WEEK 46: THE WHOLE COUNTRY IS STREWN WITH DEAD HORSES
Monday 10 to Sunday 16 May 1915
For the Cavalry, Thursday 13 May 1915 was one of the darkest days of the war. During the night, the 3rd Cavalry Division had taken over a line of trenches behind Verlorenhoek to relieve the exhausted infantry troops of the 28th Division during the Battle of the Frezenberg Ridge (8-13 May). At dawn, the Germans, determined to break the line, attacked it with their artillery guns. “It was a terrible bombardment”, Colonel Home recalled in his diary, “the shells fell like rain”. The troops were forced to retreat some 1,000 yards, and only determined counter-attacks and a skilful use of support troops prevented the line from being broken. The cost of the attack was high. Of the 700 men in the 7th Brigade of the Division alone, just 200 survived the assault. The 10th Hussars in the 6th Cavalry Brigade also suffered heavy casualties as Pat Armstrong was shocked to discover when he made his way to their billets in Sercus two days later. Bad news also arrived from Hazebrouck regarding Pat’s closest friend Gordon Elton.
Monday 10 May
Muz in bed all day. The Dr came in the morning, her temperature normal. She had chicken for lunch & fish for dinner. I didn’t go out all day, I wrote a lot of letters. I got £2-13 today, & have got over £10 now. Ione went down the town. I got a P.C from Mrs Penrose to say they have just heard from the W.O. that Ned “previously reported missing, now reported missing & believed wounded.” Another zeppelin raid at South End, one woman killed, & several injured.1 Muz got up at about six, & sat in her room & read, she is much better today. I sent another £4 to Kathleen, this is the second. She gets the pyjamas, & sends them up to Ypres. Muz went to bed at about ten, & had a good night. She had milk twice in the night. Her temperature normal.
Ypres. Glorious hot day. Breakfast 7 o’c. A quiet night reported. Rode round to the Reigerburg Chateau with the General. Then went on & saw R. I. F. No news of Ned. Trenches were heavily shelled in the afternoon in front of Hooge. We had to retire a bit. No news of the French advance they wanted to bring up guns. II Div was to attack in the afternoon. Walked round & saw the Regt & went for a short ride with Hardress.
Tuesday 11 May
The Dr didn’t come, & Muz got up at about 11-30. She & I wrote letters nearly all day. Ione went out. Heppie went round to the house, & planted roses etc. I got more contributions, & sent the third £4 to Kathleen. A little over £12 now. Got a letter form Algie, he is still in N.Z, but is going to Egypt, & ought to be back next month. He has refused command of the 4th N.Z. Reinforcements. I went round to the house with Heppie, at about six, when I got back the Stubbses came to ask how Muz was. Muz went to bed at about ten, but had a tummy ache, so I rubbed her till after eleven. Heppie came in in the night. I wrote to Captain Bretherton about Ned. Muz’s temperature normal.
Ypres. 2nd Bde got back about 3 o’c. Glorious morning. Went & saw the 9.22 about 8 am. Gen & Hardress went up to the trenches, then came back & went to 27 & 28th Div. Walked over & saw Regt after lunch & then went on to the Vlamertinge Station & tried to see Archie. Gen given command of a section of the line from the Railway through Verlorenhoek to south of Wieltje. […] French claim to have taken 2000 more men including 50 officers & 60 machine guns.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Here we are! Here we are! Here we are again!
My dear wee Mus.
I told you most of the news in my letter yesterday. Sad that there is no definite news of Ned. Something may come out later about him through the German papers but his Regt know nothing. I wrote & told Jess what little I could find out about him. My under clothes arrived yesterday I was very glad to see them, the drawers I had were nearly falling off me. I am now wearing a thin shirt & drawers but am keeping on my thick vests. I won’t cast them for a long time. I’d rather be too hot than cold. But I like my cotton shirts better than flannel ones. I will send you all the thick ones back in a few days’ time also my thick coat, which will come in handy again next winter but its rather too heavy to wear just now.
I went & saw the Regt yesterday, they are in huts quite close here. They came up the day before yesterday in motor busses & are living in huts quite close here. A Sqd are rather lonely without Basil. I saw Maurice who was in quite good form. They were going out to dig last night & weren’t relishing the idea very much. It is a horrible job that digging at night. The 2d Bde came out last night & the Hd Qrs are living here with us. They arrived back at about 3 a.m. this morning. Their accounts of things up there by Hooge aren’t too grand. The trenches are very bad & the Germans pound them all day with heavy guns. One bit of the trenches in front of Hooge were absolutely broken down yesterday afternoon & the Infantry had to come back a bit. The Germans always do that they pound the trenches with their heavy guns till they break them down they plaster the place behind with shrapnel & then when the trenches are absolutely broken their men just walk forward. Our attack of the 1st Army wasn’t very successful. The German trenches down there are beautifully made, very thick & tons of wire in front of them. Our attacks all seem to have got held up with machine guns. The French seem to have got on pretty well. They have advanced about 4 kilos in front of Arras, they didn’t do much yesterday as they were bringing up guns etc & are going to try & push on to-day. Personally I don’t think they will get on much further now. Once you stop in a show like that it is very hard to get going on again.
Not much news here to-day. Things seem fairly quiet; the Gen & Hardress have just been up to the 1st Bde who are in the support trenches & say things are fairly quiet. Ypres is dreadfully knocked about. It was a wonderful sight to see it burning last night. Reports have just come in to say all quiet in front of 27th & 28th & no advance of the 1st Army. The Germans made an attack in front of the V Corps yesterday but was repulsed. They say that their heavy artillery is doing our trenches a lot of damage. Mrs de Lisle sent us out some awfully good respirators yesterday. They have talk3 in front of your eyes & fix into the buttons of the cap & then pull down right over one’s chin. Awfully good they are. I have got mine in the lining of my coat so as I will always have it on me. I don’t want to get caught by that beastly gas. Well wee Mus I think I have told you all the news. Everybody is talking so much here that I can’t write. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Letter from Mrs Alice Penrose, The Rectory, Petworth, Sussex, to Mrs Armstrong
My dear Mrs Armstrong.
You will be sorry for us when I tell you there is almost no hope left about Ned. We have not heard yet from the Regt, but a Capt Maunsell Dublin Fusiliers says he saw Ned hit in shoulder, & believes he was killed (on 23rd) but when they searched, 3 times, for his body, it could not be found. This is his story, & we are waiting for Col. Burrowes & Major Kentish to tell us what they know. Will you tell me – now it is over – whether you foresaw this, & whether you believe he is really gone. I don’t dare to think of what life will be without him, but I am sure we shall be given strength to bear it. I do hope you are better & have good news of your son.
Yours affectionately A. Penrose.
Wednesday 12 May
The Dr came this morning, & says she may go out tomorrow. She got up at about twelve, & stayed in her room till tea time, I then came down. Ione went up to London by early train. I stayed in all day. Muz got a letter from Mrs Penrose, to say that they had heard from a Capt. Mounsel in the Dublin Fusiliers, & he says he saw Ned hit in the shoulder, & believes he was killed. We went up to bed at about ten. Muz much better today, & had chicken again. Ione came back by nine train. Got more contributions. Wrote letters, & read some of the afternoon.
Ypres. […] Things fairly quiet. Heard that French had made further advance. Prisoners up to date 4,100. […] An ominous silence everywhere. The Gen said it was “a lull before the storm.” Which was true. III Cav Div went into the trenches.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
We got no letters up yesterday but hope we will get some to-day. The French seem to have done well yesterday they claim to have taken 2000 more prisoners including 50 officers & 60 machine guns. […] The Gen has been given a section of the line to command. He is fairly hustling all these old people about. He is doing awfully well & will have this a really good line in a day or two. None of the staffs of the 27 & 28th Divs seem to know anything about the trenches, they never go near them. The General is having communication trenches cut wire put out & is thoroughly organising everything. Archie is quite close here. I went round yesterday to try & see him but he was out at the time. I had a long walk last night Col Home & I had to go up & see the Brigades, we started about 7.30 & didn’t get back till after 11 o’c. We had to go round the edge of Ypres, which is a wonderful sight, the whole town is on fire and huge columns of smoke & flame are coming from it the whole time. The worst part of our journey was the dead horses, the whole country is strewn with dead horses who stink like nothing on earth. Things seem a bit better here now & I think in a few days that we will get the whole position consolidated & quieted down again. The Infantry have had a pretty thin time of it & have had some dreadful casualties. I saw a Major in the Royal Irish Fusiliers yesterday & he said that he was practically certain that Ned had been killed. He said he was hit in the head & then put for safety into a “black maria”4 hole. He says he was very bad & didn’t seem the slightest bit hopeful. The Gen & I have just been up to the Bdes this morning everything was pretty quiet up there, but the stink is awful. I am enclosing a couple of summaries which may interest you. I wrote “G” a line yesterday but haven’t heard from him yet. I’d love to see him if I could. Well wee Mus I think I have told you all the news such as it is. Best love.
Your loving Pat.
Thursday 13 May
Muz got up at about eleven, & came down. I stayed with her all morning. She got a telegram from Gordon at Hazebrouck to say he was “slightly wounded”. It rained hard all day. I got a letter from Pat to say he had been over to the 10th Brigade head Quarters, to ask about Ned, but could hear nothing, except that a Seaforth soldier had been taken prisoner & had escaped, & said they had taken a R.I.F. officer. Muz wrote letters & read. I got more contributions. After tea I went round to the Brookes to get a book for Muz. Then took Duskey for a walk in the rain, she loved it, & we got soaked. I dried her & gave her her dinner, & then went to the club. Mrs. B-W. & Miss Callaghan were there. Muz went to bed when I came back, at about ten. – a battleship sunk the “Goliath”.
Ypres. Cold & wet. Heavy bombardment started about 3 am, which decimated 7th Bde. 1st & 2nd Bde also suffering heavy casualties, about 57. Some of 18th Hussars came back. Had to take them up attain. Hell of a bombardment. At 2.30 the 8th Bde counter attacked & got back line but were shelled out again. Dreadful casualties. Northumberland Div went up to dig for us in the evening. Went up to Gen Briggs again about 4.45. Things a bit quieter. Situation very critical. Fetherstonhaugh came in in the evening & fully explained what had happened. Maurice reported killed. The worst day the cavalry have ever had. 8th Bde reduced to about 120.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
Many thanks for your letter. Have just heard that G. has been hit. No news now I can tell you. Will write more to-morrow. I am so glad that you are better. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
All staff well. French up to date have taken 4,100 prisoners.
Friday 14 May
Muz got up after breakfast, & came down. At about twelve, I took her out for a little walk. She wrote letters, Ione went to the Tango tea with Noel . I went down the town to get some collars & blouses […] for Muz. Mary was here when I got back, & then I walked back with her, & watched them bandaging. Then I gave Dusky her supper, & then cooked Muz’s dinner. I cook all her food now. Mrs Stubbs came in to tea Muz too. We went to bed at about ten. I got more contributions. Muz got a wire from Gordon from Boulogne to say he was coming back today, then another from Southampton saying he was going to Nutley & then London. General Snow wrote to Muz & told her that Gordon was wounded in the shoulder & hand.
Ypres. Windy rainy & cold. Went up to Gen Briggs’s Hd Qrs at Potijzeat 6.30. Things very quiet. Turned very cold about 10 o’c. Stood about chateau all morning. Tried to find out casualties. 2nd Cav Div came up to relieve us & took over same night. Left about 3.30 & rode back with the horses. […]
Saturday 15 May
Muz stayed in bed as the Dr came, then I took her out for a walk at about twelve, & we went round to the house, & then out on the Front. Mr Reid came to see us, he is a stretcher bearer out at the Front, & is back on leave. After lunch I wrote letters, & then read for a bit, & finished “Tinker’s Hollow”.5 Mr Reid & Ronald came for tea, & then Ione & Ronald went up to the Grand. Mr Reid went at about seven, he doesn’t know anything more about Ned. We went to bed at about 10-30. Ione dined with Madame de Marotte , & went to the dance. Pat writes that he talked to a Major in the R.I.F & he told him, that Ned had been badly wounded in the head, & that they had put him into a Black Maria hole for safety, but didn’t know anything more.
Le Nieppe. Nice sunny morning. Had long lie. The Gen got back about 10 o’c. Rode over to Sercus to see Sea Lad . They had little or no news of the casualties. Went up to Vlamertinge & saw the Regt. All very tired & rather depressed. Clem buried in the morning. Got back about 7 o’c. Went into Hazebrouck to try & see Shaver, could get no news of him. Came back by Sercus. Casualties as follows: Killed Mitford – Stewart – de Tuyll Wounded Crichton – Gibbs – Shearman – Alexander – Humbert – Wardell – Chesham – 140 men including 26 killed. Regt went out about 220 strong.
Sunday 16 May
Muz, Ione & I went over to Dover in the car to see Markie, as he may be going out today. We saw him & Mr Taylor, & they are coming in this afternoon, so we went back again. We brought Miss Fitzgerald home on the way. We went up to the Grand & had tea with Ronald. Muz & I talked to Capt & Mrs Morrison first, then Noel, Mr Taylor, Mr Cooper & Markie came, & after tea we walked about the Front. I went to the club at seven, & Ione went to bed early. I went to bed at about 10-30. Markie doesn’t go today.
Le Nieppe. Glorious hot day. Left about 8.30 & the Gen went all round the Regts of the Division, then we went and saw Gen Kavanagh. No news of Shaver. Things pretty quiet in front of Ypres. We were to take up the lines from Hooje road to the railway on the right of the II Cav Div. Lunched with the IV Div. 1st Army 7th Div had a bit of a success getting through 2 lines of German trenches. Left about 3.30 & came back to the chateau at Esquelbecq.
- At 3 am on the morning of 10 May 1915 Zeppelin airship LZ38 dropped over 100 bombs over Southend, killing Mrs Whitwell of Prittlewell.⇑
- BL 9.2 inch British naval and coastal defence gun, a variation of which was adapted to fit railway truck mountings to provide mobile long-range heavy artillery for the Western Front ⇑
- Pat means mica, a variety of talc (or talk) from which eyepieces were made for respirators ⇑
- Any shell explosion causing a cloud of black smoke, also known as a Coal Box ⇑
- A novel by Frances Elizabeth Sinclair Crichton, published in 1912.⇑