The second stage of the German Spring Offensive, known alternatively as the Battle of the Lys, the Fourth Battle of Ypres or Operation Georgette, began in Flanders on 9 April 1918. Its objective was to capture key railway lines and supply roads and to cut off the British Army at Ypres in order to force them back to the English Channel and out of the war. The offensive began north of Armentieres on the River Lys in similar fashion to the first stage, with massive artillery bombardment of the rear, a poison gas attack on the forward trenches and the deployment of the Storm Troopers. The attack was as effective as it was dramatic: Messines Ridge was captured and the British were hard pressed to hold the line of the River Lys. Within 24 hours it was evident that the British situation was desperate, leading Field Marshal Haig to fear that that without French reinforcements the German Army would cover the 24 Kilometres to the Channel Coast in a week. On 11 April he issued his famous Special Order of the Day. “There is no other course open to us but to fight it out”, he urged his exhausted men. “Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.”
Monday 8 April
Stayed in bed all day, & read, & finished “Grand Babylon Hotel1 by Arnold Bennett. Muz & Tom drove in to Malvern, to shop, & didn’t get back till about 2-30. Muz & Tom wrote letters. I wrote in the afternoon. Mrs Reynolds came back late this evening. Muz went out for a bit after dinner, but not far.
Tuesday 9 April
I stayed in bed all day, & read, & finished “Baccarat”3 . Tom read all day, & Muz wrote letters, & then went out for a bit. Heppie hasn’t been able to get on with the potatoes much, as it has been wet most of the time. I went to bed at about ten, & Muz came up later.
The Battle of the Lys begins
Wednesday 10 April
I stayed in bed all day, & read, & finished “The Mender” by Amy Le Feuvre4 . Muz wrote letters all morning. It rained nearly all day. Muz went out for a walk in the afternoon, after dinner she had a bath, & we went to bed at about eleven.
Thursday 11 April
I worked at the babies coat, that I started this morning. It was drizzling most of the day. Muz wrote letters & Tom read. Muz wrote again in the afternoon, & then went twice, to the post. After dinner I rubbed Muz’s feet, & we went to bed at about ten, & Tom had gone up earlier.
I have been meaning to write to you for a long time to shew you that I have not forgotten you or Tommy since I have been out here, but of course I am rather apt to spend more than the allotted time for letter writing, in writing to Ione!!! Hence other people get fewer and shorter letters!! So please blame her and not me!
I have been getting on quite well out here and we have been very lucky I think not to have been in some very awkward places in this recent fighting. I am at present at the G.H.Q.5 Small Arms Ammunition school doing a machine Gun course with the other officers of the brigade. The hours for work are rather long 8.30-12.30 & 2.15-5.15, and I feel very sleepy towards the end of the afternoon parade!! Generally when I come in I have tea and then go for a walk along the sands. The sands here are lovely and stretch out for nearly a mile when the Tide is out, an ideal place for children to play in the summer weather!
I have had several charming letters from your mother and have one now which I will answer tomorrow. How wonderfully well informed she is on all matters connected with the war & most interesting to hear it all, as we know far less out here about what is going on than one did in London. I was so awfully sorry to hear the sad news of Zooie’shusband’s death, and wrote her a letter directly Ione told me the sad news. It seems simple [sic] cruel for her, and I remember her telling me herself how awfully happy & devoted she and Col. Welch were: it is very difficult for us to understand why these things must be isn’t it?
We live in quite a nice Hotel here on the beach, and my room is on the second floor and overlooks the sea which is rather nice, as I have the noise of the sea when I go to bed at night. I hope that Tommy and you are flourishing, and that all the “Admirals” and other admirers are safe. Please tell her that I am trying to get her some Australian stamps from a man who lives there & has parcels sent over here from Australia: if I manage to get any I will send them on. Ione writes to me every day and seems quite well from what she says. I do so hope she won’t go and overtire herself at the car driving job. I am not awfully enthusiastic about her doing it at all, but she seems to be very keen on doing it. I think it is a pity to sign on for the “Duration of the war”, as lots of unforeseen things might happen, which might make her very anxious to give it up. However she says that she can escape from it by getting married, so when she is very bored with it she will probably summon me to assist her to escape from the clutches of the Army!!!
I hope the shoes are still going strong. What great fun we had getting them and selecting the right size!! My Father is now at home again, and mother at Eastbourne for 10 days and then returning home. Well I will end now and dress for dinner. With best love to you both also to your mother.
Friday 12 April
We wrote letters & read in the morning, & after lunch Muz, Tom & I walked over to Bakers by the fields, it was very hot, so I sat on the gate on the road, & waited for them to come back, they stayed a long time talking to him, & Duskey & I listened to the birds, it was lovely. We read for a bit in the evening, & after dinner & had a bath, & then did some washing, & we went to bed at about ten.
Saturday 13 April
I stayed in bed some of the morning as I didn’t sleep at all last night, but I didn’t sleep this morning either. After lunch Muz, Tom & I went for a walk, to find out about another pony, it was a good long walk, & we came back over Castle Morton Common. It was rather wet underfoot, but lovely & fresh, & we looked for lark’s nests; got back at tea time. I was rather tired, we sat & read all the rest of the afternoon.
Letter from Irene Wills, 9 Southwell Gardens, SW7, to Mrs Armstrong
“Let them be married as soon as possible”
May thanks for your two letters, I hate to hear of Jess being so seedy, and am sure the absolute rest is the best thing she could have. You ask me what I think about Ione getting married, well, my dear, from the very bottom of my heart I say it, let them be married as soon as possible. I doubt if the parting could be much worse even when they are married and anyhow the happiness is worth it. I know that I would give any mortal thing to have been married to my Pat, and possibly to have given him a son to carry on his wonderful traditions. There, that is very strong feeling, I do beg you to let Ione have her happiness while she can, what is the use in delaying it or perhaps even putting it away for ever, as in my own case? I honestly can’t see that there can be any two opinions about it.
This fighting is too awful, the head of my department has just lost her second and last remaining brother. She is wonderfully plucky, but was just devoted to him and her poor old father is utterly heart broken, but insists that she shall not give up her work to be with him because he knows that it’s better for her to have it. Work is a great thing these days, I feel it is absolutely the only thing personally, and quite hate Sundays when I can’t go to it. It’s so nice being able to bicycle there and back through the park. Do let me know what you decide about Ione being married. With much love to you all, and I do hope Jess will be better soon.
Ever your loving
Sunday 14 April
It was a very cold morning, none of us went to church. Muz wrote letters, & Tom & I read, I finished “Rose of the world” by A. & E. Castle.6 I didn’t go out at all, but the others did. My throat is still so big, so best not to go out when it is very cold. We went to bed at about eleven, as Muz & I read for a good long time after dinner.
The Grand Babylon Hotel (1902), a mystery novel by Enoch Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) telling the story of strange goings-on in a prestigious hotel in London. ⇑
Baccarat (1904), a novel about a woman whose life is ruined by a gambling addiction, written by Frank Danby, pseudonym of the Irish author Julia Frankau née Davis (1863-1916) ⇑
The Mender (1906), a novel with Christian themes by Amy Le Feuvre (1861-1929) who also wrote under the pseudonym Mary Thurston Dodge. ⇑
Rose of the World (1905), a novel written jointly by Egerton Castle (1858-1920) and his wife Agnes née Sweetman (1860-1922). In addition to writing books, Egerton Castle was a noted swordsman and captained the British fencing team at the 1908 Olympics ⇑