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Monday 27 September to Sunday 3 October 1915

Monday 27 September to Sunday 3 October 1915


WEEK 66: PLAYING THE BAGPIPE IN THE TRENCHES

Monday 27 September to Sunday 3 October 1915

The end of September saw the commencement of the Battle of Loos (25 September-18 October 1915), also known as the Big Push, the aim of which was to break through the German defences in order to restore the war of movement on the Western Front. It formed part of a wider offensive by the French and British forces in the autumn of 1915, sometimes known as the Second Battle of Artois, which also encompassed attacks by the French at Champagne and at Vimy Ridge in Arras. In spite of initial success and the fact that the British outnumbered their German opposition by a ratio of 7 to 1, the Battle of Loos ended in a disappointing stalemate. In Britain, groups of women had been gathering together to sew sandbags following an appeal by the Duchess of Albany in May 1915 on behalf of the War Office. At the height of the sewing frenzy, almost 20,000 sandbags per week were sent to troops in France and the Dardanelles.

Monday 27 September

Abbott and his dugout

Abbott and his dugout


jess__diary_cameoSat in my room & mended all morning. After lunch Kitty & Miss [blank] came round, & we went to Mrs Lucas to make sandbags, from 2 till 4, there were a good lot of other people there too. Then Kitty & Miss W. & Dolly Garratt came back here or tea, & then Mrs & Miss Arnoldi came. When they went, I fed Duskey; & Muz, Ione & I went off to the theatre at 6-30 till 8-30, it was a revue “Le Moulin Rouge”, & was very good. Went to bed at about eleven. I was rather cold all day. At Artois & Champagne we have penetrated the G.1 lines, & captured over 20,000 prisoners. In Champagne the soldiers [?] penetrated the G. lines to a depth of between 2 & 3 miles, on a front fifteen miles in length. We have taken Loos.

pat_diary_cameoSuvla. Made Abbott’s dug out. General attack in western front started on 25th in the region of La Bassee. Taking 700 prisoners & 8 guns. Allies advanced on a 20 mile front. On 26th 11 thousand prisoners & 24 guns. Total number of prisoners up to date 20 thousand.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

Sept 27.

My dear wee Mus.

I’ve been rather bad lately about writing but now I have the cyclists I never seem to have a minute. I have got a party at work this afternoon & I’ll have to go back to them before very long. I got 7 letters from you the night before last. Grand long letters. You are wonderful the way you write. I haven’t time now to answer them or to tell you the dates so I’ll just tell you my doings for the last week such as they are. Otherwise there is no news here at all. Things are very quiet indeed. The Turks shell occasionally but seem to do very little damage.

Mon 20. Went round the right sub section with the Gen & Gen Cayley & we found some good machine gun positions. Quite an interesting morning. In the afternoon I collected stones & paved the floor of my house. A battalion of Newfoundlanders arrived. Quite a good useful lot but they don’t seem to have much idea of sanitation. They made the place in an awful mess throwing food etc all over the place.

A Turkish gun

A Turkish gun

Tues 21. Left at 10 o’c & went all the way round the front line getting back about 2.15. The General went to a conference at Corps. Then I finished doing my floor in the afternoon. I had the fly curtains off & my dug out was just like a bee hive. I have got a tarpaulin for a roof. They seem to like that as it’s warm for them.

Wed 22. Again went round the right sub section with the Gen & Col Fuller. We went & saw some of the trenches belonging to the Div on our right. Quite a good lot they look. Leslie Cheape came & had lunch with us. He didn’t give us much news. In the afternoon I made a dug out for our stores beside the mess. It was very cold after tea quite the coldest evening we have had.

Thurs 23. Spent all morning fixing a roof on the mess. In the afternoon we finished the dug out for stores & built up the front of Williams’ dug out. He has been doing G.S.O 2 for a bit but went back to his battalion yesterday.

Fri 24. Went out with the General in the morning & spent the afternoon fixing the front of my house. I took all the sand bags away & had it built up with stones then in the evening I went up to the 86th Bde Hd Qrs. & got a few nails & things from the R. E.2

Rifles in a trench

Rifles in a trench

Sat 25. Very cold early. Spent all morning making terraces with the cyclists. We worked away again from 2 till 7 o’c.

Sun. Church at 9.30. I have to see all the parade & see all the rifles of the H.Q. staff at 8.30 then the cyclists rifles at 9 o’c. In the afternoon I put up my door & covered both it & the window with mosquito netting so now my house is practically fly proof. Must go off now & see how the men are getting on.

Later. We got on quite well this afternoon & have almost finished Abbott’s dug out. News from France is good isn’t it. I enclose the wire we got to-day as you may like to see it. The old Russians seem to be doing pretty well too. I hope your prophesy is right & that this show will be over by Xmas. It looks more like it now than it did a week ago. The good news to-day has cheered everybody up a lot. I’m glad you cheered Babe King up. He’s a dear little fellow & one of the very very best. He & poor old Jimmy Leckie in the Royals were my two best friends at the Cavalry School. Jimmy was killed at Ypres in May on that never to be forgotten day. I’ll write again to-morrow if I can. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

Monday night Sept 27.

My dear wee Mus.

I’m enclosing a cheque for £25 for you to get carpets with. That ought to about complete the house for you I think. You must have it all absolutely complete now so as to make a really good start. I have now got a big balance at Cox’s & would like to feel that my money was in the house & that you had everything really nice & to your liking. I’d like to feel that you had the drawing room fixed & were getting comfortably settled into it. Then you will have everything really fixed by Xmas & if your prophesy is true what fun we will all have. I’m feeling very much more sanguine about things to-night. I have just written you a scribe telling you all the news such as it is. I’ve been so busy all this last week that I never seem to have had a second to write so this will make a second letter. I have been monkeying about with my house & haven’t been able to sit in it in the afternoon for some days now. But the weather is ever so much cooler & I find that one can work away all afternoon in absolute comfort. The days simply fly with all this work on hand. I had a letter from Brock last mail. He seems very fed up with life. Williams has come back & taken his Squadron from him & now he wants to get off on some job. They’ve apparently done nothing all the summer except dig a few trenches round Ypres. Errol O’Hara goes off tomorrow morning to Mudros. He has been made a Colonel & given some other job. I’m awfully sorry he’s going. He’s such a good sort & an awfully good officer. Does his job remarkably well. He will be a big loss to the Division. Well! wee Mus it’s late so I’ will turn in. Best love to you all.

Your loving Pat.

P.S. I got a parcel of films this afternoon. That is the second lot in the last few days.

Tuesday 28 September

jess__diary_cameoMended all morning, & again after lunch. Kitty came round to ask me to go to the theatre with them tonight. Peter arrives at about three, she is staying in Dover. Muz called on the Tremaines. I went up to the Grand to see Mademoiselle about the concert on Saturday. Kitty, Miss [blank], & Miss Peters came for tea, & they sewed sandbags. I went up to see Peter off at the station, & then went to see Mrs Edwards. Then I went & dined with Kitty, & we three went to the theatre. Afterwards we couldn’t get a taxi, so had to walk home. It was pelting, so we got soaked! The battle still rages in Champagne where the advance of the French troops has brought them to the second line of the G. defences. Our troops continue to advance to the east of Loos. We have captured 53 officers, 2,800 men, 18 guns, & 32 machine guns.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

Sept 28

My dear wee Mus.

[…] I think you have been right all along about the Russians. I heard the other day that they had sent to the Allies in the west & told them not to unduly hurry their attack. But to wait till they were quite ready. I hope the news we had yesterday is as good as it sounds. 20 thousand prisoners helps a bit. That means a good crowd of dead & wounded. But our own casualties must be awful. I wonder if the Cavalry Corps have taken any part in the business.

Parcels seem to be arriving pretty well now I think I have got all my parcels from Harrods pretty well up to date. If we’re here in January & Feb. will get nothing at all as the weather will be so bad. You ask if we are under shellfire here? Well! of course we can be shelled but I’m glad to say they haven’t found us yet. They have so much to shell but they cast shell everywhere. We are really extraordinarily comfortable. My little house is awfully nice now. I’d much rather be here than back with the Regt in France. One is busy here all day long & you feel you really are doing something. In France one lived for weeks in absolute luxury & was then suddenly jammed into some perfectly d—able place. The Gen & I had a long walk round the trenches this morning. We left about 9.45 & got back at 1.30. I’ve got my cyclists building dug outs round in B Mess. I went & started them off after lunch but have now left them to their own devices. It’s simple work so I’m having an afternoon off & scribing letters.

“Britishes”

“Britishes”

Gen Stopford who came out in command of this Corps was sent home as he wouldn’t get a move on. In fact he made an awful mess of the whole business. This landing was a ghastly failure. The Generals wouldn’t push & the troops were bad. We don’t call them soldiers they are known as “Britishes”. My Sgt Major saw a lot of these tired looking individuals passing us the other day, & said “There! Sir. Those are the fellows they say are better than us. But I can’t see it.” They are awful rubbish most of them. But they are improving a bit now. […] The whole thing was a ghastly failure. I hate to think of it. Everything was bad from start to finish. Bad generals, bad staff work, raw troops. Then the navy as usual capped it all by not landing water for them. At least they did land it but not till after they had landed a lot of other things & hours after they had promised to have it on shore. My opinion of the Navy has greatly decreased since I came out here. They may be able to fight at sea but they are d—all at this job. They are very casual & thoroughly incompetent. Their guns make a lot of noise but that’s about all. I wish they would set some of the Mercantile Marine out here to take on the job of landing stores etc. I think that the batty old Navy will starve us in the winter. Things are very quiet here. Nothing doing at all. There was a bit of firing last night but that was caused by Lovat’s Scouts playing the bagpipe in the trenches & then cheering. Both sides then thought that there was an attack on & fired away hard for about ½ hour. It was quiet in front of us. All this happened away to our right out by “Chocolate Hill”.3 The water question is well in hand now. We have to fetch it from some distance but can really get all we want.

Ione’s rabbits

Ione’s rabbits

How sad those beastly rabbits eating all your flowers. I should have thought she would have got rid of the brutes by now. Useless devils. I think it’s an awful pity to keep them as they stink like mad & make such an awful mess of all the grass or wherever they are. They would be alright at Moyaliffe but must be a beastly nuisance at Clodiagh. I think you ought to put them all into the soup pot one day, or make them into potted meat & send them out to me!!! […] You said in your letter you had just got something but I can’t read the word. You said “… a lovely trophy arrived sort of ? ? tell me about it when you write”. I can’t think what it can be. The word looks like “bay not” or rat. But mother dear I haven’t sent you any “rats” surely Ione’s rabbits are enough!!! Sorry! I’ve got it. Bayonet it is. I’ve just remembered sending it. I’m so glad it has arrived. I was awfully afraid it wouldn’t go through the post. It was one of the numerous Turkish bayonets that we took on the 28th of June. It will be a nice thing to remember the battle by. I sent you a Turkish shell some time ago, I wonder if that will roll up alright. Hope it does. I sent the bayonet on an off chance really, never expecting it to reach you. I’m delighted it has. I wish you could get somebody to get you a German helmet. That would be a nice trophy. All the Turkish clothing is too filthy to be of any value. There are a lot of old shirts lying out on the veldt, I don’t know if you’d fancy one!!! Well! I’m getting frivolous so must go to bed.

Your loving Pat.

Wednesday 29 September

jess__diary_cameoMuz, Ione & I went up to London by 8-30. It was pelting when we started. We went to her dentist, & she had two teeth stopped & one out, then she went off & shopped & went to a matinee. Muz & I went to Bateman at 12-30, & I had four teeth done, three all running into each other. We didn’t get out till 3-30. We went to Selfridges to look at cretonnes,4 & met Mrs de Lisle & she came & shopped with us. We went to Harvey Nicholls, Woollands & Harrods to try & get things for the drawing room & smoking room. We had tea in Woollands. Mrs de L. went at about six, & we looked at carpets. Met Ione at the station, & came down by the 7. Gordon & Mr Allen have been gazetted temp capts. In Champagne the French are advancing, & 800 prisoners taken north of Massiges. We are fighting round Loos, & hold the Grand North of Hill 70. We have taken more than 3000 prisoners 240 machine guns.

pat_diary_cameoSuvla. Quite hot. Left at 9.30 & went round left section with Curling. Got back about 2 o’c. Spent all afternoon watching working party & working out promotions. Got one terrace done for the two new platoons of cyclists. Gen went to Conference at Corps at 11.30. 10th & 52 Div go to Mudros. We take over line to our right.

Letter from Captain W. Maxwell to Pat Armstrong

Dear Armstrong,

Herewith photos. According to regulations no photos can be forwarded through the post.

Yours,

W. Maxwell Capt.

“No photos through the post”

“No photos through the post”

Thursday 30 September

jess__diary_cameoTwo letters from Pat, dated 14th & 15th. Ione stayed in bed in the morning. I did some tidying. Edith Maude came to see Muz, & then Muz took her to the station. Miss Rudd-Keane came round & she helped me to put French chalk on the ballroom floor,5 & we ran about on it, then I walked back with her. After lunch I did some mending, then Kitty & Miss R-K, came round, & we all went & had tea with the Stubbses. Poly [?] Mary & Violet were there. We did some bandaging afterwards. Wrote to Poppy, & went to bed at about 9-30. In the north of Massiges over 1,000 German have surrendered. We have now taken 23,000 prisoners & 79 guns in Artois & Champagne.

pat_diary_cameoSuvla. Left here with the Gen & Hardress at 9 o’c left horses at 88 Bde Hd Qrs. Went to 39th & 40th Bde Hd Qrs & then round portion of 40th Bde line which we were going to take over. Went into block house6 at S—. Walked back, rather hot. Got back about 1.15. Built dug out in B Mess in afternoon. Got terrace started for sanitation section

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

Sept 30 Thursday night.

My dear wee Mus.

[…] I got a great box from you this morning with 3 cakes some castor oil, ammonia & peppermints. Awfully good they are. Thank you so much for them. The cakes all arrived beautifully fresh & are excellent. The peppermints are a wee bit too strong. I sent the ammonia & 1 tin of peppermints up to Geddes he is in command of the Munsters. He has got an awful cold so I hope they will do him good. I’ve had a long day to-day & am weary so this must be a brief scribe. We left here at 9 o’c & I was walking hard in the trenches till 1 o’c. I’ve been working with my cyclists from 2 till 5 & messing about trying to get the camp a bit straight after tea. So I’ve hardly sat down all day except at meals. I’m doing great work trying to get it all nicely terraced & squared up. The General told me to get the place to look like a regular Hd Qrs & not a Kaffir Kraal,7 as it does at present or shall I say did a few days ago & has left me on my own to do it how I like so it’s rather interesting working it all out, & keeps me busy all day. In fact I’ve got just all I can do as I go out with him every other morning so I don’t have much time to sit about. It’s a great thing as it makes the day go quick & keeps me awfully fit. It’s after 11 o’c so I must turn in. Best love dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

Friday 1 October

Marshal Joseph Joffre

Marshal Joseph Joffre


jess__diary_cameoMended nearly all morning. Muz & Heppie worked at the garden. Bee sent us some plants. After lunch Kathleen & Mr Warren came, but only for a few minutes, as Ione was “out”. Mr Lyng & another man came & had tea with her, & then went up to the Tango Tea. I did more mending after lunch, then Muz & I went & had tea with the Williams, in Grimston Gardens, they aren’t very interesting! There were several other people there too. The French advance in Champagne has brought the allies to the 2nd defences of the G between the Somme-py-Souain Road & Tahure. The G. announce the loss of Hill 191.8 Officially stated that 121 guns taken in Champagne. General Joffre has issued an order of the Day in which he states “that the offensive is to be carried on without truce & without respite. Remember the Marne conquer or die”.9

pat_diary_cameoSuvla. Hot. Kept house all morning. Wrote intelligence report. Made clasp for door of dug out. Settled dug out for [blank] in afternoon. Spent some time settling terraces for Cyclists. Had hair cut. Colville [?] White came to dinner.

Sunday 3 October

jess__diary_cameoMuz, Tom & I went to church, & then out on the Front afterwards. Florence, Kitty & Miss R-K. came with us. After lunch I unpacked patterns of cretonnes & carpets etc. Then some Canadian man came for tea. Ione & Tom went to the band, & brought Miss Peters back. Later Kitty & Miss R-K came, she goes tomorrow. I went off early, & went to church, an awfully nice sermon. Then I went on to the club, but very few people there. Put Muz to bed, & went to bed at about 11-30. Saw an air ship!

pat_diary_cameoSuvla. Hand rather sore red line up my arm. Church parade 10 o’c & service at 11. Rather hot. Got several letters & some photos. Left at 5.30 with Standen dined with the Munsters & brought in 4 loads of hay got back about 11.30.

pat-cameoLetter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong

Oct 3

My dear wee Mus.

[…] I’ve knocked a chip off my hand & it’s a bit sore so I have a bandage on it so it’s rather hard to write. It’s not much & ought to be right in a day or two. […] In the afternoon I had some of my cyclists fixing a dug out for Howard de Walden, his had got into very bad repair. Then about 6 o’c Standen & I went off up to the Munsters Hd Qrs. It took us just over an hour to get there. I wanted to bring back some straw that is in a field close by. I was going to bring it back in the empty ration carts but there was some mistake & the carts went away.

Transport carts in Gallipoli

Transport carts in Gallipoli

I had a very cheery dinner with them & got back about 11 o’c. We had a longish walk but it was a perfectly glorious night. I’m going up again to-night & hope I get it alright this time. There is a sort of talk of us getting leave from here in the winter, which would be a great scheme. The idea as far as I can gather is to let us have a month that would give us a fortnight at home but it seems too good to be true. This has now elapsed into about a 5th rate show & we will just sit down here for the winter at least that is what it looks like at present. It’s rather tragic though to think what a failure it all has been in spite of all the gallant deeds that have been done & fine men who have been lost. But there it is & the only thing I see ahead is to sit down here & make ourselves comfortable for the winter & hope that the weather won’t be too bad. The General is awfully fit & in good form. He quite likes this, he always has lots to do. I’d rather be here than in France. The only advantage I can see of France is that one might be able to get home now & again & of course one had a nice country to ride about in. But I like this because one isn’t shelled anything like the same way as in France. Basil is seedy in Cairo. His innards wrong I hear. He was run down & Byng got him to Alexandria to buy stores & he has been away about 3 weeks. I hope he comes back soon. Funny boy Markie sounds he doesn’t seem a bit fond of his family. Her letter about him having no view made me laugh. Not much chance for views in the bottom of a trench with the Bosh 50 yds off. His Col must be an ass to write that sort of thing. Well wee Mus I have told you all the news. Best love to you all dear wee Mus.

Your loving Pat.

1


Footnotes

  1. German
  2. Royal Engineers.
  3. A hill so named after its dark, rich-coloured soil
  4. Cretonne = a heavy cotton fabric, typically with a floral pattern, used for upholstery
  5. French chalk or talcum powder was used on a dance floor to provide extra slip for some of the more complex dance steps
  6. Blockhouse = a fortified easily defended structure with ports or loopholes designed for observation or defensive firing
  7. A village of Southern or Central African native peoples, consisting of a collection of huts surrounded by a fence or stockade
  8. TA reference to the capture by the French of the hill of Massiges during the second Battle of Chamapagne
  9. This clarion call was a reference to the First Battle of the Marne (5-12 September 1914) which in spite of heavy casualties was a strategic victory for the Allies

 
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