WEEK 152: BREAK IT TO HIS MOTHER
Monday 21 to Sunday 27 May 1917
While Pat Armstrong continued his desperate search for Frank Stanley Layard, his mother and sisters experienced first-hand the full force of the war when a flight of 21 Gotha planes returning from an aborted raid on London shed their bombs while flying over Folkestone on Friday 25 May 1917. During the ten-minute raid, 163 bombs were dropped of which 38 detonated, instantly killing 78 men, women and children and injuring 174. One of the bombs crashed in Grimston Gardens near the home of the Armstrong family but the greatest damage was caused by a bomb which fell on Tontine Street where crowds of people were doing their Bank Holiday shopping. Nearly 60 victims were killed instantly and many died later from their injuries. The Armstrongs had barely recovered from the shock of the attack when Mrs Armstrong received news no mother should be called to bear.
Monday 21 May
Muz, Tom & I went down the town, & then I left them, as I had a lot of shopping to do. After lunch Tom went round to the Kirwans, & sat on the Front, Tom had tea with them, & Muz & I went round later, & they walked down to the hospital with us, & Muz & I went in & did both hospitals, & they shopped, & came back to us, & we walked home by the Front, & we went & dined with them at the Burlington, & went out on the Front after dinner, & then they walked some of the way back with us.
Letter from Captain Robert Gee to Pat Armstrong [undated but written between 20 and 23 May 1917]
I went round to the hospitals last night & there was no news of the Boy. I am afraid he can’t have been brought in, unless by any chance he passed through some ambulance other than in Arras. Possibly putting a notice out might get an answer, but I think it is rather doubtful whether you could get it close enough to the Bosche for him to get it in & read it. However perhaps it would work. I should write as follows:
HAT JEMAND EINEN ENGLISCHEN OFFIZIER LEUTNANT LAYARD GESEHEN ER WURDE BEIM ANSCHLAG AM ABEND DES 19TH IM BEIN VERWUNDET, UND LAG WACHER ZWISCHEN DEN GRABEN. ER IST EIN JUNGER MANN MIT SCHWARZEM HAARE.1
I haven’t put in the regt. I suppose one shouldn’t really, should one? If you looked for him & couldn’t find him, it looks a little bit hopeful that the Bosche might have taken him in. I do hope he is alright.
Tuesday 22 May
Left out things, & ordered lunch etc. Then Tom & I went down to do some shopping, & got back rather late. After lunch I cleaned all the silver for tea, & got tea ready. Heppie cut the sandwiches. Mrs Foster came to call, & stayed for tea, & Mr Rothwell & the Kirwans came. When Mrs F. went, we all went out on the front. Tom had been playing tennis with the Crofts, & then followed us out. Heppie put the white curtains up, in my room. On our way home, we went in to see the Wyndhams, about their dance, tomorrow night. We went to bed at about eleven. Muz’s & Ione’s rooms were done out today.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Irene Wills
Only a brief line as it’s after 1 and I’ve had the devil of a day and didn’t get back till 2 am yesterday morning. The Boy is lost. He went over two days ago in that beastly show we had & there is no news of him. I’ve done all I can to find him. We can’t find him anywhere, there are a good many dead lying about & one can only go at night so it’s almost hopeless. I hoped he might crawl in last night at dusk & waited about for hours but returned feeling absolutely hopeless about him. It is one of the worst knocks I’ve had this war. Poor little lad I was devoted to him. He was so awfully good all the time he was on the staff & was always so cheery & such good company. He was one of the few people in the Division who I was really fond of.
The extraordinary thing was that the night before the attack I knew that something was going to happen to him. I saw him wounded or dead I can’t tell you which, it wasn’t very clear but I woke up feeling so depressed I could hardly speak. I told our Intelligence Officer next morning that was the day of the attack and he just laughed & said I was a pessimist but I knew [I] was right. I’m racking my brains to try & remember where I saw him but I can’t do it. I’d give anything to find him, sorry for being so morbid but I feel so depressed I hardly know what to do. It’s a case of grin [and bear it]. I can do nobody any good by worrying, but I must unburden my soul to somebody. I’ll enclose a note in this in hopes he may be alive and a prisoner. Will you try & get it sent off for me. I feel it’s really useless as the odds are all against I’m afraid but still I’ll send it anyway.
Enclosed letter from Pat Armstrong to [Frank Stanley Layard]
I can get no news of you but hope you are alright. If this ever reaches you let me know how you are & I’ll write again. Best of luck to you & I do hope you are well & happy.
Yrs ever. Pat.
Letter from Irene Wills, Hotel Moorlands, Hindhead, Surrey, to Jess Armstrong
This really is a perfect place, right high up on the hills so the air is lovely. We arrived just before lunch this morning, the country is looking too glorious, and this is an awfully nice hotel. They keep every window open and have stacks of flowers everywhere and the rooms are real sun traps, if this weather lasts I think we shall have a very jolly week here really, though I didn’t want to come away and leave the[—] and riding one bit. I had an awfully nice ride yesterday afternoon and a long walk with Sunny in the gardens or rather the park, in the morning.
I don’t believe I told you in my last letter from Pat, Saturday, he said he was go[ing] to give me a summer habit2 for my birthday, as even with a thin coat he thought I’d be stewed alive. He said to get patterns and send them out to him from Busvines.3 Wasn’t that ripping of him, I do call that a glorious present don’t you. I had a letter this morning of the 18th, he seemed very fit and cheery, and seems to think he may get leave in about three weeks’ time, my dear, won’t it be heavenly if he does? I simply daren’t think about it in case it doesn’t come off! Nora is waiting for me to go out with her, it’s so lovely and fine I think I must. Much love to you all, and many thanks to the Motherbird4 for her letter, lots of love to yourself Jess dearest.
Ever yours Reenie.
I hear you like it spelt that way best!
Wednesday 23 May
Wyndham’s dance. In the morning Muz, Tom & Heppie went down the town, & Muz & Tom went out on the Front after lunch, to look for the K’s, but couldn’t find them. Tom lay down after tea, as she had lost her voice. Muz lay down for a bit too, & I rubbed her feet. K. & Mrs K. came round afterwards, & we sat in the garden, & then we changed for the Wyndham’s dance, & K. came round for us. There were about 12 couple, it was quite fun. It was raining very hard, when we were coming home, so some people brought us back in their taxi, we heard there was an air raid on too. Mrs Kirwan, Mrs Glass, & a friend, & Mrs Thurburn came here to play bridge, while we were away.
The General wants to get some shelves put up in this dug out. Could you get us some 1” boarding for this. We can get a pioneer from the Royal Fus to do it.
Thursday 24 May
Tom stayed in bed for breakfast. Mr Rothwell & K. came to play tennis, & then Mrs K. came round for tea. Muz, Mrs K. & I went down the town, & Muz & Mrs K. went to the hospitals with papers, & I did some shopping. When I got back, we took K. home. Mrs K. brought Muz home.
Friday 25 May
Air Raid. Tom went to try & find the K’s on the Leas, & before tea Muz & Tom went to get them, & they came round for tea, & afterwards we sat out in the gardens. At about 6-30 we heard firing & the noise of Zeps: coming from the Shorncliffe direction. Then we realized it was a raid, & a bomb was dropped in the corner of the gardens, quite close to where we were standing, & we were hit by bits of sods. I counted 17 Taubes5 just above the houses. We heard them dropping all round, & our guns firing but our machines weren’t up. Heppie was down the town, but went to Upton’s6 cellar. Mrs Thurburn’s maid7 was badly hurt, & we were the only people in the Gardens, who weren’t wounded. It lasted about ten minutes, & I believe there were 22 over, & two Zeps. Afterwards we went to see some of the damage. The Callaghans house8 is all knocked in, & their cook buried,9 but they’re alright. Three dropped in Bouverie Rd, & did a lot of damage. Some horses & a man killed at the station,10 & about 40 bombs dropped altogether. Stokes11 in Tontine Street got it awfully badly, & a lot of people killed, but we didn’t go down there. They say there’s a lot of damage done up at Shorncliffe, & some at Hythe, Sandgate, & Ashford too. I lost my keys in the excitement, so we couldn’t have dinner till late, but the K’s went back before. The Peters lent us things. We had seven windows broken, & found a piece of shrapnel in the morning room, & a piece in one of the chairs we had been sitting in. We had a wonderful escape. But the garden was the best place, as the ground was so soft.
Letter from Leila de Lisle, 5 Queensberry Place, S.W., to Mrs Armstrong
I got this this morning I feel I could not wire you, so am sending this as soon as I can. Beau wrote me on 23rd which I got this morning saying Pat had been shot by a sniper, but he had not details, but hoped it was not serious & then an hour after this letter I get this wire. I wish I was nearer & I would come to you poor poor brave mother – I ken how brave you will be – but Oh it is too heartbreaking. You ken Beau will mourn him as a son, as he has so often said to me “how I love that boy”. I am going away to Guildford House Farnham Surrey till Tuesday, then home. Ask Jess to send me a line if you can’t write. Oh darling Rosalie my heart is crying with you. I ken what it is to lose a child I have lost 3.12
Yr loving Leila
Letter from Percy Wilson to Irene Wills
I am afraid I have not much more to tell you. I saw the General who was very cut up about him. He tells me they got Pat’s body back about midnight & that he saw him & told me it was just the same dear old Pat only asleep. There was no trace of pain or anything in his face he looked perfectly happy as he always did. I think you can make yourself perfectly easy about his suffering. I don’t honestly believe he suffered at all or knew anything at all about it, as he did not regain consciousness at all. I promise you I am not saying this just to help you but it is a thing I am quite sure of in my own mind that he felt nothing. They took him back & buried him yesterday. Everyone is affected by his death as everyone in the Division liked him & I never yet heard a soul say on unkind word about him. If one’s got to get killed personally I would rather be killed like that absolutely instantaneously. Capt Pierre [?] was hit last night. He was my 2nd in Command. He was hit though the ankle. My goodness how glad I shall be when we get out of this place & still more glad when the war is over. I think the whole world has gone mad.
Now I am just going to give you a word of advice. Get something to do no matter what it is but take up anything you like & stick to it & make yourself do it however much you want to do nothing. It will help you to get through this time if you don’t give yourself time to think. It’s very easy to give this sort of advice but if you will follow it I think it will help you.
Letter from Tom Fairfax-Ross, HQ. 87 Bde, to Mrs Armstrong
Dear Mrs Armstrong.
I am just writing to tell you that everything that could be done for dear old Pat, has been done. He was brought down from the trenches and put into the Main Dressing Station on the evening of the day that he was hit. As far as I can make out the ambulance came to take him away. I went in to see him, to say a last prayer for him, and for you, that God might comfort you. The dear old boy just looked as if he was in a peaceful sleep and could not have felt any pain. It broke me up completely but I thought that perhaps you would like me to do so.
Cowan, Gee, Quill and myself carried him to the grave and the Rev Komlosy, Senior Chaplain to the Div held the service. All the Divisional Staff were there and General Snow, who put some flowers on the grave. Gee has made most of the arrangements so I am afraid I have not done much, but I could not very well take Gee’s place as he was Pat’s Staff Capt. at the time. I will try and get a photo taken of the grave and send it to you. Please let me know if there’s anything in the world that I can do.
Yours very sincerely
I cannot say how my heart aches for you. You poor child you must feel as if the end of all things had come because I know that you adored dear old Pat as everybody did and one cannot realise that he has been taken away from us! It all seems like some horrible nightmare. I am so very sorry to hear that you are still in Boulogne, because I hoped that you would have been at home by now. Have you anybody to go to? I cannot get you on the telephone as I do not know who to call up in Boulogne. Have never met Irene but the poor girl must be heartbroken.
Now Ione you must help the Motherbird and the others to be brave because I am sure that the last thing dear old Pat wanted was that you should all be heartbroken forever. I know what it is, as my father died when I was only seven and I had to help my best of mothers. One never knows what suffering he may have been saved and he died without any pain and after all that is a lot to be grateful for. I am getting all particulars of the cemetery for you and Gee is sending all his things home by Standen his groom. We went through his kit together as I thought that perhaps you would like me to see that everything possible was done, but anyone would do it for Pat. Bless him! One of the chauffeurs, who is a hardened old ruffian went in to see Pat, and cried like a baby and I know he loved him like everybody else did. Goodbye Ione. Let me know at once if there is anything I can do.
Yours very sincerely
Saturday 26 May
When the post came Muz got a letter from Lady de Lisle, with a telegram from the General, saying “Pat Armstrong killed break it to his mother”. But luckily there was a letter from General Lucas too which I opened first, which told us. A wee letter came from Pat too, written at 1 A.M. on the 23rd, & it happened at 2 P.M. & he died at 4 P.M. He was unconscious, but never suffered. He had been out for three nights before, looking for Layard, who was missing. Then he was in the front line trenches, & got hit by a sniper in the head. We went in to Heppie & Tom, & Muz was just wonderful. The K’s came round early as we had settled to go & see the damage done by the raid. Heppie told them. We all sat in the garden for a bit, & then walked up to the station, for something to do, & then the K’s took us back to lunch, they are perfectly wonderful, & had a motor for us, after lunch, & took us off for a lovely drive to Canterbury. It was the best thing for Muz. We got back at about 7-30, & had dinner here, & then walked about the gardens till very late. Heppie came & put us to bed, & stayed with us for ages. Muz is just wonderful about it all. Heppie sent off wires this morning.
Letter from Ada Maude to Mrs Armstrong.
My dear Rosalie.
I hear the raid last night was over Folkestone, it seems to have been bad enough by all accounts, & I am anxious to hear of the safety of you all; will you send me a few lines? I know how busy you always are. With love.
I enclose herewith some photos of Pat’s, also a list of his kit except a few articles of under clothing & old Boots & old Putties. There was also 80 Frs 50 of which I have given to his servant Pte Legge & 30 to his groom Pte Standerton.13 Miss Wills letters I have sent to her under Rgt Post, your letters to Dear Pat I will bring to you shortly as I hope to get leave during June. His Camera with your permission I propose to retain until I have got his memorial fixed & then I will take some snaps of it & let you have the Camera & snaps complete. His two watches I have also got & unless I can get home in June I will send them by Registered Post; some short time back we were talking things over & he asked me should anything happened [sic] to do certain things most of these I have done but of the two watches one was for Miss Wills & one for Tommy but unfortunately I have forgotten which can you help me to decide please. His saddle he also wished sent home. I propose to send his kit home by the first officer who comes on leave next week & I will try hard to send Standerton with it to look after it en route.
Please say if these arrangements meet with your approval & do forgive me for worrying you with details of this nature but one never knows when one’s time will come. Dear Mrs Armstrong it is far easier to say God’s Will be done than it is to believe in it but please remember He knows what is best, Pat believed in Him & prayed for you all nightly, few mothers I think were loved & reverenced by a son like you were. Let us all try & keep his memory green by endeavouring to follow his noble unselfish & cheery life.
Yours in sympathy
Sun 27 May
K. & Mrs K. came round early, & we sat in the gardens, then Tom went for a walk with them, & Muz came in & lay down for a bit. Then we went & had lunch with them, & sat in their garden. We came back here for tea, & Mrs Cleghorn came. I wrote a lot of notes, telling them all, & then we went to the club, we weren’t busy. Miss Walters was so sweet, & it was good for Muz. We got back at about ten, & found that Ione had arrived back. We all sat on Muz’s bed, & Heppie brought us milk. We went to bed at about twelve. I don’t think Muz slept much.
Letter from Captain Marcus Beresford Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
When I got your wire last evening I wired asking you if you would all come over here for a bit. The change & coming here would help to break a little our loss & take all our minds off it, if possible. I don’t feel very fit or would go over but will if you wish it – wire when you get this what you would like me to do – Hope Jane is with you.
- (Ger.) Has anyone seen an English officer Lieutenant Layard. He was wounded in the leg in a strike on the evening of 19 [May] and could be alive lying between the trenches. He is a young man with black hair.⇑
- A horse-riding outfit ⇑
- Busvines Ltd., Tailors, Riding Habit Makers & Furriers at 4 Brook Street, Hanover Square, London W ⇑
- Irene’s pet-name for Mrs Armstrong ⇑
- Gotha Taube was one of the versions of a monoplane aircraft popular before the First World War and the first military aeroplane to be mass-produced in Germany. ⇑
- Upton Brothers Limited, House Furnishers, 23-25 Tontine Street, Folkestone ⇑
- Mary Ann Murphy ⇑
- The family lived at 21 Manor Road, Folkestone ⇑
- Jane (‘Jennie’) Marshment (1867-1917), domestic cook to the Callaghan family; she was found buried under rubble in the basement of the house ⇑
- Edward Horn, butler to Sir Thomas Devitt of Radnor Cliff, Folkestone who was near the Central Station when two cab horses bolted, frightened by the explosions. Horn attempted to stop one of them, when a bomb fell close by killing him and both animals.⇑
- The greengrocery emporium of Stokes Brothers Limited at Nos. 51a, 51b and 51c Tontine Street, Folkestone, was completely destroyed when a bomb exploded right outside the store. Most of the staff were killed instantaneously, including one of the store’s partners, William Henry Stokes. His 14-year-old son Arthur Ernest Stokes died of his injuries three days later⇑
- Two of these were Pamela Mary de Beauvoir de Lisle (1905-1906) and Peter de Beauvoir de Lisle (1909-1910); the identity of the third child has not come to light ⇑
- He means Standen ⇑