“A narrow escape this morning”

“A narrow escape this morning”

Read full letter here. Full transcription below.

Nov 10 Hd Qrs I Cav Div

On Service

My dear wee Mus.

I’ve just got in & got your letter of the 5th. I’m glad you’ve got my letters how funny the posts are. I sent you off a letter this morning written on the 8th. I couldn’t get it off before. It didn’t matter a bit really about the typed letter. The situation is still unchanged, we’re just hanging on all along the line. The Germans are still pushing hard to get Ypres. They took Messines from us last week, that has given them a strong artillery position. We’ve had a dull day to day sitting about in the house we were living in last week & doing nothing. I rode out there this morning & rode back again this evening. The General had a narrow escape this morning. He was driving through a village with the President & Hardress & a shell burst over them one bullet went through the radiator, & another broke the windscreen, & a Frenchman was killed beside them. Luckily they all escaped unhurt.

The President had to go off this morning to G.H.Q to get his car mended. The poor old car has had a lot of knocks. It got hit the day the inn was blown down & again last night & now to-day. The General is always going running round among the bullets & shells just to see how things are going. It’s silly as he does no good. But you can’t stop him as he thinks he does good. He was pretty quiet all to day after that, which was a relief. I hate messing about with him in shell swept places when there is no absolute necessity for it. If I was sent there with a message it would be quite another affair. They put a few shells into the house we were in to-day but none of them close to us.

I’m feeling awfully fat leading this sort of life. One feeds the best & gets very little exercise. Today I’ve only ridden to our head quarters & back a matter of about 14 miles & sat about the rest of the day. However I’m quite hungry & ready for dinner now. I will finish this & then change for dinner. I don’t think that there is much wrong with Barnes. He had his coat cut & his ribs a bit bruised but it’s nothing. He never even went sick with it. I saw Peter Coombe the night he was wounded. He was able to walk alright & seemed quite happy. I look on the average person who gets a nice cushy wound like a broken arm or something of the sort, that will make them go home & keep them there for a couple of months, as being d—d lucky.

This is a rotten show & has absolutely no good points. There is absolutely no excitement in it whatsoever. Of course I have quite a good time but I’m talking about the troop leader who has to sit in the trenches. Poor old Brock is awfully fed up with the whole proceeding. He wants to get back to the Rgt. He ought to be very glad to have a good job with J. V. But I quite know what he feels that he isn’t pulling his weight. I often feel the same myself. What a funny story that is about the Belgians arriving in plain clothes. Quite a probable story I should think. You see if they went into Holland in uniform they’d have to lay down their arms. So they escape from the Germans in Holland & then are quite willing to go back again & fight. I haven’t heard any of those stories about the French Generals.

The story about Mainwaring & Elkington is a little evolved but what I can gather of it is as follows: Our Bde was doing rear guard to the retiring Infantry outside H Quarters on the retreat. Geoff & I always call it the “Cat & Custard Pot day” because we were ordered to hang on till dark at all costs & then get away & when we were given the order it looked as if there was very little chance of getting away as the Germans were burning villages about 5 miles away. I remember we all laughed & cut sticks so as to ride a forest in the darkness of the night. We took compass bearings where to go to & sat tight. However we weren’t worried & went back that evening & got a very excellent billet in a village called Savy. Well I’m rather digressing from my story. But the point is that the Gen sent Tom Bridges into St Quentin to clear out all our infantry & put them on the right road. I haven’t told you before but it was a most pathetic sight. The whole of that day we’d had infantry passing through us in ones & twos absolutely beat to the wide. The unknown tired looking individuals came creeping along the road not caring a damn what happened to them. All they wanted was food & rest. It was really dreadful. Well Mainwaring & Elkington had got their battalions into St Quentin in this sort of state an absolute disorganised mob. When Bridges got in there he found that they had surrendered their battalions to the Mayor of the town. They had all laid down their arms & said they wouldn’t fight. Then if the Germans had come along the Mayor would just have handed them all over & so avoided having the town shelled. There was a lot of men belonging to the two Rgts in the town hall who absolutely refused to come out. Said they didn’t mind what happened so long as they weren’t made to march. Both the Colonels were practically off their heads with worry & fatigue. You can’t imagine what it was without having seen it what an awful strain it was. Neither Colonels had the least control over their men. Mainwaring was put under arrest then & there but Elkington went off & was found a couple of days afterwards wandering about without a belt or any equipment & without any garters or fetters on. This is the story I was told & to the best of my knowledge it is true. What I am quite certain about is that both Rgts laid down their arms & refused to fight. Dreadful wasn’t it. One could never believe that men could get into such a state unless you had seen them.

Tom Bridges was splendid that night. There was a lot of other men in the town as well as these two Rgts. One lot had to go down one road to join their Division & another lot had to go down another. At the cross roads there were arrows put up showing which road each Division was to take. Well when Tom arrived in the town all the men were just hanging about too tired to move on. So he bought a toy drum & penny whistle & made a couple of men play them then rode them all full in & marched them all down the road after him. They said they wouldn’t go where he led them. So he walked off at their head & after going about a mile had them in quite good formation & quite cheery & then got them to march on by themselves. A good show wasn’t it. He’s a wonderful man with extraordinary personality. He has since been recommended for a V.C & given command of the IV Hussars. He wasn’t left there long & has been with the King of the Belgians. I believe he arranged the evacuation of Antwerp.

It’s good about the Russians isn’t it. But I’m afraid they will get held up soon when they come up against the German forts on that side. However their masses must tell. We’ll have to give them a good bump on this side before there is any hope of peace. Germany will never accept our lines till we have her absolutely beaten & at the present moment she is far from that. She is putting up a great fight & has gained a bit of ground. The idea of her retiring at present is all rot. I’m quite sure of that. If we hang on here alright she’ll have to go back some day but she’s by no means beat yet. It makes me awfully angry to see the rot that is written in the papers about them. Everybody who has been up in the trenches acknowledges that the Germans are as brave as lions & that their men are well handled. They are awfully good with their machine guns, & of course their guns are wonderful. The French guns are awfully good at short ranges 3,500 to 4,000 but beyond that I don’t think they are much good. However they have done a good deal of damage to the German infantry but they can’t compete with the German big guns.

I sent you a “comic cuts” in my letter this morning which was sent round to us. It may amuse you to read but it’s the sort of stuff a child would write. Why can’t they say that the Somerset Light Infantry made a fine counter attack instead of saying a battalion. It does no good sending rubbish like that round to troops they only laugh at it. Still there are a certain amount of facts in it that may interest you. But they really oughtn’t to be allowed to write in that sort of tone. I’m sending you Blanchie’s letters. Be sure to send them back. You said something about a photo in your letter. Did she ask you for one? If she wants one will you send her one, but she hasn’t said anything to me about it. Send her the one in uniform if she wants it. No I’m afraid she wouldn’t be able to go & stay with you. But I’d like you to get to know her better, you do what you can I’ll leave it to you. I haven’t heard from her for about a week now. I’m expecting another letter from her any day now. You can’t think how nice it is coming home in the evening & finding letters. I didn’t expect to get one to-night & came back to find a lovely long one from you.

Stewart has sent me out 6 batteries. More than I want at present. They ought to last me for about 6 months. I’ll have to write & tell him not to send me any more just yet. I took a few photos to-day but it has been a bad dull drizzly sort of day so I don’t suppose they will be much good. If to-morrow is a good day I’ll finish the roll & send it to you. We were in a bad place too to-day for photos, in the middle of a town. Nothing much to like.   It’s annoying Turkey chipping in as I’m afraid it may prolong the war. There is a rumour going about that this Div may be sent to Egypt but I’m afraid that is too good to be true. That would be a jolly good show. Nice & warm & no black marias. Well I must go off & have some dinner now. Best love to you all.

Your loving Pat

Description: Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Date: 10 November 1914
Source: Armstrong Collection
Identifier: P6/1209 (19)