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Monday 11 to Sunday 17 June 1917

WEEK 155: SLAYING THOSE WHO SLEW HIM

Monday 11 to Sunday 17 June 1917

German air offensives on civilian targets continued unrelenting in Britain throughout June and July 1917. The most devastating of these took place in London on 13 June in broad daylight when 20 Gotha bombers approached the city in diamond formation shortly before noon and dropped 126 bombs in various districts. One of the bombs fell through the roof of a council school in the Upper North Street, decimating a girls’ class on the top floor and a boys’ class on the middle floor before landing in the infant class of 50 children where it exploded, killing 18 and wounding 30. In total, the raid left 162 persons dead and 432 wounded, making it the largest number of casualties caused by a single bombing attack on England during the First World War. This and related incidents in the summer of 1917 led to the development of new tactics in British aerial combat, including the introduction of the famous biplane fighter Sopwith Camel.

Monday 11 June

jess__diary_cameoReenie goes. Reenie was up at 8-30, to work in the garden, & then we both went out after breakfast, & worked hard till lunch time, & got it all finished, it was awfully hot, & we were nearly dead! Came in & changed for lunch, & Mr Hamilton & Huff came for lunch, & afterwards I helped Reenie to pack, & went up to the station with her, to see her off by the three train. Viva was seeing Cupid off, & I walked some of the way back, with her, & then met the others in the car, going to Wye, so I went too. Mr Hamilton & Ione went & had tea with people, & we four had it in the Hotel, & then watched chickens being puffed for the pip. We got back at about 8, & I got two cold suppers, for them, for later, & Muz had hers in her room. Mr Hamilton stayed in the smoking room till two, till his train went. We stayed up till 12 sorting letters etc, & then I sent them in tea.

Letter from Constance Penn, 43 Cadogan Square, [London] S.W., to Mrs Armstrong.

My dear Rosie

It was good of you bothering to answer my letter. I so often think of you, & of what a desperate time you are going through. As to whether the feeling of loss & dreadful “irrevocableness” if such a word exists – gets better with time – in a way I think it gets worse first – at least my experience is that at first, tho’ one knows it is true our boys have gone from us, one does not realize nor grasp it. It seems so unlikely – impossible even, that these boys, so full of life & vigour, shd. be still for ever – & for months & months it used to come across me as something quite fresh & new, as if I had only just taken it in, & sometimes even now, I think we shall only completely realize it when the war is over – & the world being put together again.

Little things like seeing other people buy the things we used to send out to our boys – or hearing tunes they used to sing – or coming across their cricket ties & such little things as these, seem to bring it back all fresh as in the first moment – but there is one thing I began to feel some time ago – & which grows stronger & stronger – & that is the sense of nearness to them & sometimes I can almost feel them close to me – & I believe you will find that too – especially with your keen insight into things beyond most people’s seeing. I fancy it must be that when these boys have got more used to their new life & all it holds – they are able to go to a higher plane – & still higher – as their knowledge & understanding grows. – & that they are then able to send out their spirits to the ones they loved most on earth, & that though we can’t actually see them – the veil is so thin between, that they really are very close to us. – & always when this happens – I see them as so happy – & strong & full of life – that one can’t think of them as dead. I am sure they are still as alive, much more so, indeed – than ever they were here, & being given the work to do which they would have chosen beyond all other.

Geoffrey Penn

When one speaks of their being “at rest” – I believe for these young creatures – rest wd. not be the thing they wd. prize most – tho’ at first to find themselves in the peace & stillness of Paradise – after the Hell of noise they have been in so long, must have been a heavenly relief – but then they wd. wish to be “up & doing” again, once they were really rested – & one feels God must have need of so many of these splendid brave young spirits nowadays – to do his work, & be his messengers. & they are “a glorious Company”.

Your boy literally gave his life for his friend, & no one can doubt for a moment that his reward is the highest that can be bestowed. The thing that has often surprised me, is that tho’ I am thinking of my boys nearly every waking moment, I almost never dream of them – & my little daughter in law says the same – we sometimes wonder if when we are asleep, we are really with them – only not allowed to remember all abt. it when we wake, but that that makes the sense of their nearness grow stronger & stronger. I do hope this will come to you in time as it is the most wonderful comfort.

Your Pat was killed like my Geoff – by a sniper, hit thro’ the head, & I have always been so thankful to know he did not suffer. One wd. not bear to think of them lying out in agony alone – as so many have had to do. – & yr. boy just remained beautiful as he was in life – I know that when my Eric was killed, tho’ he was buried by a shell bursting on his dug-out – several of his men have told me that when they got him out, they thought he was still alive, & only stunned – not a trace of struggle nor pain – just as if he were asleep – & you can think of your Pat in the same way, & know that it is as you last saw him, in all his youth, & good looks that he will be waiting to welcome you when the time for meeting again comes. – I can just fancy how proud you must be of all the letters you get about him. He must have been quite splendid – & you must be proud to be his mother, & to have known how absolutely devoted he was to you – as some one said to me of mine “more like a lover than a son”. – It makes it all the harder to lose him for a time – but a wonderful memory. – Don’t bother to answer this long screed. I wish I cd. help you!

Yrs affly

Constance Penn.

Algie_cameoLetter from Algie Neill to Jess Armstrong

My dear Jess

I have your note of Monday last. I can tell you it has been such a great joy to me to know that my brief visit did some good. I know full well Jess what you feel in this sad cruel loss but I think you are all wonderfully brave and may God help & comfort you. I am going up to the vicinity of A1 tomorrow and will make every endeavour to go & visit Pat’s last resting place & will write & tell you about it. Jess although I am quite well I have been getting very tired & worn for some time past now but Pat’s death makes me want to develop my energy again & that energy will be devoted to slaying those who slew him & Kitty’s two brothers. There is no new principle in killing. I have preached “Destruction of the enemy by killing” from the very start of the war because I knew what the hun character was very thoroughly. The last time our men did not do half enough killing but they would have had I been in command longer. I believe it is the only way to deal with huns. I have never killed men whose surrender has been accepted but there is no necessity to accept their surrender – I think we should see really big things happening within a month. I went to communion yesterday and prayed to God to comfort you all in your great sorrow. My best love Jess dear & love to you all.

Yours affectionately

Algy.

Tuesday 12 June

jess__diary_cameoLeft out things for lunch etc, then Muz & I went down the town, & did some shopping, & ordered a dress for her. After lunch, got tea etc. & then sorted letters etc. with Muz. Huff came for tea. Ione stayed in bed all day. After tea did up parcels of letters, to send to Poppy. Wrote letters after dinner. Tom went to bed early. Went to bed at about twelve.

Telegram from Buckingham Palace to Mrs Armstrong in Folkestone

The King and Queen deeply regret the loss of you and the army have sustained by the death of your son in the service of his country their majesties truly sympathise with you in your sorrow Keeper of the Privy Purse

From the King and Queen

snow_cameoLetter from General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow to Mrs Armstrong

My dear Rosalie.

You say “write to me again soon” but it is difficult to find comfort for a grief such as yours. It must be lovely to be able to look back on Pat’s life and to know that your loving relation with him never even received a jar and it is few Mothers who can have such a memory. Of course he’s happy. He was happy in life and he’s happy now and of that you can be certain. When one is sorrowing for a dear one it always helps when one remembers it is not for them you are really grieving, but for one’s on sorrow as [sic] losing them. Pat who hated to see you ill would hate still more to see you give way; and he can see it I know. I hear De Lisle has moved but I can always do anything as regards Pat’s resting place, it is only 3 miles away. Would you like a photograph of the cross. If so I think I can get one by applying officially – shall I?

Yours always

T. d’O. S.

Letter from Colonel Fuller, 29th Div. H.Q., to Mrs Armstrong

Dear Mrs Armstrong,

I hope you won’t mind my bothering you at such a time, but I wanted to write and tell you how much we all miss Pat. Personally, I had so much to do with him these last two years that I took a sort of pride in his progress. I’d seen him turn from boy to man in a very short time, and I was convinced that he had a great future ahead of him, for the moment he took on a job, he always saw it through. Of his gallantry, others have doubtless told you but what I admired most in him, was his unselfishness, and kindness. He never said an unkind word of anybody, and that in the stress and worry of a campaign is not an easy thing. I saw Pat last on the afternoon of the 22nd, and was awfully struck then at the manner in which his presence brightened the sordid dug-out of Bde Hd Qrs. Gen: Jelf, like all of us, has felt his loss most deeply, – how much more so, you all must feel it, I hardly dare to think.

With heartiest sympathy,

yours very sincerely

C. G. Fuller.

Please do not trouble to answer this.

Letter from Brigadier General Rudolf Jelf, 86th Infantry Brigade, British Expeditionary Force, to Mrs Armstrong

My dear Mrs Armstrong

So many thanks for your very kind letter. The flowers, that you sent, were duly put on dear little Pat’s grave. I am sending you quite a rough sketch of the grave, and description of it. I shall make a point of coming to see you on my way through, next time I come on leave, and I shall so much look forward to making your acquaintance. I do hope you got all his kit, and his dog. She was devoted to him, and he to her. I hope you may possibly see General de Lisle, who has been home on leave. We are now in the rest area, and doing a good bit of training, and really for a Brigadier, there is not much rest, whether one is in the Line or out of it. However sit [sic] is a great thing to have a comfy Bed, and to be out of earshot of the guns. You will have read about our great success at Messines.2 A fine piece of work, and it will very much ease up the situation in the Ypres Salient. We have got among other things, a very nice trout stream close by. My love to you all please and I hope we shall meet soon.

Yours very sincerely

Rudolf Jelf.

Stripped!

You ask me to describe dear little Pat’s last few hours. After he had finished his letter to you, he must have gone to bed, in the same dug out as myself, & we got up at about 6 a.m. and we had a complete wash over (stripped) in cold water out of a basin, and I remember remarking to him “You are a brave fellow, Pat,” (alluding to his having a cold bath). We then started off together, each of us with our faithful orderlies, & got up to the front line trench about 9.30 a.m. and reconnoitred a piece of trench to be deepened, and spent a certain amount of time there, and we returned to the front line trenches, & we parted. Quite by chance: he went one way, and I another, and then events happened exactly as I wrote to you, and he was hit about noon, & died about 3 p.m.

Letter from Irene Wills, 9 Southwell Gardens, SW7, to Mrs Armstrong

Motherbird dearest,

I can’t tell you how I loved being with you all, it did help. I shan’t say thank you for having me or anything of that sort because I’d like to feel that it’s a home where I can come anytime. Next time I shall refuse to sign the visitors’ book, it’s rather an insult I consider. I am going up to Gil and Queen on Saturday, London is absolutely grilling, the pavements get up and hit one in the face. There were mountains of letters waiting here which must be answered, so this will not be a very long one. Peter is coming to see me after dinner to-night, it will be awfully nice to have a talk with her and I am sure she will help. I still can’t quite realise it, can you? There is a funny feeling of only having half a brain working. Darling, forgive this futile letter, and try and imagine the things I would like to say. I think you are all perfectly wonderful, Pat would be very proud of you now. As time goes on we shall appreciate those marvellous tributes even better I think, they are almost overpowering all at once, nothing will be able to take away our pride, or the wonderful memory of our darling, but just at present nothing seems to help much does it? With very much love to you all I’ll try and write again soon.

Ever your loving fourth daughter

Irene.

Wednesday 13 June

Public Warning


jess__diary_cameoHuff came round. In the morning we were warned that there was an air raid, so we all had to come in. It was over London, & Margate. Did a lot of tidying etc, as Percy & Baie are coming to dine tonight, & we had to get their room ready too, as they may stay. Heppie & I laid the table etc, & they came for dinner, & are staying at the Langhorn. Mr Ectors came round afterwards, & he & Ione talked in the smoking room, & Percy talked about Pat, but wasn’t able to tell us anything else. Pat had been with him the night before, for a bit. We walked back to the hotel with them, & when we got back, Muz & I walked back there, with a note putting them off for lunch tomorrow, as it is their last day. Went to bed at about twelve. Heppie was very tired after all her working etc.

cameo_geeLetter from Captain Robert Gee to Mrs Armstrong

Dear Mrs Armstrong.

Have just received your letter & Cable, I quite understand & will do my level best re the cross. I hope to get home on 17th or 18th & will come straight to Clodagh if only for short while, I expect Capt Ross will also cross over with me. I have tried any means in my power to get someone to take up Pat’s DSO but unfortunately there is a Routine order just published & the only award after death is a VC, don’t give up hopes though. Trust to see you ere long & to talk over Dear Pat & the people & things he loved. Remember Mrs Armstrong he knows what we do & just how we feel about all things.

Yrs sincerely

Robt Gee

Thursday 14 June

jess__diary_cameoWent down the town to shop, & went to get my black skirt, & got back rather late. Then got tea ready, & got things ready for dinner & laid the table. Heppie is going to cook it. At about three we were warned that there was going to be an air raid, so we had to stay near the house, but nothing happened, they must have gone on to London. We were waiting to go down to the Harbour, so when we heard it was over with went down, & saw Percy for a few minutes, & then General de Lisle came out & talked to us, he couldn’t give us any more details. When we got back Baie was here, she is going to stay the night. Three Steels & Huff were here for tea, & afterwards Muz & Baie went out & sat in the gardens. I finished the table etc, & cleared some of it away afterwards. Ione, Tom & Mr Ectors went round to the Lewis’s afterwards, & Muz, Baie, & I sat out in the garden. Then Muz & I had a bath, & we went to bed at about twelve. Heppie got all the breakfast ready.

An air raid in London

Friday 15 June

jess__diary_cameoMuz was up very early, & later Ione & I came down in our dressingowns [sic] & got Baie’s breakfast ready, she had it in bed. Then Ione & I had a bath. Muz, Baie & Tom went for a walk, & I got luncheon ready, & laid the table, & then Heppie cooked it. Then Baie went by the three train, then I got tea ready & wrote letters, & went down to post them at about 6-45, & Huff came running after me, to say we had been warned of a raid, so we came back, & waited about, but nothing happened. After dinner we were warned that another lot were coming over, so we waited about again, & nothing happened, & then I carried some of my stores, up to the cupboard outside the bathroom. Huff & Mr Ectors came round. Huff & Miss Steele were here for tea. Muz & I didn’t go down. Mrs Barrow came in late for a little while as she was frightened. Muz & I wrote letters, & went to bed at about 12.

Letter from A.H.C. James, Lieutenant-Colonel, Provost Marshal, Third Army, to A.P.M.3 29th Division

It is regretted that leave is not given by G.H.Q. to French photographers to photograph graves. I have however, wired H.Q. 87th Bde direct to ask if the General would like the Grave Registration Officer to take a photograph. I know Captain Armstrong’s relations, and will do what I can. I have seen the Grave Registration Officer who promises to get this permission from London as soon as possible. He is obliged to refer it to London. Meanwhile, can you give me exact location of grave, and if you ask A.P.M. Arras he will give you a M.F.P. to whom the Brigade could show the spot, and later on the M.F.P. can guide the Graves’ Registration Officer.

Permission not granted

Saturday 16 June

jess__diary_cameoMuz & I wrote letters all morning. After lunch we went for a drive in the car to Lympne, & got petrol! & saw the flying sheds there.4 It was frightfully hot, we could hardly breathe. We saw one man doing the spiral nose dive for the first time. It is a wonderful looking thing, we didn’t know what it was, & we thought he was coming crash! Huff & Mr Ectors were with us, then we came back to tea in Hythe. A friend of Mr. Ectors was with us too – Mr Jackson, in the flying corps. Tom went to the Leas Pavilion with the Lewis’s, & Ione took her down. Muz wrote letters, & I worked in the garden, then we went down to meet Tom, & met Ione on the way. When we were coming back, met Mr Ectors & Mr Jackson, & we all went in to the Lewis’s for a little while, came up to bed with Muz, at about 11-30, they stayed up a bit later.

Sunday 17 June

“A few wee things”


jess__diary_cameoMuz, Tom & I went to early service. After breakfast I laid the table, & got things ready for lunch, & Heppie cooked it. Then I lay down for a bit, & then went down to the Harbour to meet the boat, as Capt. Gee & Capt. Ross were coming over. They came up here for lunch, & Ione took T. out & Muz, Capt: Gee & I went up to the morning room. He brought back a few wee things. Then we went into his room, & gave Capt: Gee some things to take back. He is a wonderful man, & there is nothing he hasn’t done, I never saw anything like it. T. went by the two train, & then we took Capt: Gee back to Dover in the car, Mr Ectors drove & Mr Arnoldi took Huff in his side-car. We got back at seven, & went down to the club. Ione & Tom dined with Mr Ectors at Hunderts, & then came in to us afterwards. We weren’t very busy, but it was frightfully hot, they brought the car down to meet us, & Muz, Ione, Tom, Huff, Dick, Mr Ectors & I went for a lovely drive over to Dymchurch, & didn’t get back till after one. I came up to bed with Muz, the others stayed up later.


Footnotes

  1. Arras
  2. This is a reference to the Battle of Messines (7-14 June 1917), a British offensive which advanced their front line and served as a prelude to the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle Passchendaele (31 July to 10 November 1917)
  3. Assistant Provost Marshal
  4. An emergency landing ground for the Royal Flying Corps had been established at Lympne in March 1916 to defend London against air raids. From January 1917 it was also used as a park for the delivery and acceptance of aircraft to and from France and as training ground for air gunnery

 
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