WEEK 75: THAT OLD GOMBEEN OF A SON OF YOURS
Monday 29 November to Sunday 5 December 1915
The return of milder weather brought an end to the indescribable hardship caused by three days of relentless snow and rain in Gallipoli. As Staff Captain, Pat Armstrong was kept working night and day in an effort to save lives and to establish a semblance of normality. The physical turmoil was made worse by personal emotional upheaval when devastating news from Blanchie dashed the romantic hopes Pat had entertained during his long absence from home. He found comfort in the arrival in the Dardanelles of his closest friend, Gordon Elton. However, Gordon, although engaged to be married, had a sad secret of his own. In Folkestone, Jess Armstrong was kept busy at the Manor House Hospital. The rapidly deteriorating condition of the much loved Duskey the Great Dane cast a sad gloom on life at Grimston Gardens and caused great concern to the family.
Monday 29 November
Muz & I took Duskey round to Gillard at ten, & he gave her a dose, then we took her for a wee walk, & then she stayed in the smoking room all day. I stayed with her all the time, so didn’t go to the hospital. It rained hard all day. She felt very miserable all day, & it was so cold. I stayed in my nurse’s clothes till very late, as I couldn’t leave her to go up & change. She had bread & milk for supper, & slept in her house. We went to bed at about eleven. Muz has rather a cold & headache.
Suvla. Cold but dry. Men cheering up a good bit. Gen de Lisle & Cayley went round trenches. Percy & I were told to hang about here. Hants had to take over posts from Lancaster Fusiliers.1 Went out in the evening & saw Worcesters rations up. Rather difficult to get along trenches. Blockhouse2 quite snug. Falkner very bad at Wor Hd Qrs. Got back about 1 o’c. Percy went out at 3 a.m.
Tuesday 30 November
I didn’t go to the hospital, as I wanted to stay with Duskey all day. Muz went instead of me, & Duskey & I went to meet her. After lunch Muz & I went to call on Mrs Marriot, but she was out, but we talked to him on the way back. Then we went to call for Kitty & brought her back for tea. Two men from Hythe came too, & afterwards we went up to the Tango tea, but didn’t dance. Then we went up to Mme de Marotte’s room & played about. […]
Suvla. Cold but nice bright sun. An absolute God send to the men. Stayed in most of the morning. Percy went round to 86th Bde to fix up about Hants strengthening posts. Gen de Lisle came in about 11 o’c. Trouble about telescope rifles. Walked out to C. C east in the evening with Percy. A very quiet night hard frost.
Wednesday 1 December
Went to the hospital. 15 stretcher cases were suddenly brought in, so we had an awful rush getting ready. We are each to keep our own rooms now, & I have got Ward 3, it is much nicer. Muz & Duskey came to meet me. After lunch I lay down for a bit, then Muz & I went to tea with Mrs Williams. Mrs Dashwood was there too. Afterwards we went up to the Grand with a note. After dinner I carried up hot water for Muz’s bath, & we had a lovely one, Ione got in too, she had been in London for the day. We went to bed at about 11-30.
Suvla. Some frost at night nice, bright sunny day. Went all round firing line with Cpt Davies. A good deal of water still in the trenches. Got back rather late. Went out down CC in the evening with Percy got away a good deal of arms & equipment.
Thursday 2 December
Went to the hospital. We got one unexpected stretcher case in 3. I helped Miss Lawson to wash him, & cut his nails etc. We didn’t get away till very late, Duskey came to meet me. Muz & Kitty had been, but didn’t wait. After lunch Muz, Kitty & I went down the town & home by the front, Duskey came too, then we went back to tea with her, & stayed till about 4-30. The children came down & we played with them, they are awfully sweet. Gave Dus her supper, we went to bed at about 10. Tom went to bed as she wasn’t feeling very well. Letter from Pat dated 16th. He is with his new brigade now. Heppie covered one of the chairs on the top landing last night, it looks awfully nice.
Suvla. Quite a nice day a good deal milder. Went to C.R.E dump with Staff Capt 86 and sorted ammunition. Had rather a long morning with papers. Went down to try & see dentist about 3 o’c but he was out. Went to Div. Met the Gen & afterwards Gen Byng who had been up inspecting the Bdes. G came to dine. Drafts came up for the Hants & Worcesters.
Friday 3 December
Went to the hospital. I scrubbed some of the Ward 7, & then Florence helped me with the luncheons. Mrs Lindsay Scott & another woman came to call, I didn’t go down. The two Hythe men came here to tea with Ione, then on to the Tango tea. Muz & I went to see Kitty, & I played with the children in the nursery; then we went to tea with Florence & Mary. Mrs Green was there too. We stayed till about seven, then I gave Duskey her supper. Wrote letters, & congratulated Peter, she is engaged to Allan Webb. Went to bed at about 10-30.
My dear wee Mus.
I’ve been so busy this week that I really haven’t had a moment to write. We had a pretty strenuous time of it. The weather was simply dreadful. Came down in an absolute flood for two nights & the trenches turned into rivers. The men had a dreadful time of it. On top of the rain we had two or three days frost which helped to dry things up a bit. I wrote you rather a depressed letter on Sunday I’m afraid but I must say that the things did look pretty gloomy. Since the 26th the Worcesters have had 6 men die from exposure, which gives you some idea of what things were like. I’ll just copy my diary for you from the 25th.
25 Cold & dull. I went down & saw the poor Palfrey who had been wounded in the elbow joint & has since been destroyed. He had a dreadful looking wound. There was very little hope of saving him particularly as he was in the hands of a bad vet. I had tea with the Div on the way back & when I got back got orders to do some work which kept me busy till about 2 am next morning. It was a glorious night which was a great thing.
Nov 26. A lovely bright morning. […] It started an absolute deluge about 6 o’c & went on till about 8.30 or 9 o’c making the whole place an absolute flood. It then cleared off & was quite a nice night. I got a lot of work done.
Nov 27. Dull & cold. The whole place was like a bog. We had a court martial on some men of the Hants for sleeping on their posts which took all morning & most of the afternoon. I had to hang about all morning to mind the house while the Gen & Percy were out. It started to rain in the afternoon & then came down on an absolute deluge. The trenches were all flooded & the men in a dreadful state. The 86th Bde was absolutely washed out. They had men drowned & dying from cold & exposure. The Worcesters & Newfoundlandswere almost as bad. I had an awful job to get rations up to them as the mud was so deep & the roads so slippery that the mules could hardly get along. However after some trouble we managed to get them fed alright. I was lucky & managed to get everybody settled by about 11 o’c & mighty glad I was to lie down for a bit.
Sunday 28. Was absolute hell no other words for it. It was bitterly cold & snow was falling & lying on the ground in sort of brown frozen liquid. Just like Ypres last year. The poor men by then were in an awful state. Things looked really desperate. I spent all morning trying to get comforts for the men, rum blankets shirts socks & anything I could think of. We all worked our best but could do so little for the poor devils. I went round the dressing stations in the afternoon, that was absolutely ghastly, men were in a dreadful state of exhaustion. One saw big fine men crying like babies from cold exposure & exhaustion. It was really pitiful. Everything was wet & it was hard to find a dry spot to put the poor devils. I never want to see the sights I saw that day again. It was far worse than any battle. There one sees men all blown to bits but I don’t think it’s as bad as seeing men absolutely collapsed from pure exhaustion. It cleared up a bit that night but the wind would cut you in half. I had a baddish job getting rations up but we got them fed alright. I found one poor devil of the Worcesters in a communication trench who couldn’t move. He had several of the Londons round him. Miserable devils they were too weak to carry him & hadn’t enough gumption to move him. The fellow was in a sort of dug out & I had an awful job to get him out & when I did I had a job to get him onto my back. I knelt down & he managed to sort of flop onto my back he was a great big fellow with a big coat on all soaked with water & when I got him onto my back it was all I would do to get up with him. I eventually did get up & then had to stagger along through mud nearly up to my knees with him for about 80 yards. However I eventually got him out & then got a doctor for him, but it was a trying performance.
Nov 29 Gen de Lisle & Cayley went round the trenches. Percy & I were told to stay here. 86th Bde were absolutely beat & we had to take over their line, such as it was. As a matter of fact we could only hold it with posts. We were very busy all day arranging bout taking over the posts. In the evening I went up round the line or at least part of it & got back about 1 o’c. Percy started about 3 am & went round the right of it. I’d done the left.
Nov 30. Was a nice bright day. A good deal of frost at night but we had a nice hot sun all day. An absolute God send to the men. I was in most of the morning keeping the house as a matter of fact I had a lot of work to do. We had to send some more men up to reinforce the right of the line, things had dried up a good bit & it was possible to hold more of the trenches. We had a very quiet night & a hard frost.
Dec 1 Things began to look up a bit. It was a nice sunny day. I went all round our line & the men had cheered up a good bit. Their spirits really are wonderful. They were beginning to get their clothes dry but their poor feet had suffered terribly. A tremendous lot had gone sick.
Dec 2. Quite a nice day a good deal milder. I spent most of the morning sorting ammunition. In fact I was pretty busy as I had an awful lot of correspondence. A lot of writing & several knocking problems to answer. I tried to find a dentist in the afternoon as I had broken a couple of teeth but couldn’t find him. Percy discovered that G was here so I got onto the telephone to him & got him to come to dine. Grand it was seeing him again. I like the look of the girl awfully. She looks a real good sort from her photos. He is Bde Maj of the 33rd Bde just on our left so I hope to see a good deal of him. […] I am awfully glad he has got a real good job like that. I’m sure he will do it awfully well. […] I was talking to Abbott on the telephone to-night & he told me that the Gen had heard from Ted Miller who had seen a man who had been in Berlin all the war & had just got away. He said that things were very bad there. Shortage of food light & fuel & that everything there was in a bad state. Fuller heard from his wife that Sweden was probably coming in against Russia. That will make rather a mess won’t it […] Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Saturday 4 December
Went to the hospital. Muz & Ione went up to London by the 9-30, & lunched with Maggy Proby, & went to tea with Mrs de Lisle. She says the General is awfully lonely without Pat. Went down to the club early & heard some of the concert. I brought down a bundle of magazines that I got at the hospital. I got back at about ten. They came back by the late train, they had had a very nice day. Went to bed at about eleven.
Suvla. Met Alexander at 10 o’c in C.D. Went round his line. Caused some offence by calling N.F.L.D. Cod catchers. Got a mail. Had letter from B with a definite No. Heard from Pokes. Went round & saw G in the afternoon he was very busy.
My dear wee Mus.
I have been thinking over things a lot lately & have come to the conclusion that it wasn’t right to go on in the way things were going with Blanchie. I felt that something ought to be decided either one way or the other. It wasn’t fair on either her or me. So I wrote and asked her quite candidly if she had made up her mind & to-day have got the enclosed back from her. It is a hard knock a devilish hard knock but I feel it’s better to have things straight now instead of perhaps one day when I do get home being told it then. One would go home full of hopes only to have them dashed to the ground. Now I can bear it. It’s a hard knock but I’ve got my work to interest me & to keep me from thinking & I don’t mean to be knock out by it. It is what I have really half expected all along so it hasn’t come as great a shock as if it had gone on much longer. I know she’s fond of me in a way but I now realise that it would never be the real thing. […] I will pack this up to-morrow with all her letters & photos & send them off to you. Then I’ll feel better. I must turn in now for a bit. Best love dear wee Mus. I do hope you will think I have done the right & square thing & not thrown away my chances unnecessarily but now the Rubicon is crossed & there is no turning back.
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 5 December
Went to the hospital, & got back rather late. After lunch Kitty came round, & Tom & Pam went to church, & Kitty & I took Rosemary for a walk, & I wheeled the pram, we took her to see chickens in Coolinge Lane. Then we left her home, & Kitty, Pam, & Clem came for tea. Muz went to Mrs Blake. Then Tom & I left them back, & went down to Muz with a coat as it was pelting, we went in for a few minutes. Then I went to the club, it was quite full, & I got back at about ten. We went to bed at about twelve.
My dear wee Mus.
I hope this will arrive in time to wish you all a very happy Xmas. I am sending you a cheque for £10 as an Xmas present. £5 for yourself & the other £5 to be divided between the three wee girls. Will you buy some wee thing for Miss Heppie for me & wish her a very happy Xmas. […] I am glad you are getting lots of plants from Moyaliffe it will be nice to get the garden all fixed up. I’m so glad you are getting it made into a garden & not a tennis court. I am glad you liked Dolly. I had a long talk to G about her yesterday. He says that the only thing that worries him is that you don’t entirely approve & would much rather it was Ione. I quite agreed & only wish it was. You know I believe in a sort of way he is fonder of her than Dolly. He looks on Ione & Jess absolutely as sisters. I am afraid what’s done is done but as you say I’ll live in hopes. He doesn’t think Ione cares for him. I believe she would if Harry wasn’t on the scene. I believe she is really much fonder of G than of Harry. Well it’s not good discussing these matters now & we will have to wait & see.
[…] How funny it is your knowing that I was going to get a job even before my letter came to you. I’d been wanting something for some time. I sort of felt I was wasting time & opportunities jogging along as A.D.C. Of course it was a delightful cushy job & all that sort of thing but this is quite different one feels that one really is doing a job of work. I shall never regret not going back to the Regt as I would never have got a job like this from it. It is wonderful wee Mus the way you foresee things & were so insistent on my not going back. Then I should have been all this time doing second in command of a Squadron & really doing d— all. I hope that in time this may lead on to a Bde Major. I wish I could get promoted it would make all the difference I’m afraid I’d never get that till I was a Captain. There is only Pokes above me now so really we both might get promoted any day.
[…] I will write & congratulate Zoo I haven’t had time yet.3 It’s sad for poor old Christy I wish he would marry somebody nice. If only he could meet somebody nice but he meets so awfully few new women. They like servants seem to be getting extinct!! Alec Godley is over at Anzac. Chief of the Staff of a Div I think. I don’t suppose I will ever see him as it’s an awful job to get there. One gets shot at if you ride there & are quite likely to have a maxim turned on you. The Gen & Hardress rode over there one day & got sniped a bit. Nearly everybody goes by trawler. I couldn’t get away from here in any case there is too much work to do. It is difficult even to get over to see G & he’s only about half a mile away.
[…] Sure ’t was meself sent you them old books thinking your ladyship might like them to be whiling away the dark evenings with. Sure ‘tis grand print they have & won’t be spoiling the eyesight of ye. ‘T was cruel decent of me now thinking of them now wasn’t it? ‘T was the surprise I gave you entirely & you wondering who the grand young man was that sent them to ye & sure all the time it was that old gombeen of a son of yours!!!
[…] Don’t send me anything bulky as I want to keep my kit small. What I do want badly is a wrist watch. Hardress took mine to Athens go get it mended & I doubt if I ever get it back. I wrote to Lady Elliott about it & she may get it for me. But I’m not very hopeful about it. I have now only got one watch the one you gave me years ago. Do you remember buying it at Harrods for me when I went to Sandhurst. It is still going strong. But I want to have a second in case anything goes wrong with it. It’s grand you are sending me plumb puddings & mince pies. Is 7 lbs all you are able to send by post. I’m sure that Harrods parcels weight far more than that.
I had a long letter from Pokes yesterday. He has broken off that engagement. Odd you always said he would. Well now he has done it. I will tell you more about it some other time. I sent you off a parcel of letters & photos of B to-day, every letter I have had from her in the last year. I feel relieved now they have gone off. It’s no good brooding over these things & I’ve half expected it all along. What I feel is that it’s probably all for the best. The way things were going on wasn’t straight. I felt all the time that she was probably writing the same sort of letters to the other man. Well now it’s all ended & she’s made her choice for better or for worse. Who knows? I have made up my mind anyhow not to worry about it. I feel sure I could have been happy with her but the fates have willed it otherwise. Perhaps we may be able to be friends one day but for the present I feel it’s better to cut right adrift from her. It is no good doing the thing by halves. […] Best love dear wee Mus. All my very best wishes to you all for Xmas.
Your loving Pat.
Enclosed from Hardress may make you laugh.