WEEK 44: THE RESPIRATORS ARE SPLENDID BUT I HOPE NEVER TO HAVE TO USE THEM
Monday 26 April to Sunday 2 May 1915
The Second Battle of Ypres continued with terrible violence. The town of Poperinge, an important railway centre and a gateway for the British Army to the Ypres Salient, was shelled on 26 April with Austrian Howitzers. One of the shells hit the garden of General de Lisle’s staff night quarters blowing out every window in the vicinity and creating a hole 20 foot deep. After a restless night amidst terrific explosions, the headquarters were evacuated and new billets were arranged in the nearby town of Wormhoudt. As the Second Battle of Ypres intensified, General Smith – Dorrien, commander of the British Second Army, recommended a strategic withdrawal to Sir John French. French, who disliked Smith – Dorrien, disagreed and used the opportunity to replace the commander with General Plumer, who also recommended withdrawal. At home , the mystery surrounding Roger Wakefield’s death was finally beginning to unravel, only to be replaced by another alarming rumour in a letter from Gordon Elton.
Monday 26 April
Muz’s birthday. Tom gave Muz a silver salver, & Ione & I gave her salt cellars, Muz stayed in bed for breakfast, & then came down. Tom & I went all round, leaving notes about my fund. I think we left four dozen. After lunch I wrote more. Mrs Thurburn & Mrs Collins sent me 1/- each. Ione stayed in bed all day. Muz heard from Mrs Wakefieldto say that they have heard again, that Roger is dead, so they have given up hope. Wrote more post cards after dinner, & we went to bed at about 10-30. Muz went out with Heppie for a little while before tea.
Poperinge. Foggy. Went round to the V Corps at 6 am & they told us that the Lahore Div1 was up & was going to attack. The whole of the II Army & the French were going to attack. Bombardment started about 2 o’c. Sunny & warm. Got news about 6 o’c that the Alcasian Corps had taken Lizerne & the French Het Sast. Later in the evening we heard that the Northumbrian Div2 had taken St Julien. House shelled.
Tuesday 27 April
Muz stayed in bed in the morning, but was up for lunch. Ione stayed in bed all day. Tom & I took more notes round, & then went down the town. The Stubbses gave me 10/-, Mrs Plumptre 5/- & Mrs Brinkley 7/-. After lunch Tom & I walked down to Sandgate, & then went in to the Grand for a few minutes. […] It was too cold for Muz to go out. […]
Poperinge. Dull cold morning. Breakfast 5.00. Packed up house & left about 7.45. Stood about at the cross roads most of the day. Dull & windy. Went up & looked out of the church at Woesten with Freddy & Geoffrey Lockett. Turned rather cold about 6 o’c. Went back to billet at Westvleteren about 6 o’c. Glorious night.
Wednesday 28 April
Went down the town with Tom, & went to see the Stubbses. I wrote more thanking letters, & got more subscriptions. Mrs Penrose sent us Ned’s diary & a little story he has written, & after lunch I read it to Tom & Ione. Noel & Mr Murdie came for tea, & afterwards Ronald, Mr Murray-Smith & Mr Nicholson came in. Then Mrs Hare & Mrs Benn came in for a little while. Afterwards I danced with Noel, she left at about seven. […]
Westvleteren. Glorious sunny morning. Breakfast 6.30. Went to Corps at Lower Chateau with the Gen. Then took up our Hd Qrs on the Proven-Poperinge road. Sat about there all day. Went to Corps at Lower Chateau after lunch but they had no news. Got orders to go to billets about 6 o’c & went on with President to Esquelbecq. The General didn’t like arrangements there so went to Wormhoudt. Got settled in about 10 o’c.
Thursday 29 April
Tom & I went down the town. I wrote a lot of letters, thanking for subscriptions. I have got over £2 now. The Wyndhams asked us to go out to the wood with them for a picnic, & they took Muz, Ione, Mr Murdie & I in their car. Miss Osborne went too. We lit a fire & had tea, & then picked primroses, & got some roots of shrubs. Mrs Wyndham went back with some of them early, & we three, Noel & Mr Murdie came back then. We went to see Lady Markham’s Canadian hospital.3 At 7 I went down to the club. […] Mr Murdie came down & he & Ione went up to the Grand, but didn’t stay long. They came back here, & talked till after twelve.
Wormhoudt. Glorious day. Hung about the town all morning, as we had orders to be ready to move at 1 hour’s notice. Went for a ride with Buzz Porter in the afternoon […]
Friday 30 April
Heard cuckoo yesterday. Went down to the town with Tom, & went to see the Stubbses. I wrote more letters thanking, & got more subscriptions. Let the bunnies out for a bit before lunch. Then Muz, Ione, Tom & I went up to the Tango Tea. The Stubbses party, Ronald & Mr Nicholson came with us, & then Mrs & Miss Thurburn, Mr Harvie, Mr Don were there. Then we danced & sang afterwards. After dinner Muz read some of Ned’s diary to me. Then we went to bed at about eleven.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Wormhoudt. April 30.
My dear wee Mus.
I only had time yesterday to scribble you a few lines on a post card. But as a matter of fact we have absolutely no news here at all. We hung about about a mile from Poperinge all the day before yesterday without any orders & then about 6 o’c we got orders to come back & billet in this area. We are really quite comfortable & are living in a house looking out onto the Square. Hardress & I sleep in a house next door. It looks rather as if we would stay here permanently. I will be awfully sorry to leave Le Nieppe. I have a great affection for it, but this is a better billeting area for the troops. The farmers are nice & clean & all the fields are nice & clean. The billets they have been in all winter were getting awfully foul. The General wants to stay in this area. I expect we will like it once we get really settled here. We are only about 12 miles from Dunkerque so if we are here in the summer it will be quite nice as we will be able to run down to the sea. But personally I’d much rather go back to Nieppe. It is awfully nice now with everything green & the forest was so nice to ride in.
I went for a ride yesterday afternoon with Buzz Porter. Dreadful buck stick [?] he is. Talks 16 to the dozen all the time. I heard from Tony two days ago saying that he knew of 2 good 4 y o’s but that I’d have to pay £120 for them. I’ll send you his letter to-morrow. I am going to write & tell him to buy them & send them down to Moyaliffe. I think it is quite a good gamble. I oughtn’t to loose on them as if I want to get rid of them. I can have them trained & would get about £70 to £75 apiece for them from the Govt. Besides if ? this war is over by the autumn I would like to have something to mess about with. I wrote to the Boss the other day & told him that I had asked Tony to buy me a couple of horses. Now when I hear from Tony that he has bought them, I’ll write & ask him to look after them. They will be no trouble there & it might amuse him to train them. What he finds to do all day always beats me. Anyway I’m sure he will look after them whether he trains them or not. Will you send me some thin underclothes. I want 3 cotton khaki shirts, 3 vests & 3 pair drawers. If the vests & drawers are too bad to be worth sending will you get me some new ones.
Will you send them as soon as you can. The things I really want are the cotton shirts. They are so much nicer than flannel ones. When I get hold of my kit again I’m going to have a great resorting & will probably send you back all sorts of odds & ends. Will you keep those parcels that come for me. One from Welsh & Jefferies4 is some grey flannels I thought they would be comfy to wear if I got a week’s leave & the parcel from Kirby are shoes. I want some new shoes & think now is a good time to get them. I wasn’t able to write & wish you many happy returns of your birthday as we were moving the day I should have written. I wrote to Harrods about 10 days ago & told them to send you a weighing machine which I think would be nice for the bathroom in the house. They are rather neat looking things & are always rather nice to have in a bathroom. Then I meant to write to you for your birthday & tell you I had ordered it. So I’ll just wish you many happy returns now wee Mus. I am so glad that you are better again, but you must be awfully careful. The weather now is so awfully changeable.
I’m afraid that there is no chance of my getting leave just yet but I might in about 10 days’ time. I don’t expect we will be used, as Plumer has got an enormous detachment under him now. He commands the 5th Corps which consists of the 27th & 28th Divs. Now he has got what is known as Plumer’s detachment & consists of 27th Div., 28th Div., 7 Div., Canadian Div., Northumbria Territorial Div. Lahore Div. That’s 6 Infantry Divs & two Corps of Cavalry. A nice little Commando isn’t it. We have had absolutely no news in this morning about what is going on. But no news means nothing doing I think. I am going out to ride round with the General at 10 o’c. The Brigades are all quite close here which is rather nice in some ways.
I had such a nice letter from Sylvia yesterday. I’ll enclose it in this. Poor girl you can see that she is awfully cut up about Pic but Basil told me she was simply wonderful & didn’t show it a bit. I got a letter from B a couple of days ago. I’ll enclose it in this too. I am so sorry to hear about poor little Roger but I’m almost certain it’s true. You know I gave that letter of Mrs Wakefield’s to Freddy & he sent it to his mother who sent it on to Countess Blucher. Well! Freddy told me the other day that his sister had actually been to the place where they said Roger was and could get no news of him at all. It is awfully sad isn’t it. Roger & Bob Drake are the two people who I mind losing most. I got such a nice letter from Disi. I’ll enclose it in this. Well wee Mus I have no more news & will have to go & get my belt etc in a few minutes as I’m going out with the General. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 1 May
Wrote more thanking letters, & got more contributions. Then Tom & I went down the town. Mr Murdie came at about three, & we took him to see the house, & he loved it, then he came back here for tea, Madame de Marotte came too. Mr Horton & Mr Ross motored down from Sheerness, & came for tea, & we danced afterwards. We had ten minutes to dress for dinner, & then went & dined with the Wyndhams, Mr Murray Smith, Mr Murdie, Ronald, & Mr Nicholson came with us, & after dinner Mr Ross & Mr Horton came to call for us, & we all went on together. Mrs W. didn’t come. It was great fun. Ronald was furious because we couldn’t dance with him! We went back to the Wyndhams afterwards, & then Mr R. & Mr H. motored back to Sheerness. […]
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Wormhoudt May 1.
My dear wee Mus.
I sent you the wrong letter yesterday from B. I had to dash off rather hurriedly with the General & put the wrong one in by mistake. I enclose hers in this now. I got two letters from you last night of the 28th, enclosing respirators. One was burst open but luckily nothing was lost. It is rather dangerous to make letters too fat like that as they get awfully knocked about & things are apt to slip out. The respirators are splendid but I hope never to have to use them. I don’t like the idea of those fumes at all. I’m going to put one in my haversack & then I’ll always have it if I want it. I gave one to Babe & will give the General one sometime. No! I don’t want any more. There is no chance of Percy ever being near the stuff. He hardly ever has to go farther forward than our advanced report centre. I am afraid our chances of going back to Le Nieppe are very small. Still we really are very comfortable here only it’s not as nice as being in the country. Still we are very close to all the Regts & one will see everybody & get to know all these new people who I have hardly ever seen. But I’m sorry to leave our little home. I have got awfully fond of that place.
I rode with the Gen yesterday morning & in the afternoon motored down there to get some kit. It looked awfully nice. Everything lovely & green & all the cowslips out. I wish we were going back but feel almost certain we won’t. This place is really very nice we have got a new garden to sit in at the back of the house. Hardress & I live in a house next door & are really awfully comfortable. Don’t bother about sending me envelopes. I can get all I want here. I would like another of those writing blocks like Kate Baird sent me but don’t want it just at present. I bought this paper here yesterday in rather a neat sort of envelope. It’s rather nice I think. I saw Nutmeg yesterday the warble5 has burst & she’s quite alright but Lady B is still lame on the hock from a kick. She has been awfully unlucky. She is always in the wars. She is at present lame in the near fore from the prod of a nail & the off hind from a kick. She got stabbed with a nail about a month ago & now she has got another. She has had so much bad luck that I’m hoping one day her luck will change. There is no news here to-day. We have had nothing in for two days now. The Gen is going off to Corps this morning & may get some news. But I really don’t think there is any to get. I think they have just consolidated their positions and are holding on. It is a horrible salient that. I’m hoping that the French will make a big push somewhere & get a bit of our own back. That was a tremendous victory for the Germans. It is the biggest success either side have had since September. I am afraid this business in the Dardanelles isn’t going too well. I wish they had never started there at all. Well! I have no more news & I’m going out for a ride at 10 o’c so I’ll send this off. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 2 May
Muz & I went to church. It was raining so we didn’t go out on the Front. Gordon wrote & said he had heard that Ned had been killed, but didn’t know if it was true. Wrote letters after lunch, then we all went up to the grand to have tea with Ronald & Mr Murray-Smith. The Stubbses & Madame de Marotte were there too. After tea we all went for a walk on the Lower Sandgate Road. I went to the club at seven, & did the stamp room first. Muz was up when I came back. Then we went to bed at about 11-30. Mr Murdie went off to the Front today. I saw the first swallow.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
I got your letter of the 29th last night also some respirators. It was grand you sending them so quickly. I am going to put one in my haversack & give the other away. The General doesn’t want one. He never intends to get near the fumes. Yes I think the stories one hears about the Canadians are true. Of course they are a good deal embroidered in many cases. But the French certainly did come back on their left & they hung on. In fact one lot of Canadians never came out of the trenches at all. They were right out on a salient by themselves like that [sketch]. They have done awfully well. Everybody is delighted with them. The pity is that they weren’t sent out here before & were allowed to mess about so long on Salisbury plain. We have had little or no news here for the last three days. The French were by way of making an attack yesterday but we’ve heard no news of it yet. News from Russia doesn’t look too good. I see in yesterday’s Daily Mail that the Germans claim to have made a big advance in East Prussia. They are getting on too well these dirty brutes. How funny that feeling of yours is about the end of the war. I hope you are right & that it will end soon. Personally I’m very pessimistic about it & don’t see how it can possibly end for many months yet. I think that this last little show up here has put it back three months. Still there is so much that we know nothing about & I always hope that it may end sooner than we expect.
I heard the cuckoo yesterday for the first time in a little wood about 5 miles from here. I am afraid we won’t go back to our little chateau. But there is no definite news in yet. We simply sit here & hear nothing & are ready to move at an hour’s notice. I don’t think we will be wanted as there are stacks of troops in front of us. They put a lot of shells into Dunkerque yesterday. It is wonderful to think that a gun can throw a shell all that way. I am afraid there is no chance of getting away at present but if things are quiet next week I might be able to get away. I will wait till things are absolutely quiet & then try to get off for a week. The General will let me go alright, I think, as long as there is no danger of us being suddenly wanted. I am longing to get home & see you all again but am in no violent hurry. If I wait another week or two the weather will be much nicer. I did nothing much yesterday, just rode about & went for a walk in the evening. I am going to church with the General this morning at 10.15. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
- The 3rd (Lahore) Division was an infantry division of the British Indian Army, consisting of the Ferozepore, Jullundur and Sirhind Brigades ⇑
- The 50th (Northumbrian) Division was a formation of the Territorial Force. It had arrived from England just after the poison gas attacks and was rushed into the battle at once.⇑
- In September 1914, Sir Arthur Markham (1866-1916) and his second wife Lady Lucy Markham née Cunningham had turned their country house, Beecham Park, in Newington, near Folkestone, into a hospital for Canadian soldiers. Named The Queen’s Canadian Hospital, it had some 50 beds and an all-Canadian staff ⇑
- Welsh and Jefferies, Savile Row tailors opened in the early 20th century on Eton High Street and during the First World War built a reputation as a formidable military tailor. They made uniforms for the officers of many regiments, such as the Rifle Brigade and Coldstream Guards⇑
- A small tumour or swelling caused by the pressure of the saddle on the horse’s back ⇑