In early March, the 29th Division began to make its way from Egypt to France after a much-needed break from the ordeals of Gallipoli. From the Mediterranean port of Marseilles, the 29th Division made its way to the Somme department in Picardy, where it arrived troop by troop between 15 and 29 March 1916. Positioned in the British Front near the German-held village of Beaumont Hamel, the Division’s battalions began touring the trenches and training behind the lines in preparation for a large Franco-British offensive against the German position. The combined strike, which was to be known as the Somme Offensive, had been agreed upon in December 1915, and its execution was planned for the end of June. On the long voyage from Africa to Europe, the romantic predicament of his friend Gordon Elton was causing Pat pause for thought.
Monday 13 March
Stayed in bed all morning, & read. Kitty came round after lunch, & she & I went for a walk on the front, then I went to tea with Mrs Glass, & Muz met me there. Ione went to tea with the Bear-Douglas! When we came back & read for a bit, & after dinner we had a bath, & went to bed at about 11-30. Finished reading “The Grey Lady”.1
Suez. Walked round the town with G and took some photos. Got 12.15 train to Port Tawfik. Had lunch on board Miltiades.3 Then went to the Club at Port Tawfik.2 G caught 5 o’c train to Cairo. We sailed about 6 o’c.
A street scene in Port Said
Letter from Mary Isobel Ward-Jackson, Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown, [Johannesburg, South Africa] to Pat Armstrong
My dear Pat
Mary, Duke and Jack
I have such sad news for you. Your poor Jack is dead! and I have lost one of the dearest friends I ever had. My heart feels so sore, I hardly know how to tell you about it all. He seemed ill for the first time last Friday & had a huge swelling under his tummy. I sent for the vet immediately & he said it was cancer and that there was very little hope. However he gave me some ointment to rub it with, which I did & on Sunday, the swelling burst and he got instantaneous relief. On Monday morning early, as soon as the house was opened he went out & disappeared & after a good three hours search, I found him, on the veld about ¼ mile away, dead! He went away to die and I feel so bad that I was not with him. He is buried here in the garden and I think the whole household is in mourning. Yesterday, for the first time I rode without him and life seemed so dreary. It is dreadful to love a dog so much & I will never love another. Yet, I think he had a cheery life he never knew what it was to be ill and he had many a grand gallop with me over the veldt. It is good to know that these last few months he has enjoyed himself as life was very dull for him before Peter came, with no riding & these last few months, we have been tearing over the veldt together again. He smiled his cheery old smile for the last time on Sunday night although he was so weak he could hardly stand. For three long years he has been my constant companion and now I am left alone in my walks rides & drives. But I feel it is wrong to worry so much, when the whole of life is so sad just now and it will seem a small thing to you surrounded by so much awful sorrow. But I want to thank you so much for having given me so much pleasure in the having of him and I am only so sorry that I was not able to bring him to see you, as I always hoped to do, in the future. I do hope all goes well with you & that you will come out of it all safe & sound. Every good wish in the world.
M. Isobel Ward-Jackson.
Tuesday 14 March
Tom & I went down the town & did some shopping. Poppy sent us £50. After lunch I wrote letters & did some tidying, & then did some washing. Ione went into Dover with the Balds, to have tea with Mr Sutton then she dined with him at the Grand. At 4-30 Mrs Glass & Miss Irvine, Kitty & Miss MacDermit came round, & we went to the Canadian Club, & I helped with the introducing. There was quite a good crowd there. Kitty & Miss MacDermit came back afterwards, & stayed till about 7-30. We went to bed at about 10-30.
S.S. Miltiades. Got to Port Said about 7 o’c. Went on shore with T. Tried to find Townsend & Robert Paul couldn’t find either of them. Had lunch at Casino Palace Hotel. Walked about the town. Went on board about 5.30 but didn’t sail till about 10.30.
Wednesday 15 March
Went out on the Front, to see Capt Bell’s aeroplane, which came down last night. Then Muz, Kitty, Miss Mac Dearmid, Miss Blacklock & Miss Bald, Tom & I walked down to Sandgate. Captain Bell came for tea. Muz went down to the girls club. Ione went to dine with Captain Bell.
S.S. Miltiades. Glorious warm day. Wrote letters in the morning.
Thursday 16 March
Muz & Tom went up to London to the dentist, & they got back by the five train. Then Muz went round to see the Stubbses. Ione & I went down to the Y.M.C.A. in the morning. Ione went to tea with the Balds, & danced in the Grand afterwards. I went to tea with Kitty.
S. S. Miltiades. Did Swedish drill4 with Lancashire Fusiliers before breakfast.
Letter from Pat Armstrong to Mrs Armstrong, The Aberdeen Line between England, South Africa & Australia. On board S.S. Miltiades.
My dear wee Mus.
Here we are off again back to France. I’ll send you a wire when we arrive at the other end. It was no use calling to you from Port Said. I had very little time to write letters the few days I was at Suez so am making up for lost time now. I told you all there was to tell about the journey out. We had bad cabins right low down in the ship. I shared one with Macaulay in the R. E.5 who is a great friend of mine so we were quite happy but we couldn’t open the porthole so one never got any fresh air in. However the journey went very peacefully & quietly and altogether it was rather fun. We arrived at Suez on the evening of the 4th. I was then tressed on to go all through the lists of people who had been recommended for any rewards and make out a list of those who hadn’t received anything. It was an awful long job, as none of the books were up to date and it was very hard to find who had got rewards and who hadn’t. However after many days hard work and much writing I got it finished. All the time we kept on sending off regiments every day. Our horses left on the 12th and were embarked at Alexandria. I saw them going off to the train. Standen had the old goat alright. I wonder if he will get her to France. Rather fun if he does, she has got awfully tame and wanders about loose among the horses.
En route for Ismailia
G. is at a place called Fardan quite close to Ismailia. I believe his Div is coming to France in about 3 weeks’ time. He came down to Suez on the 12th that was Sunday & stayed the night with me. We embarked from Suez the next day so he stayed till about 4 o’c and went off to Cairo by the 5 o’c train. We sailed about 6 o’c. We really had rather fun. We walked about at Suez all morning then went & had lunch on board. Then went off again & spent the afternoon at the Club at Port Tawfik. He’s not looking atall well has got awfully thin and worn looking. He says that he has had interior troubles for some time now, and had been starving himself for several days before he came down to see me. He didn’t say much about Dolly. One has rather to drag it out of him. He doesn’t sort of rave about her atall. Seems shy about it. I told him that you were disappointed that it wasn’t one of the family and he said that all along he had always thought of Ione and nobody else ever seriously entered his head but when he got home he said he found that he was “quite out of that hunt” as he put it “and so went off in another direction”. It really is a pity as I feel sure now that he is much fonder of Ione than he is of Dolly. That’s not quite what I do mean but put it this way if each of them was equally fond of him he would like Ione best. But he felt that Ione was tied up with Harry & didn’t care for him. Well now he is engaged to Doll I don’t suppose he can draw back so I don’t like to say too much to him about it. I think that is why he is shy about talking about Doll to me as he feels that I’m not keen about it & would so much rather it was Ione. It’s a pity but I feel that now he’ll go through with it & that he won’t be half as happy as if he had married Ione. It is rather difficult to talk about it to him as I’m so afraid of hurting his feelings by saying too much. Well that’s about all I got out of him.
Ione and Gordon
We sailed at 6 o’c & he went off by the 5 o’c train to Cairo. It was simply glorious seeing the dear old man again. He is always just the same, one of the best in the world and loved by everybody he meets. Apparently he is doing awfully well and his General is awfully fond of him. We got to Port Said early on the morning of the 10th and were there all day cooling. We didn’t get away till 10-30 that night. T & I went on shore & walked about, got some very indifferent drawings done of ourselves & had our fortunes told by a native. Mostly rubbish too. Then we had lunch at the Palace Casino hotel then wandered about & eventually went back to the ship just before 6 o’c. At which hour the boat was due to sail. However the coal wasn’t nearly finished by then. This is an awfully comfortable ship I have got a delightful little single birth cabin all to myself and the beauty of it is it’s only about five yards from the sort of saloon place where we sit. Hardress is in one next door to me & the General has a big one to himself. T has a cabin to himself too. So we are all very comfortable. We have got 67 officers and 1253 other ranks on board, which is mostly made up by 31 officers and 704 men of the Lancashire Fusiliers. The rest consist of the gunner staff, Div Staff and 86th Bde Staff and some R.E and R.A.M.C.6 Quite a nice lot.
I don’t know a soul in the L.F.7 except Maniac [sic] who is commanding them. He is a real good fellow used to be on the IX Corps Staff at Suvla & then went back to his regt when we went to Helles. Most of the others look rather queer. T. is doing awfully well & is liked by everybody. He is an awful nice lad but it’s hard to believe that he isn’t 20 yet. One would think that he was at least 25. He is sitting quite close now reading and sends his salaams. He is awfully fond of you all and is always talking about you. I like him awfully. It’s so nice to have someone who knows you all. I am sending you two letters in a separate envelope one from Pokes & the other from Mrs Ward-Jackson. I answered them both yesterday so will you keep them for me. They are both such awfully nice letters. I am so glad that Pokes is engaged to such a really nice girl. G. knows her quite well & tells me that she is a good friend of Doll’s. He sums up my affair pretty well doesn’t he. It is really perfectly true what he says. One lives & learns & it will be a long time before I get caught like that again.
I wrote a long letter to Mrs Ward Jackson telling her all the news. I must write a line to the Duchess sometime. It is a great opportunity to write letters on board a ship. We ought to arrive at Malta to-night or early to-morrow morning and will then hear definitely if we are to go to Marseilles or Havre. I hope it’s Marseilles as I don’t look forward to going across the Bay a bit at this time of year. Best love to you dear wee Mus. I’ll wire to you as soon as I land.
Your loving Pat.
Friday 17 March
Muz & I had to be down at the Y.M.C.A. for an emergency shift at 8 o’clock, but there weren’t many people in. Ione came down at 9, Muz took my place, & stayed on till 4-30. I came back & did some shopping after lunch & took Tom to her confirmation class. Went to the hospital to see Mrs Moule, she says I have passed my exam, & it will be in the paper tomorrow. Watson has gone, he went off suddenly yesterday. Then I went to see the Stubbs & then Miss Aldridge for tea. I mended for the rest of the day. We went to bed at about 11.
Saturday 18 March
Muz, Heppie & I went & worked in the garden & dug up a lot of the weeds, it was a horrid job. After lunch Muz & I went to call on Mrs MacAvity. She, Mrs Lewis, Mrs Ritchie & Mrs Price (all Canadians) are starting a tea room. They have asked me to help. Miss Peters came for tea, & a friend of Mrs Cleghorn’s. She wants Muz to take a ward at Moore Barracks Hospital, to visit. Afterwards I went to the club, & Muz came & called for me.
S.S. Miltiades. Church at 10 a.m. Band played very well.
Sunday 19 March
Muz & I went out on the Front & met Kitty & Miss MacDermot. We talked to the Arnoldis. After lunch I did some mending, then Kitty came round & we took Presh for a walk up Cherry Gardens Avenue. Miss MacD, & Pam came too. Pam got caught up, by her dress on the hedge, & I had to rescue her! Ione stayed in bed all morning, & then went up to the Grand for tea. I did some more mending, & Kitty came round afterwards, & wet down to the club with Muz & I. Ione went up to the Grand. I put Duskey to bed very early, as she was very tired. Went to bed at about 11.
Probably The Grey Lady by Henry Seton Merriman (1895).⇑