WEEK 83: BAHUT ACCHA
Monday 24 to Sunday 30 January 1916
On 23 January 1916, Dover became the first English town to suffer a moonlight air raid when at 1 am a single German seaplane dropped nine bombs over the town, killing one man and injuring seven individuals, three of whom were children. The raid was over in just 15 minutes, giving no time for anti-aircraft guns to open fire. The event caused concern in Folkestone owing to its role as a port and its location under the flight path of attacks aimed at London. However, German air-raids were to remain sporadic and small in scale until late 1916, when a more concerted effort to break the fighting spirit of the British people was launched by the German Air Force. In Egypt, a problem with his hand prevented Pat Armstrong from writing to his mother. Correspondence does not reveal the nature of his complaint but it seems to have had its origin in a septic wound Pat had sustained in early October 1915.
Monday 24 January
Ione, Tom & Mr Gendle talked in the morning then he went away. Mr Sutton came for tea & dinner, & Ione went to the dance with him. Mrs Pak & I went up to call for them & bring them back. There was an air raid on Dover yesterday.
Suez. Went round camp. Trashed out question of latrines. A small shower of rain. Went for a ride on Melody about 3 o’c. Got rather wet. Sinclair-Thompson dined with us also Col Reid.
Tuesday 25 January
Mother went to a meeting. Muz & Mrs Pak stayed in bed for lunch, Ione in bed all day. Cousin Aubrey came to say good-bye. I went to a nursing lecture, at the St John’s ambulance rooms at eight o’clock.1
Suez. Blowing a regular gale. Dust horrible. Went down to Suez with Percy saw Romey [?] Stewart Wortley.
Letter from Captain Vaughan ‘Pokes’ Stokes to Pat Armstrong
My dear old Pat.
Well here I am a full blown Captain writing to you. I can tell you I certainly am some man these days, sure thing. I’ve finished with the signalling job thank heavens and am going to be posted as second in command to a squadron, what squadron I’m not quite sure yet but I rather think it’s B squadron with old Watkin in command. Brock who has been on that squadron is probably going to C but the Colonel is away at present and this is not for certain. It will be great serving under old Watkin again and I hope that’s how it works out. Now for the regimental news. They have had us up in the trenches again at least it’s the first time this season. Every thing has been most scientifically run this year. Each regiment in the brigade forms what is called a company, strength 300 men, then the whole brigade forms a dismounted battalion 900 strong. This is commanded by one of the colonels. So the brigade forms a battalion, the division forms a brigade and so on.
The only trouble is that the H.Q. of the dismounted Battn, as it’s called, is made up from all the H.Qs of the regiments in the Mounted Brigade. For instance when we first went up Tweedmouth of the Blues was in command of the 8th dismtd battn and he had his own adjutant & doctor, but I went as his signalling officer. Giblet went as 2nd in command and the Essex Yeo provided the Quartermaster. You can quite imagine how easily all these mixtures might not [have] sat well together and have all sorts of internal trouble. But as a matter of fact every thing went toppingly and the whole show was a sort of picnic. We were in the Vermelles sector and very nice trenches they were too. I’ve never seen such communication trenches in my life. There must have been 2000 yards of them before you got to the firing line.
The Boche was most awfully piano while we [were] up and didn’t seem to dare to open his mouth. We have got simply heaps of guns there and whenever he begins to get at all talkative all you have to do is phone back to the guns and get retaliation. The whole show is most awfully satisfactory and not the least like what it was when I was last in trenches. Our casualties have been very small luckily, I think only two killed and about 12 wounded. I expect you will have seen that poor old Buck Waterhouse was killed and so was John Kidd. Rotten bad luck wasn’t it. On the strength of my new rank I’ve got to go up there again, confound it, and relieve Bobbie Canning. What an infernal nuisance this war is, Pat. It upsets all one’s plans so, don’t it?
Well having given you a short resume of news out here, we’ll turn to more personal matters. Pat, my son, it’s all right, bohut atcha,2 as we used to say. When I went on leave, just after having written to you last, for four days I put the matter to the test. And she said yes. It’s coming off after the war, old son if all’s well and you are going to support me, don’t you forget it. Thank God I’ve found out my mistake before it was too late.3 Now I’m just about the happiest sort of fool there is in the world, only longing for this infernal war to end. She’s just too adorable for words Pat. Every body more or less knows about it now and I expect you’ll see it in the papers as soon as you get this letter. You know I never realised before that any one could have such an influence over me. I just about worship the ground she stands on. And by thunder she’s worth it, worth anything in the world. But what she sees in me, and why she cares for me when there are so many better men around, beats me. She’s just a bit of heaven. I must put the brake on or I shan’t stop this side of Christmas. Any way don’t you forget that you’ve got to come out of this show alive and be with me at the death and pay the parson and loose the ring and all sorts of damn silly things. What I’m so pleased about is that Mum is so pleased with it, she’s most awfully fond of her but then no one could help being that. Oh Lord there I am again.
Must try to get off the subject, or you’ll get fed up and chuck this drivel if you’ve got as far. Before going any further. Who in Hades is Percy Wilson – By thunder I believe I got him. Do you know I’ve been puzzling my brains for the last 2½ months as to who he could be and just as I was writing his name it flashed across me. Is he a lad that used to be in Basil’s old regiment the R.F. and who was at Kasanli with me years ago. I think it must be him. He’s a great lad if it’s him, give him my love when next you meet. Well Pat about your thing. I’m going to be absolutely candid with you. To begin with I know perfectly well that you were all right but the blame is entirely with her. Now don’t stick your jaw out and get snotty. My son you’re better away from her than married to her. This is my reason. She said she was engaged to some one else and yet she allowed you to get to care for her, and even encouraged you to hope and then when she’d got you nicely in hand calmly tells you that she cares for the other man and won’t break it off with him. To put it quite crudely she played with you. I don’t care a curse what excuses you bring up, she did not play a straight game with you at all and you’re too good a fellow for any woman to ply the fool with. I know what you’ll say, she’s so young. Well she may be young in years but from what I can gather from what you’ve told me she must know a certain amount about the world. The world is too full of trouble without that sort of thing to make one miserable. I don’t know her, Pat, but she’s played you a dirty trick and I don’t care for her. Poor old lad it must be absolute hell for you and if I put myself in your place I can just imagine what you feel. I know it’s all damn fine to say forget. But really Pat I don’t think she’s worth it.
I don’t know that I was ever very much taken with her when you talked to me about her at Sercus. But then I thought, like you that she was serious and was not playing the fool with you. I fully expect you to be up on your hind legs coughing and spitting at me like an infuriated baboon. But I don’t care old son so you can save your wind. I tell you I’ve used a friend’s privilege, to speak out. You are worth a better girl than that for I feel as certain as I’ve got a pencil in my hand now that her nature is as shallow as a muddy duck pond. Pat, if they really care there’s never any doubt, they’ll go the whole hog or none at all, at least the right sort will.
Oh Lord I wish I had you here to tell you every thing, one can’t put it down on paper somehow. It’s all so awfully clear to me. Poor old Lad I’m most awfully sorry it should have come out like this, specially as I’m so happy myself and want every one else to be the same. Shake her out of your mind Pat old Lad. This world is an infernally upside down place but I firmly believe that every thing happens with an object though perhaps we don’t just see what the object is for the moment.
Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays;
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
and one by one back in the closet lays.4
Good hunting, my son
Wednesday 26 January
Ione in bed all day, Mrs Pak stayed in bed for breakfast. Tom & we [sic] went to tea with Mrs Dashwood, Kitty & Mrs Phillips were there too, & some children.
Thursday 27 January
Tom went down the town with Mrs Pak. After lunch we played & danced, & Mr Sutton came for tea, & he came back after dinner, & he & Ione went up to the Grand & danced. Letter from Pat to say that he had been recommended for a Military Cross, but this is a second one. Zooie & Uncle Jimmy came back by the eight train, from their honeymoon.
Dear Mrs Armstrong.
I am writing a line to tell you about young Pat! He’s in great form & looking the picture of health. It’s perfectly absurd as this is just the time when the leave question is looming, that he should be looking frail & war worn to get all the sympathies possible when he gets home. As a matter of fact he’s been a little seedy for a couple of days but is all right again. Just a little old fashioned. I told him it was only overeating! He’s done his job splendidly & gets on splendidly with the General, & it does make such a difference if one is a sort of happy family. I’m quite sure Pat & I keep him young, as we always laugh about things – There is a great many too many sad things in the world at present without making anymore. Of course losing Pat to go as G.S.O. 3 has quite spoilt my war as it will be so different when he’s gone. We shall probably get some stodgy individual with whom one has no interests in common.
We are busy resting & reorganising & I think most of us are very glad to have seen the last of Gallipoli safely. This question of leave is splendid. I don’t know when Pat will get home. Presumably I shall get home I hope about a month’s time when the General comes back. I must apologise for this paper but I’ve come to the end of mine & this belongs to Pat! I don’t know what the General will do without Pat as he’s delighted with him. Pat & I both thought that our combined efforts would stop the war & at any rate this Brigade’s5 share in it but even that has failed to stop it. The past year has been very trying as one has lost practically all one’s pals & I’m afraid this year will be worse – except that one somehow feels that it can’t go on for ever & that the end of the year will see us all leading ordinary lives again. I wanted to take this opportunity of getting Pat taught a little infantry drill & taught how to walk like a soldier! He was very rude about it & made some very pointed remarks about my figure on a horse! You can’t imagine how nice it is to be away from anything like a trench & the men are really beginning to look like soldiers again. I hope Pat will go from G.S.O 3 to Brigade Major & he ought to do very well, as it’s a most interesting job, & he would do it thoroughly.
Friday 28 January
I was up at five, to light the stove to get the water hot. Uncle Jimmy left at 10, Ione took Zooie & him down to the boat. They didn’t get back till about 12-30. I tidied my room & put the felt under the carpet, & tacked it. After lunch we talked for a bit, then Zooie went to bed, as she was awfully tired. I went out, & went round to Kitty, they were going to tea with the Lucases, & they came here afterwards. Zooie & Mrs Pak had dinner in the ballroom, & Muz had hers in bed, as she was very tired. Then I put Zooie & Mrs Pak to bed, & went to bed at about 11-30.
Saturday 29 January
Kitty came round & I went out with her. Pat is in the paper this morning, as being “mentioned in despatches”. This is the second time, which is lovely. At about three we went in the car, & called for Mrs Adams, she is wife of General Adams, we went off to Dover, to have tea with Mr Sutton on the “Aragont”,6 then some of them went on the submarine. Zooie & Mrs Pak loved it. Then we had a lovely drive back in the dark. Heppie & Tom went to the club instead of me. Then I wrote letters, & we went to bed at about 11-30. Ione went to the dance at the Grand.
Sunday 30 January
Muz, Zooie & I went to church, then went out on the Front afterwards. Kitty came & walked about with us, then we went back to see the babies. After lunch Mr Sutton came in. Muz, Zooie & Mrs Pak went to do calls then people came here for tea, & I went to Kitty. We played with the children, & did transfers, then Ione & Mrs Sutton came & called for me; then I got the dinner ready & Mr Sutton stayed, then he & Ione went up to the Grand to dance. Muz, Zooie, Mrs Pak & Tom went to the club. I wrote letters, & we went to bed at about 11.
- The St John Ambulance brigade gave a lecture on ‘Home Nursing for Ladies’ at its headquarters on Dover Road, Folkestone, on Tuesday 25 January 1916⇑
- (Hindi) bahut accha, very good ⇑
- This is a reference to a previous relationship Pokes had broken off ⇑
- From Rubáiyát of Khayyám, Stanza XLIX, translated by Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883).⇑
- The 88th Brigade of the 29th Division ⇑
- She may mean HMT Aragon, a transatlantic Royal Mail Ship that served as a Troop Ship in the First World War. Built in Ireland in 1905, she was Britain’s first defensively-armed merchant ship.⇑