Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Armstrong family papers, 1918
[Transcriber’s note: This is the diary of Pte. James Victor Armstrong who enlisted on 28 July 1916 and embarked on the "Benalla" at Sydney on 9 November 1916. The diary commences with the activities on board on his way to England via Durban, Capetown, and Freetown, Sierra Leone and he gives descriptions of these places when he went ashore. On arrival in Devonport, he went by train to Durrington Camp for training and during this time he had a short leave to London after which he was transferred to Lark Hill. He was sent to France in July 1917 and underwent training in the Le Havre area before proceeding on to Hill 63 just behind Messines. At Villers Bretonneux he was wounded and after spending 6 weeks at a Casualty Clearing Station near the coast of France he was sent to Bristol in England. At the end of the diary, there are several letters sent to his father by the Sister in Charge of the C.C.S. concerning the seriousness of his wounds. He returned to Australia on "Port Sydney" arriving on 22nd September 1919.]
[See image for photograph.]
After his recovery from being wounded at Passchendaele, France. Taken in London, 1918.
[Cover of diary]
[Cover of diary]
Pte. J.V. Armstrong
5th Rein., 39th Batt.
10th Inf. Bn.
On Active Service Abroad.
Some Boxing. Gambling a treat on board. Got game of draughts, dominoes, 3 sets of gloves & other games given out to us.
Sunday, 12th Nov.
Getting into Australian Bight which means rougher. Result of Melbourne Cup by wireless also other news. Church parade & spars. Very rough in the evening but not sick yet.
Mon. 13th Nov. 1916
Light exercises, plenty of reading & good tucker. Boxing. After dinner exercises with life-belts. Extremely rough weather, a lot of sick.
None rough weather, boxing & usual routine. Lost watch.
Reconing on calling at Fremantle to-morrow. Had a spar. A big sports tournament coming off shortly.
Some fair sport after dinner having perks at Albatross. Fair weather. A couple
fr of good boxing contests & a fair concert.
More wireless news
su dealing with war news & the labor & coal trouble. Fairly slow to-day. Nice & smooth weather. Just beyond W.A.
Lovely weather, washing in the morning. Using foils after dinner. A concert after tea. Fair.
Church parade, reading & writing. Wind rising. Over a weeks run to Durban yet. Jim & & I have slight colds. Jim went into Hospital sick flu.
Fairly rough again. Excitement through just seeing the masts of a ship. Went up & saw Jim. Got measles now & is just ordinary. Hopes of seeing Durban in a week or so.
Usual Draughts & euchre.
Same as usual.
Played off heat in draughts & euchre & lost both. Same evening pillow fights in which I got beaten. Sent some reading & a note to Jim who
is in isolation ward & can’t see him, good weather lately.
Jim almost well again. Single stick drill. A spar.
Sports in evening, wrestling etc. A young chap died. Concert put off.
Burial of young chap, boat stopped & ceremony gone through. Church parade.
Another chap died this morning. Supposed to be meningitis. Place fumigated & decks disinfected. Chap buried at 6. Saw Jim through door after looking vainly for a week. Posted a few letters lately – mail closing. Weather getting warmer.
Weather still getting warmer but nice & calm. Supposed to be in Durban Wed. night. Concert after tea very good. Wild rumours floating about too numerous & rediculous to mention. Had a chat with Jim.
Great excitement on board about seeing land tonight. Got paid & had a few words with Jim. Have had a crook cold now for over a week. ‘Benalla Sun’ a very interesting edition which comes out about 4 times a week. Concert postponed on account of critical condition of 2 men. Just after tea great fuss lights sighted 1st land for 3 weeks. Great commotion.
Woke up & told to be dressed at 5. Two chaps died one out of our lot so our company had to be present. Military funeral gone through & then came back from sea & into port. Puts me in mind of Newcastle from a seaward view. Fair scenery round the one big bluff head. Several other large steamers in port. Lay in harbour till about 12 & then sent ashore & marched to Town Hall & then dismissed. With two other chaps we had a look at Railway
station. Had dinner then took a tram (free) & went out about 3 miles. Beautiful Suburbs. Knocks Sydney easy. Back had tea & then had a rickshaw down to the beach & baths. Said to be one of best laid out in world. Very pretty when all lit up with colored lights. Tram back to Town Hall & out to another terminus. Back just in time to fall in in time for ship. Had one of most pleasant days out, full of bustle & saw almost all what there is to be seen in that short time, 2 till 10.
Fri., 1st Dec. 1916
Got up & came up on deck & watched the Kaffirs or niggers loading coal. Steamed off at 10 o’clock & sailed out through the big bluff & away. Went down stairs wrote & read. Jim almost better. Couldn’t send cables.
Church parade & usual reading & chatting. Could see land. Jim out now. Got to Capetown before we were out of bed. From the boat you could see the Table Mountain well a good view. Flat on top & sloping down to Capetown at very steep angle. In the morning it was ½ covered with clouds but as day wore on cleared off. The place doesn’t seem very high but still the clouds are there. After breakfast marched to sports ground & quarinteened there, but a lot scaled out. We were served with lunch by a few ladies. In the afternoon marched to a big place where they entertain oversea troops. We had a nice tea, tea, meat-pies & different assortment of cakes. Post cards handed out to write home on. Sent home some views. Town full of niggers same as Durban. Boarded again at sundown.
Had a spar & usual drill etc. Wrestling.
Boxing at night in tournament, some good goes.
Heavy weight boxing heat a good go. On guard duty. Getting well up the African coast. Wireless news that Bucharest is taken by Germans.
Fri., 8th Dec.
Tug o’war. Boxing.
A concert at night.
Had communion & went to church.
Young chap buried this morning meningitis more cases. Said to have crossed about centre of equator to-day. Fairly warm. Wireless news about German cruisers escaping at a Portugal port. Will get to the old dart about Christmas, hope to before. Lights out at dark, no striking matches & an extra lot of guards as submarine watches & walk about day-time with life belts is the order in a couple of days.
Sighted land about 7 o’c & landed in harbour about 10. Pretty warm. Place Freetown & colony of Sierra Leone, Portuguese or French but chiefly inhabited by niggers. Great place for fever. On arriving in harbour there was already 3 cruisers & transports in. Niggers came alongside & we tried a cocoa-nut. Town about as big as Bangalow or a bit bigger.
Still in harbour. Terrible hot. No idea when sailing. Our lot on guard tonight.
Church parade & hot again Intense heat. At about 11 we were pulled ashore in pulling boats & la dismissed. Curious place. About 6 whites & all the rest black. Most buildings tumbled down
bricks, but with a fair amount of green trees. Streets dusty (yellow) & irregular. Had a good walk about & went off again to Benalla at 4. Got some war news in town from English papers.
Same as usual, buying fruit from natives in canoes & watching lights of town & searchlights from cruisers. Playing cards.
Ditto to yesterday.
Left about 6 in morning & we were sailing 2nd of 5 in a line. Saw J. Hawkins in Capetown & is in ship behind us now.
Thurs. 21st Dec.
Cards & reading.
Saw land about 9 o’clock & went through heads about 10.30. Seems to be a better place than Freetown. As soon as we lay in harbour niggers came round in boats & were diving for
pennies & other coins. This is a French port & latest reports are we
are can’t get ashore.
Sat. 23 Dec. 1916
Laying off wharf about 50 yds. Watching niggers fishing very adept. Buildings seem to be built on old Italian Column Style.
Let go swimming in harbour. Swam across to French Battleship & another chap & I were conversing in a way with sparse French to a nice chap. Distance about 200 yds. & almost knocked me up. Put the gun on the back of our ship. Wrote home mail.
Mon. 25th Dec. 1916, Christmas Day.
Before dinner we went for a swim ashore & were only allowed to walk about edge of wharf. Talking to a nigger who spoke English. Some Moors kicking [indecipherable] [page torn]
[indecipherable] [page torn]
boxing, wrestling, high diving (60 ft.) & swimming races.
Tues. Boxing Day
Thinking of what you’re doing at the Bay to-day & Christmas Day yesterday, in fact thinking fairly often. Playing cards from Breakfast till tea-time – nothing much out of ordinary. Concert good performance. Steamers continually going & coming in & from port. Card playing all day.
Left port this morning escorted by the 2 French cruisers 5 troop ships in the escort. Played 500 all day. This game is the rage on board. Great excitement about a couple of miles from port. The third boat in front of us was seen to turn out & back. We saw a life-buoy float by us & then
looking about we saw a man floating out about level. We sent out a boat & rescued him. He was saved through orders going out that morning that we were to wear lifebelts all day. At night we have to keep them handy too. Jim has a fairly crook cold.
Instead of sailing N sailing W to avoid submarines. Nobody allowed to smoke on deck. At night all lights out at dark. The lights are not put out till nine but portholes closed. 50 days on the water now, 7 weeks & no mail just fancy. Played cards from breakfast till tea time. Haven’t had any drill for about 3 weeks now.
Fri. 30th Dec. 1916
More excitement, we met the other convoy consisting 4 troopships & a cruiser that we saw at Freetown & which never called at Dakar.
Sat. 30th Dec. 1916
Getting colder also a bit rougher. Right into the danger zone now. A good boxing bout for £10 a side best fight yet.
Get up at 6.45 now instead of 6 as it is even dark at the latter time now. Wherever you go now you have to have your lifebelt on.
1st Jan. 1917, Mon.
Rumours going about that we’ll strike England about next Sun. Still getting slightly colder. Jim almost better of cold & both feeling fairly well. By this time you must have our first mail. Not so rough as yesterday.
Tues. 2nd Jan. 1917
Ditto to yesterday.
Kit inspection getting fixed up before we arrive. A bit of a delay something went wrong
one with one of other transports engines. Every day you can feel it growing colder. Chaps beginning to wear
mufflers & overcoats on.
On the outer edge of the Bay of Biscay & getting fairly rough & cold winds. Got up at quarter to 7 but it is pitch black. A little war news & watching the other boats dipping & lurching. Sometimes it would splash right over the front.
Same as yesterday with increasing cold.
Supposed to reach the ‘old dart’ on Sun. or Mon.
Cleaning all the place up before getting into port, scrubbing & doing.
Last Church Parade on board. Just about dusk great excitement about 16 Torpedo-boats or some kind of destroyers met us. They seem to be about 2 or 3 times as big as a fair pulling boat. Very low in the water manned with quick firer & full of torpedoes. From then
we started to race. Our boat was leading till bed-time. Fairly cold.
The news this morning is we’ll reach port to-night. We’re running second all else out of sight behind. Running well all day. Very rough sea about as rough as in the Bight & a terrible strong sea. About 12 or 1 we entered Plymouth Sd.
Up at 4.30. Brekker at 5. After, in the grey light of morning, had a look at the old historic Sound also saw the old Eddystone Lighthouse flashing or some one or other. About daylight we moved
into the down the sound & up to a wharf. By jove its fairly cold too. Disembarked & onto a train. From then to dark (which is about 4) travelled through farming country intensely cultivated. Every paddock is from 1 to 2 acs. & has a hedge round & about every
acre with a green hedge it looks alright. The trees are stripped of leaves at present. The farm-houses are real old fashioned style just like you see of an English homestead, made of brick, oblong in shape & with thatched rooves with in some cases ivy over it & no verandahs. The biggest herd I saw was about a dozen or 15. At Exeter we were given a cup of tea & a bun & waving to all the young tarts of course. From dark to our destination we played 500, a matter of 3 or 4 hrs. Got out in dark & cold & marched about 4 mls. to camp
which with the wind blowing bitterly. Almost got me fagged. Had a bit of bread & jam & went to bunk. Had 3 blankets on me & pillow underneath & my overcoat over me & freezing. Another very big day.
Up at 6.30 here but pitch dark switch on lights. Cold as blazes. It rained & snowed
before we came & all the little puddles would crack under your feet. Hands red & almost numbed but have to tumble out to parade. Had a bit of a march about & inspected by Major & told we might be in the business in 6 or 7 weeks. Medical examination. Another novelty aeroplane flying about. I saw 4 up at once. You can hear the hum of their engines as they go over. Got innoculated again. Had a stiff arm to go to bed with that night.
Not as cold as yesterday. Dental parade. Snowed a bit during the night.
Snowed fairly heavily today about an inch deep.
Had about a 12 or 15 mile route-march. By jove I was knocked up at the finish, feet aching a treat. Went to picture show that night.
Bought a pipe a few days ago.
Mon. 15th Jan. 1917
Up had breakfast dressed & rolled our blankets etc. before day break & marched for station (4 mls.).
Reached London about 11.30 (Waterloo Station) & then marched to Horseferry Rd. (Aust. Headquarters). Told what & what not to do & then dismissed about 12.30. For a while we had to think, in the heart of largest city in the world & didn’t know a yard of it. So we walked up a couple of little streets & came to Victoria St. We first tried to find our way to Acton Town but failed. Wandering about & went to pictures & booked a bed at a small hotel 4/6 for bed & brekker. My jaw a bit swelled. Went to a theatre fair performance.
Up & had breakfast & walked round to War Chest Club (Opp. Headqtrs.) & took a brake for a round
trip of London 4/-. First of all we went to Tower of London. On our way saw Houses of Parliament, Hotel Cecil (1000 rooms), Scotland Yard, Bank of England, & through the city of London which is inside the one time old wall now pulled down & indicated by a slab on the
street side of the street. Saw the Thames. The Tower is built on the 15th Century type of Castle. 1st of all was the moat which was filled from Thames. Then a high wall then another high wall & then the inner stronghold. Saw where such as Prisoners Gate, the room where the two little princes were shut up & murdered, where Raleigh & Mary Q. of Scots was imprisoned & lots of others. The block & axe also the exact spot where Mary & 2 of Henry VIII wives were beheaded. Then all the old armoury & implements of war of former times. All in the jewel the sceptre
& crown of H.M. A courtyard too the very same as the old castles we’ve read about. From there we journeyed to St. Paul’s. Absolutely the dome the best work of art I’ve ever seen. Most beautiful you could gaze about you all day. Went down into crypt where some our greatest men have been buried, Wellington, etc. After dinner we passed War Office and then went through W. Abbey another beautiful work of art & a big place too. More monuments. Saw the place where the King is coranated where he sits & everything else, Big Ben. From there we went through Hyde Park saw where Queen Alexandra & the King lives (Buckinham Palace). A lot of snow & a bit heavy for horses so we got out & were snow-balling each other & young tarts too – good sport. Theatre that night. Bed about 12. Getting mumps.
Breakfast at nine
& a read & smoke till dinner-time. After dinner free entrance to a theatre. Theatre again that night.
Next morning went on sick parade, Mumps, that evening sent to N.W. public H. for infectious diseases not military Hospital different to camp. Nice bed & fine & good food & bonnie nurses.
In bed but in best of health only for slight swelling of jaw. A great explosion 10 miles away, munition factory but seemed just out side our window.
Reading & usual.
Ditto getting better.
Ditto getting better.
Received 2 letters from Jim – a real treat, almost better.
Recorded to be the coldest day for a long time 29° or else 25°.
Anniversary Day. Got up. Reading by nice fire.
Ditto doing a bit of
Can only go out on balcony & then too cold to stay long. Another letter from Jim.
Went down below & had a walk round. Talking to tabbies.
A light fall of snow.
A very heavy fall of snow about 5 ins. Great fun snow balling.
Snow balling & walking about the joint.
Fri., Sat., Sun.
Having the best time since I left home having walks & smoking & reading before fire & good fun.
fair heavy snowfall. Pelting every body & beat 5 Ward another mob of Australians. That night the tabs brought down a force & we had a bosker time only we had to go in at 8. They’re fine little sports, moonlight. Snow all over the joint & reported. A fuss kicked up & supposed not to go out but break rules.
Examined by Doc. & supposed to go out in a day or 2. Rotten. Sun came out this morning.
A little more sun marvellous. British serving on Front.
Usual good time leaving to-morrow.
Got on the old Khaki again. Didn’t like leaving just like leaving home. Caught a buss to Vic. St. & walked back to Horseferry Rd. Went to
a Theatre London Opera House, ‘Cinderella’. Back & had supper at 12 & beddo.
Reported in morning & caught train at Waterloo Stn. for some camp on plains where you are classed if fit or not. Reached there about 3. After tea had a smoke & think over in C of E Club.
Fooling about & inspected by Doc.
Left there & travelled by train to Amesbury & then out to camp.
Examined again by doc. & went to Y.M.C.A. in afternoon.
Out on parade a b— going all day & up to your ankles in slush. When your finished in the evening you’re mud from knees down. Dueced cold too.
ditto. Received a mail of 5 letters & 3 Mags. & 1 from Jim in Hos.
Sick parade N.D. Fool about in your hut.
Sat. 17 Feb.
Sick parade again.
All under 19 not allowed to go to front till 19 so put on jobs. Me working on reading Room. Cleaning up in general.
Same. 2 letters from Jim.
Same. Pay. Pictures.
Isolated in huts off job. No parade so sit in huts all day long
by the fire.
Same old Larkhill Camp.
25th, 26th, 27th, 28th
Usual. Big push on Ancre to Baupaume [Bapaume]. Pictures & a couple of letters.
29 1st March 1917
Same old joke. Got 2 teeth out. Snow.
Till 21st March Isolation. A good time doing nothing. Pictures occasionally, & a letter every few days from Jim who is at Bristol & having a bosker time. Very few letters from Ausy. British take Bapuame [Bapaume] & other important positions. Also big gains in Mesopotamia & Palestine. Snow.
Put on a job in a dining or mess-room cleaning up tables.
Ditto. 5 Ausy mail.
Evening went for a walk to Amesbury about 4 miles.
Went for another walk to Durrington & Bulford, two little villages about 2 miles. Saw a plane down & went across a
padd field & had a good look at it. Also went to another village Ficheldene [possibly Figheldean] & saw the old original chestnut tree & blacksmiths shop. Got a couple of chestnuts & a piece of stone off old church 800 years old. In all the villages very old churches & grave-stones.
Jim came back after an absence in hos. of 2 months. Pleased to see him & had a good long chat. Got a job as officers batman.
Went for a walk with Jim & Bert Wilson.
Another walk & forwarded papers at different intervals lately.
Mon. 2nd April
Got 5 letters from home.
A few more letters from Ausy.
A bit sunny.
Usual Camp life.
Sun. Another little walk. Came in about 9 & few minutes after
Bill Ern Davo & Tom Woods came in the hut. It was some surprise. Had a good chat for a time.
Mon. 9th April
Fairly cold again. Saw Ern & Tom again that night & they gave us all the latest of home, Coopers etc. Gave them a couple of papers & letters to read as they hadn’t received any since lobbing.
On the same old job of clearing up the mess table. On nippy morning it makes your fingers very cold handling cold plates. Still more of our lads going over.
Wrote a few & received a couple of letters. Evenings getting longer. Every time I finish after each meal I generally go over to Jim’s room where I write or have a lay down. Ern lobs in occasionally too.
Usual. Still a bit nippy but place beginning to look a lot brighter. Trees coming out in leaf & birds beginning to twitter etc.
An aeroplane came down in Durrington a little village quite handy. The chap was killed & the thing dived in ½ out of sight making a big hole. It lobbed in the backyard just missing in a street of houses. Got a little bit of a splinter from it.
Same old job.
Revue by King of all Australian troops on Salisbury Plains. Jim went right down, but I just saw all the troops from ½ way. Left too late. Jim was standing about 10 yds. from saluting base.
Pic. & Vaud.
Went to Salisbury for an evening. Had a fair time. Car there & back & saw the church which is a bosker for size of place. Highest in England. Told us all its history. Had 3 or 4 lunches in the evening altogether & came back about 12.
Same job with always morning & afternoon tea. Not
many of our chaps left now. All gone over which makes us feel it a bit. Weather bosker now. Jim likes his batman’s job. Concert.
Pic. & vaud.
Wed., Thurs., Fri.
Received a couple of letters. Jim writing well. Pict.
A little walk.
A great surprise, Hector McPherson only camped about 100 yds. or so from us & didn’t know it. Ern Davo found him & Ho. Hollingsworth too. He was on draught the night we saw him too & only had about ¼ of an hours chat. He hardly knew us. Ern brought down a few papers he had
received from home.
Writing home every week generally twice.
Went over to Flying School & saw all the planes & a R.F.C. [Royal Flying Corps] chap gave us a wash & brush up in his quarters. Very good of him. Never got a ride as none were going up. Lousy with skylarks also a few hares & partridges. The streams are full of salmon & trout & pike but not allowed to fish. Same as with hares & birds. All the trees & hedges are a lovely light green, good grass & wild flowers of different kinds all over the paddocks.
Mon. 7th May
Plenty of Huns working here.
Two 3 escaped from here to-day but were captured the same evening. Concert.
Tues. 8th May till 29th May
When we came on Bull Ring again received about 6 & wrote more. Pictures about 3 times a week & generally a walk on Sat. or Sun. evening.
Soldiering on again out of War - Babies. A bit stiff 1st day. Received a batch of 12 letters. Goodo. Concert.
Not too bad only kept going. In 4th week.
Inoculated after church parade. After going to pictures that night coming home we got
biggest surprise out when who should we meet but Jim McLatchie. He had been in France 13 months & then got a smack in the arm. After coming out of hos. he had just been down a few days when we struck him. Had a real bonser chat about old times. Fairly warm.
After parade we went over & saw Jim Mc. again. Wrote 8 letters between us.
Night operations. Very warm days now.
Went to pictures with Jim Mc. & had another pleasant chat.
Got leave to London & caught train at Amesbury at 8.52. Country going up a vast difference. Everything beautiful now.
Arrived at Waterloo Stn. at about 12 midday & then walke[d] to Horseferry Rd. & had a nice meal at War-Chest Club. After dinner
went walked down out on Victoria St. & branched off into Hyde Park. In Jan. it looked like a swamp would. Thick with snow & all the trees old & dead looking. Now it is all out in leaf & bloom. The ducks on the ponds & chaps pulling-boats being rowed about too. It was beautiful. Saw Rotten Row too. Went back to War Chest for dinner. Had a smoke & read in lounge room & took a taxi from Picadilly [Piccadilly] to Mme. Tussauds Wax Works. We got up-stairs without a guide book & then I said, How about buying
one, (they sold them down-stairs) & old Jim started to walk up & ask a dummy girl figure which was seated at a desk with some in front of her, when I grabbed him by the Back of the coat & pulled him back. Gee! I did laugh at him. Had tea & went to a play called ‘Bubbly’ just off Trafalgar Square a bit, very good. Got lost coming back as its fairly dark. Ran across Charing Cross (Under.) & took the tube to Westminster & then we were right.
Breakfast & then went to Waterloo Stn. to find what time train left that night.
Jumped on a bus & went out for about an hrs. ride in the suburbs. Came back another way to Victoria Stn. Had a rest in Hyde Park then to Pictures where tarts in front were smoking, drinking & carrying on in a manner disgraceful with a couple of soldiers. Thence on to Waterloo & home to old Larkhill about 2 o’c in the morning.
Vaccin Inoculated & while off duty wrote a couple of letters. Went to pictures.
Laying about & cleaning up. After dinner wrote a letter & after tea went over & saw J. McLatch [Latchie]
C/- Aust. Y.M.C.A.
12th June. My birthday till 29th July
Continued our training, threw live bombs, went through gas & musketry. Went to Salisbury 3 times. Good times. Walked over to aerodrome but never got a fly & had a fairly stiff time training. Warned for draught.
Got exchanges & fixed up.
Marched off amidst the usual carryings on etc. Reached Amesbury almost dark. Travelled all night in the train & reached Folkestone about 4 in the morning. Billeted in houses till about 2 then marched down to pier & crossed channel to Bolougne [Boulogne] in about 1½ hrs. Small destroyers
& a French dirigible escorted us over. Sometimes it was just over the top of one of the masts. Marched through Bolougne & up on top of a hill to a rest camp. Bolougne is a fair sized joint but nothing up to date about it like most European towns. The boys do a lot of calling out & yelling etc. & it makes things a bit lively. Next morning marched down to station & entrained for base Havre. It took us about 2 days only about 60 miles. Nice country we passed through. Stayed ½ a day at Rouen. Very nice place what I’d seen of it but weren’t allowed out from our river side Promenade.
Reached La Fluer [possibly Harfleur] about 2 miles from camp on morning after leaving Rouen. Put in about 2 weeks at Base which is about 5 mile from centre of Havre. Not a bad joint. Saw most of the place. Met Miss Hindmarsh at a Base Y.M.C.A. Very nice lady & a few very nice yarns. Trained on Bull ring. Left Havre on 18th & reached billets with Batt. on 21st. Spent a night at St. Omer another fairly big place. Batt. just came back for a rest for a month or so they say. Route marches occasionally but better than base or Larkhill.
St. Omer Had a good walk round St. Omer that evening.
Next morning caught train & took about 5 hrs. to go 20 mile. Very tiresome. Got off at a small place Lottingham & marched part of way to Batt. getting a motor-ride the rest a matter of about 20 kilos. Very tired.
Next day we received some Ausy mail.
We were put in a Froggies Barn. The farm-houses are all built in a circle or square with generally a big puddle-hole in the centre or water-hole. The farm-houses are all together & it forms a small village always with a church & a few estaminets in it. Every farmhouse about here has an apple
which we raid fairly often. Also there’s a lot of black-berries about here. We often hear the guns from here booming up the line & we guess there’s a straeffe on. Fritz raided Bolougne the other night & next day there were a lot of planes about ours or Fritzs we couldn’t tell.
The route marches here are rotten & we drill same as any-where else. Last night we heard a plane or more go over & then booms & we concluded Fritz was raiding some of our back towns.
Doing guard to-day. Nice warm day. This week we have received 3 lots of letters at 5 or 6. Goodo.
Left there after staying about 6 weeks. While there got a fair amount of mail all the time. Left late in Sept. & it took us 4 or 5 days to get up near the line. Camped just behind Ypres for about 3 days & then went over the top in our 1st stunt on 4th Oct. Ypres is knocked about a lot not one whole building & the place is a large one. We both came through the stunt after a fairly trying time. Back to camp again after being in 48 hrs. Fritz is over every night bombing everywhere.
Was in 2nd go on 12 Oct. worse time than 1st, saw some awful sight & hard job to get out through mud & bog. After a day back we went right back to our old
billets at Zoteux. Its tres bon back here but beginning to get a bit cold.
From 14th till about 28th
Stayed at Zoteux. Doing a little drill etc. Had a terrible time with the chats. Used to buy eggs & de lait off madame & also make custard on her stove. All the rest of a chap’s time was put at gambling two-up, poker & snap, which is a chap’s only relaxation in reserve & supports.
Moved away on 28th.
Motors to Hazelbrouk [Hazebrouck] & stopped at Merris. Two days marching & we entrained on light railways from Steenwerke [Steenwerck]. Got out at famous Hyde Park Corner or Plugstreet [Ploegsteert] & into catacombs in Hill 63 just behind Messines. Long chambers fitted electric lights & bunks. 8 days there in reserve working parties every night carrying up duck boards, wire etc. Terrible fatiguing. About 2 mile a trench to walk up.
Then we took over front line for 8 days. During that time usual routine of trench warfare, patrols, a few straefes, ration carrying & looking over the top.
Almost freezed to death for 4 days up to our knees in slime & freezed from arsole down. Enough to make a man howl.
8 days in reserve & then 8 in front line again, raided Fritz in last 8. Took some prisoners & gave him a good towling up.
Had a few close goes with machine guns & whizz bangs.
Went back a few miles to Neuve Eglise & put in a month tunnelling. Had a terrible time cold feet & very sore too. Came back from tunnelling & spent 3 weeks doing nothing. Going to quack. Had Christmas there. Just before we went back I went to Hosp. or C.C.S. with Scabies.
Had a bonser spell of a fortnight. Only in markees & stretcher to lie on but thought it was a palace. Went back & put in another 3 weeks in line in same place opposite Warneton (right of Messines). Went back to near -- & just had a week & Fritz opened up on 21st March.
Rushed straight down to Somme near Albert. From train two days marching till we came in contact with Fritz.
Hopped over 2,000 yds. dug in for 4 days 4 days supports which was in Mericourt. (J. McLatchie killed here.) People gone. Beaucoup wine, champagne, fowls, rabbits etc. & troops had run of joint. Dossing in beds, sheets etc. Put in 50 days at this game front line etc. & kept Fritz getting to Amiens. Had a rough time near the last. Pulled back 10 kilos for a
fortnight. Back to Villers Brittoneux [Villers Bretonneux]. Up there a week & got cracked in the ribs. Went right back to C.C.S. & operated on piece of shell taken out, & part of two ribs & part of liver. A decent left swing. Put in 6 weeks at C.C.S. too crook to move & then to Transport on coast. Sister at C.C.S. very good to me.
A week or so at Transport & then up to Havre & across to Southampton. From there train to Bristol. Put in 2 weeks there during which time I got up a few times in a chair. Then to Clevedon V.A.D. where I spent best 5 weeks ever. A proper home. Could shot a rock into sea from Hosp. & nice esplanade. From there to Dartford London, 8 days there. On parties nearly every day, Theatres, dances, etc.
Was boarded & marked C.3. To Weymouth & then to Verne. Boarded (final) & still C.3.
Great events happening. Clearing of Belgian coast & all along the front. Turkey surrended Oct. 31. Armistice signed with Austria Nov. 3. Armistice with Germany Nov. 11. Finis war great peace celebrations went into Weymouth that night. Things were a bit lively.
On Wed. 13th left for my 4 days, warned to be back Friday.
Hit London 2 o’c there till 8.45. Things still very lively. Old London was going stone mad. Glasgow next morning about 10. Very hilly & would be pretty in Spring. Went to Overseas Club & good welcome. Brekka & knocked about till dinner. After matinee Tea 6 & fooled about the city till train went at 9. Also received
a telegram to return Euston (London) next morning at 7 & struck out for Waterloo Stn. Something to eat & hit out for Portland again. Home about 7 that night. Next day all fixed up for going, inoculated, kit inspection, etc. Pictures & concerts started again every night. Applied to go via America but seeing going in few days I withdrew [indecipherable].
14th Dec. I’ve proved it since as I’ve just been passed off another boat beside 1st one I was on. Been shifted back to Weymouth again. Just before I left Verne I went to a dance there. Had a decent old time. Getting close on to Christmas & no snow yet. Marvellous. Haven’t written or received a letter for over 6 weeks now. Feeling pretty fit & pictures or play every night.
Having plenty of [indecipherable]. I had plenty of suppers, vaudeville & picture shows. On another boat roll & leaving tomorrow. Last night in old Blighty. Screwed off a Fritz U Boat & went on board as it was on show. Had a good look over it & quite interesting you may guess.
Christmas New Year
Christmas Eve. Up at 5 & marched to station at 6. Boarded & hit Depot Devonport & Plymouth about 12. Once aboard the ‘lugger’ and we stayed in all night. Moved out next morning after breakfast down the old sound. The usual Hurray & Cooeeing. Christmas dinner was up to shit as per usual. That night I was a bit crook, in fact I ‘heaved my guts up’. First time crook on either journey. I was right straight away after.
After about 6 days sail passed through Gibralter. One of prettiest coast sights I ever saw was Range of Sierra Nevada running along S. Coast of Spain seeming to rise from the sea making a big bluff of about 8000 feet. All the top was glistening with snow or sand (arguments) & with near dark in the foreground it looked tremendous as I remarked previously. Usual routine of troop ship life only no parades.
Breakfast 8 lay on decks reading or cards, most of my time at chess. A sing-song at piano every night & once a week a concert. Passed by
Gib Malta about a week from
Gib. Seems a barren little square rock. Big Naval Base at Valleta (Capital). Nothing unusual till Port Said. Amongst the Gippos & niggers again. Quite a lot of shipping. Not allowed off on a/c of Flu. Usual mob of Eastern vendors of all nationalities selling wares of different kinds. Left here after a day’s stay & started through the canal. A great piece of work. Sand on either side as far as you can see except an occasional oasis or a Ave. of palms & green vegetation presumably a creek or something. Canal only about 200 yds. or
or less in width & boat goes about 4 knots. Saw a lot of trenches etc. along canal where they dug in when Johnny made a dash in ’14 or 15. Port Suez same as Port Said. A surprise to me was high range of mountains behind. Kicked out & rocky hilly country. No wonder old Moses couldn’t get food & couldn’t find his way out.
One Some one pointed out Mt. Sinia [Mr. Sinai]. He! He! through Hell’s gate in Red Sea & past some inhabited Is. near Aden & headed for Colombo. Saw most W. point of Africa a promentary. About 5 days & hit old Colombo. A fair sized joint, trams etc. In all these Br. eastern
The Eng. & native part of the town niggs. doss [?] in huts. People live well with beaut nig. servants. Got some Ceylon money & little elephant as souvenir. One chap got one [indecipherable] about 20 ins. high, a beaut. Not near as much shipping as Port Said. Some of the nigs well educated, speak fluent English. The Cingalese are physically a better race than at the other two ports. They coal the ships out in the harbour off barges. A lot of young nigs scaling about the sides & we had some fun with them boxing, singing & doing tricks. A very beautiful sunset that evening
not descriptive enough to describe it. Town nestling amongst groves of palms, bananas etc. Saw Mt. Adams Peak in the distance. Coast very low lying & verdant. Left after two days & had another fortnights stretch till Fremantle. Had a fancy dress Ball. Goodo. All kinds of characters. Coming into Fremantle Harbour crowds on wharf cooeeing, etc. Something more I can’t describe the thrill of something which passed through me again & again as I hoorayed & gazed on the gesticulating people & land which God granted me to see again or fate luck whichever.
Rottnest Is. just a few mls. out. Not a very big harbour – poor I thought. Not a very spectacular place a bit dusty & slow trams & a bit above itself. Hadn’t time to run up to Perth. Had 3 buckshee feeds people very kind & gave us a storming [?] off. Usual lot
Pte. J.V. Armstrong
5th Rein., 39th Batt.
10th Infantry Brigade
On Active Service Abroad.
With the A.I.F.
Pte. J.V. Armstrong
Australian Imperial Force
Verne Citadel, Portland, Blighty
Dear All at Home,
Just such another as you must be used to by this time, hoping all are well as it leaves me.
Of course you must ‘jerry’ I’m not A.1 but pretty hefty all the same. I’ll tell you something what happened. About 6 ins. of 1 rib out & small piece of another. Piece of shell entered pleural cavity, smashed pieces of rib, entered liver. Small piece of liver excised.
When the ‘quack’ read through my history chart at Dartford he turned round & said "What! still alive, must have been a
marvellous recovery". Of course I’m quite proud of the grit of the Armstrong-Skelton combination so to say.
It’s a pity they moved me from Weymouth as they had a motor school & commercial school, the latter consisting of shorty. & typewriting. There’s no doubt this repatriation scheme will benefit a lot in the line of fitting them out for different or suitable professions.
How is young Grub getting on at school? Is he in long’uns yet? but I guess he must be getting feathery legs by this time as we used to remark.
If I get home I can see a time almost too good to be true. Fancy just strolling round the old familiar spots & will they seem different? I wonder will young Eve recognise a bloke? Will old Grub have a bit of a ‘blub’, such are a few of my happy thoughts as I write this. Of course ‘Does she still love me’ is out of the question isn’t it.
Ray Prior is in camp over here now. I suppose young Jack Hayter will be over soon too. Jimmy is still well. Excuse expression but he is what we call a bit ‘tin-arsed’.
There’s a movie-show tonight with Charlie Chap. featuring so will close. With best love to all.
Your loving son & boy, Vic.
Dear Mr. Armstrong
Your dear son (Pte. J.V. Armstrong No. 2518, 39th A.I.F.) was admitted some days ago suffering from Gun shot wound of abdomen & chest. His condition has been very bad since the beginning & although everything possible has been done for him he is still very seriously ill and I’m afraid there is very little hope of recovery.
He is very comfortable here and is having every care and attention. I will write you again, and let you know if there is any change.
J. Gray, Sister I/C
Dear Mr. Armstrong
I am very sorry to inform you that your dear boy’s condition is still very bad. I can’t say there is any improvement at all. I’m afraid there is very little hope of recovery. He is an excellent patient, is so good & quiet, and gives himself every chance, but his wounds are so bad, almost more than he can battle with.
He has taken more nourishment the last two days but is
very very weak.
Will write again & let you know if there is any change in his condition.
J. Gray, Sister I/C
Dear Mr. Armstrong
I am pleased to say since I last wrote, your Son has improved a little. He is still very ill but we are hoping he may do all right now.
He is very good & quiet. He suffers very little pain now, but is very very weak.
Everything that is possible is being done for him
so I hope he will get well.
He wishes me to convey his love to you.
J. Gray, Sister I/C
Dear Mr. Armstrong
I am pleased to say your Son has been improving again for the last few days. Today it is lovely and sunny & he is lying outside for a little this afternoon. I do hope he keeps on like this, although his lung condition is still rather bad, but he looks better & I think he might do all right.
Love from your dear boy.
Dear Mr. Armstrong
You will be very pleased to hear that your dear boy has been transferred to the Base. He was improving every day but very slowly, however probably the change will do him good. I hope you will continue to get good news of him & that soon he will be home with you in Australia.
[Transcribed by Judy Gimbert for the State Library of New South Wales]