WEEK 45: THEY HAVE TORPEDOED ANOTHER PASSENGER BOAT
Monday 3 to Sunday 9 May 1915
The withdrawal of Allied troops to a new line of defence, proposed by General Smith – Dorrien and his successor General Plumer, was executed by Sir John French on 1-3 May. The ferocious battle for Hill 60 continued, the Germans gaining control over it through a series of gas attacks between 1 and 5 May. Fighting on the Western Front intensified again on 8 May when the Germans made a strategic move to attack the Frezenberg ridge. Meanwhile the sinking of the ocean liner RMS Lusitania on its way from New York to Liverpool off the coast of Ireland on 7 May sent shockwaves across the globe. In Folkestone, the disturbing rumour concerning Jess Armstrong’s sweetheart proved to be but too true: Ned Penrose was reported missing in action and Jess with Ned’s parents began a desperate search for information. Added to Jess’s troubles was the concern over her mother who, exhausted from war work, had fallen seriously ill.
Monday 3 May
Went down to the club with Tom, & then went down the town. Muz felt very old when she came back for lunch, so we put her to bed. Then Tom & I took more notes, & went to Shorncliffe Road, Bathurst Road, & then into Seabrook, & then got some grass for the bunnies on our way back. It was a lovely walk. Muz wouldn’t eat anything, & had a temperature of 101. I sat with her all afternoon, & held her head. She had rather a bad night, & wasn’t well from one till three, so I gave her milk & stayed with her. I got more contributions.
Wormhoudt. Went down to Dunkerque about 9 o’c with Fitz. Hot sun but rather windy. Orders came in about 1 o’c for us to go back to our old billets. 1st Bde to Eecke. 2 Bde went to Wallon-Cappel 9th to St Sylvestre Cappel. Gen left about 2 o’c. We left about 3 & rode back. The Germans had made a heavy attack last night against the 10th & 11th Bdes & used the gas. 3rd Cav Bde had to go up into support through a barrage of fire. Salient to be evacuated.
Tuesday 4 May
Le Nieppe. Some rain in night turned into hot day. The Salient round Ypres was evacuated with very slight loss. Drew back onto a line running though Hooge. Rode early. Went to 2nd Bde with the General. Rode after lunch with Col Home. Went to Corps at 4.30 with the General. Had heavy thick shower about 5 o’c. Russian ruin in Galicia.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong.
Le Nieppe. May 4.
My dear wee Mus.
Here we are back again but how long they will leave us is impossible to say. We got orders to move about 1 o’c yesterday. The General left at 2 o’c & came back here. Hardress & I had to get things cleared up & get all the cars etc. off. Then we rode back here. It’s only 12 miles, quite a nice little ride. The Brigades have come quite close here. The 1st Bde has gone back to its old billets but the others are much closer. Gen Mullens is at present living in the house where Clem has been all the winter. I don’t quite know where the Rgt is at the present moment but they are up somewhere between Poperinge & Ypres. I don’t know if they mean to leave us here for long or not I rather fancy not. If things are quiet about Thursday I am going to put in for leave & try & get away either Friday or Saturday, but things are so unsettled at present that it is hopeless to think about leave. I would simply love to get away for a few days. I am going to say that I want to get home & see you as you have been seedy which is a good excuse & has the advantage of being true.
[…] We had rather an amusing morning yesterday. Fitz & I went off to Dunkerque to see his Duchess. He married the Duchess of Sutherland as I dare say you know. She was in bed when we arrived so we went & chatted to her in her room. Awfully nice she is. I am sure she must have been lovely she has a lot of looks now but is rather lined. We saw her hospital. There are only about 20 very bad cases there now they have cleared out all the others. Dreadful they looked some of them. There was extraordinarily little damage done to the town. They put about 19 shells into it one evening. Of course a few houses were broken but the damage was really very slight. […] I hope you have already sent me some thin shirts vests & drawers. I sent you a pair of breeches the other day which I want sent on to Sandon2 as they want altering. I thought I would be able to save them but I put my knee through my old ones the other day & they are really scarcely fit to wear. The General is rather particular about dress. He noticed the patch on my knee this morning so I am afraid I must cast them. Will you send the other coat off as soon as you can. Send the breeches to Sandon & I’ll write to him about them. It’s a glorious day here to-day. It is so nice being back here out of the town. I think I will go out for a bit of a ride now. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 5 May
Muz was in bed all day, with a temperature of 102. Dr East came in the morning, & he said she was very run down & weak. I didn’t go out all day. Ione & I held her head, & stayed with her. Tom went back to school today. I wrote a couple of letters & wrote more contributions. […] Ione sat up with Muz till eleven, & I lay down in her room, then I came in, but she wouldn’t stop till I was in bed, so I got in, & then stayed awake. She didn’t sleep very well. Heppie came in & gave us hot milk at three. Muz not as well as yesterday very weak, so we sent for the Dr, & he came at about 7-30.
Le Nieppe. Glorious hot day. Rode in wood in the morning. Germans made attack with gas & took hill 60 & came on almost into Zillebeke. Had fall off Nutmeg. Rode with Mouse in the afternoon. Fisher came as G.S.O 2.3 III Cav Div were back up to dig trenches in front of Ypres. We will probably have to go to-morrow. Thunder shower about 7 o’c.
Thursday 6 May
Muz stayed in bed all day, but is better, but has her temperature still up. The Dr came in the morning. Muz got two P.C’s from Mrs Penrose one dated May 4th, saying they hadn’t heard from Ned since 22nd, & that the Regt, had been in the fighting on 25th. Then the other was written on 5th saying they had just heard from W.O.4 that he was missing between April 23rd & May 1st. […] I wrote to Mrs P. & sent her addresses of places to write to. I got more contributions & wrote more thanking letters. I gave Muz milk every two hours in the night.
Le Nieppe. Rode early with the Babe, glorious day very hot. The Gen went & sent horses at 10 o’c. Orders to go up & dig. Germans made attack down the Menin road but were unsuccessful. Rode in the wood in the afternoon & afterwards with Hardress & Mouse. Dinner 6.30 left at 7 o’c arrived soon after 8 o’c having seen V Corps on way. Left again about 3 am & got back soon after 4 o’c. About 40 casualties. Lockett was hit.
My dear wee Mus.
I am so sorry to hear that you are seedy again. What awful bad luck it is. I do hope I shall hear to-night that you are better. I’d love to get home & see you but don’t know if I shall be able to manage it. We have probably got to go out & dig to-night, but I’ll see what can be done. It is a bit doubtful though as things aren’t too good out here at present. They took hill 60 yesterday morning & got on a good way this side of it. Dirty brutes using their gas again. It is a horrible form of warfare that. They attacked again last night down the Menin road but were driven off with rifle & shell fire & must have suffered pretty heavily. It is an awful pity about hill 60 as we had so many casualties taking it & even more holding it & now we have lost it again. The weather here is perfectly glorious I am longing for my thin clothes. I am at present wearing a pair of drawers without any seat in them, so will be glad when some others come. We did nothing much yesterday just rode about all day. I’m going off with the General in a few minutes, he is going to see some horses for carting. Best love dear wee Mus. I do wish I could get away & see you but don’t yet see how I can work it.
Your loving Pat.
Friday 7 May
Muz in bed all day. The Dr came in the morning, & says she is much better, her temperature nearly normal. She looks much better altogether. Ione went down the town. I stayed with Muz, & wrote a few letters, & got more contributions. After lunch I went down to see the Davisons & ask if they had heard anything of Ned through Capt. D. but they hadn’t. Capt D. was wounded on 25th in both thighs & the left leg, he is in London. Ione went to Tango tea with Noel Wyndham , Markie, Mr Nicholson, & Mr Marsden. On my way back from the D’s, I got some brandy to bring back to Muz, it was awfully hot. We heard the nightingale for first time. The Dr came again in the evening, she is much better. I wrote to Mrs P. & gave her the address of a hospital a Treport [?]. I gave Muz milk every two hours in the night.
My dear wee Mus,
I was delighted to get your letter of the 4th when I got back this morning. I am so glad that you are feeling better but you must take care of yourself. I don’t like the way you go running off to see the house at all sorts of odd moments. I don’t quite agree with you about the Germans. I think that everybody at home is inclined to be far too optimistic & think that the Germans are beat well I don’t think that there are many people out here who think it. There is a devil of a lot of kick in them & I don’t think it is the slightest bit of good for people at home to be disillusioned & think that the Germans are done in because it’s only a fallacy. They wouldn’t go on attacking the way they are if they were beat. They made two attacks in the Ypres salient last night but I’m glad to say that both were beaten back. If we are going to end this show by the autumn we will have to have more men & ammunition than we have at present. I don’t like the way things are at the present moment at all. I don’t want to be pessimistic but I must say that things don’t look as well as I should like to see them. Of course this Ypres business doesn’t really make any difference when they can break our line. It is very strong at present & I don’t think there is much likelihood of them doing that. But they have really gained a good bit of ground & have got a lot to crow about. This victory in Russia will back them up a lot too. I wish we could get a big push on somewhere but it seems so slow coming. I’d like to see a good hole punched in their line but the beastly old gas stuff of theirs puts rather a different outlook on affairs. I hope we start to use it. I expect the French will before long.
We were back out last night to dig. We had dinner here at 6.30 & then motored up & the digging started at 8.30. We made our head qrs just this side of Ypres & stayed there till about 3 am this morning. Ypres is a most extraordinary sight now. It is considerably more battered than it was when we were there in Feb. Several places were on fire last night. I didn’t investigate them as they were shelling the town. The Gen & I went into the edge of the town from the Dikkebus direction & found the houses were awfully knocked about. We were strolling along in the dark & suddenly came on a poor old dead horse. I believe the town is full of them. They have knocked it about dreadfully. There was a tremendous lot of shelling going on all night. It died down between about 1 & 2 o’c then a tremendous fusillade started at about 2.30. What was evidently the Germans attacking as we hear that they made two attacks about 3 am which were both repulsed & that our guns did good work. We got to bed about 5 o’c this morning. I had a good long lie but still feel rather weary. A lot of altercations are taking place now. Smith D— has gone home sick & Plumer has taken his place in command of the II Army. Allenby goes to the V Corps & Byng gets the Cavalry Corps & Briggs takes on the 3rd Cav Div. We don’t know yet who is to get the I Cav Bde. I hope Tommy will. He has quite a good chance I should think if Tom Bridges doesn’t step in & get it. No chance of leave at present. I can’t very well ask. But when things quiet down again I may be able to get away for a few days. […] Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 8 May
Pat writes that the Germans have taken Hill 60, on the 5th. They have torpedoed another passenger boat, the “Lusitania”5 of Cork. 1505 lives lost. Muz in bed all day, the Dr came in the morning, her temperature normal. I went out for a little while in the morning with Tom, & went to the Stubbses. Met Clair Callaghan, & she says that Capt. Hill writes that Ned is wounded & missing & most probably a prisoner. Capt. O’Brien says that he was shot in the forehead. Markie came in, & he & Ione went to the Tango Tea. Muz got up for a bit at tea time, & then lay down on my bed. Ione & Noel went to the dance. Heppie came in several times in the night. She had fish & beef tea today, for the first time. Wrote letters, & got more contributions.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] There is no news at all to-day. There was an awful lot of firing going on this morning up towards Ypres. We went into II Army this morning & they say that there was a tremendous artillery duel going on. Hardress & The Gen got back here about 4 o’c this morning. I don’t think we will be wanted again for a few days anyhow. They have done awfully good work I believe. This is a gorgeous day. I’m sitting out in the sun writing this. I wish you were here this nice sun would do you good. I love this nice hot weather. News from Russia seems better doesn’t it? This weather seems too nice to be fighting. I’d like to be playing polo to-day. I had a letter from Tony yesterday which I’ll answer & enclose in this. It is awfully good of him taking so much trouble for me. I expect he will get me something really good. I sent him a cheque for £120 so that will leave him a free hand & he can buy what he likes. […] I gave all those respirators away except one which I am keeping myself but I expect by now that G will have them. It takes as long or longer for me to get him a letter as it does for you. I haven’t seen him for ages. He is still up in that Ypres salient but where exactly I don’t quite know. It is a horrible spot all round there. I am going out to hack round in the wood this afternoon & am then going out again with the General after tea. I am longing to hear how you are to-night. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Later. A message has just come in saying that the Germans made a big attack this morning between St Julian & Veldhoek, but apparently they made no headway. The message is very short & gives no details.
Sunday 9 May
Ione & I went to church, & then out on the front for a little while afterwards. Muz is much better, & had a good night. After lunch I wrote letters in her room. Got more contributions. Sat with Muz all afternoon. Mrs Winstanley came & I gave her tea, but she had to go early, she goes away again tomorrow, to Salisbury. Muz got up at about six, & sat in the room. I went to the club at seven. Miss Keir is taking it over instead of Miss Walter. We had a huge crowd, as two of the regts are back again. I went to the stamp room, & we ran out of stamps. Then after the service I went back there again. We ran out of food too, there was a huge crowd. […]
Le Nieppe. Message came in at 3.35 saying we were to concentrate at Vlamertinge. Started 5.30 with horses. Halted all day at farm near cross roads S of Vlamertinge. The first Army & French were attacking. Our attacks partially successful but were held up by machine guns. French had considerable success taking 1st line of German trenches out in one place breaking the line & advancing for 9 Kilos. V Corps in front of Ypres had hard time from shelling.
- On 3 May 1915, a combined Austro-German force succeeded in defeating the Russian army near the Dunajec River in western Galicia (modern-day Poland), ending nine months of victorious Russian advances in the Eastern Front. ⇑
- Sandon & Co., Savile Row tailors in London ⇑
- General Staff Officer. ⇑
- War Office ⇑
- The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the south coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew on board, 1,198 lost their lives. Much to Britain’s disappointment, although 128 of the victims were American the US President Woodrow Wilson decided against declaring war on Germany.⇑