WEEK 62: THE MORE I READ ABOUT THIS WAR, THE FARTHER OFF THE END SEEMS
Monday 30 August to Sunday 5 September 1915
Pat Armstrong spent the first week of September 1915 in Athens on a diet of milk, rice and eggs in an attempt to rid himself once and for all of the Gallipoli Gallop which had been plaguing him since early July. Too weak to indulge in sightseeing, much of his time was spent in quiet contemplation which resulted in the sobering realisation that peace would be a long time in the making and that the much anticipated Allied victory was by no means a certainty. Although anxious to avoid being invalided home, Pat did not much cherish the thought of returning to Gallipoli to the ‘deadly tired business’ of trench warfare, particularly in the face of the approaching winter. In Folkestone, his sister Jess struggled with her own stomach complaint. Confined to bed, she kept boredom at bay with books and her brother’s letters.
Monday 30 August
Stayed in bed, the doctor came. Four letters from Pat. Aug 11th telling us about the fighting on the 6th & 7th, & another of the 11th giving a copy of the instructions for the machine gun Batteries on Aug. 6th, & enclosing map. One dated 13th enclosing a report of operations of the 29th Div. on 6th, & another of the 13th saying they have had no news of the IX Corps who landed at Suvla Bay, on 6th. I didn’t feel well after lunch, so stayed in bed all day. Muz, Ione, Tom & Nitter went in the car to get the servant, & had tea in Canterbury, & didn’t get back till late. Read nearly all day, finished “Rob Roy”.1 Muz came in to me in the night.
My dear wee Mus.
I wrote you a short scribe last night to catch the 8 o’c post this morning. I expect there will be another mail out in a day or so, so I’ll start a letter now & tell you what little news there is. We got here about 1 o’c on Saturday had lunch on board & came on up here. Downey & I took rooms here. Wonderful luxury it is after a tent & dirty dusty dug outs. We chartered a motor & went out to see the temple of Daphne. Not much to see really however the drive was lovely. I hadn’t been in a car since I left St Omer on June 1st. Then we went & saw the Acropolis which is really wonderful. But I wasn’t feeling fit enough to really enjoy it. I felt rather weak & my innards weren’t feeling too well. I went to bed early after having a grand hot bath. Downey & Keeling went out & dined at some Restaurant. They don’t have dinner at the hotel. However there are lots of places where one can get it. There are several good restaurants & the hotel d’Angleterre is quite close & run by the same firm but this has the nicest rooms. Yesterday we went & saw Compton Mackenzie2 who is in a hospital here with the same complaint. The Imogene went off at 4 o’c & gets back next Saturday. I wrote to the General & told him that I was going to stay on down here. I told him that it was no good my going back in my present condition as my fate would only be a hospital ship. He gave me a week’s leave & told me not to spoil a good leave for the matter of a few days. So I’m taking him at his word. I left on the 25 & can’t possibly get back before the 7th. If I’m not better by then I shall go sick. It’s not a bit of good going back till I’m right. There is d— all to do there. Just this deadly tired business like we did all last winter.
Yesterday evening I went out & called on Sir Francis Elliot, he is the English minister here. He lives at a place called Kifisia3 about 10 miles out. Just out on a sort of train affair, rather like the train from Dublin to where Eusty used to live (forget the name). I was unfortunate [sic] & found them out. I got back about 8 o’c & had some eggs & milk at a restaurant & turned in early. The interior was rather troublesome so I’ve taken a dose of castor oil this morning & am going to lie here all day & live on milk. It is a great thing to be able to get fresh milk. To-morrow I hope to start on rice & bread & milk. I have only been eating eggs, rice, bread & butter & milk & that sort of thing so I had hoped I would be quite right by the time I got here. But no such luck. So now I’m going to have a good clear out & put a new lining in my interior. I feel alright in myself just rather weak & slack. If I’m not quite right by next week I shall go sick & clear right off for a bit. It is no good going messing about at Suvla if I’m not fit. I’m only a nuisance & stand a chance of making myself bad. Anyhow I’ll let you know how I get on. A week here may work wonders but it’s been going on so long that I’m not very sanguine about it. I haven’t eaten meat or anything like that since Aug 16. I’m telling you all this so as you can know exactly how I am. It’s not serious but merely monotonous. I hope it will be quite alright again in a few days. I didn’t get the toffee you say has gone off. I dare say it is just as well. It ought to be there for me by the time I get back. I think I told you that I got a parcel from Harrods before I left. Awfully nice it was & the biscuits were very useful just then as we were very short of stores & it was difficult to know what to eat. […] The parcels all get a dreadful hammering & nearly always arrive with half the paper off. Things really ought to be sewn up either in sacking or in that American cloth which has the advantage of being waterproof. […] The figs were quite good that came from Harrods. I like Heppie’s idea about getting figs in Gallipoli where one hasn’t room to swing a cat & it’s with great difficulty that one gets bread. In fact at Suvla there is no bread. A fine chance one would have of getting ripe figs!!!
[…] I wish I felt like you about the war being over by Xmas. The Russians have had such an awful knock that it will probably take about a year before they can get back that lost tract of country. In the meantime people seem afraid that either Gen Von Hindenburg or Gen Mackensen may come down against Servia & bring Bulgaria in with her. The Gallipoli business is hung up for the winter & altogether I don’t think things look too good. People talk only about the German shortage of men but I’m afraid that the French are suffering from the same thing. No! The more I read about this war, the farther off the end seems. We must trust Germany before we can have a satisfactory peace & we don’t look much like doing it at present. In fact at the present moment Germany still seems to be getting the upper hand. She’s holding us in the West, defeating the Russians in the East & the old Turks are holding us up in the Dardanelles. Not much success for the Allies anywhere. Of course things may change suddenly but I can’t see an end to this show for at least another year & perhaps more. I don’t think that that is unduly pessimistic but looking facts in the face it seems to me to be about right. I don’t think it’s a bit of good Tony buying horses for me. I wish you could get the money back but you’ll have to do it very tactfully if he has bought them well & good. It will need great tact as otherwise he will never take trouble again. I don’t really mind either way so do just as you think best. Good young horses are always a good investment & this show may be over sooner than we expect.
Well wee Mus I think that is all the news I have to-day. I must go & lie down for a bit or the “Gallipoli Gallop” may start again. The oil has been doing great work all morning. I don’t take a room I take a — I’m afraid that’s vulgar!!! I feel very well now much better than I did this morning. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Tuesday 31 August
Three letters from Pat, dated 16th 17th 18th. The 16th said that the General had just gone off to take temporary command of the IX Corps, Pat was to follow with horses next day. The 9th Corps consist of the 10th 11th & 13th Divisions. He said he had just sent us a cable to tell us about the Gen, which we got on 27th. The 17th saying he can’t get a boat to take the horses till 19th. The 18th saying the horses had just gone off, but as he had a slight go of fever, wasn’t going till next day. He sent me a lot of cuttings too, out of newspapers. Stayed in bed all day. The others went down the town, & then Mrs Zetem & the girl came for tea. I read all day. Muz came in to me in the night, & gave me some corn flour. Nitter brought me some lovely roses.
Wednesday 1 September
Letter from Pat dated 22nd. He had gone down to the General on the 20th. Gen Briggs is on his way out, to take over the IX corps. The 29th Division were in the battle on 21st, & very badly cut up. They didn’t want the horses, so sent them back. I stayed in bed all day, & the Dr came. Nitter went by the 8-3 train. Ione went to some Canadian wedding at the Grand. After tea they found Mr King (in the 4th) here on leave, he came back & stayed here till late, & is going to spend the whole day here tomorrow, he is awfully depressed, as his wife only died a few months ago. I finished reading “Old Mortality”.4 Muz was very tired. Heppie brought me up milk in the night.
Athens. Felt better but was awfully weak. Had eggs for breakfast. Went out about 10 o’c did some shopping got very tired. Lay down all afternoon. Went for a drive round the town in the evening. Saw Mc Kenzie about 7 o’c. Had eggs & rice for dinner.
Thursday 2 September
Stayed in bed all day. Mr King came in the morning, & stayed all day – our first luncheon & dinner party! – I read nearly all day. Mr King took Muz & Tom up to tea at the Grand. Ione & I were going to help Mrs Seymour with her fruit stall today, at the Fete, for the prisoners & the blind, but I couldn’t do it, & Noel Wyndham was going to do it instead of Ione, but it was put off till tomorrow as it was so wet.
Athens. Felt a good deal better. Breakfast at 7.30, then sat about & read. Asked to dine with Sir Francis Elliot to-morrow night. Went up to tea with the Elliots & stayed on for dinner. They asked me to go & stay the following day.
Friday 3 September
Stayed in bed nearly all day, the Dr came in the morning. Captain King came early, & stayed the whole day, he took them over to Bridge in the morning. After lunch he, Ione & Tom went to the Electric Theatre. I wrote to Pat & Poppy. I got up after tea for about an hour, & then went back to bed again. I read nearly all day, & finished “Pickwick Papers vol I.” Ione & Captain King dined with Mme de Marotte & then went to the theatre. Four Turkish transporters sunk by our submarines, two between Gallipoli & Nagara.5
Athens. Went out about 9.30 & did some shopping bought a bag & things for the mess. Lunched with McKenzie we joined up with the Cunninghams. Caught the 4 o’c train to Kifisia. Drove with Lady Elliot. Went to the cinematograph in the evening.
Saturday 4 September
I got up at about 12-30, & came down for lunch. Ione stayed in bed as she had bad tooth ache, but got up later to go down to the chemist to put something on it. I wrote letters, & played with Duskey in the garden, & then read. Muz went in to Hythe to see about a servant, she went in in the bus. I did Duskey’s house out, & gave her her supper, & then went to bed at about 7-30. I read for a bit & then settled off to bed at about 10. Muz brought me up my dinner.
Kaphissia. Went for a walk in the morning with Miss Elliot. In the evening drove out to the temple of Dionysus with Lady Elliot. Went to the cinema in the evening.
Sept 4. Kifisia Athens.
My dear wee Mus.
I wrote to you a few days ago when I was feeling a bit cheap but now I am absolutely alright again. There ought to be two letters of mine going to you to-day by the King’s messenger. I won’t be able to catch him with this so it will just go by the ordinary post. I’ll tell you my doings since I came here not that they are much. On Sunday 29th. I dashed about with Downey & Keeling & then had lunch at my hotel. In the afternoon I went up & called on the Elliots at Kifisia. He is the Minister here. Well! that night when I got back I felt awfully cheap so the next morning I had a good dose of castor oil & lived on milk all day. Dull but effective.
On Tuesday. I felt a good deal better but still lived on milk & rice. On Wednesday I went out for a bit & did a bit of shopping but I felt most dreadfully weak so I went back & slept most of the afternoon. Then in the evening I went out for a short drive.
On Thursday I felt pretty well & had more or less got back onto food. Lady Elliot telephoned down & asked me there for tea so off I went then she took me for a drive in her carriage. We didn’t get back till late so she made me stay for dinner & they asked me to come & stay the next day. It is much cooler up here than at the hotel so I came up yesterday afternoon after rather a long busy morning’s shopping. She took me out to drive again in the evening. She is most awfully kind but quite one of the stupidest woman I have ever met. She asks one absurd questions about the war which are awfully boring then just as one is trying to explain something to her, she suddenly breaks off & says Oh! look isn’t that a lovely river or something of the sort. Then off she goes back to the old subject & of course by then one has lost the thread of the whole thing & you have to begin all over again. She is awfully kind but so thick it is awfully difficult to explain anything to her. It seems extraordinary for a diplomatist’s wife. The daughter is about 20 I should think. She is very foreign self possessed & a bit conceited smokes cigarettes all day long. But isn’t bad company. I like him awfully. He’s a real good sort. Just the Bob Paul type of man. But he is away all day at the Legation so I haven’t seen much of him. However it’s a nice change coming up here. I’m afraid it’s rather wrong the way I have criticized these kind people but I can only say what I think. Last night Bijou as she is called took me off to a cinematograph show which takes place in the open air in a sort of public garden quite close here. Not a bad show at all. She introduced me to some weird & extraordinary people. It is an extraordinary life this. I should simply loathe it. She is allowed to go out alone like that in the evening. Goes off to the hotel & meets her friends & then they go to the cinema. Queer bringing up for a girl isn’t it. They want to lug me off to a party next door this evening but I don’t intend to go. They are Greek people & I don’t think it would be much fun.
The “Imogene” ought to arrive to-day. I am going back on her to-morrow & arrive at Imbros Monday afternoon then I’ll go on to Suvla on Tuesday. I hope the General won’t be annoyed at my staying away so long but it would have been useless going back last week. I hope I will keep fit alright now when I do go back. I feel miles better than I have done for ages. News from Russia looks bad. I have only seen papers up to Aug 27 & I don’t suppose things have changed much since then. But they have fairly taken the knock. It will be a year or more before they can regain their lost ground. People here seem to think that having given Russia the knock, Germany will come down against Serbia & Bulgaria will join her. Greece won’t move at the present. She is scared to death & absolutely daren’t. Things seem to have been awfully muddled. I was talking to a very interesting fellow a few days ago, my friend “Z”. He told me that Greece had offered to come in in March & to land a force at Enos but through messing & muddling she didn’t. He says that we have treated her shamefully. He is awfully sick about it, says it’s dreadful to see the failure at Suvla & at the same time to see all the howling mistakes that the diplomatists have made. Germany has done everything so thoroughly. She will have all the Balkan states flocking to her side if we aren’t very careful. People are at last beginning to see that it isn’t such a snip as was thought some time ago that the Allies should win. In fact Germany at present seems to have about 6-4 the best of things. People talk in a vague way & say “Oh! Yes we’ll win in the end”. But the question arises to me. How is it going to end. We have already seen that we can make no headway in the west. Look at Neuve Chapelle, then that big French push in May. They lost 200 thousand men & what advantage did they gain. A few miles advance or about a five mile front. But as far as finishing the war is concerned they are little or no forwarder than they were before. This strikes me as being a very critical time. I suppose we will have peace one day but how we are going to crush Germany beats me.
[…] I wish I knew what the end of this Gallipoli business will be. It all looks so absolutely hopeless. I’m dreading the winter it’s going to be very unpleasant. I am afraid it will be awfully difficult to get letters & parcels out. I bought a great supply of things here yesterday. Tinned fruit, jam, ground rice, oatmeal & all sorts of odds & ends. Hardress will be pleased to see them. I lost my nice old knife with the button hook that you gave me, sickening isn’t it. I had it in the Imogene but couldn’t find it when I went off. However I picked up another good knife in the hotel. Somebody left it in the —, so I appropriated it. But it hasn’t got a button hook which is a bore. I bought a queer little button hook yesterday so I’m alright. Well wee Mus I must end as I’ve run out of both news & paper.
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 5 September
I got up at 8, & after breakfast sat out in the garden & read. Finished reading “Pickwick Papers. Vol II.” Then wrote letters. I sat out in the garden again after lunch for a bit. Ione went to tea at the Grand. Kathleen Warren came over & had tea with us, & Major & Mrs Lucas came for tea too. I gave Duskey her dinner, & went to bed at about 7, & Muz brought me up my dinner. Settled off to bed at about eleven.
Letter from Elise ‘Disi’ Paul to her nephew, Pat Armstrong
I am so sorry to hear from yr. Father that you are not getting yr. parcels, which is most provoking – I wonder did you get any of my biscuits Baures.6 (Butter Biscuits) I am sending them nearly every week, & I think pack them very well. You must be longing for all your things. A lady was here yesterday who told me her husband out there does not even get letters. I wish you were home. The country is looking grand, & now we are having very fine weather & everyone busy with the corn, which is a lovely crop this year, but labour very hard to get.
Much love from Bobbie & myself
yr. loving Disi.
- Rob Roy (1817), a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott ⇑
- Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) was a celebrated British author and raconteur perhaps best known for his comic novels The Monarch of the Glen (1941) and Whisky Galore (1947). He was recruited by the British Secret Service at the start of the First World War and became director of the Aegean Intelligence Service in Syria. In 1932, he broke all the rules by publishing Greek Memories, an account of his experience as an MI6 officer. The book was immediately withdrawn and all remaining copies of it were destroyed.⇑
- Sir Francis Edmund Hugh Elliot (1851-1940), British diplomat and envoy to Greece 1903-1917⇑
- Old Mortality (1816), a novel by Sir Walter Scott ⇑
- This event took place on 2 September; the other two Turkish transports were sunk at Acba Shiliman ⇑
- She means biscuits beurre ⇑