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Monday 29 March to Sunday 4 April 1915

Monday 29 March to Sunday 4 April 1915


Monday 29 March to Sunday 4 April 1915

Although private cameras had been prohibited in the war zone after the 1914 Christmas Truce, the ban remained largely ignored and many images from the front found their way into newspapers and illustrated magazines. When the Daily Mail began to offer prizes for the best war photographs, the War Office released an order for all cameras in the possession of soldiers and officers to be returned home under threat of court martial and forbade newspapers to publish other than officially approved photographs. Pat Armstrong, determined to ignore the ultimatum, began devising ways of smuggling rolls of film home. Taking advantage of the brief hiatus which followed the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, he also amused himself by gathering together a group of men to build fences for horse jumping. In New Zealand, Algie Neill was making final preparations for his departure to England via Egypt in the hopes of rejoining his regiment.

Monday 29 March

jess__diary_cameoWent down to the club. Muz, Mrs Kirwan, Kathleen & I went out on the Front, & then went down the town. Ione stayed in bed all day. After lunch the Kirwans called for us, & took us for a lovely drive, round by Denton & home by Barham. They came back here for tea, & afterwards Kathleen did my hair! Mrs Winstanley came in, she is down here for the night, from Colchester, to look for a house. They stayed for dinner, & went at about ten. We went to bed at about eleven.

Algie_cameoLetter from Algie Neill, Head Quarters, Trentham Camp, to Jess Armstrong

My dear Jess,

I feel an awful beast for not having written you for such a long time, the truth is I never get a moment to myself so don’t think so please don’t put it down to forgetfulness of you. I don’t know if I told you they had offered me command of the 4th Reinforcements an honour I did not in the least deserve. I can’t tell you how many men there are but it is a fairly large command. I refused it because it would have meant my never being able to rejoin the regiment which has been my one aim since the war began. I am leaving for Egypt fairly soon now but I am not allowed to say where but at any rate I hope to be in London before three months are out. H.E. the Governor was in camp yesterday & told me he had written Gen Cowans in the War Office requesting him to let me rejoin the regt. & also General Godley but latter I fear will try & steal me. I could write you reams but simply cannot find the time to do it I shall however make up for it when I get settled down on board the ship. – Good-bye Jess. My very best love to you all.

Yours always affectionate Algie.

Thanks most awfully for your long letters it’s simply grand to get all the doings of fellows in the regiments. A.

Tuesday 30 March

jess__diary_cameoWent down to the club, & we washed all the ink pots & things. Then Mrs Winstanley came round, & we took her to see the house, then Muz & I lunched with her at Hundert’s Hotel,1 & then went to see her off at the station. Ione stayed in bed all day, & then she & Kathleen went up to the Tango tea, but they didn’t dance at all. Muz, Mrs Kirwan & I went for a drive on the Canterbury road, & came back here for tea, & went up to the Grand later, but it was all nearly over. Ronald asked us to dine with him at the Grand, but when we got there, there was a message to say he couldn’t come, so we got the Kirwans, & took them to the theatre, it was a variety thing & not very good. We went to bed at about two.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

March 30.

My dear wee Mus

A demand for horses!

A demand for horses!

[…] You seem to be having great gaieties. Splendid you backing Ally Sloper2 wasn’t it. What a pity my letter was late. But I hadn’t thought much about the race & when I wrote thought my letter would be in time. But it is grand you winning anyhow. That will be a great help to you. I wonder if you had a bet on the big race the next day.3 I see Nelson won it with Couvrefeu with Jack Anthony up. I hope you did. That started at good odds too. If ever you fancy anything will you put on a fiver for me. I can afford to gamble & would like to win a bit of money. Jack Anthony had done well this year. That is his second National. But he’s coming out of this show awfully badly not volunteering to do anything. Hubert Hartigan, Peter Roberts & poor Jack Drake (who died a short time ago at Boulogne) have all volunteered & come out. That lot of yours will be a great help with the curtains won’t it. Be sure to let me know if you want more. Now that I have got a little money I am thinking of buying a couple of 4 year olds. There will be a tremendous demand for horses after this show & they will be awfully expensive. The Boss is a good enough judge to be able to buy them for me. Don’t you think. Let me know what you think. I won’t do anything till you write.

I am awfully afraid that the shells4 are lost. We had one of the censors at Rouen staying here the other day & he said that they opened any parcel which they thought contained things that weren’t allowed to be sent. I believe shells is one of the things. However I expect I will have lots of chances of getting more. But it’s an awful pity & means losing a good Burberry as well. They went off from here alright. Ames posted them himself. I asked him about them to-day. No! I don’t know Taylor. I never met him when I was down there. I have had a very busy day to day & only had time to scribble you a few lines. I went out to ride with the babe at 7.30 this morning. It was lovely & sunny but awfully cold. Then at 10 o’c the Gen went off with Ted Miller. He arrived last night from England & stayed the night. Dear old man he is. I like him awfully.


Brushwood from a farm


A bush fence

Well! Just as they were going the landlord arrived & I had a chat with him & eventually persuaded him to let me build some jumps in one of his fields. Then I collected Ames, & Mouse’s servant & a policeman & we set to to collect poles & brushwood & all sorts of necessary implements. We had a great job getting all the stuff. We got poles out of the farm where my stables are. Then I was very lucky & got 10 good bundles of brushwood from another farm. After a little persuasion I got them for a franc a bundle. Very dear really but I wanted them & so did the man. He had had a lot of trouble cutting them. But it would have taken me 2 or 3 days hard work to cut that amount & then there would have been the trouble of carting it. We worked away like storm till 1.30 then we had lunch. I had the court martial at 2 o’c & got away soon after 2.30 & we all worked away all afternoon till about 6 o’c when we got them finished. I put up one good bush fence & a post & rails. I am awfully pleased at getting it all done in one day. I thought that it would have taken us much longer. But we all worked like slaves. Ames was simply splendid & did the work of two men. He is a great fellow that. Then I went for a walk so am really very sleepy to-night.

A post and rails fence

A post and rails fence

I am looking forward to getting my last lot of photos. In future when I send any home or mention them I will call them “drawings” just for safety sake. You’ll understand then. I have got 2 I got from the President to send you but haven’t had time to pack them up. I am sending you back a pair of breeches. I am going to do in the old ones. Then when I want them you can send them out again. Also a hat. I like the new soft ones much the best but this one may come in useful sometime. I don’t want to have more kit here than I need in case we have to move at any time. A lot of kit is an awful nuisance. Well! wee Mus I am awfully sleepy it’s after 11 & I’m going out early with the Babe so I will turn in. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Letter from Sher Khan, Bearer, Rawalpidi, [Punjab, British India], to Mrs Armstrong

"I have not heard any news of my master"

“I have not heard any news of my master”

Honble Madam.

I have not heard any news of my master since a long time for which I am very anxious will you Kindly let me know re his welfare & health, as I & my all the family members pray for his long life and prosperity. I hope my master has gone in front where “Allmighty” will bring him back victorious. If he may have any trouble I am willing to come and help him. All the Indians are pray for the complete victory of British over the wild enimies. My best respects to self & all the family members. Please let me Know if you require any thing from India.

Yours most obt st Sher Khan Bearer

c/o Ghulam Mohammed & Sons Tattoo5 Merchants Murree (India)

Wednesday 31 March

jess__diary_cameo […] After lunch Muz & I took a parcel down to the Harbour, to give to Mr Coleman to take back to Pat. Heppie had made two cakes & some toffee. We went down for the two boat, but he wasn’t going till the four, so we had to wait, we were both very sleepy! There weren’t many people going. The Kirwans took the Thurburns for a drive & had them for tea, & then Mrs Kirwan came round to us for a bit. I went to bed at about ten.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

March 31.

My dear wee Mus.

The burning barge

The burning barge

Yours of the 28th arrived this morning with some photos. Some of them are quite good. The one of Nutmeg must have been a failure as you didn’t send it. It’s a pity that. All the others are quite good. Pity I missed out Geoff’s head. And apparently two of the burning barge didn’t come out. It is a pity but it was a difficult thing to take. […] April 1. President got back last night & brought your parcel. Lovely the cakes are dear wee Mus it was nice of you to send them. The biscuits & things will be awfully good too. I am sending you a small parcel to-day of “drawings”. Let me know when it arrives. Will you be awfully careful not to mention my name in connection with any war news. I hear a fellow, I don’t know who got into awful trouble by talking at home about the casualties at Neuve Chapelle. I know you don’t but I just want to remind you of how important it is. This is a perfectly glorious day. I have been out riding early with the Babe & am going out again at 10.30 with the General. I am glad my last lot of photos are good. I’m looking forward to getting them. I expect they will come in a couple of days now. I’ll post this now as it’s nearly time to go out.

Best love dear wee Mus.

Thursday 1 April

Algie_cameoLetter from Algie Neill, Wellington Club, Wellington, New Zealand, to Jess Armstrong

My dear Jess

I have been very remiss in writing for a long time past, you see I scarcely ever get a moment to myself & by the time I get finished at night I’m dog tired. I got your letter of 17th Dec yesterday. Thanks most awfully for lighter you sent me it’s most useful in a wind driven place like Trentham. I think I told you that Lord Liverpool had promised to do everything he possibly could to get me back to the regiment as soon as I arrive in Egypt. The great trouble is General Godley. Most fellows here say he will bag me in spite of the Governor’s request. I really think I shall be most insubordinate if he attempts to retain me after the promises the authorities here have made. I am going as Staff Officer to the 4th Reinforcements & not in command. If I had taken command I should never have been able to escape.

How you must have enjoyed having Pat back I can just imagine he & Gordon would have great times together. At present I am on two days leave whilst all my men are away bidding farewell to their relatives. I don’t understand Wright wanting to leave the regiment but then you & I always considered that he would always think of himself first & the regiment afterwards. I shall be very thankful now when we are all on board the ships the last few days is always a tremendous rush especially when one has to continue training right up to the last moment. I expect we shall hear of some hard fighting ere long now & must prepare ourselves for heavy casualties which are bound to accompany it.

I can’t make out about Roger Wakefield I see his name is still in the later army list so I trust that he is still alive. What a terrible thing for his people. My young nephew Neill Rattray who is at present A.D.C. to Liverpool leaves for England next month he is trying to join the regiment & I am writing to both battalions about him. Liverpool, I understand has written the War Office about him, so I hope he’ll get in. I am most awfully sorry to hear that Mrs Armie has been so seedy. I hope she is quite well again now. I expect she is terribly anxious about Pat & probably worry has a good deal to do with it.

We have quite a decent lot of fellows going with the 4th Reinforcements. I really could not steer another lot like those who went to Samoa. Col. Fulton 2nd Gurkha Rifles is in Command & we have two or three other regular officers as well. You seem to have made yourself very popular with the Belgian mothers. Two months from now I hope will see me back in England again I may go straight to the front but I expect to get a few days in England first. This is a most horribly scratchy pen so please excuse the spiderlike writing. It was great getting letters from all of you again yesterday. My people are all coming up here to say good-bye to me next week, the worst of it is I probably won’t be able to see them for more than a few minutes as I shall be terribly busy with all the details for embarking the troops.

I have not been able to get my wool away yet as the weather has been so bad, it was impossible to get it dried after being scoured. Wool is a tremendous price just now & I feel I shall be terribly rich when it is sold. I think I told you I had had a splendid year at Barossa. The only thing is I fear great trouble in getting men later on as they are all going off to the front by degrees. We send about 3,000 every four months from here which is a big drain on such a small population. Well Jess I must say good-bye now. There is really very little news to give you. Again very many tas for the wee lighter.

With best love from yours affectionately Algie

Friday 2 April

pat-cameoLetter from Pat to Mrs Armstrong

April 2.

[…] You say that Kathleen heard that they have been doing that war6 since November. Of course they shelled it7 like the devil then but now they just dump a few shells into it every now and again to show they still have guns. But nobody takes any notice of it. They shelled it several times when we were there. I think I told you about that. They kill an odd person every now and again but nobody worries about it. It is all taken absolutely as a matter of course. I must say I would rather sleep here than up there. But if one has got to sleep then one doesn’t mind. It didn’t worry any of us the slightest. It is awfully bad luck if one is hit in a big place like that when they only put a few shells into it every now & again. Davidson seems to have muddled you about the line shortening business. No we don’t want to shorten the line. It takes more men to hold a line like this [ ] than like that: [see sketch on letter] You can see that can’t you?

It takes more men to hold a line like this than like that

It takes more men to hold a line like this than like that

Well now every day we are getting stronger & the Germans weaker. So it is easier for us to hold a long line than for the Germans. If the line is started the Germans immediately have their men thicker on the ground. For instance at one point in the line we have 300 men opposite to 100 Germans. Well the more that line is stretched the greater the strain comes on them conversely as it comes easier to us. I think that is clear isn’t it. They say that in a few months’ time that the Germans will have to retire back to a shorter line as they won’t have enough men to hold this long arc. What is happening now is simply wearing them down. “Attrition” I think is the word Belloc uses for it. This whole war at present is simply a case of the survival of the fittest. It is quite different to any other war when big battles were won & lost & then each side went away & anybody who had a stomach to fill filled it merrily & waited for perhaps a month when they had another go. Now this show the grind stone is grinding all the time & victory lies with the side who can stand the grinding the longest. It is like two bits of rope rubbing on a rock the thick one will outlast the thin one, provided they are both made of the same material. Well! as I said before. Every day our rope gets thicker & the German’s gets thinner, or will very soon if it isn’t at present. They have got their new troops which are estimated at about 2 million. Well when these are thrown in they have got no men to draw on. I wish Italy & Roumania would come in it would hurry things up a bit. Italy they say has been waiting for the warm weather. She couldn’t clothe her troops for a winter campaign […]

To read the entire letter, click here.

Saturday 3 April


The Kirwans came round, & we went in their car to the East Kent Yeomanry meet, over at Canterbury. Madame de Marotte came with us. It rained hard. We saw quite a lot of them, & left them at about two, & came home by Dover, & went to see Markie at the hospital, he has got glands, but he was asleep. Mrs K. went to play bridge with Mrs Ridley-Thompson. Kathleen came to us, & Ronald brought a Mr Nicholson. Mr Murray-Smith & Mr Horton came too. Then Ione dined with Madame & Muz & I, Mr M.S. & Ronald dined with the Kirwans at the Burlington, & went on to the dance. It was great fun, & quite crowded.

Sunday 4 April

pat_diary_cameoLe Nieppe. Dull morning some rain. Rode with Babe then went to church with the Gen to 18th Hussars. Walked towards Sercus with Basil & John Chesham on the way, they came back here to tea. Dined with Gen Kavanagh. Got back about 11 o’c. Heard that Servia had been raided by Bulgaria.


  1. A hotel in Bouverie Road West, built in 1892. It was renamed the Princess Hotel in the early 1930s and demolished in 1976.
  2. A five-year-old thoroughbred owned by Lady Margaret Nelson née Hope, trained by Aubrey Hastings and ridden by Jack Anthony. Ally Sloper won the 1915 Grand National by two lengths and was the first Grand National winner to be owned by a woman.
  3. The Champion Steeplechase at Liverpool on 27 March 1915
  4. Howitzer shells wrapped in a Burberry coat sent home by Pat Armstrong in March for use as flower pots
  5. Hindi) Tattoo = a native-bred Indian pony
  6. The First Battle of Ypres
  7. Ypres

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