“Messing about in the firing line”

“Messing about in the firing line”

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Nov 8 Hd Qrs I Cav Div

On Service

My dear wee Mus

I have just got a letter from you dated Nov 3 & got a long letter from you last night of the 2nd. Lovely getting so many letters & just makes all the difference. The camera hasn’t arrived yet, but I hope it will in a day or two. I hope it comes soon as we’re having glorious sunny days & I could get a lot of photos. It is very foggy in the mornings till about 10 o’c & then clears off & we have glorious sunny days quite warm enough to leave off a woolly, then it turns cold about 4 o’c & the fog comes up again. A good thick fog usually too. What bad luck about Viva’s maid but she’s wrong about the Landsturm, they’re all out.

In fact the Germans have practically reorganised their army. The have mixed the irregular Corps with the Regular Corps & renumbered them. For instance they amalgamate the 9th & 11th Corps & call it say the 5th Corps. These numbers aren’t right but it explains it better. We’ve knocked up a lot of Landsturm. They left a whole battalion of them to cover their retirement at Sablonnieres & gave them orders to hang on until they were ordered to retire & they got no orders to retire with the result that very few got away. That was the day I knocked one over. But it covered their retirement very effectively. When we got through them all their baggage guns & materials had had plenty of time to get away. They certainly make war well. But don’t have much consideration for casualties. The other day a prisoner told us that they had been ordered to take Ypres without regard for casualties. We’ve still got Ypres.

Their casualties have been enormous. All the prisoners who come in say that they have lost all their regular officers & that companies & even battalions are commanded by Sgts & Sgt Majors promoted. There is a far greater distinction in Germany between the Sgt & Officer than even in England. We hear great news from Russia & also place reconnaissances report large movement of troops eastward. Looks as if they were sending a Corps or so over to stiffen their eastern flank. We hear all this but there is no sign yet of the line weakening her. We’ve been on this line since the 15th of Oct I think it is. It is a regular siege war. One wants to be a regular rabbit & dig. I heard yesterday that in front of the Division on our Right, (that is the lot Archie is with) the Germans had tunnelled under the ground right up to the wire entanglements & cut them in the night.

They have the wire about 80 or so yards in front of the trenches & the enemy’s trenches are about 400 yds off. They are pretty industrious these Deutsch. Of course the Kaiser coming up here has made them push a bit. 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. We then went back & had lunch & after that went back to the Infantry again. The French had done well & made about ½ mile of ground, which was good. I sat in a trench for some time & talked to Micky Hodgson. That trench work must be hell. We then rode round to the Infantry Bde on our right & got their situation. Then I rode back here with the horses & the Gen motored. The road was a bit blocked with French, so it was rather a job getting along.

Mrs de Lisle sent me a big buzzard cake awfully nice of her wasn’t it. We got the Div relieved last night & now they’re having two days’ rest. Poor devils they need it. I hope they will relieve us for Mon as the Div wants refitting badly. This morning I rode down to the town close here & bought you a postcard which I’ll send off when opportunity arises. I had to get some money from the field cashier. One can get anything up to £5, once a week or a month I forget quite which. Personally I find this a very cheap existence. No horses to feed or wages to pay. Saves a lot. I must get my bank book from Cox sometime & see how I stand. I saw Brock this morning & asked him to dinner, but I’m afraid he won’t come. He’s very bored poor old thing.

About 12 o’c I started on a fresh horse (Melody) with my 2 servants Standen & Ames to go & see the Rgt. They are about 10 miles off. After wandering about I found where they were but had to go through a town which they have been shelling pretty heavily. It was about 2 o’c when I got to the edge of the town. I saw a lot of shells bursting just to the east of it quite close to where I wanted to go. I was just meditating what to do when there was a whizz and a “maria” lit in the town about 400 yds off. But that was quite enough. I don’t like shells at the best of times & if one has to go with a message well that’s another thing. But I didn’t fancy joy riding through a town they’ve been shelling pretty madly. There was a lot of shell holes just where I was & a couple of houses had been knocked in. So we beat a dignified retreat & came back. However we had a good long ride & exercised the horses.

We have had no news to-day. Things seem pretty quiet. I suppose the usual morning & evening attacks take place but I’ve heard nothing about it. I got an awfully nice woolly waistcoat last night addressed by you. I can’t quite make out who it’s from. Will you let me know. Whoever it’s from its glorious & just what I want to wear in the evenings & later on it will do splendidly to wear under another woolly. What a nice letter from Disi. I must write to her again. But it’s awfully hard to write to everybody. I never seem to be able to write in the day time as soon as I sit down to write I get sent off on some job. I’m longing for my camera to come. I hope it comes to-morrow. Geoff has just got one of the same sort. I don’t think his has got a special lens though which is half the battle.

They won’t send any Rgts back to England, they will pull them out like they have done us to day & let them rest & then fresh men up from the base to make them up to strength. But they can’t part with a single man who is able to fight, we want more men if possible. Well I think I have told you all the news. Oh! No, I nearly forgot to thank you for the candles which arrived last night. They are splendid & just what I want. Will you send them out to me now & again. I must wash now for dinner. It is glorious here we change for dinner & have dinner off a nice white cloth. I gave lunch a miss to-day so am rather hungry. Best love to you all

Your loving Pat

Description: Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Date: 8 November 1914
Source: Armstrong Collection
Identifier: P6/1209 (28)