WEEK 148: THE DEVIL OF A WEEK
Monday 23 to Sunday 29 April 1917
Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare bore grim fruit in Britain on 17 April when hospital ship HMHS Lanfranc and passenger ferry SS Donegal serving as an ambulance ship were torpedoed without warning on their way from France to England, with the loss of 80 lives. As a consequence of the disaster The Times reported on 23 April 1917 that as the distinctive markings of hospital ships made them an easy target, the Admiralty had decided that hospital ships ‘shall in future carry no distinctive markings and proceed without lights like ordinary mercantile traffic’. Naval hostilities against Britain were not limited to submarines. On the night of 20 April, five German destroyers attempted a raid on Dover but were intercepted by two vessels of the Dover Patrol who sunk two of the five attackers. A week later, Ramsgate was heavily bombed by German naval destroyers. Although the town was badly damaged, only two people lost their lives.
Monday 23 April
Five enemy destroyers after firing some shells in the direction of Dover, were intercepted by two of our vessels, which sent two, & possibly three, of their opponents to the bottom. We have taken Gonnelieu. We have gained ground on the north of the Scarpe, east of Fampoux. We have made further progress east of Havrincourt Wood. Lord Airlie, Capt Gosling, Capt Greenwood, Capt Hardwick, Mr Murland, & Capt. Tomkinson have been wounded, in today’s paper. We started at about ten, in the waggonette, to go to the daffodil field at Monk’s Hopton. Muz went to look for plover’s eggs, & we went to pick her up but missed her, & went on to the town to pick Rosie up, but she isn’t coming with her cold. Then we went back for Muz. It is about eight miles, & the fields is just thick with them (dwarf ones) & a little river running down the side of the field, it was lovely, & lovely & warm. We picked a lot, & got some bulbs too. We didn’t get back till after three. Then we packed them up, & sent them to Mrs Ross, Miss Aldridge, Mrs Thurburn, Zooie & Lady de Lisle. After tea we all walked in with them, to post. We went to the Welches, then looked at a lot of post cards, & got back rather late. After dinner Muz & I looked at some of Pat’s papers, from his course at Hesdin, & went to bed at about eleven. Last Tuesday the hospital ships “Donegal” & “Lanfranc” were torpedoed. Owing to Germany sinking hospital ships, these were without the distinguishing marks. The British & French captures of prisoners, from 9th to 20th, have taken 33,000 prisoners (over) & 339 guns.
H 34 central. Zero 4.45 am. 87th attacked on left and 88th on right. They got most of the blue line but did not push on to the red line. Lancs1 & Midx2 took on defence of MONCHY at zero T7. Middx was sent off before this to reinforce 88th Bde. who had used up all their reinforcements and only got to the blue line. Full attack ordered for the red line in the afternoon but this did not take place. 17th Div on left & 15th on right did not get on. Got orders to send Middx to 88th Bde and later orders to send R.F 3 to them. This order was then cancelled & we were ordered to take our front line from 87th & 88th Bde with 3 Battns and 1 Battn in N end of Shrapnel Tr.4 and to be prepared to attack the Red line at 4 pm the next day. Great difficulties on relief. Hants 5 & Worcesters were mixed up on right. Middx hadn’t got our orders & were all split up some S.E of Monchy the others in P— & short [?] trenches. The R. Fus took one on the right from Wor & Hants. The Dubs on their left but some K.O.S.B’s were in [—] than the Lancs. Owing to difficulty in having no [—] the Borders stayed on their left. The 87th were responsible for the inner defences of MONCHY. Troops all thoroughly mixed up. Bd Maj 76 Bde & C.O.’s6 came to see us about 12.30 am. Wrote attack orders & left them to be typed. Went up to 88th Hd Qrs at N 12 a 8/1 about 1 am arrived about 2 am. Col Beckwith and Percy went off about 4 am. Was very busy all night. Had about half an hour sleep. Had conference of C.Os at 8 am. Gen went through plan of attack which had been modified. R.F had to take wood at 0 8 central. Dubs to take wood at O2a8/5. Artillery programme was changed. Barrage to start at 0.28 instead of 0 as arranged. This message did not reach Dublins, who went forward at zero, & suffered from M. G7 fire. R. F got on but were heavily shelled and had to retire. Got orders we were going to be relieved by 76 Bde. Orders arrived about 5 also Bde Maj. Fixed up arrangements. Suffolks got in quickly remainder of Bde took ages [—] went wrong etc. Gen Porter arrived about 2 am. Relief not complete by daylight.
Tuesday 24 April
We have achieved successes on both sides of the Scarpe, securing Gavrelle, to the north of the river, to the Havrincourt Wood, in the Cambrai region. The greater part of the H. Wood, has been taken, over 1,000 prisoners taken. One of our airships has been brought down, near Dover.8 Tom & I sat out all morning, I mended & Tom read, Muz wrote letters. At three, we all went to look for plover’s eggs Janet came too. We met Turner in the lane, & we walked a long way, but didn’t find any eggs. It was very hot walking, so we went in to a farm to get a drink. We got back at about 6-30. I washed Muz’s feet, & then we had tea. After dinner, Janet brought in the table & vases Jimmy & Zooie sent, for the drawing room. We went to bed at about 10-30. We haven’t heard from Pat, since one dated 16th, but Leila has heard from the General later, they are in the thick of it all, at Monchy.
Wednesday 25 April
Fierce fighting is raging to the east of Arras, & severe fighting continues on our whole front from Croiselles to north of Gavrelle. Further progress has been made east of Monchy-le-preux (Pat’s place). We have taken Villers-Plouich, & Beaucamp. Tom & I went in to the town, & got things for Muz’s birthday. After lunch, did papers etc, & Muz wrote letters. Then Muz & I went into have tea with Mrs Robson. Rosie was there, & several other people. Afterwards we went back with Rosie, & Muz talked to Mrs Welch, & I cut papers for Rosie, while she typed her cookery book. I did Muz’s feet after dinner, & then we went to bed at about 10-30. We heard the cuckoo for the first time yesterday, & saw the first swallow, corn crake, & strawberry flower.
N 12 a 8/1. Gen went off about 10. Stayed here all day. Hd Qrs moved to the cave. Had a sleep in the morning which I wanted badly. Hung about all day. Magniac and Caseby were killed & Bloodworth badly wounded.9 Gee came up about 3 pm. Sent him away again as Lans were not out. Sat about in cave all day. Hoped relief would be finished early.
Thursday 26 April
Muz’s birthday. Further progress has been made by our troops, & the ground gained has been secured. Since the 23rd we have taken 3,029 prisoners. Between the Sensée River & Monchy-le preux our progress has been continued, & our line has been advanced, to within a few hundred yards of Fontaine-le-Croiselles10 & Cherisy. Letter from Pat dated 22nd. Ione sent Muz a telegram. Tom gave her £2, & I gave her the silver tray, & a little hand bag. Muz wrote letters, & Tom & I went down to the Dingle. After lunch we drove over to Broseley & got some coffee cups etc. Janet came too. After tea Heppie walked in to the town, & Muz, Janet & I went down to the Dingle, it was lovely down there. Muz & I wrote letters after dinner, & Heppie worked at the mat.
Sat up till 3 am no news of relief. A casual message then came in from Hart of the King’s own to say he wasn’t retiring the Lancs. Gen Porter straffed him. Went over to MONCHY about 2.15 am. A lot of gas shells about. Stayed there till 5.30 AM. Had breakfast at Div Hd Qrs. […] Went to VI Corps with Fuller & Abbott, then to 87th Bde then back to my Bde. They moved off at 2.30 pm. Felt very seedy. Rode over to WANQUETIN with Wally. Went straight to bed. Leg rather sore.
Friday 27 April
Wrote letters, & cut papers in the morning, Muz wrote, & Tom read. Wrote again after lunch. At three, Janet had two wounded soldiers up, from the hospital, the carriage went down for them. Muz talked to them, & we all had tea in the dining room, & took them down to the Dingle afterwards. They loved it. Heppie went in to the town. I read for a bit, & after dinner Muz played & Tom & I danced. Then I did Muz’s feet, & we went to bed at about 12. The battle on the Douai Plain is being desperately fought by the Germans. Last night they endeavoured to attack our new positions near Gavrelle. The advancing troops were caught by our artillery barrage, & completely repulsed. Letter from Pat, of 22nd.
WANQUETIN. Stayed in bed till late. Felt rather seedy. Shillingford came & fetched me over to SOUASTRE in a car. Glorious day. Went round & saw Battn Hd Qrs in the afternoon. Wrote letters at night.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong.
My dear wee Mus.
Sorry I have been so bad about writing but I’ve had the devil of a week. We had three nights rest in — then on the 22 went forward to our advanced Hd Qrs. Percy’s Bde & Lucas’s Bde were attacking the following morning. Things went pretty well and they gained most of the first objective but didn’t go on to the second as originally was intended. That night (23rd) about 10 pm we were ordered up to take over the line and to attack on the following afternoon. We had the devil’s own rush. I dashed off messages to tell people what to do and then started to get out orders for the attack about 1 AM. About 2 o’c we went over & took over from Percy & made final arrangements for the attack. I got about half an hour sleep at 7 o’c & then we had a conference at 8 o’c. It was a very strenuous day. Paper coming in all the time, then fixing up about artillery etc one hadn’t a minute. We attacked at 4 pm & got on pretty well but were very heavily shelled & lost most of our ground. That night we got orders to come out which meant another all night sitting. Gen Porter (Vi’s husband) took over from us. About an hour’s sleep that night. We didn’t get finished so I had to stay up there. I put in a good morning’s sleep which was lucky as I didn’t get any that night. I spent most of the night in that charming village — you know its name.
I got rather a doing with gas shells on the way over there. I dropped into a sort of barrage of them, horrible things. I eventually got away about 7 o’c & went into the Div where I had a very good breakfast. I then had to rush about and arrange about lorries and things. I then got a car back to the Bde who had moved the day before. They were just moving off as I arrived so I rode on with them. Such a filthy sight as I was you never saw. I hadn’t washed since the 23rd or had my clothes off since the morning of the 22nd. We had a short march and got in about 4 o’c so I hopped off to bed as I felt rather mouldy. I was rather old this morning so I stayed in bed & got a motor on here. Wasn’t it nice of de Lisle he arrived about 12 o’c just as I was starting and said that he’d take me on. But as a matter of fact I had already got a car out of the Div. So I came over here in state. I’m not so very far from where I was this time last year. It’s a horrible thing that gas makes one feel an awful worm. I felt last night just as if I had been rolled on by a horse. But I feel grand now.
Will you send me a bottle of Clarke’s blood mixture11 and a bottle of ANTIPHLOGISTIKE.12 I have a little sore on the leg. It’s nothing atall but I want to catch it quite before it gets bad. I am going to poultice it for a day or so & then put Bengue’s Balsam13 on it. It’s nothing to worry about. Oh! I nearly forgot to tell you about my wigwam. It went sky high to day after I left it. Got a direct hit by a shell the following morning. So it was lucky we moved. I have had a very quiet day to-day & feel awfully well to-night. The show up there since the 23rd has gone pretty well. Everybody got the blue line (that’s the first objective) and 2264 prisoners including 43 Officers have been taken by the Corps. (deduct one from Doiley’s).
The daffodils here are simply lovely. I passed a wood to day that was yellow with them. The General was very pleased with you sending him plovers eggs. I hope you will have some to send to my general. This is quite a good block but I feel it’s waste only writing on one side of it. Will you send me a couple of packets of envelopes sometime. I have a lot of paper but no envelopes. Of course I have the ones you sent me with this block but none with the other blocks which aren’t yet finished. Yes I’ll write to Airlie. I wrote to Pokes & Brock but haven’t written to the others yet. I will write to them all now I have time. Odd you mentioning Blanchie. I wrote to her last week but haven’t had an answer yet. I know what you mean about Rene liking that thing. She thought I liked it so said she did, but I quite know what you mean. One would have respected her far more if she had said that she hated it. Your letter of the 20th was all wrong. Deduct one from Archie’s command. Go up the front stairs at home. Count all the rooms from Ione’s to the bath room inclusive that will tell you the Corps. Leila was nearer right than you were. Yes I’m clean out of Archie’s beat now. Percy is coming to this Bde to command his Battn. It will be great value having him. His General got gassed & has gone sick. Yes I think that was good advice you gave the Boss. But what a very common letter she writes, it might be from a cook!! I don’t like it it jars somehow. Yes Mrs Gee is at Dover. I think I told you that John Cowan was hit & has gone away, so old Gee has come back. I was sorry to lose John as he was a real good fellow but there is no comparison between the two men. Well wee Mus I have no more news for you to-night. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 28 April
During the night we captured the quarries on the eastern outskirts of Hargicourt other successful operations were carried out in the neighbourhood of Arras-Cambrai road & on the spur between Roeux & Gavrelle. Several destroyers shelled Ramsgate, but only 2 killed & 3 injured. We drove over to Broseley at eleven, & got some more china, & got back at about 2-30. Heppie went in to the town, & Muz, Tom & I went to the Gilmours for tea, we walked. Mr Gilmour was going away for the week end, so she was there alone. We got back at about 6-30, then I played with Dus: for a bit, & then finished reading “The Mistress of Shenstone”,14 & then did some mending. We went to bed at about ten.
Glorious day. Dearden went off to 88th Bde & Pecy took over the R Fus. Walked round Battns in the morning. Felt seedy in the afternoon & lay down. Pearson came over about times etc. Went to bed early.
Sunday 29 April
Muz, Tom & I went in to church. Afterwards wrote letters & did some mending. Mr Willis came for tea. Muz & I went down to church again. After dinner I did Muz’s feet for a bit, & we went to bed at about ten, but Muz read afterwards.
SOUASTRE. Glorious morning. Got down late. Went to Warlincourt with Russell to get some vaccine. Then went on into Doullens & did some shopping. Got back about 2. Gen went to the Div saw a mule with lockjaw & a [—] put into another horse. Gen Jelf arrived. Went & dined with him at the div. Leg very sore, felt a bit seedy.
- Lancashire Fusiliers ⇑
- The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment)⇑
- Royal Fusiliers ⇑
- Shrapnel Trench ⇑
- The Royal Hampshire Regiment ⇑
- Commanding Officers ⇑
- Machine gun ⇑
- One of the naval airships which patrolled to Straits of Dover left on patrol duty on 21 April 1917 but failed to return. It was seen descending in flames at midday and was believed to have been destroyed by an enemy aircraft. It was the only British airship recorded as lost during the First World War.⇑
- Magniac, Caseby and Bloodworth had been sitting under a waterproof sheet in a communication trench when the edge of the trench was struck by a shell.⇑
- A tonic used to improve the blood and blood purification and advertised as a cure for a number of skin and blood diseases such as gout, rheumatism, eczema and scurvy. Popular in late Victorian England, it was available in the United Kingdom until 1968.⇑
- (Ger.) Antiphlogistika = anti-inflammatory drugs ⇑
- Bengue’s Balsam was an ointment made from peppermint or other mint oils with local anaesthetic and anti-irritant qualities ⇑
- The Mistress of Shenstone (1910), a novel by Florence L. Barclay (1862-1921)⇑