WEEK 18: PERSISTENT BLIGHTERS THESE GERMANS
Monday 26 October to Sunday 1 November 1914
On 26 October, the French steamer Amiral Ganteaume was torpedoed by the German submarine U-24 while carrying 2,500 refugees from Calais to Havre. When the British Steamer The Queen responded to its distress call in high seas, many of the passengers did not wait to be rescued but made a wild scramble to jump on board before the two vessels had come together. Some 40 refugees fell overboard and drowned or were crushed between the two vessels. The survivors were taken to Folkestone, where Jess, Heppie and Mrs Armstrong participated in providing immediate assistance. Intense fighting continued on the Western Front, where Neuve Chapelle was taken by the Germans and retaken by the British. Pat Armstrong had a near escape from death when an inn used as Major-General de Lisle’s temporary headquarters was demolished by shellfire. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, all Algie Neill was fighting in Samoa was boredom.
Monday 26 October
[…] Mrs W. came up to tell us that a host of French refugees had hit a mine, when they were on their way from Calais to Havre. So we brought Tom back, & then brought Heppie down, & Muz went on the boat to help with the wounded, & we helped to cut bread & feed the people, & give them drinks. It was an awful sight, but they were all so good to each other, & so snatching, but they were all starving & so cold, & some of them had very few clothes. Four trains went off to London with 2500 of them & they weren’t done till after twelve.
After tea Jess Tommy Kitty Winstanley & I went for a walk to the Harbour to ask about some refugee luggage I heard today hadn’t ever reached one of my protegees who had gone to London. Kitty & I went in & left Jess & Tommy at Pavilion Hotel as we were speaking to the station master & hearing that no luggage had come over that last day of refugee ship leaving, as Germans having fired after the hurriedly leaving ship had vented the rage on their poor boxes had ripped open anything & punched & kicked everything into the sea so they had lost all their belongings & station master was remarking that as the Germans had got there as they were leaving it was lucky they had escaped with their lives. I was agreeing to this when we both stopped & listened to gruesome sound coming from the sea side of the Harbour, we could see nothing as there was a train in between us & the sea, but as the sounds became more distinct we hurried along in the direction, & soon heard it was a wreck. Kitty W like the little brick she is went off for me to the Pavilion to take Tommy home & I stayed feeling I might be useful. As we got down we saw the boat coming in […] & the first thing I heard was a red X man saying “for God’s sake get Drs & nurses! I ran & had them telephoned for & also ambulances & ran back again & felt surprised to see all these suffering people & nothing being done for them but heard it was impossible till more help came. I suggested that I should go on to the boat & to see what I could do, but was advised not, but stupidly a few seconds later didn’t take the advice! & I might have lived to regret it, or not lived! as the case might be as the poor wretches came towards me en masse, & as the deck was covered with blood there was no foothold & nothing to grasp hold of near […] One of the ambulances or red cross men told me afterwards it was a mad act as they had had to have a revolver to keep them quiet, & it appeared the red X people had tried to set a leg & been nearly smothered by the poor terrified people so had given up any attempt to do anything till help came. In a very short time help was on the boat & legs arms etc. were all being given first aid & taken off to Hospitals & maternity homes as everything ghastly was going on together. Miss Hubbard arrived in about half an hour or so there, & then Heppie came & we all did what we could. Jess was there helping rest of the Belgians to give them food at the trains, before going off, she & Kitty W. were working hard there, while I was on the ship. After all the ambulance stretcher cases had gone the people were taken off & a terrible work of sorting babies to their right mothers began, as their passenger boat had taken off the wretched people from the sinking ship the babies were thrown from one to the other & anyone catching a baby had brought it so none had their own babies, I brought seven babies to one poor woman & the seventh being hers made me choky. Some of them had marks to guide us like saying “my baby had little yellow shoes” & we brought any baby with yellow shoes. One poor mite being carried about in a boy’s arms of about 17 looked like finding no mother but at last she was found & went off to London a very happy woman & the boy of 17 looked some years younger as he lost his unwished for charge! […] It was a worse chance of finding relatives etc. always, if going on to London, so I always felt anxious that they should find their belongings at Folkestone. The sadness of this work was indescribable nothing that had gone before in any way came up to it. One poor woman who had seen her child fall short & go between the boats went mad, a man in trying to rescue a child had both arms broken as the boat sides met, & more horrors than I’d care to put on paper I saw that morning; I heard there were 25 drowned & that none need have been only for the panic. There were about 95 injured I think & several gone to maternity homes & Hospital.
Neuve-Eglise. Left 8 a.m. Rode up to 63 to see guns. 2nd Bde ordered to go down to Bethune. Attack ordered to start at 3 o’c. S— came round & told us that most of the Royal Irish Regiment had been mopped up. Top of church in Messines burnt. Set up to Messines with a message to General Briggs […]
Tuesday 27 October
We went to see how people were at Hospitals & maternity homes etc. & heard all going on well. One poor man in Hospital who was to have amputated limbs was very anxious about his wife & children they didn’t know where he was, or him them. They being unhurt had been sent on to London. Quite a long time later we discovered them.
Neuve-Eglise. Left 7.30 & rode out to inn. Gen went round to corps. Attack had fizzled out. 7 Div had got into difficulties & 3rd Cav Div had to get them out so line could not advance as had been intended. Motored down to II Corps Smith-Dorrien with the Gen & Col Home at Hinges. Passed through Vieux-Berquin & Bailleul. Saw Hd Qs 2nd Bde. President & I went on into Bethune & had some food. Got back about 3 o’c. No news. Everything fairly quiet. Heard IInd Corps had about 3000 casualties last week. Ludlow told us about crucifix in Messines church1.
Letter from Algie Neil to Jess Armstrong
Malifa Camp, Apia, Samoa.
My dear Jess.
There is a small ship which has just come into the Harbour & leaves shortly for Panga Panga2 in time to catch the ‘Frisco mail Northward bound so I am just scribbling a few lines to send by her. Life here is as dull as per usual. Today I made another desperate effort to get the O.C.3 Ex Force to allow me to go via Panga to rejoin the R.I.F. & succeeded in getting my own colonel to strongly recommend my application but alas! it met its usual fate on reaching Head Quarters & I am politely told my services cannot be spared at present. This means that it’s quite impossible for me to get home via America now as the ‘Frisco boats are not going to call at Panga any more. Tomorrow we are to get a mail from New Zealand & I look forward to hearing good news from Barossa. Fancy Pat going off with the 18th Hussars I hope he will have the very best of luck & cover himself in glory. You will all be very anxious about him but will feel doubly proud of him all the same. It seems very funny to think of you living in the Cavalry School Mess. It was luck you saw Pat before he went off you appear to have had a narrow escape of missing him. If you are still in Folkestone you may possibly have heard the roar of the fleet’s guns whilst they were supporting the land forces round Ostend.
It was very interesting to hear of the departure of my regiment for Sheerness & I look forward to getting some more details from you by tomorrow’s mail. The mail after next I fear will contain bad news. I often wonder what has happened to each officer in the regiment? I hope they will not think that I have shown a white feather in turning up. What little news we have had the last few days has been most promising & looks as if we were on the wings of a decisive victory, the only question is how much of it can one believe. I was very amused at your little German friend at 14 T. C.4 Why didn’t you go in & pull him out of bed Jess? I wonder where you all are now. I suppose you left instructions about forwarding letters addressed to 14 TC. It wasn’t a case of needn’t go Jess. I am on the reserve Jess but in any case I think my conscience would have forced me to leave Barossa in spite of the difficulties I may be letting myself in for. However thank goodness the Government have declared a moratorium so the Bank can’t sell me up so long as the war continues. Nice for you having Dusky while Pat is away. He’ll give her to you when he comes back – I know. The garrison here is becoming very reduced as they are shipping invalids by every ship however in my humble opinion it is still unnecessarily large & could well do without me. Personally I have kept very well in fact am the only officer in the regiment who has not been in the doctor’s hands. Some of them I think do not exhibit much endurance & do not look upon going sick in quite the same light as regular officers. Well Jess I must wind up now & go down to post this as it will miss the mail. My very best love to you all.
Yours affectionately Algie.
Wednesday 28 October
Letter from Algie Neil to Mrs Armstrong
Malifa Camp, Apia.
My dear Mrs Armie.
I missed writing to you by the Frisco Mail yesterday. However I wrote Jess & she will give you what little news I had. […] Last Sunday I went out to a plantation 5 miles from here, had lunch and went over the plantation afterwards with Harman the manager, who is a gentleman (a scarce commodity in these parts) and has a rather nice wife & a dear wee girl aged 6 to whom I made violent love & I think left quite an impression. The Provost Marshal’s bride arrives here tomorrow & he is to be married as soon as she steps ashore. Nice sort of active service this! If it’s safe enough for brides to be arriving it’s safe enough for my valuable services to be transferred elsewhere. I wonder if Gordie has joined the 1st battalion & if the 2nd battalion has gone to the front. I think it is a great pity if the 2nd Bn is not sent as I look on it as one of the most efficient in the whole army. I don’t know if you will remember my telling you about my meeting Eastwood aide to Liverpool at Govt House Wellington who was at Eton with Pat, he is here now as A.D.C. to the O.C. Force! He’s an awfully nice chap & I see a good deal of him we are both in same boat not being able to get to our own regiments. I think he is greatly regretting ever having gone into the Glorified Butler’s trade & wants very badly to be with his regiment. Capt Gibbon (now Local Colonel) is also stuck in Wellington & is frightfully sick about it. Godley was to have gone in command of the N.Z.E-Force but I understand they have not yet left N.Z. waters. Personally I think this is a good thing as they are not sufficiently trained to be employed in large numbers. Half trained troops may be all right in small numbers but I think they are a positive danger in large bodies. I don’t know if I told you my young nephew (Dod’s son) is acting A.D.C. to Liverpool. Well Mrs Armie I must end up now. My very best love to you all
Yours affectionately Algie
Thursday 29 October
Letter from General de Lisle to Mrs Armstrong
Dear Mrs Armstrong,
Many thanks for your kind letter of Oct. 23rd. I could not do without Pat now that we have been so busy together, and I think he likes this life quite as much as with the Brigade, though he will regret leaving the best Brigade in the army! You must now address him as Captain Armstrong as all regularly appointed A.D.Cs receive this courtesy title. To-day he has a day’s leave & has ridden across to see the 10th Hussars 6 or 7 miles away. Pat is a dear boy & I am very fond of him. My other A.D.C. Captain Hardress Lloyd is equally charming and we are a very happy Mess of 9. Not much news beyond what you read in the papers. After a critical 10 days we are now in a better position and you may expect some news shortly. I hear great things of the Home Army. They seem very busy & desperately keen & with the superior intelligence of the men in the ranks should train quickly. With kindest regards to you all believe me
Sincerely yours Beau de Lisle
Letter from Blanche Somerset to Pat Armstrong
Thursday Oct: 29th/ 14. Badminton, Glos.
My dear Pat
Thank you ever so much for all your nice letters. You can’t think how good it is hearing from you & through you of the boys as they hardly ever write. I think we’ve heard twice since they’ve been out there. Pat dear don’t worry about the ponies as they’re not the least little bit in the way; your mother wrote to me about them & as I told her they’re not in the way now, & they might come in very useful one day, so it’s quite alright & besides Frankie’s last words were don’t send them away or anything till I tell you to. Ma & I are knitting all day long, would you like a pair of muffs or mittens made by me!? Anyhow it keeps one occupied – Think of it Pat “real” hunting begins next Monday & not a soul to come out with us, it will seem funny, won’t it? We took the beagles out Today where we had that good hunt from but could do nothing as the scent is absolutely wretched both with hares & the fox-dogs – Di & I have got about 12 horses between us to ride this season as we have all the boys’ which were too small to go to the war. I think I shall ride old Quaker, you remember the one of Maurice’s you rode, on Tuesday next, I should think he’ll probably run away with me or something but anyhow I can go where I like & first through, if not over, everything, can’t I?! Well I’ve no more news. We’ll send you some more chocolate soon. Give my love to anybody I know that you see! Tons of it for yourself.
Yours ever Blanchie.
Do take care of yourself, a lot more people I know have been killed these days
Friday 30 October
Oct 30 Hd Qrs I Cav Div
My dear wee Mus,
I scribbled you a few lines the night before last but was very sleepy & went to bed early. Thank you ever so much for the gloves you sent me. They are gloriously warm & have been much admired. The General told me this morning that he’d send me out to-night to help put up barbed wire in front of the trenches!!! They would be awfully good for that wouldn’t they. We are still in the same place. We ride out to the little inn on the side of the road every morning & go back again at dusk every evening. It gets rather monotonous as it’s very hard to get exercise. There is really very little one can do, only we all have to hang about in case we’re wanted. I think that the situation is practically unchanged all along the line. There has been some desperate fighting the last few days. There was a counter attack made on our left yesterday of 10 thousand men. Our people were driven back a little during the night & then put in this enormous attack & I believe gained about a mile of ground. […] They attack here every night & morning but we have always succeeded in pushing them off with heavy losses. They are awfully gallant fellows the way they come on. The night before last they made an attack against the Durhams who let them get up to about 100 yds & then started to pour bullets into them. They still came on & some of them were shot actually on the edge of the trenches & dragged in. Eventually when the attack had almost fizzed out 12 men came on by themselves & of course were all done in. But it just shows how gallant they are. They come on & on against the most dreadful fire. But I think they are pretty well all out a lot of the prisoners that have been taken lately are old men & boys of about 16. They say that practically all their regular officers have been killed or wounded & that they have only got young officers commanding their battalions. We have had pretty heavy casualties but nothing to what theirs must have been. It must be dreadful in the trenches these times. It rained hard last night & is bitterly cold to-day, the worst we have had I think, a real raw day. Some of our infantry battalions down south have been in about 10 days without coming out. Dreadful isn’t it. But I think they have been relieved alright now. It is going to be a dreadful show in about another month when the weather gets really cold. There is a good deal of gunning going on just now, they are shelling the whole line. This is an extraordinary show it’s more like a siege than anything else. I hear that they are bringing down the big guns that they used against Antwerp to shell our trenches with. They say that this is one of the big battles of the war, the battle of the Aisne was not nearly so hot. Practically everybody I see says that they have had more fighting here than they did on the Aisne. I think they will have to go soon though, I don’t see how they are going to stick this much longer. If only the Russians push on well now this show might be over sooner than we expect. You must be having great work with the refugees. […]
Oct 29. There wasn’t much doing here yesterday morning. I rode round with the General in the morning & then got him to let me ride round & see the Rgt who are about 8 miles from here. […] They were all just waiting to go into action. I was very disappointed as I had hoped to be able to see them all as it was their rest day & they weren’t due to go into the trenches till dusk last night. They do 48 hrs in the trenches & are then relieved by the other Bde & are out for 48 hrs. Rose & Turnor were killed by a shell which pitched on them in a trench. Awfully sad isn’t it. “Mais c’est la guerre”5 as they say. I can’t hear much news of Clem but from all accounts he seems to have got a pretty nasty wound. The Rgt otherwise had had very few casualties, but of course they haven’t done a great deal of fighting yet. It is rather horrid as whenever I see them now I shall always be hearing of somebody fresh getting wounded. I do hope old Pokes gets through it alright. I saw old Brock last week. He is still with J. V. & was very upset because his brother had been wounded, he was shot through the lung I believe. Bad luck isn’t it. I never hear the end of that beastly letter you had typed & which somehow circulated. Everybody seems to have heard about it. Do be careful about showing people my letters, as things get so fearfully exaggerated & then I’d be given credit for some story that had been boiled up at home […] I think I will go out for a bit of a walk & try & get my feet warm. It is bitterly cold to-day. Best love to you all
Your loving Pat
Saturday 31 October
Neuve-Eglise. News bad. 9th Lancers had been driven out of their trenches with heavy loss. Was sent over to Gen Mullins at Wychacte with orders. Our inn was knocked down at 11 o’c. Smallman seriously injured. Moved horses back to Wulverghem. Two battalions of Infantry K.O.S.B.6 & Y.L.I.7 were sent up to counter attack one on North & one on South of Messines. Went up to see how they got on with Gen. Was sent over to 4 D.G’s who had London & Scottish on their left. Attack went very slow. Gained ground to the south but was held up on the north owing to shell fire. Stayed in Wulverghem till 6.30 & then rode back to Dranoutre. Place full of transport. Slept in passage.
Sunday 1 November
Nov 1 Hd Qrs I Cav Div On Service
My dear wee Mus
I haven’t been able to write for a couple of days somehow whenever I have sat down to write I’ve been sent off to do some job or another. Well! A lot has happened since I wrote last. We are still in more or less the same position but the fighting has been simply desperate. The Germans have been coming on in absolute hordes three & four lines deep & when the first line is shot down the others just flood slowly on. The General says that he’s never seen such fighting.
On Oct 30. They started shelling the village which one of our Brigades were holding. They broke down the sides of one of the trenches which was held by a Sqdn of Tommy’s Rgt. Poor old Tommy was wounded yesterday. He got wounded in both wrists & in the leg. He was quite cheery though & didn’t seem in pain. He was settling in a cottage arranging things about his Rgt & said he would be quite alright in a couple of days. They pushed back our line a little bit on the left but with dreadfully heavy casualties to themselves.
Oct 31. They put in a dreadful night attack they swarmed in like flies & drove Geoff’s Rgt back into the village. That Bde are simply marvelous, the way they fight, they must have been outnumbered by about 10 to 1. We slept here & rode out to our inn on the road at 7.30. They were shelling the village again like mad. They had set a good deal of it on fire & were pouring “coal boxes”8 into it like mad. About 11 o’c we were all sitting about in the inn & they pitched a shell pretty close to us. Several of us walked out to see where it had pitched. I had just got outside the door & was standing in the road about 10 yards from the house when there was a whizz a deafening crack & the whole place was a mass of yellow smoke & brick dust. The shell had hit the side of the house & burst inside, it flattened the wall down as if it had been made of paper. Home & Hambro were in the house at the time only luckily were in the next room & got off untouched by some miraculous chance. They were both a bit shook – covered with dust but were otherwise untouched. How we weren’t all killed is a marvel to me. If it had come 2 minutes before it would have got the lot of us. As we all sit in the room it pitched in & the other room was used as a sort of office where the mops were & where reports were written. Wonderful that the General was out as he had been standing there talking to me & I walked out after him. We then moved all our horses etc. back to another village about a mile back. I went up the road with several messages later on & things were quite warm. About 6.30 we moved back to a village we were in about 10 days ago & spent a peaceful night.
Nov. 1. We moved off at 6.30 & found that the Germans had got the village they have been shelling so hard & that a battalion of them had broken through our line. Things looked bad for a bit but the French made a big counter attack from the North which made them sit up a bit. There was some desperate hard fighting last night & early this morning. Things have been pretty quiet since about 11 o’c this morning. Everybody is pretty tired as the last two days in fact the last 10 have been pretty hard. They have been “coal boxing” the whole country most of the day but little or no damage has been done. They are beastly things those “coal boxes” alias “black marias”, they make such a fiendish crash & blow an enormous hole in the ground. You could bury a horse in some of the holes they make. I hear a bit of rifle fire going on now. I suppose some of our poor devils are having another rotten night. They are persistent blighters these Germans & as brave as lions. Our men are simply wonderful. The old 4 D.G’s & 9 L are absolutely marvellous. They have fought like tigers and are always cheery & cool. I am sorry to say they have had some pretty heavy casualties. But one consolation is that the Germans have had twice or three times the number. I saw Jerry Gore-Langton this morning, he had been shot through the thigh but was quite cheery & was walking down the road. He told me about his night’s experiences & said that he had shot 16 Germans this morning with his own rifle. A nice morning’s bag wasn’t it. Stewart the Major I introduced you to at Tidworth was shot in the cheek this morning too. I saw old Brock for a few minutes this morning he is awfully fit but thoroughly fed up with the whole proceeding. His brother has been wounded but he heard from him this morning that he was getting on well. I wish I was going to order my pink coat & top boots for to-morrow morning. They would be much nicer than dirty khaki wouldn’t they!! We had a really glorious day to day the first real warm sunny day we have had for ages. You can’t imagine the difference that the sun makes. On these cold wet days one feels just like a toad.
[…] We have got an extraordinary old American chauffeur Coleman by name, as a partner in white’s motors. An awful nice fellow but it’s a case of silk purse & a sow’s ear. You know. We call him President because he’s so like Roosevelt. He has taken a photo of the inn. If it comes out alright I’ll get him to give me one for you. I wrote to the Boss & asked him to send me a small pocket camera. I could get a lot of very interesting photos if I had a camera small enough to always carry about with me. I think the time has almost arrived for me to play shut eye for a moment or two, I’ve had a busy day & been running about on my flat feet in heavy plough so I think my dowse will be very nice. I am lucky, you know, having a bed to get into when all these other poor devils are lying out in the trenches. Best love to you all
Your loving Pat
- When the church at Messines was bombed the only part of it to survive intact was a wooden crucifix. ⇑
- Probably Pago Pago, capital of Samoa. ⇑
- Officer Commanding. ⇑
- 14 Trinity Crescent, the Armstrong family’s address in Folkestone at the start of the war. ⇑
- (Fr.) But this is war. ⇑
- King’s Own Scottish Borderers. ⇑
- 14 Yorkshire Light Infantry. ⇑
- Any shell explosion causing a cloud of black smoke, also known as a Black Maria. ⇑