WEEK 37: MY HINDUSTANI CAME IN USEFUL
Monday 8 to Sunday 14 March 1915
The second week of March 1915 saw the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the first planned British offensive of the war. Although the British forces succeeded in breaking through German trench defences they were unable to exploit the success owing to consequent disorganisation, loss of communications, shortage of ammunition and the destructive power of German bombardment. The Battle of Neuve Chapelle was immediately followed by action at St Eloi in an unsuccessful attempt by the British to recapture an artificial bank of earth known as The Mound which served as a valuable observation post. The bombing by German forces of the line at St Eloi was the heaviest experienced during the war thus far. At home , Mrs Armstrong continued her round of auctions to furnish the new family home while Ione fell ill with measles.
Monday 8 March
Went down the town with Muz, & went to Mrs Harrison. Then went in to see the Stubbses, & Florence came out with us, & we went to try on our dresses at Ward’s.1 It snowed nearly all day. After lunch I rubbed Muz’s toes, then Florence & Mary came for tea. At about seven, Mr Babington came, & he dressed up in Mary’s things! Then Markie & Mr Dalrymple came to call for Ione, she is dining with them at the Grand, & going to the theatre. They all stayed on very late […]
My dear wee Mus.
Not much news to-day. I got a letter from you yesterday dated 4th. Quick that wasn’t it. Yes! It is a pity that those photos of mine are so small. I think it would be quite a good idea to send the other camera. The one I had in India. Just let the shop have a look at it first just to see that the lens is clean & that sort of thing. Then will you send it out to me. I could always take it when I go in a car anywhere. Then I can use the little one when I am riding & going about in the trenches etc where a larger camera would be a nuisance. I enclose a cheque for you for the holsters & photos 12/- & £2.8.0. I am getting all my small bills paid off now & will then get my bank book & see how I stand. I think I have got about £180 or £200 there now. Splendid isn’t it & hardly any bills. Maxwell & Hawkes are about the only two now. I’ll pay them off as soon as they come. Yesterday morning was perfectly beastly rained hard all morning. The General, Hardress & I left about 10.15 by way of going to kirk & 18 to see the 4th D.G’s. But it was so wet that there was no church. So we went & saw the Bays & saw Sloane the fellow who had that show the other night when they blew up our mine. He was awfully interesting about it. Said that he had led the assault himself with the bayonet. Awfully exciting it must have been. Dreadful suspense it must have been before starting. In the afternoon Mouse & I rode over & had tea with Billy Miles. Brock & Jorrocks called up too & numerous other people so we had quite a tea party. A fellow was practising a bomb throwing device which he had invented himself which attracted people. He had a big box kite up & then a thing that was supposed to run up the rope & chop the bomb when it came to a stopper on the rope. But the wind wasn’t strong enough so it didn’t work very well. […] Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 10 March
Muz & Heppie went up to London by the 9-15, & went to the auction in Kensington, I took Tom to school, & then went round to Grimston Gardens. Ione stayed in bed all day, she has got measles. I didn’t tell Tom that she had. I went down the town to do some shopping, & went to the Stubbses, but had to get back early, to meet Tom. After lunch I took Tom out, & went down the town, & then up to the Grand to watch a dancing class. […] When I had given Duskey her supper, put Tom to bed, then I settled Ione for the night, & fed Susie, & went to bed at about 10-30. Then Muz & Heppie came back, but didn’t come up till late, so we didn’t go to bed till twelve. Ione’s temperature was a hundred & two.
Le Nieppe. Dull & cold. Standing to from 6.30 am.2 1st Army attacking near La Barse 1st line of enemy’s trenches taken. Neuve Chapelle captured. Meerut Div got 150 prisoners 21st Bde 120. No reports in about progress of 1st Div. Stayed about all morning & rode with General in afternoon. Then walked with Hardress.
Thursday 11 March
Le Nieppe. Dull but warm. Report that 1000 prisoners had been taken. Meerut Div had been counter attacked but repulsed it. Gen & Hardress went to Corps. Rode with the Babe. Rode into Hazebrouck & then went for a walk. Col Home got back from England about 7.30. U18 sunk.3 2 Cav Div moved to Estaires. 3 Cav Div moved to Merville
My dear wee Mus.
I got your letter of the 7th yesterday morning written from the Grand. I didn’t think they’d let you dance there on Sunday. What fun you must have had. Good news that if it’s true about those 18 submarines. I heard 8 which I think is more likely. I hear that they shelled Ypres pretty heavily a couple of days ago. I’m glad I wasn’t there. There are two places I loathe being shelled in, a wood or a town. It is bad enough in the open but then one has a chance of seeing where they are pitching. But in a wood or a town one just hears the bang & don’t know where the next one may be coming. I do hope Italy comes in. It would make all the difference. There seems some chance of Greece coming in too. If she wants any of Turkey she will have to come in. Or at the end of this show she’ll find herself left out in the cold. It is really awfully hard on Harry the way his people are going on. Absurd isn’t it? I can’t understand what you said about his father being G.S.O 2 to the 6th Div. They’d never take a fat headed civilian as G.S.O 2. He’s never been to the Staff college or anything. I’ll see some of them sometime & ask about him. We stood to yesterday from 6.30 a.m. as there was a post going on down toward La Bosse. We haven’t had much news in so far. In one part of the line they took the whole of the front line of the enemy’s trenches. We have captured Neuve Chapelle & I believe they are now trying to get Aubers. They seem to have done pretty well. But we have only got scraps of news in on the wire. I was talking to the General the other day & asking him what he thought about the end of the war. He says he thinks that it will be over by the end of June. First the Germans will begin talking about peace then we will say that we won’t discuss peace terms till they are the other side of the Rhine. He says that they will probably withdraw there once they realise that they are beat. Then we will sit along the Rhine & make peace. That’s his idea. It will be interesting to see how it works out. Personally I feel that we will never leave this line. But it’s impossible to prophesy. There is a long time between now & June when the crisis must come. “Babe” Nicholson, whose father is a big bug in the foreign office was talking the other night & said that his father had told him that the terms for peace were all drawn up already. So that when Germany wants peace she can take them or leave them as she likes. The only country she has to pay an indemnity to is Belgium. The terms aren’t hard he says. Of course she will have to reduce her armament a lot but how much we don’t know. It wouldn’t suit the balance of power in Europe to smash her altogether. I am sending you the blanket this morning also some 8 fuses off German shells & a couple of cases of our 4.5 in howitzer rolled up in an old Burberry. Will you have the Burberry cleaned & keep it for me it is in a filthy state at present. I think these cases will make nice things to put plants in. […] Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Letter from A. Collier, Brady & Co. Hosiers, Hatters & Shirt Tailors, 64 Sandgate Road, Folkestone, to Pat Armstrong
Dear Mr Pat.
I was very Glad to hear from you & thank you for you cheque. I enclose receipt. Now Sir how are you. In the pinki I hope & having a good time. You seem to be like a cat, all ways fall on your feet. We have just got the Canadians here they are a Great lot, & spoiling for a go over your side, about that Helmet. If you cannot get that send me the next best a German’s Head. Anyway send what you can find just for luck. We have just 30,000 Soldiers here now so the Kaiser looks like smelling snore powder yet. All Good wishes sir, take care of yourself for Ireland’s sake.
Friday 12 March
Red Cross Examination. Frightfully disappointing that we couldn’t go in for the exam, but we had missed 2 lectures. Got a letter from Ned & one from Algie, he is in N.Z. & hopes to get back in April. Ione stayed in bed all day. I went down the town. Then Muz & I went up to the Tango Tea, & Markie & Mr Horton came, & Mr Bald & a friend of his came later. I danced with Mr Horton nearly the whole time. We didn’t get back till after seven. Ione came down in her dressing gown before dinner, & Muz & I went down to the post office about a parcel from Pat. […]
Letter from Blanchie Somerset, Badminton, Gloucestershire, to Pat Armstrong
I can’t remember if I thanked you for the photos, anyway if I haven’t this is to do so – Pat, you are a darling to want me to have the bay pony but I don’t want to think of the possibility of having him & you mustn’t either, will you? Isn’t it maddening, I’ve lamed my beautiful bay horse very badly & he won’t be any more good this winter. But I’ve been fearfully lucky as I’ve been lent a beautiful thorough-bred mare by a boy who has gone to the front. She’s a beautiful jumper & has won several pt to p & a steeplechase, only she’s rather hot & pulls a good deal. Must stop as post is going.
Best love & many kisses Blanchie
My dear Pat.
The sending of a card at Xmas was a very small matter compared with your letter, written so long ago as the 7th [?] Jan: its receipt was an unspeakable pleasure to me. The delay in acknowledgment arose from my absence from Cairo. I’ve been doing a bit of campaigning – a very modest bit you will say when you hear all about it. Despairing of getting a job at the front, I attempted to secure one with the Flying Corps here, as an observer, and failed on a/c of my ignorance of Arabic – (are you surprised to hear that my French, which was also a condition, was accepted without question?). Then, hearing of the contemplated formation of a Camel Corps, I fired in another application, and was at once taken on. We were ordered to join within 24 hours, and off I went, mobilised at a place called Abu Sueir, 1400 camels, 800 Arabs, with an Indian NI4 Regt of Imperial Service Troops as escort. It was an Alwar Regt, the most moderate unit I ever struck. Here my Hindustani came in useful, resulting in my appointment as Provost Marshal Interpreter and General utility man. We never came under actual fire – were at Nefishe,5 not far from the scene of the fight, on morning of 3rd. The poor show of the Turks convinced the Govt that the maintenance of the Corps at its full strength was unnecessary, so it is reduced to 500 camels and a small personnel which does not justify my inclusion. We finally found ourselves at Ismailia, whence I returned here on Monday. In the meantime the Committee had determined that it is not in the interests of the Club to retain an Asst Sec, and pay him for doing nothing, consequently the present holder is given ye order of ye boot. The Secretaryship of a club at Alexandria is becoming vacant and my application for that went in. There were legions of local applicants which were reduced to three of whom I was one, but the Committee of that Club, I learnt yesterday, have decided to defer the final selection, pending results of advts in “The Times” and other English papers; not being over-keen to stay in Egypt I shall not await further developments. Also I can, if I feel inclined, take over a job as Censor here, at the end of the month, but it does not appeal to me, so I’ve determined to return to England and take my chance of getting some sort of job with the Army there. It is the only thing in which my heart is. Probably I shall leave here on or about the 5th April, by a Bibley [?] boat, and my address will henceforth be the “Junior Army & Navy Club, Whitehall”.
You will have had eno’ of me and my affairs so to other matters. In the papers which arrived by yesterday’s mail is to be read Giblet’s gazette as Major, Shaver as Lt Col, and Nilgai retaken on from the supernumerary list. I am wondering if he has rejoined: the last letter I had from him was written from Russia: he was serving with the Russian army, and very pleased with everything. Webb, the Vet of Pindi days was in the Club on Wednesday, going thro’ from the Sudan to Alexandria, he told me Giblet is engaged to be married, to a lady of the same name. I have not seen it in any paper. I owe him a letter too, and must write today. All the dear lads are so good in writing to me. Their letters are so welcome, and so looked for. I am so glad you are having such valuable and I take it, enjoyable experience on the staff. How I long for meetings with you all, to hear from your lips, the things that you have done and seen, I pray you may never have such terrible times as the retreat furnished; it seems to me a pity that you are not all with the Regiment, which is certainly the most desirable thing in life. Clem, & Billy & Giblet are very sick because they are detained in England. What a pity it is that dear old Narcisse had to go home: it was good to see his name in despatches. How splendidly all Tenths have done. I’ve not heard a word of or from Brock, and wonder how he is getting on. Jno Vaughan is a C.B: Bungo a KCMG,6 and Kavs a Major Gen – all for good service in the field: each will, I’m sure, be accorded further honours before everything is finished. They are a trio impossible to beat. As you say, it is dreadful to reflect upon the terrible loss we’ve sustained – Pic, Willie, Rosie, Rabbit, Foureyes, Bob Drake – search the world o’er and you will not find more gallant soldiers, more lovable friends: always I am very sad when I think of them. The regiment will never be the same again. Luckily we have some very good boys coming on, by all accounts; they will no doubt live up to the old traditions and prove as good as their predecessors, but to an old “has-been” like me, that knowledge is poor comfort for the loss of the dear, kind comrades of so many years. Be sure Pat that my thoughts are ever with you, that my constant wish is, that you may come out of this terrible war safely: almost I am reduced to hoping that the Cavalry may not again be exposed to danger – but not quite – I want the Regiment to earn every glory which the war can yield. How I wish I were with it. Much love to you, dear Pat.
Yours ever Pilse
Saturday 13 March
Went down the town with Muz & went to Mrs Harrisons & Ward’s. Ione stayed in bed till tea time. I did some tidying after lunch, then Muz went up to the station to meet Emmie she came by the five train. […] Miss Castberg had just heard that her brother was badly wounded in the head & leg, but they can’t get any more news.
My dear wee Mus.
A simply glorious day. Just like spring. So I won’t write much & am going off for a ride. The news seems good. We have held all the line that we’ve captured & repulsed the counter attacks with heavy loss to the enemy. This morning’s report says that 600 prisoners have been taken. I suppose that was yesterday. We had a message in yesterday morning saying that several hundred prisoners had been taken. They seem to be surrendering in groups. It looks good that as if they were tired of the business. We hear of great things coming off to-day. I may be able to tell you more to-morrow. Read my yesterday’s letter & the places I didn’t mention were Merville & Estaires. I am afraid of saying too much as my letter might get stopped in the post if I did. Our advance has been held up temporarily by the German machine guns. They have got masses of them & use them very cleverly. We are still standing to but I don’t think there is the least chance of our being wanted. They have got stacks of infantry down there & the other two Cav Div. Hardress has got some Shamrock out for us to wear to-morrow. Splendid of him isn’t it. […]
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 14 March
Went round to the house with Muz, Tom & Emmie, & showed her everything, & she loved it all. After lunch Muz went down to the soldier’s club to help Mrs Thompson, & Emmie, Ione, Tom, Markie & I went up to the Grand, & we had tea up there, & afterwards we all danced & sang, & Muz followed us up. I talked to Miss Castberg for a bit & then came away early, & went to the club, & did the post office first. Emmie & Markie came for dinner & were just going when I got back. I sat up with Muz & talked, & went to bed at about twelve.
Le Nieppe. Went to Church with the Gen to the 11th Hussars. 2d service in the Estaminet .7 Nice warm day clouds & sun. Rode with the Babe in the afternoon. Went round through Blaringhem. Heard heavy shelling about 5.30 when we got back. At 11 o’c a message came in saying that the Germans had taken some of the 27 Div trenches in St Eloi & that we were to stand to at 6 am. Our casualties at Neuve Chapelle about 13 thousand. 135 prisoners were taken.
- Walter Philip Ward, tailor, at 38 Guildhall Street, Folkestone ⇑
- This was the start of the battle of Neuve-Chapelle (10-13 March)⇑
- Pat probably means U12, which was rammed by the British destroyer Ariel on 10 March 1915; U18 had been sunk on 23 November 1914. ⇑
- Native Infantry ⇑
- A railway junction a few miles outside Ismailia ⇑
- Knight Commander of St Michael and St George.⇑
- Civilian run bar or café for off duty soldiers on the Western Front ⇑