WEEK 34: C’EST LA GUERRE
Monday 15 to Sunday 21 February 1915
Fighting on the Western Front intensified during the second half of the month. The 5th Army Corps suffered heavy casualties, partly because the 27th and 28th Divisions which it comprised had no previous experience of European warfare, having only recently returned from various Imperial postings. In spite of this handicap they managed to repulse all German efforts to get through the line. The 82nd brigade of the 27th Division, who had been driven from its trenches east of St Eloi on 14 February, made a strong counter-attack under the cover of darkness and by the evening of 15 February had recaptured the trenches. The 2nd Cavalry Division were less fortunate. The 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers suffered heavy casualties when their trench near Ypres was mined and blown up by the German forces. Disheartened by the news, Pat Armstrong braced himself gloomily for a stint in the trenches near Ypres.
Monday 15 February
Went round to call for Helen, but she was in bed, so I went down the town. When I came back, I went down again with Muz & Heppie. After lunch I washed my apron. Muz & Heppie went out. Captain Robinson came for tea, & then we all went down to the Red Cross practise, & did some of the bandages on Captain Robinson! I had a bath before dinner. I rubbed Muz’s toes after dinner, & we went to bed at about 10-30.
Tuesday 16 February
Tom’s birthday. Went down the town in the morning. Markie came for lunch. Then we went to the Tango Tea. We asked Miss Brinkley but she couldn’t come. Mr Harvie, Capt. Robinson, Markie, & a Miss Monckton came, & we had great fun. Afterwards Ione went back early to get dressed, & we talked to Miss Castberg in the hall. Then Mr Harvie & Markie came with us, & we went to see Mrs Stubbs. Mr Hardy came to have dinner with her. Ione came back from the Burlington, & went to the theatre with Markie. We went to bed at about 10-30.
Feb 15. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
I am sending you B’s letter. An awfully nice letter isn’t it. She says herself exactly what you said in your letter. She doesn’t know her own mind yet & only time & experience will do that for her. […] It makes such a difference though, the other one was rather a knock. Now I absolutely know her failings & am quite prepared to wait. In fact I think it is far better for us both that she should see a bit more of life. Then when she is a bit older if she does make up her mind & cares for me, I can be absolutely certain that it is the “real thing” as she says. But now she is only more or less a child & really couldn’t be expected to know her own mind. But I feel that things are really going as well as can be expected. There is absolutely no hurry. So for the present we can just go on being friends & thing are really very much the same as they were at Xmas only that I now know exactly what she feels, which I didn’t then.
[…] I am glad you went to the wedding1 & enjoyed it. It must have been nice seeing all the people. Cecil Howard tells me that you met his wife. Is she nice? I am glad you saw Mrs de Lisle. I wish you had the house now & you could get her down. Mrs. Stokes is a dear isn’t she. I told you that Pokes went home last night so you may see something of him. I think that Evelyn is a d—d lucky girl. She couldn’t have possibly married a nicer man. They ought to be awfully happy. But it does seem rather hard having to come back here immediately afterwards. I am glad that the bridesmaids got some rice too. It was clever of you that. […] Send off my cap as soon as you can. Best love wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 17 February
Le Nieppe. The Gen & Home, Fitz & Hardress went up to Ypres to have a look round. Gen came back rather despondent about the 27th Div having lost some trenches on the Zillebeke ridge. They made one counter attack which apparently failed. Rode into St Omer in the morning & over to the Rgt in the afternoon. Rained all day a real beast of a day. Heard from Mrs Ward Jackson.
Feb 17. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
A grand long letter from you yesterday of the 11th. You are grand about writing. It is awfully hard to follow all the rooms. I know there is a sort of way but have got them all a bit mixed with the rooms in that other house we looked at. I get very mixed up with all the bedrooms. I think that if it is all the same to everybody that the smoking room should be on the ground floor. I think Heppie’s idea rather good. The drawing room & smoking room downstairs & morning room upstairs. The question is do you want a morning room at all? How would it be to let Jess have that room next to the kitchen as her holy of holies. Then I think you ought all have a bedroom to yourself. I don’t see much good in you & Jess sleeping in the same room when there are lots of rooms. I do hope I’ll be able to get home & see it all. I want to awfully. […] I’ll write again to-night but want to go out for a bit now. It is a beastly day.
Your loving Pat.
Feb 17. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] This is miserable paper I stole from Dorothy. It was hardly worth stealing!!! I have got tons of paper to do me for some time so you needn’t send me any more just yet. Those little blocks will be very useful next week when we are at Ypres but I like the big one for here. Will you send me a Hydroplane block & envelopes to match sometime so as I can have it when I come back here. I’d finish this little block in a couple of days. I’m glad you have seen Markey. But he sounds rather disappointing. He is awfully young yet though. I’d like to meet him. Poor week Kicks it’s a pity he has those glands & can’t get a job. He will feel it awfully after this show when he realises that he was one of the few who did nothing. Poor little lad it’s hard on him. The General, Home, Fitz & Hardress went up to Ypres this morning & saw Gen Gough. The 2nd Div are there now. They had a beastly day for their journey. He is living in Ypres. Gen Byng had a house outside Ypres which he went to in the day & then went back to Poperinge at night. Gough stays in Ypres all the time. I expect we will do the same. It looks like being a very uncomfortable 10 days, as we will all be boxed up in a couple of little rooms & d—d all to do all day. The 28th Div lost some trenches this morning in front of Zillebeke that is East of it. Rather an important place it is. I hope thy get them back alright. But it will cost them a good many men I’d be afraid. That 5th Corps under Plumer is rotten. I don’t know what is the matter with them. The 28th Div go on firing all day & all night without stopping & apparently at nothing. The attack started at 3 o’c this morning & it took 45 minutes to get the gang going.
The other day when the French were attacked their guns were on in one minute. That is a wonderful gun of theirs the Soixante Quinze2 as they call it. It’s the hero of this war. They can shoot 100 rounds out of it without re-laying it (aiming). Our guns have to be re-laid after each round. Their guns never seem to wear out some of the guns up at Ypres now are 18 years old & are as good as the new ones. The funny part is they look so awful. All tied up with odd bits of string. Scarecrows of horses with mouldy harness looked after by dirty bearded little Frenchmen who at first sight you’d think were no good. But – when she starts to shoot then one’s ideas alter & one realises what a fine fellow the Frenchman is & what a marvellous gun he has got. In places where the trenches are only 40 yds apart they burst the shrapnel over their own men’s heads & then it falls into the German trenches. Simply wonderful the accuracy. I am looking forward to hearing the result of the counter attack to-day. I do hope it was successful. It is very important that the Germans shouldn’t hold that ridge as by holding it they can see right into Zillebeke & incidentally into Ypres. It does seem absurd. The French have held that line since November & saw these new blighters loose it. I suppose that they will get alright in time. The sickening fact is that the ground was taken by a lot of sort of boy scouts. Hardress saw some prisoners that came in to-day & he said that they were absolute children. […] Best love to you all.
Your loving Pat.
Thursday 18 February
Ione went up to London, to go & see Lady Ierne . Markie came in early, & he, Tom & I went out, & went up to the Grand & Metropole, & then down the town, & we had our photographs taken. He stayed for lunch & afterwards we went up to the Grand, & wrote letters, & he & Tom talked to a little French girl. Then Noel Wyndham , Markie, Mrs Hancox, & Mr Stubbs came for tea. Then Muz & Mrs Hancox went round to see Mrs Deane & Dickie, & Helen came in later. Mary went round to see Mrs Stubbs, & Mr Stubbs stayed with us till nearly eight. Went to bed at about 10-30. Ned has been mentioned in dispatches.
Friday 19 February
Went down the town & did some shopping. Markie came for lunch. The he & Ione went up to the Tango Tea. After tea Mary & I went down to the Harbour, but there was nothing going on, the boats have been stopped today & yesterday; the boats with officers from leave arrive at 5 A.M. & go out at 8 P.M. We got back at about six, & went up to the Tango tea, it was over, but a man was playing, so we danced, I danced with Mr Harvie & Mr Stubbs, we came back at about 7-30. Markie stayed for dinner, & afterwards we went to the electric theatre, & walked back, we stayed & talked afterwards we went to bed at about twelve.
Feb 19. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
Grand long letter from you yesterday of the 14th. Yes, my cap rolled up quite safely. I hear that the mail boats have stopped running so I don’t know when you will get this, it will probably be delayed for several days. Annoying if they are stopped for long as it will mean that we get no letters or papers. But I suppose they have to stop for a day or two on account of this blockade business. Or else what is likely there may be some big naval show on. The news from Russia sounds bad doesn’t it.3 The Germans claim to have taken 50 thousand prisoners & the Russians certainly are going back an awful pace. Of course they have got a strong line to fall back on but if they aren’t careful I’d be afraid that they would get pushed over it. I was hoping that they would give the Germans a knock instead of taking one themselves. But I’m hoping that we will hear better news from them soon. There is one consolation that they can replace their casualties & the Germans can’t. The 28th Div seem to have got back their trenches alright & from all accounts things are fairly quiet up there. All the staff of that Div seems to be bad. It’s hard to know what to make of it. But the whole of that 5th Corps have done badly. Plumer is too old I should say. What I make of the Bulgarian loan is that it was borrowed from Germany after the last war in the Balkans & that the Germans were late in paying it so the Bulgaria minister started to fuss about it. But I don’t think it means much. Bulgaria won’t come in in any case I’d say. I hope Romania & Italy come in soon. I would like to see things hurry up a bit. I’d like to see Markey. Is he a nice boy? I was surprised to hear that he wasn’t smart. But he is very young & one gets into dreadful ways at Cobbalds. We used to wear absolute rags there. I wonder if my photos are done yet. I’m looking forward to getting them. But with the boats stopped like this it looks as if it would be some time. I will try & get some interesting ones at Ypres next week. That is going to be a very monotonous show I’d be afraid. […] What do you think of French’s dispatch. I was disappointed not to see anything about the Cavalry, fighting at Messines & Wychacte. He said in his last dispatch that he was going to put something in about it. […] The Gen is going up to see the Div this morning. I’m not sure yet if he wants me to go with him or not. I rather hope not. I want to go for a ride. It is so hard to get enough exercise. One gets so horribly fat motoring about like that. The General is extraordinary. He hardly takes any exercise. He never rides now for more than an hour, & then sits in the house all the rest of the time. But he is quite happy & very peaceful which is a good thing.
No more news now. Best love dear wee Mus. I hope you will get this soon.
Your loving Pat.
Letter from Pat Armstrong Qrs I Cav Div, to Captain Marcus Beresford Armstrong
My dear Sir,
Ever so many thanks for your letter which I got this morning. It is awfully good of you to give me £100 as that will leave Mus with £100 a year towards the rent of a house. You can’t think what a difference it will make to the wee girls as it will mean that they will have a nice house to live in instead of lodgings – that now they will be able to go about & not have to stay absolutely quiet as otherwise they would have done. It really is awfully good of you especially as times are so bad. I am so sorry to hear about your arm & do hope it will be quite alright again soon. What a nuisance it is being laid up with it. I was hoping that it would go away one day & not worry you any more. It must have been a horrible business having it taken out. We go back to the trenches again on Tuesday in front of Ypres. A horrible spot. We are going to live in Ypres which won’t be much fun was they have an unpleasant trick of shelling it. The bore of it is that it means we will never be able to take off our clothes. We are going to be there for 10 days so we will be a dirty looking lot of ruffians at the end of it. The 28th Div have been having rather a trying time lately. They lost 5 trenches last week & have had some pretty hard fighting to get them back. The weather these last weeks has been a little better, I am thankful to say. I do hope it will be kind to us when we are up there. It does make such a difference. The news from Russia doesn’t look too good. But everybody out here are very optimistic about it. They say that although the Russians are retiring & losing men that the Germans are losing men too which they can’t replace while the Russians can easily fill up their gaps. I hope that we will get a big push forward this side before very long now. I am longing to see the brutes going back. The best of luck & thank you again ever so much for giving me £100 a year, it really is most awfully good of you.
Your loving Maurice.
Saturday 20 February
Went down the town in the morning. Mr Harvie, Captain Robinson & Markie came to dine, & we went to the dance. Helen & Noel Wyndham came, & we introduced them to people. It was great fun. After the dance Mr Harvie brought us back here in his taxi. We went round & left Helen back, & then Capt. Robinson came in here for a few minutes. We went to bed at about 1-30. Met Mr Rawly in the town, in the morning, & he said he was coming for tea. Ione went to the Grand with Markie, & Muz Heppie & Tom went to the matinee, so I had him alone, then Mrs Stubbs came in for a little while. When she left Major Ward came in, & then Helen came. She had been over at Dover, & seen them firing at a submarine. Mary came back at about six.
Sunday 21 February
Le Nieppe. Left about 10 o’c & went to church with the 11th Hussars. Then went on to 3rd Corps & saw Gen Pulteney & then on to 2nd Corps but Gen Fergusson was away. Saw Major Russel. Then went to Steenwerck to try & find Shay who was out. Had lunch with Gen Capper at Sailly on our way home called in at Gen Rawley’s & then went into Corps. Heard that the 16th Lancers had had 50 yards of their trench blown up at 6 a.m. 4 officers killed 1 missing 1 badly wounded 4 slight wounds. Beech, Nash, King, Neave (killed).
Feb 21. Hd Qrs I Cav Div.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] The General & I left here about 10 o’c & went up to Church with the 1st Bde. We saw Tommy Pitman who was awfully pleased at getting his C.B. We then went on into Bailleul & saw Gen Poulteney who commands the 3rd Corps. The Gen talked to him for some time. I had a long talk to Pembroke his A.D.C. They had no news. They have got Saxons in front of them (IV & VI Div) who are very peaceful & never attack or make themselves unpleasant. We then went over to the II Corps to see Gen Fergusson, who was out but they hadn’t much news except that they are sending the 9th, 13th & 15th Inf Bde to take over the line now held by the 28th Div. Everybody is very fed up with them & they say that their staff work is absolutely rotten. […] We heard at Corps that the 16th Lancers have had rather a rotten day. The Germans mined 50 yards of a trench & blew it up at 6 o’c this morning. They had four officers killed one missing & one wounded & 50 men killed & wounded. Nash, Beech, Cross & somebody else killed. Campbell wounded Evans wounded or missing or both they didn’t seem to know. Dreadful isn’t it. Poor little Jim Beech I’m awfully sorry about him. It’s dreadful about them all but I suppose if there is a war there must be casualties “c’est la guerre” as they say. […]
Your loving Pat
To read the entire letter, click here
- The wedding of Evelyn Wardell and Captain Anthony Stokes ⇑
- Also known as French 75 or simply 75, Soixante Quinze was a quick-firing field gun designed to deliver large volumes of time-fused shrapnel shells on enemy troops advancing in the open.⇑
- This is a reference to the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes (7-22 February) which ended in German victory. The Russians suffered severe casualties but managed to prevent the Germans from advancing far into Russia. ⇑