Just after sunrise on 20 January 1918, in what was to become known as the Battle of Imbros, two fast and heavily armed Ottoman vessels appeared outside the Dardanelles Straits and opened fire on four British Royal Navy ships at anchor off the island of Imbros. The attackers, named Midilli and Yavûz Sultân Selîm, were the pride of the Ottoman fleet. Originally launched in Germany in 1911 as SMS Breslau and SMS Goeben, they had been transferred to the Ottoman Empire in August 1914 as an enticement for the Turks to enter the First World War and to side with the Central Powers. On this fateful day, the two swift and powerful cruisers fired mercilessly at the small flotilla, sinking HMS Raglan and the M28, leaving well over a hundred men dead. The ships then changed course and proceeded towards Lemnos to assault the British naval base in the port of Mudros. However, the two British destroyers, HMS Tigress and HMS Lizard, which had survived the attack, pursued the Turkish warships and drove them into a minefield. Here, Midilli sank with most of its crew while Yavûz was forced to beach to avoid a similar fate. It was to be a strategic victory for the Allies and one which considerably reduced the threat of the Ottoman Navy for the rest of the war.
Monday 14 January
We stayed in bed till nearly lunch time! Ione came in on her way back from the hospital, & then we thought that she was going to dance so we went off & shopped, & didn’t come in till after six, & found she had been waiting for us. After dinner we went to see Kathleen K. at her hotel, & say good-bye, but she was out. We left her a big bottle of methylated spirits, as it can only be got at Folkestone & we brought it up the other day, for her.
I have received three letters from you since about the middle of Dec, & I do not know how to thank you for I have not answered one of them until now. I have put off writing to you, again, & again; for just one reason, that I have been trying to get over to the 86th Bde to find out about Pte Hurley. It’s a poor excuse, as I could have written before, & explained, as we have been scattered over a wide area, & I have been unable to get the time off, to go over to them, & it will probably be another few days before I can do so.
I thank you very much for the pipe & tobacco you sent me for Xmas, did you know that I was badly wanting a pipe? for I had lost mine, & we were billeted round country villages, where one cannot buy those little treasures; so you can imagine my delight when the pipe loomed up. It was as if Father Christmas had dropped it down the chimney for me. I must also thank you for all the good wishes you sent for 1918; please accept the same from me; I wish you everything that is good.
Although we were right in the country, we had some very good billets, our houses were made comfortable with plenty of straw, & three pals & myself, had the bakehouse with an old open hearth, at our disposal, & also a room to sleep in, & considered ourselves very lucky to be out of the line for Xmas. We cooked our own Xmas dinner, (I must tell you all this,) we boiled a piece of beef in with some sweeds [sic], carrots, & onions, & also put some dumplings in with it, & about twenty minutes before the time appointed, for declaring war on it, we crashed a few spuds in, & then, up came our Xmas dinner, I wish you could have seen the doings, it looked as if it was too much for two, & not enough for one. We put ourselves outside of the biggest part of it, & were well satisfied, with the cooking, & argued a little as to who was the chef. In the evening we had a good old Christmas log on the fire hearth, & with a drop of wine, we sat & jawed until midnight, we thought of the bhoys [sic] in the trenches, & were very happy & lucky too, to be sitting indoors, round a fire, instead of out in the snow & so ended our Christmas Day.
Christmas in the trenches
16th Jan. I am ever so pleased to hear about Wipers, it is what I expected, although I did not think that Duskie would agree with her. I do hope you will not have to part with her, since she shows so much affection for you, I know it is difficult to get food for two big dogs like that, at these times, but I am sure you will try & manage if at all possible. I saw Melody1 yesterday, she is looking jolly fit; Geisha2 is still with the 86th Bde. I do not know who has her now, as Capt. Dearden was wounded, at the last battle. I shall try & get over to the 86th this afternoon & see what I can find out about Pte Hurley, & I shall go & see Geisha; Capt. McConnell of the 20th Hussars that I was with, & who was wounded in this last battle, is well, & back here again, & we are going to try & get Geisha, & I hope we shall succeed this time.
Pte Richie, that you heard about, being a prisoner, or missing, was not Gen: De Lisle’s servant, but an orderly on Div H.Q. He was well known to Capt Armstrong, as he often acted as his orderly when we were on Div H.Q. He was missing for 3 days, but had been fighting with the K.O.S.B.s & eventually turned up at H.Q. alright. Pte Piddington of the 9th Lancers was the General’s servant he is a prisoner of war, & a letter from his wife to H.Q. says that he is alright, which was good news, as we feared that he had been killed.
I am sorry I could not get to A—3 while we were down that way, much as I longed to go there, we were so busy that I could not get the time off. I have not heard from Ames lately the last time he wrote, he told me he was married, & quite happy & comfortable, & was expecting to get over this side again, but I doubt if we [sic] will be passed fit, for he has often told me that his old complaint troubles him. His address is, Manor House, Walsham Cross, London N. I forgot to mention that you wrote me two letters sending New Year’s greetings, you were not sure wether [sic] you had done so or not.
The man that you met of the Worcester’s, of course, may have been one of reinforcements that we have had during this last eight months, & that would account for him not knowing Capt Armstrong. The other man of the 87th Bde may have been A.S.C.4 or S.W.B.5 I will try & find out who he is, I must speak of the thing, & get it talked about, it will soon spread round, & I ought to find him, that is the only way I can think of finding him. I am 88th Bde, which makes it a little awkward, as we are not always handy to one another. I will get Capt Ross’s groom to help me, he is still with the 87th & should be able to fish the fellow out. I can quite understand your feeling when the man was speaking to you. We are off to a place in a day or two, which goes by the name of a dear master’s dog6. I think I have told you as much as I can, I am so sorry I have delayed writing, & I must let you now as soon as I get to know about Pte Hurley etc. Goodbye.
Yours very respectfully
Pte W. Standen
Tuesday 15 January
We went down to Clodagh by the nine train. We had wired to E. to meet us there, but she didn’t come. Mr Jenner came up, & looked at everything. We had about seven or eight fires lit. then we went in to tea with Miss Peters, & caught the five train up to London again, after doing a lot of jobs. It pelted nearly all day, so we had a cab to take us up. We brought up more milk for Ione but a Belgian officer broke one bottle! So it was swimming all over the place! When we got back Ione was dining with some people & Mr Everard, & they were going to dance, so we went off to bed.
Wednesday 16 January
We stayed in bed rather late, & then did our packing. Ione came in, & then she had to go off & telephone. We caught the 1-40 from Paddington. The train wasn’t very full, & we managed to get tea at Oxford & Worcester! Zooie & Jimmy were down with Mrs Welch when we got back. Tom was in bed with a cold. There is quite thick snow here, it only began at about Oxford, it is about 8” deep. Jimmy has got a bar to his D.S.O. they heard yesterday. We only talked for a little while after dinner, & then went up & unpacked.
Uncle Jimmy and the Armstrongs
Thursday 17 January
Jimmy has got two extra days leave, so he will get his wedding day in. The snow is still thick this morning, but a lovely day. Duskey is looking awfully well. Zoo & Jimmy went out to shoot, & came in for late lunch. Muz & I went out for a walk, & went to ask how Piper was. Then Jimmy went down to the dentist, & had tea with Mrs Welch, we all sat & talked, & I finished decorating a match box. He got back at about seven. After dinner we only talked for a wee while, & Tom played a couple of times on the gramophone.
Friday 18 January
The snow had almost melted, so every things was very slushy. Zooie & Jimmy went by the twelve train, & Muz & I went down to see them off, & Rosie walked some of the way back with us. Wrote letters in the afternoon, & Muz wrote too. Heppie walked into the town. After tea I read, & again after dinner, & we didn’t go to bed till nearly twelve.
Saturday 19 January
We wrote letters nearly all morning, in the afternoon I read. Muz, Heppie & Tom walked into the town, & took Dus: with them, & she got back before them! so I went to meet them, & tell them she was back! I met Tom on the hill, & Muz, & Heppie had been with Mrs Welch. Then I did some mending, & then finished reading “The Virgin & the Scales.”7 not bad. After dinner I read, & put the gramophone on, while Muz read, & Heppie worked at the mat. We went to bed at about eleven. I slept in the little bed for the first time.
Sunday 20 January
It was a horrid wet morning. None of us went to church, we wrote letters, & then I read. After tea Muz & Heppie went to church, & didn’t get back till late. I finished reading “The Judgement of Illingborough”.8
Officers and Gentlemen
One of Pat Armstrong’s horses in the First World War ⇑
One of Pat Armstrong’s horses in the First World War ⇑