On 14 May 1917, Pat Armstrong distinguished himself by being mentioned in despatches for the fourth time in the course of the war. Unfortunately, the week ended on a far more sombre note. On the evening of 19 May, his friend and protégé Frank Stanley Layard, referred to by Pat as ‘the Boy’, took part in an attempt to capture enemy positions and establish two strongpoints to the east of Monchy-le-Preux, near a place called Cigar Copse. Layard, who had just been awarded a Military Cross for his courage while carrying out a reconnaissance under dangerous conditions, was in command of the B Company of the Border Regiment which came under heavy enemy fire and was forced to halt the attack. When the wounded survivors were retrieved under the cover of darkness, Layard could not be found. For the next three nights, Pat risked his own life by venturing out into the no man’s land in a desperate search for Layard’s body.
Monday 14 May
Heppie went in to the town. After tea Muz & I went in to the town. We packed most of the day, & got it all finished, we have got quite a lot, but I don’t think it will be over the 400 lbs. Pat is in the paper. Mentioned in Despatches. This is the fourth time. It is lovely. We didn’t go to bed till rather late.
So glad to see the Boy’s name in the despatches today. It is always so Encouraging for them & I ken he deserves it. I have no more news. Last letter of the 11th came today – I gather they are in this last bit but I don’t ken for certain & he says on the 16th they expect to return to the H.Q. they were at [—] 23rd & I see by my letters this is Arras! – but we must hope all will be well. Only a line as I must fly out with my mother who is here!
Yrs. Leila de L.
Letter from Irene Wills, 15 Sussex Mansions, to Mrs Armstrong,
I’m fairly done it this time, woke this morning feeling seedy and discovered I was covered with rash. The doctor was very tickled after the false alarm as of course it is German measles this time. Isn’t it rotten? That means I’ll not see you when you come up this week. Damn, damn!!! I’m not supposed to write much at present so must chuck it. I had a short letter Saturday dated May 9th, his2 leg was better and he was living in a house again. He’d been inoculated again but felt alright. Forgive a rotten letter. Best love to you all.
Ever yours Irene.
P.S. This will be well baked and quite free of infection!
Tuesday 15 May
We leave Cantreyn. I walked to the station with Dus & the others drove down, Janet & Rosie came to see us off. We had to change at Birmingham & wait an hour, & got in at about three. Muz & Tom went off by themselves, as they are going to stay at 2 Draycott Place for two nights. It was awfully hard to get a cab or anything, as there is a bus: strike, but we got one alright, & took all the luggage to Charing Cross & put it in the parcel office, but Heppie sat in the Waiting Room with Susie & the small things. Then Dus: & I walked to Gorringes,3 & got a pair of shoes, it was quite a long walk. I walked about till about six, & then came back to Heppie. There was an ambulance train in, so we went from another platform. I met Mrs Edwards, we got the luggage in alright, but when we arrived we had to wait a long time to get a cab. I walked on with Dus. to open the house & put on the light. Got Duskey’s supper & had our, & made the beds etc, & brought up some of our things out of the boxes, & we got to bed at about one.
Thanks so much for your letter. I was just thinking of writing to you, as I saw Maurice’s name in the list of “Mentioned in Despatches” again yesterday. Is it the fourth time? I am sorry to hear he is having trouble again with that rotten blood-poisoning. I agree with you that I rather hate those inoculations, although one hears they have done wonders. It seems unnatural, doesn’t it? I expect you’ll be back at Clodagh when you get this, but if you aren’t, could you & Tommy come here on the way? We have several girls away in quarantine, & should love to have you. We could get wee Jess in too just now, as you said she was going straight to Folkestone. It’s [—] to girls being late, but better than getting German measles. We had rotten a fright on Friday with a new girl who developed acute appendicitis two days after she arrived. Fortunately the doctor recognised it at once, & we telephoned to her Mother, who arrived with a surgeon & nurse prepared to have the operation done on the spot. However fortunately the surgeon said he would rather have her in his Nursing Home in London, so they took her off in a motor ambulance, & the operation was over by 6 o’clock. She is doing well, but I am glad she isn’t here! What lovely weather we’ve had, haven’t we? I’m sure Cantreyn has been looking lovely, & you’ll be sorry to leave it.
Yr. loving Kitty.
Wednesday 16 May
Heppie called me, & we went down & got breakfast. [Blank] came at about eleven, & went straight to the smoking room, to clean it out, she worked at it all day, & did the windows too. Heppie worked in the greenhouse, & I went down the town to bring things back. After lunch we worked in the garden, & planted all the young lettuce, onions, & Brussel Sprouts that Bayliss gave us, then I put the things into the rockery, & did some weeding, & then watered them. Heppie worked at the greenhouse again. We didn’t come in till 9-30. Then we got dinner, as [blank] had gone home early. I finished my unpacking & tidying this morning. We went to bed at about twelve.
ARRAS. Sat in the Office till about 11 am. Went up to 87th H.Q. with Lockett & Hewitt. Left them at Cannister Lane about 2 P.M. Went all round firing line and support trenches. Got very wet. Think the wire is held far too thick. Got back about 7.45. Had a good bath and got off to bed about 11 pm. We were counter attacking Chemical Works at Roeux at 7.30 P.M.
Thursday 17 May
Heppie called me, & then we got our breakfast. Then I dusted my room, & turned out Muz’s room, & Tom’s, & then did the top landing etc, & the stairs, & didn’t get done till nearly tea time. Cook did out the morning room, & got it finished, only for the windows. Heppie unpacked etc, & then worked at the smoking room curtains. I did up Poppie’s birthday present, & wrote letters, & then went down the town to shop, I had to go to the bakeries, to get a loaf! I had an awful hunt to get dog biscuits, but at last got some down in Tontine Street. Didn’t get back till after eight. Heppie had lit the range, for a bath when they came back. We thought they would come by the late train, but they arrived at about 8-30. We got dinner, & Muz & I had a bath, & Heppie washed Susie. We went to bed at about twelve.
Friday 18 May
Took down cobwebs etc. The Kirwans came round. They arrived last night, & are staying at the Burlington. I didn’t see them, but Muz & Tom went out with them. Cook did the morning room windows, & started the hall. Tom was in bed for breakfast. After tea Muz & I went round to see the Kirwans, & talked to Miss Castberg on the way.
Letter from Mrs Armstrong to Pat Armstrong
Pat darling here we are at Clodagh again & very busy too! Tommy & I got down by 5 train but did not get here till very late about 8-15 such a dirty nasty day in London. The Kirwans are here at the Burlington & it’s very nice having them here, I wish we had them in the house to see more of them but can’t till we settle in. They’ve been here a couple of days. Ione isn’t coming till next week it is quite near I hear so I hope she sees him[.] more of the potatoes are up but everything looks nice & tidy I dug up a potato to see if it had any life in it & it had a nice long root so they aren’t killed with the frost anyhow. That’s a good thing. I’m going to sow more seeds as there is still a lot of ground left to be filled. We seem to have gotten on at Bullecourt I hope that Cayley is right! that you won’t be busy for a bit but I fear you will! as you are so busy when writing last & General de Lisle’s last he was going to Arras Wednesday which means you [—] further forward. Must go as K’s are waiting for us to go out. God bless you darling old Pat.
Your loving Muz.
“We seem to have gotten on at Bullecourt”
Saturday 19 May
Cook did the hall, & got it finished, & started the dining room. I dusted all the plates in the hall, & did some tidying, after lunch I cleaned all the brass & copper in the hall, & didn’t get it done till late. Muz & Tom went round to the Kirwans, & they went to the Leas Pavilion. After tea I went out on the front to meet them, & we walked about. Heppie got a servant, & she arrived this afternoon – Elizabeth – Heppie went down to the club. I showed Elizabeth all her things etc, & we went to bed at about eleven. I settled the flowers for the hall & morning room, this morning, & Muz & I moved the furniture, & made it look better, then I put the books in the case.
Sunday 20 May
Muz, Tom & I went to church, & met the Kirwans afterwards, & walked about the front. After lunch I did some tidying, & then went round & called for the Ks, & they took us up to tea at the Grand, it was rather fun. Then we walked about for a bit, & they came back here afterwards, & Mrs Cleghorn came. Then we changed & went down to the club, but there weren’t many men in. Muz sat at the desk. We got back at about ten, & there was very heavy thunder, & lightning.
Arras. Fuller rang up about 9 am to say, we were to return the 87th Bde to-night.
Letter from Irene Wills, 15 Sussex Mansions, Sussex Place, SW1, to Mrs Armstrong
I had a splendid long letter yesterday, dated the 14th. There wasn’t much news, they had been dining with the Corps commander, and had rather fun. Pat seemed in great form and most cheery. The leg was better, and the inoculation seemed to have done good work. I expect you had a letter too, and probably as much or more actual news as I did. Sunny and I have great walks in the park together, really as we were to have the darned thing it was a tremendous bit of luck having it at the same time. She goes straight back to work so I feel very lazy indeed going away for a change, and as I said before I shouldn’t go if it wasn’t for Nora. Only really this is a chance to get a bit even with the Jones for being so awfully good to me. We go on Tuesday to Hotel Moorlands Hindhead Surrey. If only the weather is decent it will be quite perfect there and Nora will come back a different creature. Well, I must write to mum and then as it’s Sunday night we have cold supper and lay it ourselves, our maid is on her holiday and the other is out. Much love to you all.