WEEK 29: I RAN LIKE A STAG
Monday 11 to Sunday 17 January 1915
Hunting with hounds was a fundamental part of upper-class life, and one which continued even in the face of war. In the last week of December 1914, Lieutenant Charles Romer Williams of the 4th Dragoon Guards, while on leave at home in Northamptonshire, obtained a loan of a pack of hounds from his friend Ernest Robinson. Against all odds, he was granted permission by military authorities to ship the pack to Belgium to allow the officers of the Second Cavalry Brigade to enjoy a spot of hare-hunting ‘as a change from herr-shooting!’ as The Sketch joked when reporting the news. The pack of hounds created great interest at home , and photographs of it appeared in many British magazines such as The Tatler and The Illustrated London News. Pat Armstrong, having recovered from his typhus inoculation, participated in one of these hunts on 12 January and had the best fun he had enjoyed since the start of the war.
Monday 11 January
League of Pity Dance. Went down the town with Mary, & took George out, & had his photograph taken. Mary came back here after lunch, & looked at some of the party dresses, but none of them would do. After lunch Muz & Ione went down to the Harbour to give Colonel Home & Captain Howard a parcel for Pat. I ironed mine & Ione’s fancy dresses, & knitted for a bit after tea. Then Claude came at 6 to call for Muz & Tom, & take them to the dance. Tom went as “a long way to Tipperary”, Ione & I went at 7-30, & called for Mary, Heppie came on later I went in the Swiss dress. There were very few people there, & we danced with the babies all the time went to bed at about one.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Jan 11. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] There is some talk of reducing our steeds. You see I’m only entitled to 3 horses & have got 4. But I like to have a spare horse in case anything happens. If I had one shot or anything it would be awfully hard to replace it. I don’t like Diana but she’s a hard devil & carries Ames well. So I don’t want to lose her. If they try to take her away I will get Mouse to say that she’s his. He has only got two. His servant goes in the mess waggon but I’d much rather have four horses & let Ames ride. I’ll have a hard fight before I let her go.
I have had great fun to-day. I went out for a ride this morning. Then about 12.30 Wilfred & I motored up to the 2d Bde to run with the beagles. They met at H. Battery at 1 o’c. We were a bit late for the meet but soon caught them up. They are a delightful little pack about 8 or 10 couples. We had quite a good hunt but scent was very catchy1 & the going awfully deep, it was great exertion getting along. The whole country is plough & very heavy. It was a glorious day bright sun & nice & warm. In fact we all got very heated running. I ran like a stag & found I was a good deal fitter than I thought I was. I have been walking a good bit lately & am pretty fit. We had a long winding hunt, with a good many checks.2 We started in one field & ran about 2 miles & came back again then bore away right handed. I pulled up about 3 o’c & we decided to come home so we got in to the car & started home but they started hunting again so we followed a bit in the car. The fox crossed the road in front of us going very slowly. So I loped out shed my clothes & dashed on. I led them all by myself for about 1 mile but scent was bad & they went slow. Then a fresh hare got up & they went on after her. I came home then as I’d done about enough. They hunt three days a week now so I’ll try & get out with them a lot. The worst of it is we are so far away. It means getting a motor which isn’t always easy. Romer Williams hunts there. He used to hunt the Eton beagles when I first went there. He is an awfully good master. He got them all from some fellow near Leighton-Buzzard. Splendid idea isn’t it & keeps one awfully fit. Will you send me a pair of stockings sometime. Grey ones if you can get them & very thin.
I tried to run in puttees3 to-day but got them very wet & then they were uncomfortable so I took them off & ran in bare legs much to everybody’s amusement. But one can’t get across this heavy plough bandaged up in puttees. I am going to get a cheap pair of trousers in St Omer & have them made into shorts they will be much better to run in. It’s the best fun I have had out here. I wish the going wasn’t so deep. It’s a bit hilly just there, not big hills just undulating as the tourist books would say. It is very hard work running up the hills on the heavy ground. The old innards are in great fettle. I suppose it was a slight go of enteric I had but only very slight. We used to call the disease “Hill trot” in India. It was a common complaint when people went up to the hills in the hot weather. I was hoping to be able to take some photos at the meet to-day but we arrived too late. I’ll do it the next fine day I’m out. I’ll try & get the General to come out. He won’t run but could cruise about on the roads in the car. He hates walking in any form. He is quite resigned to living here in inactivity & is really very happy. I love it personally. Of course I’d like to be pushing on & getting this show done but I’m awfully happy here & always manage to find lots to do. I’d like another spasm of leave but don’t think we’ll get it just yet. If we are still here next month we might get some more. As a matter of fact it would really be nice to wait for a bit & go early next month. I hope you got my films alright that I sent home with Standen. Well it’s nearly dinner time & I have no more news. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Tuesday 12 January
Le Nieppe. Quite nice day but dull & cold. Went for a ride with Wilfred & came back through Renescure. Saw Bombardier whose house was in shocking state. Rode into St Omer in the afternoon. The Gen & Hardress went & saw 27 Div in the morning. Caught them up on the way back. Joe Laycock & Ted Miller dined the latter stayed the night en route for England.
Jan 12. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus,
Ever so many thanks for all the things you sent me last night. The matches are splendid & just what I want. I have got plenty of films now so will keep busy taking photos. I am hoping to get some of the ones out soon that I sent home. That case thing that you sent me isn’t quite what I want. I want a sort of photo book that you can slip photos into & not have to stack them. It’s rather hard to describe. I expect they will have one in the shop where you got the camera. […] I don’t quite understand about Harry. I haven’t heard from Bonbon about it yet. I know she’s written as she said something about it in her letter last night but her first letter hasn’t come yet. I expect I will get it to-morrow. Anyhow things seem to have gone wrong which is awfully sad. He is awfully young yet far too young to be engaged. I expect it will all come right in a year or so.
[…] No news here at all. The General, Col Home & Hardress went up to see the XXVII Div to-day. The General says that they are running things awfully badly. They left here last Wednesday, marched 15 miles & then halted for the night. Very nice! Well the next day they did 15 miles & instead of having a night’s rest were put straight into the trenches. They were then kept there for 72 hrs. He saw some of them coming out to day & they could hardly move. Their billets are 11 miles from the trenches. So things really look in rather a mess. It’s simply wasting men going on like that. The General is awfully annoyed about it says “it makes him tired.” […] There doesn’t seem to be any sign of us moving yet. You see we are in reserve for the whole Army under G.H.Q. Well each Corps has its own local reserve. Each Division has its own & so on. So unless some point is badly threatened I don’t think that they will call upon us. […] I took a roll of films in to be developed. I want to try the man there. It takes such an awful long time for them to go home & come out again, that I’d like to get them done here if I could. He is going to have them done in three days for me. […] That frame Ione sent me was splendid. I’ll take good care that nobody in the Rgt sees those photos. Pokes doesn’t matter but nobody else will. Yes! I told G. I wanted to have his opinion & it’s as safe as the bank of England telling him anything. I do wish G was on this staff. Meeting him again after not having seen him for so long makes me realize how much I do like him. I like him more than ever now. He’s so cheery & yet there is such wonderful depth in him. […] Best love to you all dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 13 January
Jan 13. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus,
I wrote you a long letter last night & sent it home by Ted Miller this morning. I haven’t heard from Bretherton yet about Roger but may soon. Anyhow I ought to see him in a day or so. I would like to know exactly what his sister says. But it’s great having news of him. I hear that Hugh Grosvenor is alright but is so rude to the Germans that they won’t let him write. I wrote to the Duchess last night & told her. He is a great friend of theirs. I see in the paper that we are going to exchange 50,000 prisoners with the Germans. All those who are badly knocked about & won’t be able to fight again. It seems an awfully good plan. No news from B. yet. I’m rather worried but she is the sort of age when letter writing is an awful effort.
[…] I hope that house will do you. It sounds rather nice. Quite a nice place that would be. Do let me know all about it. Rent etc. I think it’s a great idea if you can manage it. It would be so much nicer to have a house of our own. We really have been in the place too long to go on living in lodgings. A house would be quite a different thing. Would it be very much more expensive do you think? I think it would be a great pity to leave Folkestone as we would never get another place as nice. What about furnishing. Would that cost an awful lot. You could do it gradually. If the Boss was handled right he would probably let you have a lot of stuff from Moyaliffe. It would be awfully nice to have a house we could make a regular home of it & could ask all sorts of people to stay who we couldn’t ask at present. B. for instance. She would probably have to come down about the time the pt to pts are on. I am longing to hear all about it & what you decide. I really think it is a splendid plan if it won’t tie your hands too much & I don’t see why it should as you ought always be able to let it for the summer months.
I got my bank book out this morning from Cox. I’m rather annoyed at some of the things I have to pay to the Rgt. On Nov 21 I had to pay.
Mess fund £6-0-0.
Then on the 1st Div I had to lay a mess bill of £37-3-11. Seems enormous doesn’t it. I am going to write home & find out about it. That is the sort of thing that ruins me & throws out all my calculations. I have got about £130 credit now so am quite well off. And draw another £25 pay for this month. When does my next allowance fall due? I can’t remember. Is it the first of Feb or March? And who puts it in? Do let me know if you can as I haven’t seen my accounts for so long that I’m a bit muddled over them. One great thing I have got nearly all my bills paid off which is a great relief. I want to come home if possible after this show & have no bills & a good credit at the bank. […] How I do wish that time would come & that this show was over. I haven’t got Bonbon’s letter yet. I’m longing to as I want to hear what has happened about Harry. Well wee Mus there is no more news. It’s stopped raining so I think I will go out for a bit. Best love to you all.
Your loving Pat.
P.S. I’m sending back that box you got me for photos.
Thursday 14 January
My dear old thing.
I got your letter to-day. I can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear what has happened. It really is cruel bad luck. But as things never worked out I don’t see what else could have happened. If only you had had an understanding & hadn’t been engaged. But then it’s no good my talking like that as of course it was quite impossible to foresee a catastrophe like this. I fully realise how dreadfully hard it is on you both but the only consolation is that if he doesn’t see much of you for 3 years & at the end of that time you still love each other it doubly ensures your future happiness. You must fully understand, as I know you do, that no parents could possibly allow a boy of 17 to be engaged. If you heard of such a thing yourself you would agree that it was absurd. […] His father’s letter certainly wasn’t nice but it was strong & determined and a typical man’s letter who had his son’s future at heart. […] I know from my own experience that when I was in love with Sylvia that I never thought of anything else & consequently let my work slide. I hadn’t my heart in my work & things went wrong & everybody was very annoyed with me. In fact for some time I was in serious disgrace & it took ages of hard work to get my head above water again. […] I am most awfully sorry my poor old thing. But you must be brave as I know you will & try not to worry about it. I know what you feel that life is not worth living but you’ll find as time goes on that it won’t be quite so bad & one day I hope & pray that it will all come right for you both. You know that I will always do anything in my power to help you. […] I’m probably coming home next Tuesday (Jan 21) & we can then have a long talk over the matter. Best love my dear old thing & do your best to keep cheery & don’t worry. You will do no good by worrying. Keep busy & don’t think about it if you can.
Yrs ever Pat.
Friday 15 January
[…] Muz & Ione went to look at houses. I finished reading “Guy Mannering”.4 Mrs Hancock came for tea. Ione went up to look in at the Tango tea, & Harry was there. No letter yet, from Pat, about Roger, so it may be another Wakefield. Went to bed at about 10-30, Muz was very tired.
My dear wee Mus,
I’ve only time for a few lines. I spent most of last night writing to Bonbon. I am most probably coming home on Tuesday with the General. Will you see that all my shirts, vests etc. in that suit case are washed & clean when I arrive. Will you get Ward to clean & press my blue serge. No news at all. Will write to you to-night. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 16 January
Stayed in bed all morning, & after lunch & went down to help Mrs Hind at the Soldiers’ Recreation Rooms. She came down & introduced me to the people, & then went away. I stayed there till after five. Mrs Thurburn came for tea, & then Mr Brand came in. We haven’t seen him since Westgate, he is in the Royal Fusiliers. Ione went to the dance, & was chaperoned by Mrs Castberg. She isn’t going to dance, she is going to say she has hurt her knee! Harry is going to be there, & Mr Sievier. Went to bed at about 10-30.
Jan 16. Le Nieppe.
My dear wee Mus,
Not much doing to-day. The General & I rode into Saint Omer this morning & got back in time for lunch. Then this afternoon we went out with a couple of grey hounds & tried to catch a hare. Poor fun after the beagles. I think when I’m at home I’ll try & get three or four couples to bring back with me. I could have a lot of fun with them round here. I sent a note over to Maurice to-day. He says that he is probably coming home on Thursday & wants me to go down there & have a hunt. He says that the children have got measles. I think it’s chicken pox really as B says that master had chicken pox about a fortnight ago. Of course if they have measles they will be laid up for some time & I wouldn’t be able to go there. How sickening that would be. Chicken pox doesn’t take long does it. We were only about a week in bed weren’t we? But of course measles is much longer. Well we’ll have to hope for the best. I hope to go out with the beagles again to-morrow if I can get a car. […] I expect I will see you about the same time as you get this. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.