WEEK 72: LIKE A BLOOMING WRITING MACHINE
Monday 8 to Sunday 14 November 1915
Sir Charles Monro, who had replaced Hamilton as Commander to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, recommended evacuation immediately following his arrival in the Dardanelles on 28 October 1915. The Prime Minister, Henry Herbert Asquith, agreed. In a speech he delivered on 2 November, Asquith freely admitted that “in the whole course of the war I have never sustained a keener disappointment” than that caused by the failure of the naval operations in the Dardanelles. Lord Kitchener however was not so easily swayed and decided to make his way to Gallipoli see the situation for himself. Upon witnessing the conditions under which the Allies were struggling, he could but agree with Monro and recommended evacuation. However, the government remained undecided for several more weeks. Pat Armstrong had little time to ponder the vacillations of the British Government in his efforts to get the hang of his new and demanding duties as Staff Captain to the 88th Brigade.
Monday 8 November
I stayed in bed all day, finished darning the table napkins. Then wrote letters, & read for a bit. Muz went for a walk with Tom, instead of going to the “sandbagging”. Muz sat up here all evening, & we settled off for bed at about 10-30. In the south the Bulgarians have suffered a heavy defeat at Isvor; French & British troops fighting. The Bulgarians have taken Kraljevo, & they claim that they have taken Nish. On the Russian front the Germans continue in vain their attempts to force the Riga.
Tuesday 9 November
I stayed in bed all day. Darned stockings, & sorted newspapers etc, then wrote letters. Muz sat up here most of the afternoon, & wrote. I read for a bit in the morning, & finished “The Happy Warrior”.1 Muz & Tom went out after lunch. It rained all day. They met the Callaghans, & they said that Captain Hill was sure Ned must be a prisoner, as he had searched for him afterwards. […] The northern Siberian army is retiring in good order. The allied troops have extended their line from Doiran up to Gradska, in the valley of the Vardar.
Suvla. Gen de Lisle went round sections. Went out about 10.30. Went round Hants line then back by N.F.L & Worcesters. Got back about 1.45. A good deal of correspondence till about 3.30 when I went out again to N.F L Hd Qrs & Worcesters. Londons relieved NFL. The 86th Bde are to take over about 100 yds of our line including Blockhouse.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
Nov 9 Hd Qrs 88th Bde 29th Div.
My dear wee Mus.
Just a brief line to go by K M2 to-morrow. I’ve hardly had a second to write to you since I came up here. I took over on Saturday & had a real busy day. I sat in here all that morning going through papers etc & at the same time had to answer a regular shower of papers. One has a tremendous amount of writing to do, a message book lasts me about 2 days. I’m responsible for everything to do with ammunition, bombs, trench stores such as picks, shovels, sandbags etc, then I have to arrange for the water supply, I’m responsible for the sanitation of the area, the devil of a job that means a tremendous lot of work particularly with people like the Newfoundlands they are a dirty lot of devils. Then about the most complicated things are the Court Martials. In fact I have to deal with everything as regards routine. There is the devil of a lot to be done & I’m busy all day long. I find that I’m usually in till about 11 o’c then I go round a bit of the line. Today for instance I was in till about 3.30 answering messages then went out to inspect certain parts of my area got back about 5.30 & was kept pretty busy till about 7 o’c. It’s late now & I’m not expecting any more in to-night so when I’ve written to you I’ll turn in.
I like the job, there is a lot of work & a good deal of responsibility but it’s really quite interesting & will make one appreciate the necessity for careful organisation & detail. Of course at present things are a bit difficult but after a bit when I get into my stride I hope to get everything running smoothly & without much difficulty. There is such an awful lot to be thought of and arranged. The allotment of water is one of the chief difficulties, it’s rather short & the wells vary a good bit from day to day & one has to arrange so that each man has 1 gallon a day. You see all the Battalions are different strengths & they keep on changing about so after each relief one has to make difficult arrangements. The Londons relieved the Newfoundlands to-day. Well there is a difference of about 200 men between them so all that had to be thought out. The Division keep on asking me all sorts of conundrums, how many picks & shovels are on charge of the Bde etc etc. I’m building myself a new house as I don’t like this one, it’s a tiny little kennel & one goes in & out of a hole about 4 ft by 3 ft. the whole thing is about 7 ft long & 5 broad. It gives one very little room. I hope they won’t send us to Salonika, not much fun that. I don’t think they will but I don’t think it’s decided yet. I have had no letters for a long time the last date of yours was Oct 12. I got one from B of the 13. I got a K. M. letter last week of the 20th. I expect to get one to-morrow which would have arrived to-day in the General’s. I got a parcel from Harrods yesterday. Very nice it was. We are only a very small mess now. Cayley, Wilson, the signal officer & self. Morris the M. G. Officer3 is seedy & has been in bed all day.4 But we are never more than 5. They are all awfully good fellows. So I’m really very lucky. I enclose a wire which may interest you. I think I will turn in now for a bit as it’s after 11 o’c. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Wednesday 10 November
Got up at about 11-30, & went down the town to order plum puddings etc to send out to Pat. Then did Dusky’s house, & gave her Benbows.5 Muz planted flowers, & Heppie worked at the linoleum. Ione was seeing about her clothes for Friday. After lunch I did the washing up etc, then swept & did Muz’s room, & lit the fire etc. Muz lay down, & I brought up the teas, Ione went to bed early. We went to bed at about 11. M. Skouloudis the new Greek Premier, has made a declaration of policy – continued neutrality of Greece & sincere goodwill to the Entente Powers, including a friendly attitude towards the allied troops in Salonika. The Bulgarians have entered Leskovac, on the Nish-Uskub railway.
Letter from Captain Vaughan ‘Pokes’ Stokes, XRH France, to Pat Armstrong
My dear old Pat.
It was with the feelings of utmost delight that I received your welcome letter this morning, and I hasten to seize this first opportunity of answering it. And all that sort of twaddle. I’ve such lots to tell you things grave & gay, sad & joyous muddling and clear also things which I can’t understand and I suppose I never shall, that I really can’t make up my mind where to begin. To start off with, you little stinker you never say a word about yourself and how you’re getting on in health. We heard rumours that you had been seedy but your letter doesn’t mention a word about it so I hope it’s all balls. All you say is that they’ve made an awful mess of it out there. Why I could have told you that, if they hadn’t both Greece & Roumania would have been all for us long ago. As it is now, they think we’re beat, which again is balls. That’s twice I’ve used that very vulgar expression. There are tremendous rumours going round, that Kitchener has gone out East to see how things really are there and now we have a sort of vague idea that we may be shipped off to Serbia at any moment. So it’s “ho for the briney deep and to hell with all submarines.”6 I should think they’d be certain to get some of us. As far as rumour has it it is only the old “Iron Ration” 3rd Cav Div which are going to move, but you know what rumour is, so it’s probably all a pack of lies. The trouble is that if we move within the next two months I shall miss my leave, a thing Kitchener ought to be informed about. Shut up! I know what you’re saying “You’ve only just come out from home and here am I, been in this God forsaken country for months.” I don’t care, I shall be seriously put out if I miss my leave. Leave is a very much more difficult matter to manage than it was last year. The trouble is that we have so many troops out here that they have to cut down the numbers or else they couldn’t carry them on the leave boat. And the stingy devils won’t give us an extra boat. […]
To read the entire letter, click here
Thursday 11 November
Did the washing up etc, then cleaned knives & lamps; cleaned the [—] room & swept the scullery, kitchen, pantry & hall. Muz went down the town with Tom to get things for Pat. Ione went down to Mrs Harrison & Ward’s about her clothes. Did the servants’ room & washed up etc., & did our rooms. Heppie did the linoleum all day. The two new servants came at about five. May & Edith. Changed for dinner, then wrote, & went to bed at 9-30. The French have taken Veles in Serbia which was occupied by the Bulgarians on Oct. 29th.
Friday 12 November
The rain had come in at a lot of the windows, so I helped Muz to dry the place. Ione went up to London by the 8-30, I helped her to pack. Then she is going down to Brighton, & to stay with the Downs’, Harry is down too. Then I went down the town, & got things to send to Pat for Xmas, & did a lot of shopping after lunch I made some porridge & things for Duskey, then took her out, her leg is very bad. Went to the post office, then went to see Kitty & she asked me to go to the theatre, but Muz wouldn’t let me go, with my cold. Gave Duskey her supper, then went round to tell K. I couldn’t go. Read for a bit, then went to bed at about 11. The new war committee of the Cabinet is – Mr Asquith, Prime Minister Mr Balfour 1st Lord of the Admiralty, Mr Lloyd George Minister of Munitions, Mr Bonar Law, Sec for Colonies, Mr McKenna chancellor of the exchequer.
Saturday 13 November
Gave Duskey her medicine, & took her out, then packed, & Muz & I went up to London by the 11 train we went straight to the Euston Hotel then we went & got a glass in Muz’s watch, then came back & wrote letters etc, then had a lovely hot bath, & supper in bed, & went to bed at about ten. The eleven day’s battle in the Marshes to the W. of Riga has resulted, as Hindenburg himself admits, in a withdrawal of the German forces. In Serbia, the Bulgarians, finding it impossible to reach Monastir by frontal attacks at the Babuna Pass, are now trying to flank more to the north-west.
Suvla. Stayed in most of the morning as everybody else was out. Went round & saw Worcesters who had just come out having been relieved by the Essex. Went round London & Essex lines in the afternoon. Wrote letters in the evening. Percy went round the line & got back about 11.30.
My dear wee Mus.
[…] Not much news here. I’m busy all day. I have masses of correspondence to answer & then have a good deal of work to do round my area. I’m responsible for everything to do with the routine & administration of the Bde & have to see that the area is kept clean. I’m very busy at present trying to organise work houses for the men, both in the trenches & when they come into the reserve area. I am going out at 8 o’c to-morrow to start some of the Newfoundlanders known to us as “Cod Catchers” digging a work house. They are a dirty lot of devils but don’t work too badly once one gets them going. They & the London Rgt give one more trouble than the other three Battalions put together. They ask absurd questions & do everything wrong. One has to repeat everything to them about 6 times. I went & dined with the Div last night. Rather fun it was going back to my old home. Hardress is in my old house. I must say I am awfully keen on this job & hope I shall make a success of it. I have got the hang of things pretty well now. The Doctors don’t love me as I make them send in a report every night to say that their area is clean. I’ve got ’em all on toast7 & they fairly have to hussle about but I’m glad to say it’s having its effect, as things are getting much cleaner. They want getting alright a bit most of these doctors. Wilson & I always say that they will be waiting at a corner with a bomb for us one day!!! But I have charge of the bombs, so I have the upper hand there!!!
General Cayley is a charming man & lets me run things more or less as I like. I make suggestions to him & if he thinks they are sound he lets me carry them out. Wilson is a topper, awfully cheery, & very good at his job. We have great laughs. He & the signal officer are going round the trenches to-night. One of us go once a week. We have just had a great fireplace built in the mess, I’m sitting by it now writing, it is very comforting I can tell you. I have built a grand new house for myself. I hope to get a roof on it on Monday & move in the same day. The place I’m in now isn’t big enough to swing a cat. It’s about 5 ft wide & 7 long. It is awfully cramped when one has to use it as an office too. I don’t think much of the idea of the vans. About on par with armoured cars. A d—d waste of money, time & men. Funny G engaged. D’d lucky girl. He will make her awfully happy. I must write to him but it’s so hard to find the time. The idea of taking Constantinople from here is quite given up. I don’t think we’ll go forward atall here. Nothing to be gained by it, only waste of good lives. Don’t work too hard at the hospital it sounds awfully hard work that you do.
I’d like to see Mary scrubbing, she must be great fun. Tell her I’ll write to her sometime, but I’m like a blooming writing machine at it all day. K is out here as I dare say you know. I expect he has got some scheme on but of course nobody knows what it is. I got a parcel of clothes from you last night. Shirts, underclothes & a pair of pyjamas. The latter were done in in France, the top had a huge tear in it, however the coat is good & will replace the one that Ames burnt. Send me another pair as soon as you can. I’m sorry the cheque hasn’t arrived. I hope it will turn up alright. Letters seem very slow these times. I sent Ione’s & Jess’s by K.M. yours by ordinary post. Don’t think too much about leave as I see no chance of it really. It all depends really on what happens in the next few weeks. If we go to Salonika of course it’s off but if we stay here well I think it may be alright. I always try to write to you on Sunday & then again on Wednesday for K.M. That’s about all I have time for. I try to get out as much as I can, there is always so much to be done. I was in all this morning, but was working hard at messages & between times was working up old orders & back papers so to try & know all about things. There is such an awful lot one has to know that it really means sitting down & working hard.
All sorts of small details of routine crop up which one wants to know & have at one’s finger tips. I knew Dolly’s brother slightly, he was with the 18th in France. He was very fair. I never saw enough of him to form any opinion of him but he seemed very popular in the Regt. Rather quiet if I remember right. I heard from Brock last mail such a nice letter. I’ll send it to you when I’ve answered it. I’m glad I’m not in France it’s cold there he says. I remember this time last year we were at Ypres & it was bitter. Ugh! those terrible days with Jack Johnsons8 flying about like sparrows. This is paradise compared to it. The trenches are quite homely compared to France. I know every bit of the trenches in this area like the palm of my hand. It is very quiet to-night, no shooting atall. The Turks hardly ever shell at night which is a great blessing. They are thorough gentlemen these old Turks. I feel more sorry for them than anything else. One feels that all the wicked things they do like killing wounded is largely owing to the Bosch. They are wonderfully good about not shelling our hospitals. They are all bang out in the open & they never shell anywhere near them.
I’m busy boiling water for Percy when he comes in. He likes his drop of hot water & whisky & then puts Jam in his hot water bottle!!! By the way send me one, I won’t be outdone by him. The weather is quite nice at present but the wind may go north anytime & then it will be very cold. I don’t think we get real bad weather till January. I forget if I told you that the night before I left the Div & went & thanked the Gen for all he had done for me & he was awfully nice, said that he would leave me here for a couple of months & that I had to make my mark & then he would get me back to the Div as G.S.O 3 & then get me a job as Bde Major. He is a wonderful friend to have at my back. I have set my heart on making a success of this job. I do hope I do. I’d love to get on really well now that I have started. I usn’t to worry but now I want to get on well. What a pity Kicky is still loafing at home. They are making an awful old woman of him. He ought to do something however little it is. I’m delighted to hear that Zoo & little Welch are engaged. He will deserve to win her. Poor little man he has worked hard & will make her awfully happy. I heard from the Boss last night. He likes both the horses very much & seems quite happy about them. Percy just back it’s 11.30 so I’ll turn in. Best love wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 14 November
Gordon goes to the Dardanelles. Gordon arrived at about 12-30, & then we went to the train. Muz went as far as Rugby with him, & then he went on to Liverpool, & starts from there. I wrote letters, then went out for a bit. Went to meet Muz, she came back at about four, it was awfully cold. Then we sat & talked, then wrote letters, & went to bed at about eleven.
Suvla. Stayed in all morning to mind the house. Made my dug out & moved into it. Started Newfoundland making a work house. 2 court martials & a good deal of correspondence. Went out round line in the evening. Saw Hants firing 3.7.9 Saw Turkish broomstick bomb;10 first I had seen fired. Nice warm day.
- Probably The Happy Warrior, a novel by Arthur Stuart-Menteth Hutchinson (1912).⇑
- King’s Messenger ⇑
- Machine-Gun Officer ⇑
- Morris suffered from rheumatism ⇑
- Benbow’s Dog Mixture, patent medicine for dogs ⇑
- Ho! For the Briny Deep, a song composed by Ernest R. Ball with lyrics by Bartley C. Costello, 1905.⇑
- To have someone on toast = to have a person at one’s mercy or ‘where one wants him’⇑
- German shells which explode with black smoke. ⇑
- 3.7-inch trench mortar ⇑
- The Turkish Broomstick Bomb, also known as the Auntie, consisted of a 4-inch cartridge case filled with a high explosive and bits of metal such as nails, fitted to a stick about two inches thick and five feet long. It was a crude but destructive weapon owing to its almost vertical descent which made taking cover virtually impossible⇑