WEEK 19: ONE STANDS A GOOD CHANCE OF BEING SHOT BY THE FRENCH
Monday 2 to Sunday 8 November 1914
The first Battle of Ypres entered its third phase and continued with tremendous violence, the German forces capturing Messines, Hollebeke and Wytschaete and recapturing Neuve Chapelle after intense back-and-forth fighting and a successful piercing of the British lines. The British policy adopted in the early 1900s of training the cavalry to fight on foot now bore rich rewards: cavalrymen armed with bayonets fought side by side with the infantry and distinguished themselves in the task. Having fought night and day with utmost tenacity, the British troops were utterly exhausted and rejoiced in the arrival of strong French reinforcements which finally put a halt to the German assault. Dodging shells and bullets, Pat Armstrong sought solace in letters and parcels of food from Folkestone, where his sister Tommy returned to her final year at St Margaret’s school, while Jess joined Mrs Armstrong in helping with the war effort.
Monday 2 November
[…] Mrs Brinkley came for tea, & afterwards Muz & I went down the town, & sent Pat a woolly waistcoat, & we went to see a wee Belgian baby. […] Got a letter from Algie, dated Sept. 11th, he is in Samoa. He says they took Apia without firing a shot. He hates being there, & is longing to be at the Front, with his regiment.
Neuve-Eglise. Left 7.30 & went out to an inn on the Kemmel road. Rode round with the Gen was sent after 4 D G’s. Shelling pretty heavy. Smyth came up & told me that the French were going to make a big counter attack. Was sent out to tell everybody I saw. Nothing came of it. Was sent out to get in touch with the French attack, wandered about but couldn’t find it. Returned to find it was off. II Division were relieved by the French. Things seemed a lot better but our men were awfully tired. Came back about 6 o’c.
Tuesday 3 November
Jess & I went to see Belgian mothers the woman with a broken leg is doing well & her baby too.
Neuve-Eglise. Left 7 o’c & went back to the Brewery Inn. 4 D G’s had their trenches knocked in. Chance wounded. We heard that there was going to be a French attack at 12 o’c but as usual nothing happened. Was sent up to guns to tell them to fire on wood where G’s were massing for an attack. Rest of the line pretty quiet, the Germans seem to have massed as big a force as possible opposite this section between Ypres and Armentieres. Went up about 5 o’c & walked round the trenches with the General. Rode back to the Chateau at Saint Jans Cappel with Mouse. Very nice chateau. Heard from B.
Wednesday 4 November
8 German warships were outside Yarmouth1 yesterday sank one of our submarines & laid mines there.
Thursday 5 November
Washed my hair in the morning, & then did some knitting while it was drying. After lunch Muz & I went down to the Fish Market to give some of the Refugee children toys. We talked to a sailor, & he showed us the thing to blow up submarines & the thing to blow up mines. They are all electric wires. […] Captain James & Eric Greer have been wounded. We got three letters from Pat, dated Oct 24th, Nov 1st & 2nd.
Jess & I went to the Fish Market some refugees are living there in boats we brought toys for the children & spent an interesting hour there with a sailor who showed us over a ship & showed us a submarine destroyer, an electric battery affair, three letters came from Pat.
Saint Jans Cappel. […] Gen went out to see Gough returned about 7.30 & said that French were attacking & that Germans were getting onto Hill 75. Had message from Hulit [?] during dinner to say that he thought that the Germans were going to make an attack. Was dug out at 11.45 to go to Corps Hd Qrs with the Gen. Stayed there sometime, then went down to Wulverghem to see Briggs. Car stuck in mud so we had a long walk. Went back to Dranoutre & saw Raymond. Car turned up & took us back. Got back at 4.30 a.m.
Hd Qrs I Cav Div
My dear wee Jess.
Ever so many thanks for your long letter which I got this afternoon. We have had two quiet days now which is rather new. The whole Division was relieved the night before last & came right back about 6 miles. One Brigade goes into the trenches to-night & the other to-morrow night. We are living in quite a new chateau & are really very comfortable. Mouse & I are sharing a room & are making ourselves thoroughly at home. How long we are going to be allowed to lead this peaceful life is hard to say but it’s very nice while it lasts. […] I had such a nice letter from Blanchie a couple of days ago. She sent me a box of chocolate & is going to make me a pair of mittens. Nice of her isn’t it. I have got enough chocolate now to feed an army so don’t send me any more for a bit. I’ll write when my supply is getting short. You might get them to make me a good plumb cake sometime & send it out. One appreciates cakes enormously out here. As a matter of fact we’re feeding like fighting cocks. I’ve never fed better in my life. In fact I’m getting quite fat on it. One does a lot of standing about & it’s very often hard to get much exercise. […] Thank you ever so much for getting me a camera, it sounds just what I want. It is splendid having a Zeiss lens, they are awfully good. Those little cameras are no good unless they have a good lens. I ought to be able to get some good photos with it, as there are hundreds of interesting things to take out here. Will you send me out films every now & again & then I’ll post them back to you to be developed. I hope it will arrive while the nice weather lasts, it really has been glorious these last 3 or 4 days. Before that it was terribly cold. I’m dreading the winter it’s going to be awfully cold. […] Will you send me out a couple of pairs of those tidying gloves (like Mus sent me) for my servants. They are glorious things. I had them on last night in the rain & they never let the water through. […] What news is there of Harry? I do hope they won’t send him out to this damnable performance. He is far too young to come out here. […] Best love dear wee Jess,
Yours ever Pat.
Tell Ione she’s a bad little writer & to report in writing at once!!
Nov 5. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus
[…] things have been very critical these last few days. The Kaiser came closer to this part of the country & ordered the Germans to take Ypres by Oct 31. Then he gave them two more days. This of course has accounted for all the dreadful fighting which has been going on. They tried to break through here & make a dash for Calais. What good Calais would do them nobody seems to know. Of course it would frighten people at home but the worst thing would be if they broke our line. The fighting really has been terrible. Their shells are dreadful. On Tuesday they shelled the 4th D.G’s with six black marias2 at a time & broke in a lot of their trenches then they would wait about ½ minute till the men were moving about & getting out of where they had been buried & then plaster the place with shrapnel.
[…] Yesterday morning I went out for a ride with the General & in the afternoon I was sent down to General Head Quarters to see about some horses. Howard & I went down with the President. […] Things went swimmingly till we had gone about 10 miles then we got the petrol jet blocked up & were hung up for about 1½ hrs in the rain & got back here about 10 o’c soaked through. It was quite fun really & was such a relief to be away from the shells for the day. I think we are going up into the trenches again to-night. I don’t yet know where we are going to have head quarters. They have been shelling the place we have been staying in for the last 10 days, so I don’t think it’s a very healthy spot just now and am not a bit anxious to go back there although it is a very nice house. When I was down at G. H. Q.3 yesterday they all seemed very pleased & said that things were going very well, which is cheering news as the fighting has been so dreadful here that we were all rather worried. One fellow told me that they thought that the Germans would soon retire as they have put in all the reserves & have got no more fresh troops to bring up. But it’s hard to say what will happen. I wish it would come to an end as I am heartily sick of the whole show. Some of the German prisoners say that nearly all their officers have been killed or wounded & that the war will be over in two months. Too good to be true I’m afraid. I was told yesterday that it might be over by Xmas but probably March. […]
I got one of my old coats from you yesterday. I am sending it back to-day as I have just got a new one out from Hawkes & it’s not safe to wear an odd coloured thing like that. One stands a good chance of being shot by the French. Rex Benson in the 9th Lancers wore an Indian Khaki coat for a bit at the beginning of the war & a sort of woolly thing on his head & he was awfully nearly done in by the French. They fired at him like mad. I got a nice thick woolly waistcoat out from Jaegers last week which will keep me nice & warm. Sometime when you are in London will you go to Harrods or someplace & get me a kit bag of some sort to carry my clothes in. They get in such an awful mess rolled up in my bedding. I have got a bag of sorts but it’s a French thing & will fall to bits before very long. I think the best thing to get would be a brown canvas racing bag. […] I have just written to the Tabard people & told them to send me 100 cigarettes on the 1st & 18th of every month till further orders. It is best to have them out in small quantities if one has 1000 at a time, they are difficult to carry. […] How are you getting on with the refugees, it must be dreadful seeing them all coming in. Not a very fascinating people the Belgians, but I’m sorry for them having to fly from their homes. Best love to you all dear wee Mus
Your loving Pat
Malifa Camp, Apia.
My dear Jess.
You will see from the above address that I am still confined in this beastly island & I fear little or no chance of getting out of it. Eastwood had a letter from Lord Liverpool by last mail saying that there was practically no chance of any reduction in the size of the garrison. I think I told you Eastwood knew Pat at Eton. He came to breakfast with me last Sunday & we talked the ways means & prospects of getting back to our respective regiments. The influx of wives has started the Provost Marshal was married last Friday. Two other wives also arrived but were promptly ordered back, one refused to go & is still here; she went into the A.Q.M.G’s4 office & nearly frightened poor little Wright out of his wits. Wright saw the Provost Marshal & the Staff Officer standing over at the A.S.C.5 Stores & rushed to them for assistance. They both vowed they would go over & “settle” her but instead they left by the back entrance & fled in a motor car leaving poor Wright to get another wigging. When ever I see any of them I always call out Look out here’s Mrs! I see Major Gray has been distinguishing himself at the front but was taken prisoner after being wounded. I hope you have written direct here as I may get a letter from you by the next Frisco mail if you have. I wonder if Gordie has gone off to join the 1st battalion or if the second battalion was sent to the front. I can get no news here as to which regiments have been sent from India. Sorry I not got time to write any more as I have just been told off to work out some knotty law points concerning the trial of a prisoner of war & the mail will be going in half an hour. Good-bye Jess. My best love to you all.
Yours affectionately Algie.
Friday 6 NovemberMiss Stubbs & her sister. Muz went up to the station with the little Belgian woman & her husband, to see the King of the Belgians’ son & his sister, she came to look at the hospitals, & went up there, after them […]
Went with Jess to take Belgian baby out she takes a baby out for a walk every day for a Belgian mother so that the baby gets air. We were asked to go & meet the Belgian King’s sister & eldest son6 at the Station as they were coming to see Hospitals it was very interesting a Belgian girl presented a bouquet & the Mayor & Co met them. It was interesting to hear the little French compliments etc. all a very simple function & then they drove away. Letter from Pat.
Hd Qrs I Cav Div British Expeditionary Force.
My dear wee Mus
[…] We had rather a rotten day yesterday. The div came on duty again last night & one Bde went into the trenches. The damned French on our left fell back about 7 o’c last night without warning us & so left our flank exposed. So we had to withdraw a bit. […] The French at last waked themselves up to make a counter attack & have retaken a bit of the ground they evacuated last night. They are an extraordinary crowd. Fearfully casual & always awfully pleased with themselves. They have fought awfully well I believe but whenever they come near us they think that we are going to do all the dirty work & don’t do anything. The other day one of their divisional generals said he was going to attack at dawn. We all waited to hear a fierce battle but nothing happened. He then said he was going to start at 10 o’c. But 10 o’c came our guns started to help them but nothing happened. He then issued orders to start at 4 o’c with the same results & eventually said it was too dark to attack that day. Mind you when they do attack they’re jolly good but they are so dreadfully casual. Their guns at short ranges about 3,500 & 4,000 are jolly good but for long range fire they can’t touch the Germans. Things seem to be going pretty well all along the line. They have got a big force here & lots of artillery but I’m hoping that they will start going back soon. But when they go back they will probably take up a line probably somewhere round Tourcoing & the same performance will start all over again. […] It is a rotten show & is simply a war of endurance. It’s a war of rats, as soon as one gets a bit of ground you have to immediately dig a deep narrow trench to get into. There is no sort of excitement about it at all & casualties are dreadful. […] Best love to you all.
Your loving Pat
P.S. Will you send me out my big revolver & case.
Sunday 8 November
Nov 8 Hd Qrs I Cav Div
My dear wee Mus
[…] Yesterday (Nov 7) was rather a trying day. We went out about 7 o’c & heard that the French were going to make an attack. We had an Infantry Bde set up in the night to shove in if they were successful or to drive back the German counter attack if one was made. But they weren’t to take any part in the actual attack. Well about 10 o’c the General, Mouse, Hardress & I rode off to see the attack & show the Infantry where to go. A thing the General is very fond of doing, going messing about in the firing line. There was rather an unpleasant amount of shelling going on, which I don’t care for at all. Well we went down & reconnoitred the ground for the feet & then the General showed them where to go. We stayed there for some time & then went back. The General had the President’s car up & went back in that, we all rode back. On the way we were riding across country. We went slow for a bit & then somehow I felt I would like to push on a bit & suggested to Mouse we might trot so trot we did. Well we’d just got over one ploughed field when there was bang bang bang & five marias lit in the field we had just crossed. Quite near enough to be unpleasant […]
To read the entire letter, click here
- The so-called Yarmouth Raid took place on 3 November 1914; this attack by the German Navy was interrupted by British destroyers and caused but little damage.⇑
- Any shell explosion causing a cloud of black smoke.⇑
- General Head Quarters. ⇑
- Assistant Quartermaster-General ⇑
- Army Service Corps. ⇑
- The Duchesse de Vendôme and Prince Leopold, the Belgian Crown Prince. ⇑