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Monday 7 to Sunday 13 May 1917


Monday 7 to Sunday 13 May 1917

The Battle of Arras culminated in the Second Battle of Bullecourt fought between 3 and 17 May. Lying at the southern end of the battle front, the village of Bullecourt formed a strategically important part of the German defensive position known as the Hindenburg Line. An attempt to pierce the line at this location had already been made by the British and Australian forces in early April but poor planning and hasty execution had led to failure. During the second attempt, the Australian troops successfully penetrated the German line on the first day of the battle, only to be subjected to a week and a half of ferocious counterattacks. On 17 May, Germany admitted defeat and withdrew from the now pulverised village. Unfortunately for the British, not only did the victory carry a heavy cost in terms of casualties, but, with only a small section of the Hindenburg Line captured, its strategic value proved to be minimal.

Monday 7 May

jess__diary_cameoThe German front for an extent of nearly four miles was pierced by our allies, who captured over 4,300 prisoners, a substantial addition to the figure of 1,000 taken the previous day when Craonne fell. Fentril & I gave Dus a dose. Then I wrote letters, & did papers. After lunch Muz, Tom, Heppie & I went for a lovely drive to Chelmarsh, & home another way, it was lovely. We went to look at an old church on the way. The clergyman was just coming to have a service, but there was nobody there, & we didn’t want to keep the horses waiting. I lay down for a bit after tea, then put Dus: to bed. Muz & Janet settled where the pictures were to be moved to. After dinner Muz & Heppie went down to the Dingle to try & hear the nightingale. I went to bed at about 10. Heppie put Muz to bed at about 11-30.

Tuesday 8 May

jess__diary_cameoPrisoners up to April 16th are 29,000. Muz wrote letters all morning, & Tom lay out & read. Heppie went in to the town. I sewed all morning, & made three caps to send to Ione this afternoon. Mended all afternoon. Muz & Heppie helped Janet to settle the pictures, & they put the portraits up in the dining room. After tea Muz, Tom & Janet went up to Piper’s farm to see the cows milked, & Muz milked. Heppie went in to the town. I got a lot of mending dome. Went to bed at about nine; Muz didn’t come till later.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

May 8.

My dear wee Mus.

“A thing which is supposed to be me”

I have a lot of your letters to answer but haven’t time to-night as it’s very late. We moved our Hd Qrs to-day into the house where the Div have been and are very comfy, it is an awful nice place. I hope to go down & see Bonny1 on the 10th or 11th. The Gen is going home & is going to take me down with him. I will stay there the night & will come back on the following day. It will be rather fun. I rode over to the Div this afternoon & had tea with them. The Gen was in great form. He is living in a very nice place about 5 miles from here. The number you want to know is III.

I enclose a thing which is supposed to be me. Not good really. A fellow in the Royal Fusiliers does them, some of his are awfully good but this one isn’t quite up to samble. I am afraid there is no chance of Percy being left in command. It is rather bad luck isn’t it. I had another letter yesterday from Rene asking me to put the thing in the papers.2 I am really getting rather annoyed about it. I will just write & say I don’t want it in. I don’t mean it to go in even if I have to be nasty about it. I’ll enclose you the letter to-morrow. Well wee Mus I’m very sleepy so must go off to bed. I had a lad into dinner to-night & he sat on for ages & wouldn’t go. Rather a bore as it makes one so late. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Wednesday 9 May

jess__diary_cameoWe have lost Fresnoy, which was taken by the Canadians on Thursday. We have improved our position at Bullecourt. After lunch Muz & Tom went in to the town, & to call on Captain Acton. I sat out in the garden & sewed.

Thursday 10 May

jess__diary_cameoJanet lent me her machine, to make my coat frock, she came & showed me how to work it. I worked at it all day, & got it finished, all but the front seam. It rained some of the day. Muz wrote letters all morning, & went down to the Dingle with Tom. I went up & had my bath, after dinner, & then came down & read for a bit, & did Muz’s feet. We went to bed at about 11-30. Heppie went in to the town after tea.


Glorious day. A lot of paper in. Gen de Lisle & the Corps Commander arrived about 11 am and gave us orders for work to-night. Spent all day in the house making arrangements for the work. Had conference of C.Os & C.R.E3 at 2 PM.

Letter from R. S. [?] Peyton, General Headquarters, British Armies in France, to Major General W. L. Williams

I am sorry I have not answered your letter earlier, but I enquired at once if G S [?] could put Armstrong up. The reply was that they regretted they could not take him out of his turn on the roster, & he is a good long way down. I hope you will always write to me if you want enquiries made, as in the present case I very often cannot do what is required but I am always glad to try.

Yours sincerely R. S. Peyton

Disappointing news

Friday 11 May

jess__diary_cameoLetter from Pat dated 5th, & one from Ione, saying she thought she would be back by the 16th. Mrs Welch & Rosie came up in the morning, & after lunch we drove over to Broseley, & on the way back met Maurice Guinness & he came back for tea. Mr & Mrs Gilmour came for tea, & I took him down to the Dingle, & then we walked some of the way back with them. After dinner Muz & I went down to the Dingle, to listen to the lark.

pat_diary_cameoGot back about 5.30 am. Had breakfast. Fuller & Winter arrived about 6 am. Gen Jelf went round strong points. All had done well except the Middlesex. Went to bed about 7 and slept till about 12 o’c.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

May 11.

General Haldane

My dear wee Mus.

Only a brief note to-night as I was out all last night left at 6 P.M & got back at 5.30 am this morning. We were digging near — (you know). A pleasant night!! There were several old shells flying about. We moved here this afternoon, this is a top hole spot. I enclose a letter from Rene. I have no inclination of putting it in the paper. I have just written her a long letter & in the middle of it said “I’d much rather not put anything in the paper till it’s all properly settled up. I see nothing to be gained by it” then I went on with ordinary news. Do you think that meets the case. I think the thing is to be casual about it & if she won’t like it that way I’ll put my foot down. Let me know what you think I ought to do. The Gen & I dined with Gen Haldane the Corps Commander to-night. He is awfully nice. Well wee Mus I’m awfully sleepy I’ll write more to-morrow. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Saturday 12 May

jess__diary_cameoTom, Dus: & I went in to the town, it was awfully hot. Maurice came over in the afternoon, & Mr Willis came for tea. I didn’t go in, as I was washing my hair. Muz wrote letters all day, & Heppie walked in to the town after tea.

cameo_weirLetter from Major General W. L. Williams to Pat Armstrong

Dear Patrick.

Many thanks for your letter – do write from time to time & give me your news. I made an effort – entre nous – to get you here but failed, tear up the enclosed. Have been out of the line all this time & it looks as if we may so continue for another week; in very pleasant billets, HQ at Oeuf; a nice trout stream close bye, where I hope to induce something to come to hand tomorrow. Trust you are quite fit again. My best to every one – ask Gee to let me have a copy of the order giving military medals etc for the Monchy tour. I want to see who received them. I am very happy here, and the Gods have treated me well.

Yours Ever

W. L. Williams

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

May 12.

My dear wee Mus.

I got the enclosed from the General to-day. So that’s a word out & apparently I’m a long way down the list. I don’t want to leave the Bde at present. I’d like to have gone to the General but don’t want to push off anywhere else at present. Between you me & the door post I’ve set my heart on getting a D.S.O4 and feel I have a better chance of getting it here than anywhere else. The chances are very remote I agree but I’m mad to get one. I wish my name hadn’t gone in for that mention, I feel that it rather spoils my chances. That’s how I feel about it. But I’m afraid I’ll never get it however I have hopes.

Yes! You addressed G’s letter to me. I’m sending it on to him. The old leg is practically alright doesn’t worry me a bit now, it hasn’t quite healed up but I keep Bengue’s Balsam5 on it which stops it a bit, it’s bad to let it heal too quick. It will be healed in two or three days now that enoculation [sic] is a great thing. No more have broken out on me, I think the bugs are dead. I wish I had had it done when I was at home. I agree about Prisoners, we take too many. I like the doctrine of the Gordons.6 They only bring in one as a souvenir!!

“In delightful billets and very comfy”

I had hoped to get leave on the 10th but that was knocked on the head. I went in to see Gen de Lisle & he was going home 10th or 11th & asked him if he’d take me down to Boulogne to see Bonny & he said he’d take me home with him as a matter of fact I couldn’t have gone as it would have meant taking one of the Bde allotment (only 2 a day) which would have meant doing some poor devil who had been out here for ages out of a leave. However he didn’t go. So it’s all up now. I might get away in a month or so’s time perhaps. But it’s no good thinking of it now. We are in delightful billets and very comfy. We’ve had a good rest. Nothing wildly exciting on the horizon just at present. Algie is north of the Scarpe. His Div took the Chemical Works7 & Cemetery on the 11th. I don’t know if he was in it. I enclose a letter I got from him. Well wee Mus I must turn in as it’s very late. Best love.

Your loving Pat.

Sunday 13 May

jess__diary_cameoTom & I went to church, then went in to the Welches, & Rosie walked some of the way back with us. Muz wrote letters, & Heppie worked at the mat. Tom wrote, & I read nearly all afternoon. After tea Muz & Heppie walked in to church.

Letter from Jessie E. D. Cayley, The White House, Red Hill, Worcester, to Mrs Armstrong

My dear Mrs Armstrong.

I only had your letter on arrival last night – & I see you are off to Folkestone to-morrow – but in any case am afraid I could not have gone to see you, when I do come here I feel I musn’t [sic] work all the time, & have had a long time of idleness all the holidays. I left Mrs Kerans and her adorable baby yesterday her address is Braeside Slades Hill Enfield Middlesex in case you want it at any time. I have only had a wire from my husband so far – but hope to hear tomorrow & to be able to gather where they are – I cannot think the 29th Div: can do much more in the Push Line as they must be so weak & Col Kerans said he was working a draft which when it did arrive consisted of 3 men, one a deserter – So if all the Battalions are like that it doesn’t look very hopeful a matter to me – it looks beautifully hopeful that they may have to wait a bit longer!

‘Cavalry haven’t really had a look in’

I hear there is a new Brigadier in the Division Gen Williams has got a Division my husband will be sorry, he liked Gen Williams – So I suppose my husband is now the Senior Brigadier. I suppose you did not go to the Memorial Service for 29th Div: who fell in Gallipoli at Eltham! Mrs Napier, & Miss Lang were there, said it was beautiful – but very trying – I was in [—] & couldn’t go – Mrs Napier thought the Reredos8 beautiful – Miss Lang thought it ugly! – Yes do write, when you hear anything interesting – & think I may not hear it – my husband is very conscientious on censorship – but I heard a lot when he was at home – He says his Artillery is so splendid now – but his poor Cavalry haven’t really had a look in except when the Germans first retreated. Mesopotamia is the Campaign for them – My brother & brother-in-law write glowing accounts of it, & both say not to pity them, they are having the time of their lives!

Yours v. sincerely

Jessie E. D. Cayley


  1. Pat Armstrong’s nickname for his sister Ione Armstrong
  2. Irene and her mother wanted to publish a notice of the couple’s engagement in the newspaper while Pat and his mother were opposed to the idea
  3. Commanding Officers and Officer Commanding Royal Engineers.
  4. Distinguished Service Order
  5. Bengue’s Balsam was an ointment made from peppermint or other mint oils with local anaesthetic and anti-irritant qualities
  6. The Gordon Highlanders
  7. Roeux Chemical Works
  8. An ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of an altar

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