Christmas 1915 was a far cry from its predecessor. The increasing savagery of the war had left soldiers on both sides of the conflict disinclined to repeat the truce of 1914. For Pat Armstrong, the evacuation of Gallipoli meant a flurry of activity in the midst of which Christmas was all but forgotten. It was with a longing heart that he sat down on Christmas Day to write to his mother. For Pat’s family, who had entertained high hopes of seeing him home for Christmas, his absence was a bitter disappointment. In spite of this, the holiday season was not to be without its cheer as Jess Armstrong and her mother were about to find out.
Monday 20 December
Ione & I came up to London by the 8-30, & shopped all day. Then we sat at the Carlton at tea time, for about an hour, then came down here by the seven, but didn’t get here till very late. We talked in Muz’s room till nearly two.
Got away about 4.30. Had a good night. Saw G in morning. Landed at Imbros about 12 o’c. Got up to camp about 1.30. Food nothing prepared, very few tents, everything very badly arranged. G came & saw us in the afternoon. Went & saw Transport Office found out about supplies.
Tuesday 21 December
Ione & I stayed in bed till very late. Then I went down to the club. Then Miss Sitwel, Mr Gendle, Mr Montarion [?] & a friend of his, came for tea & we went up to the Tango tea & danced. Then we went up to see Mme de Marotte, but she wasn’t dressed. Mr Gendle [?] came back here & played. I got Algie’s luggage ready to go off then Muz & I went & dined with Kitty, & came back at about 10-30.
K Beach, Imbros
Imbros. Had long lie. Went down with Mac & bought some cups etc. Got absolutely soaked. Went down to Corps to try & get some shelter for the men. Everything very difficult. Hants moved down to near K. Beach. Got some tents in afternoon. Walked down to see [—] with Percy. Got some blankets. Hard rain about 7 o’c.
Wednesday 22 December
Went to the hospital. All Ward II is empty now, as a Canadian Sister is coming to take it instead of Sister D’Armes. I tidied it up, & washed blinds etc, & then helped Florence with the 1st floor luncheons. After lunch I wrote letters, & Muz went to the Club to Miss Walter’s shift, & I went to tea with Kitty & came back at about 7-30. Mr Gendle & Capt Spooner came to tea with Ione. We went to bed at about eleven.
Imbros. Went down & got some dry clothes from the Ordnance. Got orders to go to Helles. Started embarking at 2 o’c. Eventually left about 9 o’c. Got to Helles about 11.30. Very glad to be away from 11th Div. Had an awful job getting kits off & on to boats. Abbott met us & gave us all possible help.
Thursday 23 December
Went to the hospital. I helped on the 1st floor, as Ward II is empty now. Miss Lewis & I did out ward 8, as that is empty now too.
Helles. Arrived about 11.30. Got troops away. Spent very busy night loading forks [?] etc. Percy & I had a short sleep on some sand bags. Had breakfast at Div Hd Qrs. Then went up to see the Battns with the General. Got into our Hd Qrs in time for lunch. Was out again in afternoon trying to get Rgts comfortably settled.
Friday 24 December
Went to the hospital, & I was in ward 5 helping Miss Swaby. There wasn’t very much to do, as it is such a small ward.
Helles. Went out in morning with Percy who was rather lame. Went round all Battns then on to 87th Bde. Got a turkey from them. […]
Saturday 25 December
Went to the hospital, I was in Ward 5. We had great fun, & when we had done the ward, we ragged about. After lunch we opened stockings, then we went round to the hospital for the concert & Xmas tree, & talked to them all, then we went to Kitty, to see her tree. Then we flew down to the club, Heppie & Tom came too, it was the greatest fun, & they all sang songs, & it was awfully cheery. They were all so nice about coming up & thanking us. We went to bed at about 12-30. It was a lovely day, & we were busy the whole time. Pat sent me a pair of Turkish wire cutters, & he sent a coat back, so it rather makes Muz’s dream night
Christmas Day at Manor House Hospital
Glorious sunny windless day. Went round all Battns. Got back about 11.30. Wrote letters all afternoon. 700 of the Bde arrived from Mudros. H— & I went down to meet them. They were due to arrive at 9.30 but were very late, & slow getting off. Got back about 2.30. Nice night but cold waiting about.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong
My dear wee Mus.
“Worked out conundrums”
A very happy Xmas to you & may we all be together next year. It’s horrid being away from you all at Xmas but this is such a glorious sunny day that it makes up for a lot. I am afraid that I haven’t written to you for ages but I just haven’t been able to. Now I’ll tell you why I couldn’t before. Well on the 25th of November it was decided to evacuate Suvla & then started hell’s delight. We were at it day & night getting rid of stores ammunition bombs and a hundred and one other things. In fact we were at work all day and most of the night as well. Well on the 26th the storm came which put things out a lot. All evacuating had to stop & we were doing all we could for the wretched men. Well as soon as the weather got any way decent we got busy again. It was wonderful what a lot of work there was to be done. Everything had to be got away by night so it meant very little sleep for a good many nights. Then all the plans had to be worked out most carefully. Percy was rather seedy for a few days which was rather hard on him. I was so busy that I missed writing up my diary which now makes it very hard to remember what happened each day. All the last few days now seem to a blur as there wasn’t much difference between night and day.
On Thursday afternoon we moved our Hd Qrs back about ½ mile. That night I was very busy getting all the men’s packs away & spent most of the night watching carts being loaded. I was very sad at leaving my little house which I had made so comfortable. On Friday Curling came up, he Percy & I had a very busy morning working out embarkation tables, times when the men should leave the trenches numbers to go on each embarkation & all sorts of odds and ends of detail. In the afternoon I went round and saw all the Battns & told them about various little things which I had arranged such as how much ammunition bombs etc they were to keep. That evening we got rid of all our trench boots caps etc. The Div Hd Qrs went away that night & we came under the 11th Div at 5 o’c. Curling was left with them to work between us & them. Hardress took all my kit for me & I only just kept a change of under clothes and a blanket so as to be very light. On Saturday I stayed in with Percy & worked out conundrums about numbers etc. The General went all round the line. That afternoon I went down to the Beach & saw Gen Perceval who was running the embarkation & told him the numbers we were sending away that night. We got about 1200 men from the Bde away that night, they met me at a place on the Beach then we put them on boats and packed them off. Everything went awfully well and the Turks never put a shell near us. I got back that night about 12 o’c.
Preparing for evacuation
On Sunday morning Percy & I stayed in making final arrangements, there was a good deal of work to be done one way and another. Then in the afternoon I went round and saw G who as you know was quite close to us. That evening we got a remainder of the Brigade off. The first lot of 400 got on board at 7.15. The next 400 met me at Y1 at 9.45 and got away without any hold, as a matter of [fact] most of that party were on board by the scheduled time for forming up. The third party of 270 men met me at Y at 18.15 and went off. Then we only had 40 men a Battn in the firing line they left the firing line at 1.30 & were supposed to be at Y at 2.30 but as a matter of fact didn’t get there till about 3 o’c. We all eventually got off about 4.30. Perfectly marvellous it was. Not a single shot was fired and the Turks knew absolutely nothing about it. We sailed about 5 am & went to Imbros. We hung about there in the harbour till about 11 o’c & we then disembarked & dumped down in a beastly camp with only about 20 tents for the whole Bde. We were there under the 11th Div who looked after us awfully badly. On Tuesday I went off to arrange about various things & to try & buy some supplies for ourselves. The rain came down suddenly in buckets & I got soaked through for my trouble rather a bore as I had no other clothes. I had a few shirts & vests but no day clothes. However I eventually got them dry. The rain cleared off that night & we had quite a fair night. I saw quite a lot of G. as he came away from Suvla on the same boat & was camped next to us.
The next day Wednesday was quite a nice day. I went off down to Ordnance & bought some socks trousers and a new coat. A very good coat too. A bit loose round the centre peace but otherwise an excellent fit. My poor old coat was quite done in. It was almost too disreputable to wear. So now I’m going to pack it up & send it home. It will be quite a trophy having done both the retreat & the evacuation of Suvla. About 11 o’c that day we got orders to come over here 2so we had to get things under way and eventually got away about 9.30. I met G & he came & talked to us for a bit before we went off. We had the devils over night, luckily I got an hour’s sleep on the boat as I was up all night getting off baggage & men. Percy & I eventually rolled up at Div Hd Qrs about 7 o’c & got them to give us some breakfast. After that we went round all the Battns. Then about 12 o’c we got into our own Hd Qrs, we were awfully lucky & have got quite a nice little place. Percy & I were both out again all afternoon seeing Rgts & getting them comfortably fixed up. On Friday Percy & I went round Battns then I went on & saw the 87th Bde & got a turkey out of them for Xmas. In the afternoon I was very busy settling about getting tarpaulins for the Battns. I was up till about 1 o’c that night trying to get extra rations etc for the Battns, they did us awfully badly. All the men got for their Xmas dinner was ½ lb of Xmas pudding. They got about a half ration of bread & a little fresh meat, in fact just their ordinary rations. Rather a shame wasn’t it. I think that some little trouble might have been taken. They didn’t even get us our mail. I hear that there are about 30 thousand bags of mail at Mudros but they won’t send them on. The last letter I got from you was dated Nov 25. I have got three letters from you since I came here, one of the 12th, 16th & 25th November. I started this letter to you on Xmas day it’s now the 28th & I haven’t finished it. I never seem to have a minute to write to you in. As soon as I sit down to write I’m always either besieged by a lot of papers or else I’m called up on the telephone. Neither seem to help letter writing much.
Xmas day was a glorious fine sunny day but otherwise it was most unlike Xmas. I went all round the Battns in the morning but the only thing one could wish them that next year we would have a better one. How I longed to be at home with you all. But I hope I will be next year. That night Howard de Walden & I were down on the Beach loading 700 men of the Bde till about 2.30. It was slow work & rather cold hanging about. However we eventually got them all off safely. A Turkish aeroplane on its way home spotted one of the columns marching up to camp & proceeded to drop bombs on it. Luckily however it made bad shots & no harm was done. They are nasty noisy things and rather alarming as one doesn’t know where the next one is going to fall. Thank you ever so much dear wee Mus for a delightful eider down quilt which arrived the day before Xmas. A lovely Xmas present & so useful. It will keep me grand and warm in the cold weather. Thank you ever so much for it. I must post this now or I’ll miss the post & then it will be another day’s delay. I asked G to wire to you from Imbros to tell you where I was going. Best love dear wee Mus.
Your loving Pat.
Sunday 26 December
Went to the hospital, I went down to Ward I & took Miss Curzon-Smith’s place, while she is sick. It is an awfully nice ward, as I am alone there with Sister O’Neill, so I am nurse now. There are six men, Watson, Ward, Cranford, Enright, Meek, & Muneen. It is awfully nice having it all to myself.
Helles. Nice fine day. Went round Battns in the morning. Went & saw Hardress in the afternoon & then went down to the supply depot. 400 men were due to land at 9.30. Howard & I went down to beach & waited there till about 12.30 but owing to the swell we couldn’t get them off.