The first anniversary of Pat Armstrong’s death led to an outpouring of sympathy to his mother from family and friends. There were those who bemoaned his loss but also those who felt that in death Pat had had a lucky escape from the seemingly endless and unrelenting horror of the war. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how soldiers were able to endure fear and physical exhaustion for months, even years at a time. Some like Robert Gee were kept going by an overwhelming sense of duty to king and country while others like Algie Neill were driven by a hatred for the enemy and a desire to revenge the death of a friend or a fellow soldier. Many found strength or solace in black humour, excessive drinking, lucky charms, repetitive routines or religion, although the ever-present closeness of death caused equally many to lose any vestige of faith. Most it seems survived simply on the strength of expectation of the next meal, the next cigarette, the next opportunity to rest, or the omnipotent hope of home leave.
Monday 20 May
Muz & I sewed all morning at Ione’s Jimmies1, & Ione worked at her nighties. The Jimmies aren’t a bit nice to make! Tom stayed in bed all day, with a cold. Mrs Reynolds & the two girls2 went off for the afternoon, & Heppie did all the washing up & cooking etc. We worked again in the afternoon, & sat out in the garden, & then took the dogs for a run.
Tuesday 21 May
Sewed all morning, Muz read, Ione worked at her trousseau & Tom stayed in bed all day. Mrs Reynolds went to see her eldest girl off, & Heppie did all the cooking etc. It was dreadfully hot all day. We sat out in the garden, & Muz & I helped Ione with her sewing all afternoon, & Muz & I went for a wee walk before dinner. Afterwards we sat out in the garden, & I wrote letters.
Letter from ‘T’, Red House, Brentwood, to Mrs Armstrong
“A worthy mother of a brave son”
My dear Rosalie
I hope you get this on the 23rd on which day I shall be thinking a great deal about you. Brave little person; you have indeed proved yourself to be, as I said you would, a worthy mother of a brave son. How pleased Pat must be with you. A whole year ago. Go on being brave, we all know what it costs you. I can’t write more as I am just starting 7.30 a.m for East Coast.
Wednesday 22 May
I sewed at Ione’s blue nightie all afternoon, & she sewed too, & & Muz worked at the Jimmies, Heppie cut out the loose cover for the sofa, & Tom wrote letters. In the morning we drove in to Malvern. We were to have met Mike, but he had to do drill, so couldn’t meet us. We shopped, & I got my bicycle, & Tom rode it out. It was awfully hot all day, but there was a bit of a wind, but it felt very thundery, & it did thunder & lightning after dinner, then it rained a bit in the night. After dinner we sat out in the garden for a bit, & later Muz & Heppie went for a wee walk.
Thursday 23 May
Muz wrote letters, Ione & I sewed, Tom wrote letters, & Heppie worked at the sofa cover. It rained nearly all morning, & was very windy. I went for a ride on my bicycle, to the Common, & it was lovely & fresh. After lunch Tom went on the bike to the dressmaker about her skirt, & it began to thunder, so Muz & Heppie went to meet her, but she had turned when it began, so they didn’t go far. Then Muz & Heppie went for a walk to Mrs Bayliss, & brought back a lovely water lily, they met Lady Ripley on the way, & she had been here to call before, but we had been sewing, & crept out when we saw her coming! I wrote letters, & went to bed at about eleven.
It was my intention to write & post this letter to you early this morning but I was whisked away to a Medical Board at 9.30 am & then went on home & found your letter awaiting me. Many thanks for such a nice long letter. I can’t think what happened when your lovely flowers arrived but I am under the impression that I wrote you immediately for they were really lovely & came out so nice when they had been in water an hour, the Lillies [sic] lasted for days.
Colonel James Forbes-Robertson
I have rather a wordy war with the Board as they wanted me to get passed permanently unfit for active service but that is absolutely rot. I admit that at the present moment I am unfit but I also know that I shall soon get fit & be of far more value to the country that [sic] half-dozen of the immature boys they expect to get trained into officers after a dozen drills & half-a-day on lectures. However I could not get it all my way but they decided to transfer me to a Convalescent Hosp in the Midlands, I don’t mind not going to a Convalescent home a little bit because I do not feel up to going about much as yet I so soon get tired. I do hope I get within easy distance of you for I am sure I could buck you all up a wee bit, Jess & I at least have something in common for we are neither in the best health at present. I got her letter today & will write her shortly.
I think I know just how you feel these days & I really mean it when I say that we ought to be grateful to God for sparing Pat the horrors of the past year. Dear Pat was war worn but would not give in & so he would have gone on & on until he just collapsed & suppose it had happened during a staafe3 [sic], the awful anxiety of not knowing for sure what had happened, the terrible time of waiting for news you & the girls would have had to go through or again the trouble, no the unthinkable agony Pat himself would have suffered had he been mutilated & sent back here, to sit & read of the war & his Rgt & not to be able to do anything would have been a living Hell to old Pat.
We love him with our narrow outlook we say “If He was only with how pleased & proud we would be” & Pat with his wonderful nature would have been pleased too, he would also endeavour to hide from us the anguish of spirit you & I know he would be undergoing in his enforced idleness & so we ought to be thankful that we know where he is & that his spirit still lives with us & that we shall see him again. I may not have put this very clear but Pat taught me to help & think for others & though I can only aim at & faintly endeavour to live up to his example yet I know that the thoughts I have tried to convey to you are similar to what he would have written to Mrs Gee had the position been reversed & don’t forget what I told you a year ago “The bell shall not toll for our Pat if it sings at all it shall be a Peal”. He is rejoicing today over Forbes–Robertson’s VC for he knew him so well so let us forget our grief & rejoice with him. Love to the Girls.
PS I was forgetting to say I got 3 months at a Convalescent Hosp & marked fit
Friday 24 May
Tom & I went out after breakfast, & went to the thrush field, & looked for caterpillars, we got about ten different kinds, & brought them back, & we are going to keep them in jars. After lunch we watched the caterpillars, & Muz wrote letters, & after tea Muz, Tom & I went to the orchid field & picked flowers & the dogs hunted. It was a lovely warm day, but not too hot.
Saturday 25 May
Tom & I went out to look for caterpillars in the blackthorn field, but we didn’t get any new ones. When we came in, I worked at Ione’s Jimmies, & finished them. Muz wrote letters, & Ione slept out in the wood. After lunch three of the boys came, Ivan Campbell, Redvers Coates, & a new boy & we went up & had a picnic in the blackthorn field, & looked for caterpillars first. Then we walked some of the way back with them, across the fields, & got back here at about 7-30. Ione had slept all afternoon, & Heppie worked at the sofa cover.
It is indeed a long time since we held communication with one another and it is my fault: for the last letter was yours. I can well understand how “the year’s mend” bring yr. dear Pat, and the empty place he has left very near, & clear to you: – he was so much for you to lean on: and even when you made the decisions, the steering & speaking of all that was in yr. hearts made things clearer.
Dear Rose, he cannot speak to you in the old way: but surely everything we know of God’s Love makes us believe he does not forget: – the sense that he cares still for you & the sisters who were so proud of him – is a help. I am sure you often lie back in your chair alone & think of him: give yourself up to the remembrance: and I believe such times must bring you help & comfort: and a clearer judgement after. You are not alone, dear, God is guiding & helping you all the time: – I do indeed regret yr. brother-in law’s death yr. letter is the first news I have of it. You feel Cantreyn a haven and shelter to yourself besides the grief to yr. sister:4 such a short happiness she has had: still I am sure she would a thousand times rather have had all the suffering & parting this joy brought with it – than not to have taken it into her life with all it has meant. I can’t remember if she had children or not.
– Now, dear, in the advice I will say what seems to me the best, what I would think if Betty were in the case: – let them marry as soon as he can get home: whatever is before Ione, no position is so grievous as being neither free nor wedded: September is not too soon: if they love and are sure of one another, let them settle it, & look forward to it. It seems to me that bridesmaids in such times as these are a mistake, still you must settle this with Ione & the sisters: they might feel it a miss, if they did not take that share: – It is a time when the quietness & economy possible now seems to be so comfortable: why attempt any thing else?
You ask me about church – it depends a little on where you stay: you wd. like v. near: – & Also there is the question of Parson: as Anstace Thompson is an old friend perhaps you would think of her husband that would indicate St Peter’s – I have wondered whether if we could manage it, you would like us to lend you Draycott Place, to go up to & for her to be married from – I think we shall be in Ireland in September, and you could make any little extra arrangements for tea after the service conveniently there. Let me know what you feel & think about this & the probable time. Do you think of making any suggestion to Marcus about being present at the wedding? I cannot judge of this: it is an occasion where it might be adivseable [sic] if he were with you.
Elton Hall, Peterborough
I wonder if you know that Granville has been home wounded in the heel: quite a simple wound – He is being discharged from Hospital on Monday or Tuesday and will get 4 weeks leave before rejoining – I am very thankful for it all. Mary my sister is with me – & Betty: she & Douglas go to Glenart5 at the end of this week while I go to Droitwich: – Jocelyn is finishing at Eton this half, & joins the Cadet Corps in September. Indeed life must often seem too full of burdens for you: and the support gone: – Think of all you have been helped through & the glory & pride of having had such a son: whom you were able to sacrifice: – He that spared not His own knows what it is costing you now, & will not forsake. The girls are very dear, tho’ they cannot be the same as he, I think & pray & believe you will be given comfort through them. – I shall see you one day perhaps with Ione’s boy on your knee. They are coming for the letters: & I must stop – God bless & help you, dear.
Muz, Ione & Tom went to church, I wrote letters, & then read for a bit. After lunch I lay down & read nearly all afternoon & finished “Barbara” by Miss Braddon.7 We thought Mike was coming out to lunch, but he didn’t come, but arrived later, & wasn’t allowed to stay for tea, so sat out, & Tom walked back with him, & they rode the bike in turns, then she rode back. Ione slept, & Muz wrote letters. Went to bed at about ten, & read for a bit afterwards.
Letter from Irene Wills, 9 Southwell Gardens, SW, to Mrs Armstrong
It was lovely to get your letter, you know how I’ve been thinking of you all without my telling you, don’t you darling? Please give dear Jess my love, and thank her for her sweet wee note, it did help having it. I will try and answer to-morrow. Beryl came and spent a long time with me to-day, and then Peter, Miss Williams my painting friend I mean, came. They are two of the dearest people I know, and I’d love you to meet them. I haven’t felt awfully fit since the very hot weather, just tired and slack, and glands in my neck got bad, but I saw my doctor and got a tonic so I expect I’ll be alright soon. Auntie is sweet about agreeing I’m far better at work just now, but I’m to get leave in July and have a rest then. She comes home again this week and Vaughan and Bunty come on June 25th. His plans are quite uncertain, he may go back to the Regt but he doesn’t know yet.