On 30 November 1917, during the British offensive known as the Battle of Cambrai, a 41-year-old Staff Captain was attacked by Germans while standing in the yard of the 86th Brigade headquarters south of the Canal at Masnières, Les Rues Vertes. He got away by killing one of the attackers with a walking stick and then hastily organized a small party of men to hunt out the remaining Germans and to establish a defensive position on the outskirts of the town. There was, however, a problem: a single German machine gun firing at the men. The Captain started towards the machine gun with a party of six but by the time he reached the deadly weapon, his comrades had all been killed. With a revolver in each hand, the Captain charged towards the machine gun, killing every one of its crew of eight. Returning to the headquarters, he gathered another group of soldiers with whom he turned the gun around, mowing down the waves of German soldiers coming to recapture the village. Only then did the Staff Captain allow the severe wound in his leg to be treated. For his unparalleled show of courage, he was awarded a Victoria Cross. That man was Robert Gee.
To commemorate the gallantry of such heroes and to honour the men of the First Seven Divisions of the British Expeditionary Force “who stood in the gap from the moment when fire was opened until the final failure of the German attack at Ypres, in November 1914”, a solemn recital of music by British composers was organized at the Royal Albert Hall on 15 December 1917. The concert was attended by survivors and by the relatives of those who had lost their lives. Jess, Mrs Armstrong and Irene Wills travelled to the event together, but with only two admission tickets between them.
Monday 10 December
E.1 came up. Muz & I went down the town to shop. Mr Marriott came to call, & stayed for tea, & Mr Arnoldi came too, but didn’t stay for tea. Muz showed Mr M. some of the letters about Pat, & he was awfully nice about them, he said that he would much rather be dead, & leave that record behind him, than be alive. He stayed late, & then Mr Arnoldi came in again, for a bit. I did some sewing, & then we had a lovely bath, & went to bed at about 11.
Tuesday 11 December
“He wanted a photo of Pat”
I stayed in bed all morning with a horrid pain, & feeling sick. E. came up! We got a wire to say that Zooie arrives here on Thursday, so we wired to tell her to bring Tom with her. Then we went to tea with the Jacksons, & they had a lot of people there, & they sang & played. When we got back a man in the 10th was waiting to see us, he wanted a photo of Pat, & spoke awfully nicely about him. He is with the Military Police here.
Wednesday 12 December
Gave out things2 etc, & helped E. to make the beds etc, & then Muz & I went out to shop, & on the way back, went to an auction in Sandgate Road, & got a carpet for Tom’s room, we didn’t get back till three. Afterwards I laid the table & put everything out, & got everything ready for Zooie tomorrow, as I will be away all day. We got a wire to say that Tom wasn’t coming over with Zooie, they have had snow & frost over there. Muz read after dinner, & I wrote & did accounts.
You have seen the a/c of the Bde in the papers of the 10th & so you know how Pat is more proud than ever of us. I enclose a rough sketch which will help you the long black line of Trenches was our original position, the short ones are the posts as I put them etc numbers are where we had little scraps, The Blues are where the Boche where [sic] when I got hit No 4 is the Boche gun we captured which helped with 12 stout Boys to Beat off the second counter attack. It’s only rough but will explain it to you I think. I am staying in Bed for a couple of days till all the inflammation has gone away & shall do no walking for a couple of weeks. Glad you liked the news. Mrs Gee & the girls are well but tired of trying to get a house. I may be able to get into my own in Hounslow by Xmas. Kind regards to the girls. Will you please try & get me 2 copies of the Times or Post for 10th Inst.
“I enclose a rough sketch”
Thursday 13 December
Was up early as I wanted to leave the last things ready before I went. Then went up to the Rest Hut in the bus, at about 9-30, Miss Allen was there, & we weren’t very busy, I worked at the dressing-jacket I am making for Muz, some of the time, & then came home in an ambulance at about two. Zooie had arrived at about 12, & then she had a bath, & I sat with her, & Muz went to an auction, but didn’t buy anything. We had tea in Zooie’s room, & then she came down for dinner, I sewed afterwards, & gave out things etc.
Friday 14 December
E. came up. I gave out things etc in the morning. Then we got the carpet up to Tom’s room. Muz & Zooie went out, & I sewed. In the afternoon I got things ready for tomorrow, as we will be away all day.
Saturday 15 December
First seven divisions commemoration. I was up early so as to give out the last things before we went. Muz & I left by the 8-30 train, & went to the hotel to meet Ione, then Reenie came for lunch, & we three went to the Albert Hall for the commemoration of the first seven divisions. Muz & Reenie had seats in the same place, & I waited about seeing everyone going in, & all the wounded soldiers. Then suddenly an old man came up to me, & asked me if I would like to go in, & he gave me his ticket, it was the greatest luck, so I saw the whole thing, as I had quite a good place. Afterwards I waited about to try & meet Muz, but missed her, & met her at the hotel, & Reenie had gone off to have tea with someone else. T. was there & he took us to tea at Stewarts, & then we went off to catch our train. Zooie was waiting up for us, when we got in, & we had dinner in the smoking room, & then talked, & went to bed at about twelve. E. came up today.
“Nearly all the seats have been accepted”
Sunday 16 December
T. & H. come. E. didn’t come up. I was busy all morning, getting things ready etc. Zooie went to church, & Muz went to meet Tom & Heppie, they came at about twelve. After lunch we sat & talked, & then Tommie went to bed, Muz & Zooie went to church, & I sewed. After dinner we talked, & went to bed at about ten. Tom stayed in bed.
Elizabeth, a domestic servant in the Armstrong household ⇑
The Armstrong family were contributing to the war effort by providing food to soldiers residing in Folkestone ⇑
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