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Monday 28 May to Sunday 3 June 1917


Monday 28 May to Sunday 3 June 1917

Close to three-quarters of a million British servicemen were killed in the course of the First World War. The sheer volume of the war dead changed the nature of mourning from a private to a communal experience. Bereaved families sought solace from one another through letters, conversations and shared memories, and the chivalric, honourable and patriotic nature of self-sacrifice played a significant part in the language of condolence. Overt expressions of grief were avoided and loved ones were mourned in dignified silence. It was not only relatives but fellow soldiers who kept their emotions in check. In the face of ever-present death there was no room or even capacity for excessive sentiment. Instead, men dealt with their loss by going to great trouble to bury their comrades with as much reverence as circumstances allowed, adhering to formal funeral rituals often in the most difficult and dangerous situations.

Monday 28 May

jess__diary_cameoThe K’s & Mrs Cleghorn came in the morning, & then we all sat out in the gardens. After lunch Ione & Tom went round to get K. & they went down to Tontine Street to see where the bombs had dropped. I stayed with Muz, & then we sat in the gardens. The K’s came for tea, & then we took them back to the Burlington.

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

My dear Mrs Armstrong.

I have just had my husband’s letter of Wednesday in which he tells me he is so distressed to hear that ‘Pat’ was hit by a Sniper. Was hoping to hear how he was soon – This is just to send you all my sympathy in your anxiety – I do so hope you have heard reassuring news & will have him home – In great haste

Yours sincerely

Jessie E. D. Cayley.

Letter from Lieutenant General Charles Kavanagh to Mrs Armstrong

My dear Mrs Armstrong.

I have just heard the very bad news of poor Pat’s death, and am writing in the name of the whole Cavalry Corps to tell you how awfully sorry we all are to hear of it, and how very much we sympathise with & feel for you in your great grief. As an old Tenth Hussar too, I can tell you how very distressed the whole regiment will be, and what a loss he will be to them. He had done so awfully well during all this war, and showed such great promise for the future that he is a great loss not only to his Regiment & the Cavalry but to the whole army.

I do not know of any one of his age & standing who had a more promising future before him, as not only did he love his profession and show most of the qualities needed for him to shine in it, but he had such a charming personality that all he came in contact with loved him, and were able to show their best work when working with him or under him. He has however now joined a very gallant band of heroes and as it was not fated that he was to be allowed to remain on & work here, I am sure that there was no death he would have wished for other than to be killed in action when doing his duty for his country. Again assuring you of my own, & all of your great sympathy for you in your sorrow.

Yrs sincerely

C M Kavanagh.

Please do not bother to answer this.

Tuesday 29 May

jess__diary_cameoThe K’s came round early, & Muz went out with Mrs K. & went down the town. Ione in bed nearly all day. Tom went down the town. The Ks came for tea, & after tea we went to the station to meet Reenie. The Ks went back, & later a Mr Montgomery came, & brought Pat’s luggage. Standen came with him, he spoke so awfully nicely about him, & said that he was the apple of all their eyes, it was lovely to hear him talk. He was sent back on leave, especially to bring the luggage. General de Lisle has got “Melody”. We sat & talked in the smoking room, & then put Reenie to bed.

‘Would love to have you here’

Letter from The Rev John T. Penrose, The Rectory, Petworth, Sussex, to Mrs Armstrong

I can’t put on paper what my wife & I feel at the grievous news of your darling boy’s death, or how our hearts beat with yours & the girls’ in your desolating sorrow. But you know that we have been thro’ it all ourselves, so we understand utterly what you are going through, the crushing of bright hopes, the sudden ceasing of intimate & loving intercourse, the hunger for the touch of the hand & the sound of the voice that cannot any more be satisfied here. But I know that your spiritual vision is so clear that you will soon be able to look away above these human – & at best temporary – links & joys, to the really solid truths which are the only foundations that last, & on which our lives are really built. And the spiritual, that was the real link between you & your boy, is indestructible, & will become more & more your comfort until the “perfect day”, & its completion of all our dearest relationships with the loved ones who have gone on into the full light of Day before us.

‘Not lost, but gone before’

“Not lost, but gone before” – not lost, because safe in the Strong Arms, to which you too can fly on your wings of faith; & gone before, a little while ahead of you, to rest, & then to school again at the feet of Christ to gain the higher training for the higher staff work of His heavenly army. And thro’ your tears you can all look the world proudly in the face, because you know what a pure, unstained soul your boy had, & how grandly he did his duty thro’ the brave, happy days of his short life on earth. Oh! What a consolation it is to know he is Safe!

Your very sincere friend

John T. Penrose.

Please give my love to the girls, & special thanks to Jess for writing to me. The same post brought me the news that Ned’s old soldier servant has been killed. What a multitude they are growing, those loyal hearts & true, that now stand ever in the light, all rapture thro’ & thro’ in God’s most holy sight!

P.S. I am afraid the air-raid & all its nerve racking effects & consequences are a terrible aggravation of your trouble. The damage & loss of life in F.1 have been fearful. I only hope none of you suffered, tho’ I suppose you must at least have heard the awful clashes. My wife is going away for 2 months on Thursday, & most of the house is being shut up, as I too leave home for a Church Army Hut at Cromarty on June 12th. Otherwise we should so much have liked to ask if you would all come here for a while. I am so sorry. But I hope you will be led to do what is best for you all.

Letter from Annie Penrose, The Rectory, Petworth, Sussex, to Mrs Armstrong

My dear Mrs Armstrong.

I must write to you, & yet there is nothing to say. I did pray you might be spared this agony. So few mothers have sons like yours & mine, & when they have to let them go for this life, it is not to them what it is to you & me. Still we have a joy & a glory that they others do not know, though they may not be conscious of what they miss. I never saw your boy in the body, but I felt as if I knew him quite well. I am going to Broadstairs for a course of massage while my Husband is at Cromarty & I go there on 31st. When you have time will you or dear Jess send me a line to Landsowne, Queen’s Road Broadstairs. I long to hear from you or her. I know she is an angel of love & comfort. I trust the raid has not touched you in any way beyond the inevitable & awful shock. With my very deepest & truest sympathy.

Your affectionate friend

A. Penrose.

Letter from C. H. Tindall Lucas to Mrs Armstrong

Dear Mrs Armstrong.

I got your cable yesterday. It is a great pleasure to feel that one can be of some little assistance. By this time you will have seen Col Maize (Canadians) who starts from home tomorrow, he lunched with us today and we gave him all the particulars we could, he is also taking Pat’s dog home to you, Capt Gee has been looking after him the last few days. This afternoon I got hold of Pte Hurley of the Dublins who was a brigade orderly and with Pat at the time. Pat was out most of the previous night in no man’s land trying to find the body of a friend of his called Layard, who had been believed to be killed a few days before, but was unsuccessful. He went up to the line again the next morning, some of the men told him there was a sniper very active at a certain point. He found a suitable close by [sic], spotted the sniper and appears to have shot him with the first round as the man’s helmet fell off and he rolled over. Pat then had a careful look through his glasses, showing as little as possible, to see if the man was moving. Almost immediately a bullet hit him in the centre of his forehead through his helmet. To all intent & purpose he was killed on the spot, he was absolutely unconscious, and never moved, this was about 2.30 PM. He breathed his last at about 4 PM. Pte Hurley bound up his wound.

Another Capt Armstrong in the Lancashire Fus was a short way off, he came up at once and was with him the whole time, I believe, though he is not available at present. Pte Hurley went off to find a doctor though it was quite useless, the nearest doctor could not be found, in any case he could not have been there in time to be of the slightest assistance. His body was carried down just before dusk to the brigade hd qrs, and he was buried next day at 2 PM in Arras cemetery. Genl Snow was present at the funeral, and brought a large bunch of white lilac with him which he placed on the grave. His body was carried to the grave by Captains Gee, Ross, Quill and Cowan; the service was read by the Rev Komlosy Chaplain to the division.

You will probably by now have heard most of these details from his many friends who have written to you. He suffered no vestige of pain. His action the previous night in risking his life to try and find the body of a friend was typical of him. There is nothing more I can tell you. If I can help you any further I hope you will make use of me.

Yrs v sincerely

C H Tindall Lucas.

Letter from Independent Newspapers, Ltd, Dublin, to Captain M. B. Armstrong

Dear Sir

Will you favour us with the loan of a photograph of your son Capt Wm Maurice Armstrong for publication in the “Irish Independent,” and oblige, with sympathy,

yours faithfully magazine editor.

Wednesday 30 May

jess__diary_cameoThe announcement was in the papers this morning. Ione, Tom & Phil went down the town. Mr Nicholson came for lunch. Muz wrote letters all morning, so did I & Reenie. The K’s came for tea, Tom went out with Phil, & they came back to get us to go up & see the aerial torpedoes in Kingsnorth gdns. We saw one that had been dug out, & a house that one had come straight through, & done no damage to the outside, it was wonderful to see. Afterwards we went to dinner with the Ks, but came away straight afterwards, as they wanted to pack, as they go off tomorrow.

The announcement

cameo_geeLetter from Captain Robert Gee to Mrs Armstrong

Dear Mrs Armstrong.

By this time you will have received Dear Pat’s kit Etc, a Colonel May of the Canadians called here yesterday & as he was leaving France today I entrusted him with your letters to hand to you also the Dear Boy’s Helmet which I had intended keeping until I could hand it to you, I took him to his grave. The Cross is finished & I hope to get it put up this afternoon or tomorrow. Many thanks for the Cable & letter. I hope to get home in June & will call & see you as soon as I land but I must see Ione on my way through Boulogne. I have sent her Pat’s dog Wipers it will be company for her. Gen Lucas has now sent you full particulars. The Div Gen has sent for me & so must go.

Ever yrs in Love with Pat

Robt Gee

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

My dear Mrs Armstrong.

My husband’s letter of 24th has only just reached me to-day & contains the sad sad news of your dear son’s death. I feel so terribly sorry for you and all who loved him – To have come through so much for nearly 3 years and then to be taken & with such a splendid career before him, for you it must be awful – But he has only joined that “other Glorious Company” and their work goes on. My husband was feeling it all so much – He says in his letter “he was one of the most loveable characters I ever met kind hearted, cheery and undeafetedly [sic] brave” – It must be a consolation to you to know that he could not have suffered at all – One cannot say all one feels – but may God comfort you

Yours v. sincerely

Jessie E. D. Cayley.

Letter from E. H. Parry, Stoke House, Seaford, to Mrs Armstrong

Dear Mrs Armstrong,

We are so very grieved to read about poor Maurice. He has done so well, and every body spoke so highly of his good work and invaluable cheerfulness, that it makes it trebly hard for you. We are so very very sorry for you, as we know so well what he was to you. I always remember his first coming to Stoke, and what a delightful little boy he was full of life and go and affection. He was always the same boy whenever we saw him afterwards, quite the cheeriest boy that ever lived. Someone who was out in Gallipoli with him told me he kept them all alive with his fun, and was absolutely invaluable. It is very hard that the end should come now, and one can say little that is any use but I know it is some comfort to feel that others are thinking of him and you all, and will always remember Maurice as the brightest of all those brave boys who have given up everything for us.

With our deepest sympathy believe me yours most sincerely

E H Parry

Pat at Stoke House

Thursday 31 May

jess__diary_cameoWe got such awfully nice letters from the Penroses. Muz & I got up early, to go & see the Kirwans off, but our clocks were slow, so we just missed them. We will miss them awfully, they have been just wonderful. We all wrote letters in the morning, except Ione, & she scuffled the gravel, in the front. Wrote again the afternoon. Tom & Phil left notes. Ione & Tom scuffled the Front. Reenie & I went for a walk, & after dinner Colonel Maiye came to tell us that he has left “Wipers” at Boulogne for us. He stayed for a long time talking, he had been up to the brigade to bring us news. He was awfully hard to listen to, but he meant awfully well. We didn’t go to bed till late. We read letters.

Friday 1 June

jess__diary_cameoMuz wrote letters all morning, & Reenie & Ione did too. Tom & I went down the town to try & get black hats. After lunch Tom & Reenie went & sat out in the garden & wrote & read, & Ione wrote. Muz & I went down & sat at the Pavilion Hotel, waiting for the train to come in, as Gordon was coming out to see us, he had about ½ hour, Muz showed him a few of the letters about Pat, then they talked. The boat went out at about six. We had dinner early, & afterwards Muz wrote more letters, as she has got such a huge lot to answer. Reenie came & lay on my bed & read, while I wrote letters, such an awfully nice letter came from General Kavanagh, sympathising for the whole Cavalry Corps. Colonel Maiye brought his helmet this morning, but we haven’t been able to open it yet. We went to bed at about 12.

Pat’s helmet

Saturday 2 June

jess__diary_cameoIone stayed in bed for breakfast. Emmie Plumptre sent us some flowers to send out to Pat, so we got more in the garden, & put them in too, & Heppie posted them. Muz & Reenie wrote letters, & helped Ione to unpack some of her things, & finished it after lunch. Tom went with notes this morning. Miss Steele, Mr Rothwell & Diana Daly came for tea, Muz & I didn’t go down. Heppie went down the town, & found all the shops shut, as they are having a memorial service for the raid people. There were 76 killed & 174 injured. Three of the enemy aeroplanes were shot down. About 50 to 60 bombs were dropped. We got a wire from Bee to say that Kicks is over his operation, & she is coming down here tomorrow. We read letters after dinner, & went to bed at about eleven.

pokes_cameo2Letter from Vaughan ‘Pokes’ Stokes to Mrs Armstrong

Dear Mrs Armstrong,

I want to try to tell you how much I sympathise with you in your great loss. Pat was one of the greatest friends I ever had, the sort one doesn’t make in a moment and very seldom in a life time. We have done so many things together and now he’s gone in the beginning of his career. It’s no use, I can’t say half what I feel but I like to think that I was his friend and as such you know that all my sympathy goes to you who have lost your son.

Yours sincerely

Vaughan Stokes

Sunday 3 June

jess__diary_cameoTom went to church, we didn’t, as we were going up to meet Bee. I got the table ready etc, & then she came by the twelve train. Muz showed her some of the letters, & after lunch we went down to see the damage done by the bombs, up at the station, Tontine Street, & the Callaghans house. Reenie stayed & wrote letters, & Tom went with the Crofts. We came back, for tea, & then went to see Bee off by the six train. It was awfully nice of her coming down, & she is coming again, if they are in London long enough, with Kicks. Then we went down to the club, Miss Walters is away for a bit. Ione & Tom stayed at the desk & Muz, Reenie & I inside, & Mrs Fitzgerald at the inside desk. We got back at about 10-30. Washed Muz’s feet, & went to bed at about 11-30. It was officially in the paper on Monday 4th, & also his gazette as captain.

Letter from Thomas Tait Pitman to Mrs Armstrong

My dear Mrs Armstrong.

‘As cheery as ever’

It was only when we got back out of the line yesterday that I saw the notice in the Times which confirmed a report I had in the trenches. I almost hesitate to write to you, as no word that I can say can in any way fill the gap. I last saw Pat about a month ago or rather less. His brigade had come out of the line and were close to us and I found him as cheery as ever, and he came over and dined with us with his new brigadier. It always did one good to meet Pat his spirits were so excellent, and wherever one went one heard nothing but praise of his actions. I have watched every moment of his career since I first interviewed him at Sandhurst and I was always very sorry that there was no vacancy for him in the Eleventh. It is hard enough for us out here to watch the lights going out one by one, but for you poor people at home who can only sit and wait it must be a terrible strain. Out here we do not judge each other’s’ lives, and try and forget quickly, so long as we can feel that the country means to see it through and that all this sacrifice should not have been in vain. Please do not think of answering this letter. Some day when all is over you will perhaps give me one of Pat’s photos, the one I used to like so much, which you had in the drawing room at Folkestone.

Yours sincerely.

Thomas T. Pitman.

Letter from Morres Nickalls to Mrs Armstrong

Dear Mrs Armstrong.

A letter from Morres Nickalls

I shall be only too glad to do anything in the way of securing Pat’s horses. I understand from Capt Guthrie, Gen de Lisle’s ADC, that Lady B was already en route for England but have heard nothing yet. He said the W.O.2 would give a valuing whether the mare went back to you or should be sold at auction, that Gen de Lisle wanted her, in the latter event to be brought for anything up to £50 & Melody up to £100, that I should be notified of the time & place of sale. I have heard nothing yet. If you ever want to sell Lady B I will buy her, as far as one can speak with certainty of the future. I am very fond of the mare & both for that reason & because she was Pat’s should not sell her again. So if you do want ever to get rid of her will you let me know? If she is sold at auction & went for more than £50 I should buy her & of course you should have her if you wanted her. When we know for certainty what the W.O is going to do you can make more definite plans. I can well imagine that to see anyone but Pat riding them will be sad for you. It is hard enough to lose anyone in this war, but there can be no greater sorrow than to lose such [a] son as Pat. I only knew Pat of course during the war but it was long enough to realise one only meets a few such in a lifetime – none of his friends will ever forget him or cease missing him.

Yours sincerely

Morres Nickalls.


  1. Folkestone
  2. War Office

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