Having inspected positions at Helles, Anzac and Suvla on 12-14 November, Lord Kitchener formally recommended the withdrawal of troops from Gallipoli to the British War Committee on 22 November 1915. For many soldiers, his decision came too late. Throughout the month, severe gales had been whipping the Peninsula, smashing landing piers and bringing in their wake relentless rain. In places, the force of water broke down barricades and turned the trenches into rivers of mud, sweeping away everything and everyone in their wake. On 27 November, the rain turned into a three-day blizzard and temperatures dropped below freezing until the end of the month. Men lucky enough not to have drowned in mud now faced death from exposure in their soaking wet clothes. Pat Armstrong and his fellow officers worked night and day to bring some relief to the sufferers but nothing they did seemed enough in the face of the disaster.
Monday 22 November
Stayed in bed all day, Muz went to the hospital instead of me. I read for a little while, & finished “The Secrets of the German War Office”.1 Muz wrote letters down stairs, & then Kitty came. Tom stayed in bed all day. Ione began to make the curtains for the room next Pat’s. Letters from Pat […] He has got a Staff Captain job with General Cayley in the 88th Brigade Staff. […] The G. Foreign minister demanded on the 10th – that Greece must disarm the Serbs & the allies troops if they were driven back into Greek territory. Otherwise her neutrality wouldn’t be respected by G. & her confederates. The entente powers also are asking for guarantees for the safety of their troops.
Suvla. Very cold wind, dull day. Went round with Percy. Met Gen Hodgson & arranged about 33rd Bde taking over posts. Some difficulty as to No. to be taken. They eventually took up to No 6 exclusive. Went up to Essex in the afternoon. Very cold. Had busy evening a lot of correspondence.
Passing the time
Tuesday 23 November
Stayed in bed all day, & read for a bit, finished “A Moment’s Error”.2 Muz went to the hospital instead of me, then she wrote letters all afternoon. Ione wet up to the Tango tea, & Tom stayed in bed all day. […]
Suvla. Cold wind & dull. A court martial reassembled over a sentence of detention which ought to have been imprisonment.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
“I wish Tony would write”
I got two letters from you on Sunday of the 31st & 1st Nov. You seem to be having dreadful weather. It has got very cold here lately but it is quite nice & fine. We have cold north winds but my leather waistcoat is great value against it. It is really the only thing that will keep out the wind. I think I told you that B’s cuffs arrived quite safely & just at the right time too. Don’t bother sending me socks as I always get them from Ordnance. I think that the grey Govt sock takes a lot of beating. If only Algie was out here he could get all sorts of staff jobs but it is impossible for me to get him anything out here when he’s at home. The ashes made me laugh. I slept on them but was weary & didn’t dream. G’s engagement is apparently pretty well known. Sinclair Thompson Bde Maj of the 86th told me he had heard all about it, he says that he knows Dolly Miller quite well & that she is awfully nice. He tells me that it has been going on for some time. I won’t write to him as you think best not but Thompson doesn’t make any sort of secret about it. It seems funny somehow to think of G being engaged. No news here atall, things are very quiet. I always seem to have lots to do & the days go very quickly. I gave Percy your address to-night & his mother is going to write to you. I suggested it to him & he thinks it’s a good idea. You could write like you & Mrs de Lisle do. I am getting my house awfully comfy now. I paved the porch to-day or rather Jack did which is a great improvement & will keep the place dry in the wet. It is just as comfortable as my old house now & the fire is a great success. I’ve had no time to read the papers now for days so I know no news. I have got 2 weekly times the last of Nov 5. I’ll read them sometime I suppose. I’m usually in till about 10 o’c then go out till about 1 then have a certain amount to do after lunch usually till about 3 then I’m out again till about 6. From then till dinner is a very busy time. Then after dinner I don’t feel much like reading. I wish Tony would write about the horses. I’m longing to hear. I suppose he is very busy these times. I had a letter from little Pilse a few days ago, he is running the Canteen out here. No more news to-night, this will go by K M3 to-morrow. I hope to get a letter from you to-morrow that came in the General’s. I am hoping that it will have my photos in it. The next lot of films you send will you get them in those little round tins & get the shop to have them properly sealed with sticking plaster & a bit of asbestos inside as a lot of the films I have now are damp & I’m afraid will be spotty. It is hard to find anything to take now I seem to have taken everything of interest. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Mrs Wilson’s address is Westbury Cottage, Guildford.
Wednesday 24 November
Went to the hospital, we were pretty busy. After lunch I did my newspapers, then Mrs Steel & Mrs Hearne came to call, & the latter stayed for tea. Gave Duskey her supper, she is looking awfully thin. Then did more papers, & went to bed at about 9-30. Ione went up to London by the 9-30. “Though Serbia’s plight is desperate, her resistance is still determined, & there are signs that the Bulgarians themselves are hard pressed.”
Suvla. Went round support trenches, found a few scandals. Abbott came up in the afternoon & I went round with him & Col Hale. C.D. trench was shelled a bit.
Thursday 25 November
Dusky in better times
Went to the hospital. We are still very full, a lot of new ones came in last night. We have got a poor boy who has lost an eye. After lunch I tidied the house, & dusted etc as Florence wanted to see the house. Kitty, Florence & Mrs Clarke came for tea, & Mrs Timmins came later. I walked home with Kitty & Florence afterwards. Duskey is very bad today, so I am going to take her to the vet tomorrow. We went to bed at about 11.
Suvla. Cold & rather Dull. Bosun [?] went round with Percy. Arranged about new water arrangements for Hants. Went down & saw the Palfrey 4 in the afternoon. Had tea at Div. Got a message about 8 o’c about collecting kit, was at it till about 1-45. Nice bright night. Expect we are off to Salonica now.
Friday 26 November
Went to the hospital. Muz had a sore throat & a head ache, so she stayed in bed, so we didn’t take Duskey to the vet. It snowed for a bit. Mme de Marotte, Miss Sitwel, Mr Monterion [?] & Mr Roberts came for tea. I didn’t go in. I took Duskey for a walk & went into Kitty. She had Mr & Mrs Williams for tea, I stayed for a bit after they left, & then I went down the town. Muz got up for tea we went to bed at about 10-30.
Suvla. The Gen told me some interesting news.5 Went round 2nd Line with Gen, Percy & CO’s.6 Fixed up water arrangements. Very busy day a lot of work in. Had to get rid of all ammunition from dump got rid of 412 boxes & about 16 thousand rounds loose. Worked till about 4 am. Hard rain from about 6 till 8. Everything absolutely swamped. Cleared up about 9 o’c & was quite nice.
Saturday 27 November
Tommy and Jess
Went to the hospital. Then after lunch Muz & I took Duskey to the vet, but he was away, but we made an appointment for tomorrow. Then we went in to Kitty, & asked her to come to tea with us at Mrs Brook’s, but she was going out with Miss Levin. Miss Walter asked us for tea, but we couldn’t go. We went to Mrs Brooke & two rather pretty cousins of hers, & Yvonne were there. At 5 we went on to the concert at the club, & then I took the stamp place for Mrs Edwards, & Muz went home with her, then I stayed for Mrs Boddam-Whetham’s shift. We went to bed at about eleven. Suvla. Dull & cold. Stayed in to mind the house. […] Court martial on 6 men of the Hants. Rained most of the afternoon & very hard in the evening. Simply dreadful. Trenches flooded men in awful state. The Gen & Percy went round in the morning. Went out in the evening to see about rations. Got a little stiff away got back about 11 o’c.
Sunday 28 November
Went to the hospital. Miss Mann didn’t come so I had all the rooms to do. Muz & Duskey came to call for me. At three Muz & I took Duskey to see Gillard. Her right leg is very stiff, so he gave her an injection for that. He said her heart was very bad, & altogether gave us rather a bad account of her. She is not to have anything to eat from 5 today till 10 tomorrow. Then we went into Kitty, & brought her back to tea. Mr Deed came too. Then Muz & Kitty went to church, & I went to the club. We went to bed at about twelve. Duskey is going to stay in the house now it is awful to see her like she is.
Suvla. Absolute hell! Snowing like mad. Men dying from cold & exposure. Gen & Percy went round trenches, which were flooded out. Worcesters & NFL having awful time. Spent most of the morning trying to get comforts for the men in trenches. Fine snow all morning. Cleared a bit after lunch but was high wind & very cold. Went round to 88th & 89th F.A.7 Men in awful state. Went out in evening & saw about rations getting up. Sent some port & champagne up to K— & D—. Windy night but clear. Got [—] of Worcesters out of C.D. trench.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
I don’t want to miss my Sunday letter to you so will just write you a short letter in spite of the fact that it’s 12 o’c. The weather is absolute hell. It’s as bad & worse than Ypres this time last year. It started to rain on Friday about 5 o’c & absolutely poured & went on till about 9 o’c. Then whole place turned into a lake & all the trenches were absolute raging torrents. Kits, rifles, blankets & everything got swamped in the mud. It cleared up about 9 o’c. I was working till 4 am that night loading ammunition. It was very cold yesterday & then in the afternoon it poured again. The Gen & Percy went round the trenches & came back absolutely drenched. I had a lot of work to do here & stayed in most of the day. I’m awfully lucky my new house is a great success & has stood the weather well. All the others leak badly.
Dugouts in the snow
Our mess was absolutely washed out on Friday & we had a meal in our cook house which is covered with a tarpaulin. This morning it snowed like mad the whole place was quite white & the wind was awful. I had to put on every bit of thick clothes in my possession & then was cold. Luckily I got a pair of gum boots out from Maxwell about a week ago which are an absolute God send. It’s a great thing to have dry feet. I feel an awful beast being so comfortable when the poor men are undergoing such terrible hardships. Numbers of them have died from exhaustion & the sick are simply awful. It’s absolutely pitiful & one can do so little for them. I rack my brains to think of something but there is so little one can do. I got them a big ration of rum to-day which will do them good & have got a number of braziers up which will help I hope. It’s freezing hard now & blowing a gale. I am very warm personally as I have just got in after going round seeing that rations got up alright. I am afraid this is a dreadful tale of woe but you may as well know the facts. It is no good trying to write you anything else when there is all this dreadful suffering going on round one. Personally I’m very fit & thank God for his goodness in keeping me so & having me living the way I am. It is a hopeless state of affairs. It’s no good being depressed, I simply go on all day arranging & planning so as to try & help the wretched men in any little way I can but one can do so little. It’s a biggish responsibility as I’m entirely responsible for all the administrative work of the Bde. Food ammunition water everything like that in fact.
I got a letter from you to-day that came by K M with (dated Nov 2) my photos in it. Quite good they are. Well wee Mus I must turn in. Don’t worry about me as I’m awfully fit & extremely lucky to be so comfortable. Mus dear I thank God for a wonderful armour he has put round me. I feel him so near to me all the time. War is a wonderful thing how near it brings you to him. I have got that little bit of paper you sent me out last year with those few little lines
Speak thou to him for he hears
And spirit with spirit can meet
Nearer is he than breathing
Nearer than hands and feet8
Wonderful lines & so true. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
PS. Send me a pair of [—] breeches & 6 refills for my Orilux lamp from Steward in Strand. P.S. Don’t mind if you don’t hear from me again for some days as I may not be able to write. Just don’t expect letters for a bit till you actually get one.
The Secrets of the German War Office by Dr Armgaard Karl Graves (1915).⇑
Probably A Moment’s Error; or, The Mystery of Mortimer Strange by Arthur Williams Marchmont (1898).⇑
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