall off me. I have only worn them three times now & they feel as if I had worn them for weeks. I just wrote to the shop told him my size and bought them off the peg. They are much better than anything Maxwell16 could have made for me. Yesterday & to-day are the first decent days we have had. It has been quite warm to-day & the country has dried up well. It is such a relief not to be slopping about in the mud. I am so glad you are enjoying yourself, it will do you a world of good being up there you all wanted a change badly. Now don’t be in too much of a hurry to go home. Hill seems to have done himself awfully well doesn’t he.17 Poor old Algie who is twice the man has got d— all. It is rather sickening. No chance of a D.S.O. mother dear. It’s only an old mention I’m afraid. I forget if I told you that John Cowan was hit the other day & that Gee has come back in his place. He isn’t really right yet. One of his wounds isn’t quite healed up. He is a splendid fellow and absolutely the best Staff Captain ever was. It is great luck getting him back. Well wee Mus I must go and lie down for a bit as I have an early rise in the morning. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Head Censor, Censor’s Office, Boulogne Base, to Ione Armstrong, c/o Lady Angela Forbes’ Canteen:

You are giving too much military information in your letters. Should this continue they will have to be referred to G.H.Q.

Walter Tyndall, Captain.

A warning to Ione


  1. Coalport was noted for its porcelain manufactory, the first of its kind in Shropshire. The production of Coalport China was moved to Staffordshire in 1926.
  2. Daddy-Long-Legs (1912), a best-selling epistolary novel by the American author Alice Jane Chandler Webster (1876-1916) who wrote under the pseudonym Jean Webster
  3. Royal Fusiliers
  4. (Fr.) after the war
  5. Captain Greenwood had been wounded, not killed
  6. Lancashire Fusiliers
  7. The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment)
  8. Boche = Germans
  9. Machine Gun.
  10. Leask, G. A. Sir William Robertson. The Life Story of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1917.
  11. Inniskilling Fusiliers.
  12. King’s Own Scottish Borderers
  13. Border Regiment
  14. South Wales Borderers
  15. Faulkner & Son of 51-52 South Molton Street, London, specialists in service boots and leggings
  16. Henry Maxwell & Co. of 8 & 9 Dover Street, off Piccadilly, London, bridle bit, stirrup and spur makers
  17. Captain Hill had been awarded a Distinguished Service Order ‘for conspicuous gallantry and good leadership when in command of his battalion.’ According to The London Gazette of 17 April 1917, ‘He formed up his battalion under very heavy fire and under the most difficult conditions. The successful start of his battalion and the accomplishment of its task in the attack was in great measure due to his personal example and fine leadership.’

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