Engineer Captain Nikolai Saczkowski and the Yenisei

E27

This article was published in The Mariner’s Mirror under Notes (from page 341) in Volume 103.3 on the 2nd of August 2017.

Engineer Captain Nikolai Saczkowski and the Yenisei

At the start of the First World War the new
minelayer cruiser Yenisei was one of the major
ships in the Imperial Russian Baltic Fleet.1
Commanding the ship was Captain First Rank
Prokhorov and in charge of her mechanical
systems was Engineer Captain Second Rank
Nikolai Saczkowski (figure 1).2 Yenisei was
the second ship to carry that name. The first
Yenisei, named after the great river in northern
Siberia, had been accidentally sunk in 1904
whilst laying mines during the siege of Port
Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War.3 In June
1905 the larger replacement of the Amur class,
Yenisei, was laid down in the Baltic Works, St
Petersburg. She was designed to carry some
320 mines and for protection mounted five 4.7-
inch guns and two 3-inch guns. The ship was
launched on the 18 July 1906 and after being
commissioned in November 1909 was based at
Kronstadt (figure 2).

The start of the First World War did not
go well for Russia. In the autumn of 1914 the
Russian army suffered huge casualties in the
battles of Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes,
and at sea the armoured cruiser Pallada was
torpedoed by the Germans with the loss of 600
men. In response Admiral Nikolai von Essen,
the commander-in-chief of the Baltic fleet,
decided on an offensive action using moored
contact naval mines to hamper sorties by the
German navy out of its base at Danzig. On
15 December 1914, the large armoured cruiser
Rurik and another armoured cruiser adapted
for minelaying, Admiral Makarov, laid 120
and 64 mines respectively, while the specialist
minelayer Yenisei laid 240 mines. The mines
were positioned in the Bay of Danzig between

Footnote: 1 This article is based on a paper presented at
the ‘The War at Sea, 1914–1919’ conference, held
at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
in June 2016. The author is the grandson of
Engineer-Captain Saczkowski.
2 Graf, The Russian Navy, 38.
3 Corbett, Naval Operations, 61; Wilson,
Baltic Assignment, 50.

Hela Point and Pillau (Baltiysk).4 This action
ranks as the largest mine-laying operation by
the Baltic Fleet during the war, but the onset of
winter prevented any further operations.5

Two British submarines had entered the
Baltic Sea during the autumn to serve under
the command of von Essen.6 HMS E1 was
commanded by Lt Cdr Noel Laurence, and
HMS E9 by Lt Cdr Max Horton. During
the harsh first winter of the war the Baltic

Footnote: 4 Wilson, Baltic Assignment, 50.
5 Pavlovich, The Fleet in the First World
War, 106.
6 Wilson, Baltic Assignment, 30.

Figure 1: The portrait of Engineer Captain
Saczkowski, wearing the Order of St Stanislaus,
painted by his daughter Tatiana Saczkowska.

Figure 2: The Yenisei at anchor in the naval port of Kronstadt.

Figure 3: The Yenesi anchored off the port of Revel (Tallinn).

Sea froze, making it impossible to undertake
naval operations. The submarines therefore
joined the Yenisei in her winter quarters at
Revel (Tallinn),7 where the British and Russian

Footnote: 7 The spelling Revel is used as this is the

officers socialized during the long winter nights
(figure 3).8 Meanwhile the other ships of the

Footnote 7 cont.: format used in Russian sources, rather than the
Germanic Reval.

Footnote: 8 At the year end both British officers were

Baltic Fleet retired to Kronstadt for the winter
months, their prime responsibility of guarding
the Russian capital having been accomplished.9

Yenisei’s last mission

On 7 May German naval forces occupied the
port of Libau (Liepaja).10 This was Latvia’s
second port after Riga and had the advantage
of being able to be kept ice-free by the use of
icebreakers. Once occupied the Germans linked
the port to Memel by a narrow-gauge railway
allowing the army to be supplied by sea.
The replenished army then began advancing
towards Riga. The German navy meanwhile
was deployed to assist the advancing land
forces, making preparations to sail from Danzig
towards the Gulf of Riga.

Spring came very late to Russia in 1915, but
by late May the ice in the Baltic had receded
northwards, and although the larger ships
were still ice-bound at Kronstadt, Revel was
relatively free of ice, allowing Yenisei and the
two British submarines to venture out. E9 set
out to begin a patrol southwards on the 20
May, but returned on the 29th after Horton
had learnt of the death of Admiral von Essen.11
Meanwhile an offensive action was suggested to
use Yenisei to lay mines off Danzig to hamper
the German capital ships from leaving.

The distance from Revel to Danzig is some
740 km of open water. The German navy
was already carrying out operations in Gulf
of Finland and Yenisei was no match for the
firepower of German battleships and cruisers.
With the main Russian fleet still ice-bound the
only protection available for Yenisei was the
two British submarines.

Footnote 8 cont.: promoted to the rank of commander. Captain
Saczkowski came to know Horton as he was
able to speak English with him when they met
socially.
9 Washburn, The Russian Campaign, 61.
10 Wilson, Baltic Assignment, 65.
11 Admiral von Essen died of pneumonia
on the 20 May after a short illness. Wilson,
Baltic Assignment, 61, 66, General Adjutant
Grigorovitch, (1915) Despatch number 660
from the warship Kretchet, Order from the
Commander of the Baltic Fleet. Original in
author’s possession.

Because of the hazardous nature of the operation
the crew of the Yenisei was advised that
they could not expect to return safely. It was
recognized that this could be a ‘suicide’ mission.
The individual crew members were offered the
opportunity to opt out of the mission, but
recognizing its national importance, the whole
crew volunteered (figure 4). Nevertheless
Engineer-Captain Saczkowski was confident
they would return and, as an act of bravado,
took his tennis racquet with him.

On the evening on 29 May Yenisei and
her submarine escort E1 sailed from Revel,
steaming southwards along the coasts of Estonia
and Latvia. Hugging the coast they remained
undetected, but at Libau the starboard main
motor shaft of E1 fractured and she had to
limp back to Revel to be repaired.12 The Yenisei
continued on her mission reaching the waters
off Danzig on 1 June. Some 300 mines were laid
during the night, from approximately 22:30 to
03:00, effectively sealing the port of Danzig.

Having successfully completed her mission,
the Yenisei began the run back to Revel,
returning through the Irben Straits and across
the Gulf of Riga, before passing through Moon
Sound (Muhu Vain) with its dredged depth of
5 metres off the islands of Dago (Hiiumaa),
Ösel (Saaremaa) and Moon (Muhu). She was
then forced to take the main shipping lane
which passes by the Odensholm lighthouse
on Osmussar island as the passage between
the island and the mainland was shallow and
probably mined at that time.

When rounding the Odensholm lighthouse
Sackowski decided it was an opportune time
to leave his command post in the engine room
and retire to his cabin for a cup of coffee. This
decision saved his life, for what he did not
know was that the German submarine U26 was
lying submerged off the lighthouse waiting for
any ‘passing trade’.

At 10:27 on 4 June U26 fired a torpedo.
Saczkowski was in his cabin when the torpedo
struck the engine room, fatally damaging the
Yenisei, which began to rapidly sink, going down
in 10 minutes.13 He was knocked unconscious
by a blow to his face from a wooden beam, and

Footnote: 12 Wilson, Baltic Assignment, 68.
13 Ibid.

also sustained injuries to his back and shoulders.
His sailor batman manhandled him into one
of the two nearby lifeboats which were being
launched. The boats became overcrowded and
floated below the icy sea with the occupants up
to their chests in water. The remaining sailors
aboard Yenisei had to jump into the water, but
they soon succumbed to the cold.

Captain Prokhorov chose to go down with
his ship, and Midshipman Volbeck stayed with
him. Midshipman Petchakin, in the water,
encouraged the sailors by shouting, ‘Do not
lose heart, children. Our “Okyn” has avenged
us.’ Having accepted their fate they shouted
‘Oora’ (Hurrah) as the crippled ship sank. On
regaining consciousness Saczkowski, as the sole
surviving officer, helped to keep up the spirits
of the crew.14

Having seen the explosion, two Estonian
fishermen, at considerable risk to their own
lives, left the shore to search for survivors.

Footnote: 14 Grigorovitch, General Adjutant (1915) Despatch
number 660 from the warship Kretchet,
Order from the Commander of the Baltic Fleet.

Lieutenant Matycebitch stood up to attract
their attention, but collapsed and died. Having
been in the water for some eighty minutes,
Saczkowski and the eight ratings in his boat
and 11 ratings in the other boat were rescued
by the fishermen.15 Soon after, another living
sailor was plucked from the sea. A total of 297
perished, making it the second greatest loss,
after the Pallada, that the Baltic Fleet suffered
during the entire war.

The next morning Commander Horton,
on patrol in E9, received a radio message that
the Yenisei had been torpedoed. He steered
his submarine to the spot to try to locate and
destroy the German submarine, but U26 had
dived and was able to get away.16

Yenisei still rests on the bottom of the Baltic
Sea at a depth of some 47 metres and remains a
war grave at 59.10N 23.43E. In 1996 divers were

Footnote: 15 Washburn,S. The Russian Campaign, 3.
16 U26 disappeared around 10 Aug. at the
entrance to the Gulf of Finland. She most likely
detonated a mine in a Russian minefield, which
was possibly laid by Yenisei.

Figure 4: The officers and deck hands of Yenisei photographed before their mission. Engineer
Captain Saczkowski is the first officer seated to his right of the wheel, on his right is Captain
Prokhorov.

able to dive on the ship and film her remarkable
state of preservation, helped by the Baltic’s low
salinity and oxygen-poor bottom water.17 The
nautical charts show her now as a ‘blob’, some
19 metres high.

Because of this mission the German capital
and troop ships were greatly delayed in leaving
Danzig and only managed to reach the Gulf of
Riga in August, by which time the Russians had
been able to evacuate the civilians and reinforce
the defences with two army divisions and a small
fleet of warships, including the pre-dreadnought
battleship Slava. The Germans were repelled and
Riga remained in Russian control.18

Engineer Captain Nikolai Saczkowski

After the surviving sailors had been landed on
the Estonian shore, Saczkowski was taken to a
hospital. The first thing he asked about when
recovering was the whereabouts of his tennis
racquet. Vice-Admiral L. B. Kerber, who had
taken over from Admiral von Essen, came to
see him and was able to confirm the success of
the mission. He told Saczkowski that the Tsar
was awarding Captain Prokhorov the Order
of St George (equivalent to the British Victoria
Cross). The admiral then asked where he was
when the torpedo struck. Saczkowski confirmed
that he had left the engine room to have a cup of
coffee in his cabin. He was told that as he was
therefore technically off duty and could not be
awarded that honour. However he was given
the Order of St Stanislaus with swords (figure
5). This was particularly appropriate as he was
of Polish descent and the order historically was
of Polish origin and later adopted by Imperial
Russia. He already held the Third class with
swords of the order, but at least he had his life.

During his stay in hospital, the doctors
suggested that, because of the icy sea, his
heart had swung on its axis and he was given
five years to live. Modern medical knowledge
suggests that in response to the cold water his
heart would have slowed and may even have

Footnote: 17 Tsaari sõjalaev, an Estonian documentary
of the dive can be viewed at https://arhiiv.err.ee/
vaata/tsaari-sojalaev.
18 Root, Battles East, 147; Knox, With the
Russian Army, 292; Wilson, Baltic Assignment,
74–5; Rutherford, The Russian Army, 160.

temporarily stopped whilst he was comatose.19
Remarkably he lived another 41 years.20

Once he had recovered he did not return
to service at sea. He was promoted Engineer-
Captain First Rank and appointed the Plenipotentiary
Director of the Metallurgic Plants in
the south of Russia, basically in charge of the
munitions factories in Ukraine. This was a vital
job to make up for the deficiency in shells and
bullets revealed during the first year of war and
he was able to greatly increase production.

On 18 June 1916 he was present on the depot
ship Dvina, in Revel at the investiture of British
submariners from E8 and E9 with medals of
the Order of St George. His right cheek still
showed the scarring from his Yenisei injury.21

Following the revolution in February
1917 Saczkowski went to report to the naval
headquarters in the Admiralty building, at the
end of the Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg.
When he entered the room he found the Minister
for the Navy standing by the desk with a sailor
lounging in the chair with his feet on the table.
A few months later he fought with the White
Army in southern Russia. In one episode, when
in a town falling to the Red Army, to escape he
had to drop from a bridge on to a hospital train
packed with victims suffering from typhus. He
got beneath a blanket and the soldiers searching
the compartment understandably made little
attempt to search it properly.22

On 7 October 1918, the three parts of the
divided Poland came together to proclaim they
were one independent state.23 A ‘call to arms’
went out to Polish officers scattered around
Eastern Europe. Saczkowski received a delayed
letter when he was in Sebastopol and it then took
two months for him to reach Poland, arriving in

Footnote: 19 Dr Prash Patel, trauma specialist, pers.
comm. (2016).
20 It was not his heart that eventually
failed on 18 Mar. 1956; he died from a brain
haemorrhage.
21 Imperial War Museum photograph
Q64267 portrays him holding the medals before
giving them to Vice-Admiral V. A. Kanin, now
Commander-in-Chief, to pin on to the ratings.
22 The telling of this incident was passed to
me by his daughter.
23 Hastings, Catastrophe, 561.

March 1920.24 He participated in repelling the
Soviet forces trying to retake Poland. He then
took charge of the maintenance of the small
Polish navy in Modlin, before resigning to
construct saw mills in Finland and then finally
move to Belgium.

He settled in Antwerp with his wife and
children until the German Blitzkreig in 1940.
Wanting to fight again at sea, he contacted Max
Horton, now Vice-Admiral Submarines, and

Footnote: 24 Personal files of Polish officers, Wojskowe
Biuro Historyczne, Warsaw. This information
was obtained from the Warsaw archives for the
Director of the Polish Institute and Sikorski
Museum, London, on my behalf.

received a warm reply.25 He sailed across to
England but was considered too old to return to
sea on a British ship. However his engineering
skills were put to war use as a draughtsman–
designer in British armaments factories. He
settled in England, remaining there until his
death in 1956.

GEORGE BAILEY OBE
CHOBHAM, SURREY

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00253359.2017.1340430
© The Society for Nautical Research

Footnote: 25 Letter from Vice-Admiral Max Horton
to Saczkowski dated 29 Feb. 1940. In the
possession of the author.

Figure 5: Medals awarded to Captain Engineer Nikolai Saczkowki. Round the neck: Order of
StStanislaus with swords. On the chest (left to right): Order of St Vladimir 3rd Class with swords,
for valour in the face of the enemy; Order of St Anne 3rd Class, for valour and distinguished
service in the military; Order of St Stanislaus Third Class with swords, for valour in the face of
the enemy; Medal of Defenders of Port Arthur; Commemorative medal for the 100th anniversary
of the Patriotic War 1812; Commemorative medal for the 300 years of the reign of the Romanov
family; Commemorative medal for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Gangut; Badges: Cross
of Defenders of Port Arthur; 100 years commemoration of the Naval Engineering Academy in
Kronstadt; Naval Academy (Marskoi Inginernol Outchilistche). At the bottom left is one given to
his daughter by a Polish airman during the Second World War.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Captain Klaus Muller,
captain of the schooner Star Clipper, for taking his
ship close to the site where the Yenisei now lies,
and Third Officer Olga Kaminska for helping to
identify Yenisei’s position. I would also like to
thank: Julia Bailey for translating Russian script;
Andrew Breer, for helping to examine the film
of the sunken Yenisei; Christopher Coffin for
proofreading; Andrew Orgill and John Pearce
for access to the Central Library at Sandhurst;
M. Muchketov, Central Naval Museum, St
Petersburg, for his correspondence concerning
Engineer Captain Saczkowski. A special thanks
to Colonel Tarmo Ranisoo, military attaché
at the Estonian embassy in London, for his
assistance with my research.

References

Corbett, J. S., Naval Operations, vol. 3
(London, 1921)
Cowrie, J. S., Mines, minelayers and
minelaying (Oxford, 1949)
Crosley, J., The Hidden Threat: The story of
mines and minesweeping by the Royal Navy
in World War I (Barnsley, 2011)
Graf, H., The Russian Navy in War and
Revolution: From 1914 up to 1918
(Honolulu, 2002)
Hastings, M., Catastrophe: Europe goes to war
1914 (London, 2013)
Knox, A., With the Russian Army 1914–1917
(London, 1921)
Pavlovich, N. B., The Fleet in the First World
War: Volume 1: Operations of the Russian
fleet (New Delhi, 1979)
Root, G. I., Battles East: A history of the
Eastern Front of the First World War
(Baltimore, 2007)
Rutherford, W., The Russian Army in World
War 1 (London, 1975)
Washburn, S., The Russian Campaign: April to
August, 1915 (London, 1915)
Wilson, M., Baltic Assignment: British
submarines in Russia 1914–19 (London,
1985)

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – December 1917

The first few days of December saw the forced withdrawal of our troops to winter lines. Despite the early signs of the long-awaited breakthrough the stalemate of the past three years prevailed. Again, our casualties were high. Both Passchendaele and Cambrai promised so much but delivered little return, except grief to so many families in the British Isles and Dominions.

A t least away from the Western Front, the 11th brought the good news of the Turks leaving Jerusalem. After 673 years of subservience to Mecca, Christians were able to worship at the centre of our faith. The Turks did try later to recapture the City but were driven back.

A worrying development is the ceasefire on the Eastern front. The Imperial Commander-in-Chief was murdered. The Czech prisoners of war, allowed by him to form themselves into a military formation, now have no choice other than to move east towards Vladivostok, 5,000 miles away. But this will release some 100,000 German soldiers for use on the Western Front should the Kaiser decide. We shall need to strip the factories of fitter men, replacing them by women, to counteract the threat, as well as taking new conscripts of younger years.

This gloomy prediction of Auckland Geddes was heightened by secret discussions in Switzerland to conclude a separate truce with the Austrian Empire and the Turks. Neither parties are willing to conclude peace in case Germany defeats the Allies after the Russian collapse.

The Austrians showed their willingness to continue fighting by launching a large attack in the Dolomites. But the peaks they seized were retaken by Italian next day; the snow then came, stopping further fighting.

Canadian citizens now are taking losses besides their gallant soldiers. Early in the month a munitions ship, the ‘Mont Bland’, blew up in Halifax harbour. Up to 2,000 were killed, some 10,000 injured.

Our Intelligence tell that the civilians of the Axis countries are suffering hugely from our blockade. Not that I can be sympathetic, British rationing is causing hardship. Whilst the military leaders suppress the civilian populations in these countries, there will be no relief for them.

For me, 1917 will always be the passing of my beloved Natasha. Though I cannot forgive her irresponsibility in persuading the Canadian doctor to take her forward into the trenches, I forgave her for the years of love, friendship and carrying our three lovely children. I recognise it was her spirit, which I admired so much, that led her to disaster. It was that spirit that helped her continue her nursing and looking after the children, especially Rose in the aftermath of Rory’s death in the ‘Invincible’.

Once Cambrai was closed down, I and our staff were able to wind down after ensuring the administration of the engines and rolling stock in France was in hand to maintain supplies to our troops and to prepare them for 1918. Eric Geddes tabled a dinner at the Reform Club for his ‘brothers-in-War’. He was pleased that we had overcome the many glitches, including the transportation of the tanks from British factories to the Cambrai front. Thinking of which, I was glad not to have been sniped near Bourlon Wood.

The highlight of my leave at home was the Christmas Eve request by Charles to ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage. Though Rose is young, she told me that she loves him. I agreed the request. Next day they left in the early hours to motor cycle to his parents. For the rest of the family, we were in good spirits, Flora and Delphine fashioned a magnificent lunch out of the available rations and we spent the afternoon in card games before an evening in front of the log fire, the wood having been cut by Thom.

Sevastopol Wars by Maj.Gen. Melvin; a review with Great War interest

E28 of Collected Articles

‘Sevastopol’s Wars’ by Maj.Gen. Mungo Melvin

I welcome the insight that a retired senior Army Officer can bring to understanding the history of an important region of the European continent. The Crimea, protruding into the Black Sea, has long had a major strategic role for Russia. Containing the northward push of the Ottoman empire with its Muslim theocracy: providing access through the Bosphorus into the Mediterranean Sea and hence the oceans: threatening expansion into the British-held Indian sub-continent.

In its 752 pages the book covers the subject in depth. In this review I aim to identify the main historical features Melvin describes. The book is divided into four major parts.

‘Early Sevastopol’ relates its complex history from the colonisation by the Greeks before the time of Christ to the campaigns of Peter the Great around the turn of the 1700s. His leadership meant that Russia, a vast country landlocked by geography and climate, now sought to gain access into the Black Sea and beyond, mirroring his founding of St. Petersburg. Whereas its port of Kronstadt was held fast by ice for some six months of the year the Black Sea offered warmth. It took Prince Potemkin later in the century to persuade Empress Catherine II (the Great) to look south towards creating a warm-water port. Militarily seizing the Crimea gave the opportunity to develop a harbour around a superb natural inlet. Hence Sevastopol was built as the hub of Russian maritime power in the Black Sea. The author records how her economic resources coupled with the energetic drive of a Scotsman created an impressive port with major ship maintenance facilities and land fortifications.

In ‘The Eastern War’, the author explains the 1850s tensions between the Ottoman and the Russian empires. When the two conflicted, a sea battle at Sinope gave the British and French Governments an excuse to protect their interests in the Mediterranean. They allied with the Turks. In 1854 a combined sea and land operation was initiated by the European powers to seize Sevastopol with its port and, thereby destroy the Black Sea Fleet. Landing in north Crimea, they fought the battle of the Alma. The Russian forces were driven from the battlefield, retreating towards the city. The author then explains why the Allies were unable to capitalise on their victory giving time for Russian improvements to the defences of Sevastopol. Warfare of artillery bombardment and counter-bombardment then ensued. A counter-attack, to be mounted against the dispersed Entente encampments developed into the battle of Balaklava, infamous for the charge of the British Light Brigade. The Russians had limited success but a bad defeat a fortnight later at Inkerman. The severe winter weather reduced the campaign to a siege. The author covers well the technologies of siegecraft. He reveals the reality that British logistical and organisational structures, including care for the wounded, were poorly handled. The exception was the laying of 11 kilometres of railway track enabling the materials to be brought forward from Balaklava to the trenches. Largely unknown to modern British historians, the French land forces by early summer of 1855 numbered four times the British. Poor command lost the Russians the battle of the Chernaya river to the French. Eventually, continuing pressure enabled the Allies to capture southern Sevastopol. However the Russian had skilfully constructed a floating bridge across the inlet to the north shore. Their forces conducted an orderly withdrawal, blowing up much of what remained undamaged.

Following the demolition of Upton’s five splendid dry docks and the fortifications, the Treaty of Paris was signed in March 1856. Sevastopol was denied its Black Sea Fleet and naval infrastructure.

Part three ‘City of Revolution’ shows American participation in clearing the harbour of seventy-four scuttled ships. Gradually the city and harbour were reconstructed and new ships entered the fleet. The author then covers the build-up in social pressures which lead to the Crimea sharing with other parts of western Russia the1905 unrest, including the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin (made famous by the Eisenstein film). Once the First World War broke out, German and Turkish ships inflicted damage on the Russian areas of the north Black Sea. During the next three years military defeats elsewhere caused Russia to fall into chaos, the author advising his readers to learn more from others about the 1917 revolutions.

Taking advantage of the chaos, German troops were able in May 1918 to seize Sevastopol. Part of the Black Sea Fleet escaped to Novorossiysk. After the Armistice, the ships of the Entente ships replaced those of the Germans. In April 1919, the Allies left, leaving Sevastopol to the Red Army. They in turn two months later were replaced by White forces. Eventually the Red Army was able to focus on the Crimea and won control in November 1920, after the successful evacuation of their opponents.

In Part Four ‘Modern War’ the author covers events to modern times. Those left behind in the city suffered the Red Terror, many thousands were massacred – a fate experienced elsewhere in Russia during the next twenty years. However significant enhancements were made to the infrastructure of the city and port. Efforts were also made to recreate a Black Sea Fleet.

Melvin has already drawn on World War Two for his major work, ‘Manstein: Hitler’s Greatest General’. In 1941, the Germans again attacked the Crimea, but von Manstein’s Eleventh Army experienced tough opposition. Some nine months passed until July 1942 when the Nazi forces captured the Russian soldiers left behind when the Soviet commanders were spirited away. Von Manstein was promoted Field-Marshal by Hitler. Sevastopol remained under Nazi control until May 1944, the city being ‘cleaned up’ after the destruction, however mass deportations reduced the Slav population but not the Tatars. After Kursk (July 1943) the Crimea and its German Seventeenth Army became isolated from the Ukrainian battlefields. Gradually the Soviet forces gained Crimean territory during the winter. Between April and May 1944 the Germans retreated into the city. From there they were driven into the Chersonese peninsula. After evacuation, some 15,000 were left to become prisoners of war. As the price of victory Stalin made sure that the Tatars and Muslims were expelled from the Crimea.

The author continues his narrative beyond the ending of the Second World War. He explains how, under Khrushchev, the Crimea was ceded to the Ukraine in 1954. This created continuing dissention in the area since so many inhabitants were descended from Russians and saw themselves as Russian. After the period of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990 and a feeling of national humiliation, a new strong leader exploited the internal political strife in the Ukraine to take Crimea back into the Russian fold in 2014. Vladimir Putin gambled successfully on the West and the rest of the world to grumble, impose sanctions but not to oppose force with force.

Melvin skilfully articulates the current political positions as affecting the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine. He recognises the pride the Russians have in being in charge of the city, the port and the Black Sea Fleet. As usual, in that country, the people welcome a strong leader and they now have one in President Putin. The author draws attention to modern strategic analvsis encompassed within the term ‘multi-dimensional war’ to achieve political goals. The Epilogue brings this monumental work to a fitting conclusion.

Credit is due to the cartographer, Barbara Taylor, for her well drawn maps. But one flaw is the setting of the maps and photographs into three blocks. This creates difficult in cross-referencing the maps to the descriptions given of the battles and campaigns. Placing them closer to the events being described would have helped. Topographical diagrams and photographs showing how the lie of the land affected the decision(or not)-making of the commanding officers would have been useful. A comment heard of a reader at the RE Conference on Fortifications at Chatham (20 October 2017) was about the quality of the paper. It is unfortunate if, for a high-class book, not a railway station block-buster, the paper use to print the text is unworthy of the overall quality. In future years, ‘Sevastopol’s Wars’ will be placed in many military, university and general libraries; hopefully its readership will not find the pages deteriorating. I detected no typing errors, showing excellence in the proof reading reflecting credit on Melvin’s daughter.

The author has made the historical development of the Crimea readable, informative and factual. His asides colour the text as appropriate, drawing upon his real military experience. For readers wishing to gain a deeper understanding of what motivates the Russian Bear, ‘Sevastopol’s Wars’ gives a sound start.

For the reviewer personally, the chronology of events, recorded from page 635, covering over two thousand years, explains why his own maternal family crest records events beginning with the Huns in the 4th century, becoming Tatars living in the southern Ukraine (around the later Odessa) which features three major rivers, before fighting with the Poles and Lithuanians at Grunwald in 1410 (the defeat of the Teutonic knights). The family eventually settled in Poland, now part of Belarus. For this reviewer the book is more than a history text for academics, it confirms family history. Both his grandfather Nicholas and his brother Boris, as Russian naval officers, spent time in Sevastopol serving in the Black Sea Fleet.

Date: 07 November 2017

Fighting for the Falzarego Pass

E26 of Collected Articles

Remembering the Italian and Austrian soldiers who, a century ago, fought eachother to a standstill under the horrific conditions imposed by Mother Nature.

The winter sports enthusiasts, climbing above the Tofana di Rozes ski-lift to the Cinque Torri refuge at 2,137m, have around them some of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful mountain scapes. Over on the horizon they can see the massive bulk of the 3,344m high Marmolada mountain. They may scan across the Falzarego valley to the vertical cliffs beyond. They will wonder about the dark holes they spot in the cliffs.

Descending from the refuge, and passing the top station of the ski-lift, they will come across carefully built walls of rounded boulder either side of the narrow path (A). Then they will encounter cabins hidden behind massive stone outcrops and an exposed level area, carrying a notice about it being the site of a gun emplacement, will intrigue them. The path then descends between two rock faces that lean in on each other (B).

Once back in their chalets they may find a book on a table which explains what they have seen. They have followed in the steps of many thousands of Italian soldiers who hiked below the Cinque Torri in 1915 to fight the Austrians guarding the mountains across the 1.6km wide Falzarego valley.

This brief article explores the dramatic topography in which the fighting took place and the impact it had on the mountains. Let it be acknowledged that those who fought there during the three seasons had to adopt skills such as rock-climbing, abseiling and skiing not shared by those fighting on the Western front – except in the Vosges mountains of eastern France.

When the Italians declared war on Austria-Hungary on the 23rd of May 1915 they hoped to retake the Tyrol region which was in dispute between the two countries. Their Fourth Army soldiers moved into the Dolomite mountains forming the international border. Their hesitation in taking Cortina d’Ampezzo gave the opposing Austrian forces time to consolidate their positions to the north of the town. Frustrated by their defence, the Italian forces then took the road west along the narrow Falzarego valley. From there they hoped to enter the Pusteria valley and reach the Austrian heartland. In 10 kilometres they passed the five huge rock formations known as Cinque Torri. Pushing the Austrians back they came to the Falzarego Pass which was then successfully defended by the enemy. On the 15th of June, furious fighting took place for the 2,477m spike-like Sasso di Strai which had been fortified by the Austrians (C). General Nava’s troops captured it, then bizarrely abandoned it three days later. He was sacked in September. Fighting also took place on the nearby 2,452m granite Col di Lana in July and then November and December (D).

What is of interest was that, for both sides, the Dolomites were not a priority in their military strategic planning. The Italians launched more than ten offensive battles on the Isonzo river to the north of Venice, the Austrians resolutely defending. Later the Germans joined them to win the battle of Caporetto, where Rommel, of Africa Corps fame in WW2, gained his spurs. But once the Falzarego campaign began, as casualties mounted, so more and more troops were sucked in.

This area of the Dolomites became one of the most strange and horrific battlefields ever. Strange because conventional tactics could not be used, such as in the trenches of the Western Front. Horrific because it was not only the enemy that had to be faced, but Mother Nature herself. In the next two years the ‘White Death’, the avalanches, are estimated to have taken more lives that bullets and shells. Even in summer there were freak snowfalls.

Just servicing the troops in the mountains was expensive of manpower. 900 porters working in relays were needed to maintain a garrison of 100 men positioned on a 3,000m peak. Once, Italian gunners fired 950 rounds to drive 12 Austrian soldiers off a small turret of rock. Munitions carried up to the artillery were wasted on a grand scale. Building the elaborate aerial cableways, to save soldiers trudging through fields of deep snow, were feats of civil engineering. They have evolved into the ski-lifts of today.

In winter, temperatures dropped to -40 to -50 centrigrade so frostbite was an ever–present danger. In places there were 12 metres of snowfall. During the cold times, the troops were thinned out leaving sentries observing the enemy to make sure no military actions were about to begin. Where it did, rifle and machine gun fire was sufficient to eliminate the soldiers caught struggling through the snow fields or climbing rock faces. Both sides recognised other offensive tactics would be needed.

With the route to the west blocked by the Pass, the Italian troops then tried to move up Travenanzes valley. This wild and trackless valley is entered through the Forcella Travenanzes, a pass 500 metres above and to the side of the Falzarego valley (E). The entrance to the side valley is dominated by the 2,656m Punta di Bois which looms over the valley. This peak is part of the Tofana di Mezzo, that at 3,244 metres rears over Cortina d’Ampezzo. Overall the Austrian defenders benefitted from having the highest peaks and the strategically important positions in these valleys.

As with the Western Front, tunnelling started. To do this the Italians, with their greater engineering expertise, moved up rock boring machines. The Austrians still depended on hammers and spikes for loosening the hard rock. The tunnels became protected accesses to observation ‘portholes’ and accommodation for the soldiers. But, in some, the end chambers became ‘mines’. Underneath the Col di Lana, the 2,778m high Lagazuoi and the Punta di Bois, tunnels were dug, explosives moved into the chambers and then fired. The first mine under the Col, some 5,000 kilogrammes of solidified nitro-glycerine explosive, were blown on 17th April 1916 and displaced 10,000 tonnes of rock. Giant slabs of mountainsides were torn away, crashing into the valleys below. When the 37,000 kilogrammes of solidified nitro-glycerine under the Punta di Bois, known to the Italians as the Casteletto and the Austrians as the Schreckenstein (Rock of Horrors), were blown at 03:30 on 11th of July 1916, King Vittorio Emanuele III and General Cadorna, the military commander, were watching from an observation post near the Cinque Torri (thought to be the one from which tourists can still view the valley) (F).

Overall a total of five mines were laid by both sides under Lagazuoi which overlooks the Falzarego Pass (G). When the first mine, of 30,000 kilogrammes of explosive, laid by the Austrians, was ignited on the 22nd of May 1917, some 100,000 cubic metres were blown away. A rock face measuring 200 x 136 metres was displaced.

The tunnels are still accessible in the summer months and a British historian, Dr. John Scanlon, takes climbers into them (H). Small holes were made or ‘windows’ installed so that the enemy could be watched (I).

The glacier of the Marmolada, the mountain held by the Austrians, allowed the excavation of a network of tunnels which became known as the ‘City of Ice’, eventually even having an ‘Ice Church’. A century later the glacier, as it retreats, continues to release the bodies of those who died there. The tunnels can still be explored.

When the Dolomites front was abandoned following the Italian retreat from Caporetto in the autumn of 1917, the human cost of a long campaign began to be counted. For the 6,000 Italians dead on the Col di Lana and Mont Sief, precisely nothing was achieved. Overall, for both armies, 18,000 were casualties there. The Col di Lana became known as ‘Bloody Mountain’. A single avalanche claimed over 300 lives on the Gran Poz near the Marmolada. 6,000 Austrians perished in the mountains in two days, the 13th and 14th February 1916, as the consequence of a thaw, following heavy snowfall, causing avalanches. 60,000 overall died as the result of the avalanches in the Dolomites in the three years. Only one-third died in action trying to capture and defend the peaks and passes, two-thirds were killed by lighting, storms, avalanches, landslides and rockfalls.

A century later the scars remain. Photographs show how the mountains shapes were changed by the explosions. Tourists are able to visit the fortifications. They will marvel at the efforts of the soldiers and Russian prisoners of war needed to haul cannons and wooden tree trunks up to the heights. They can visualise what it must have been like to pass winter months in the rock trenches and tunnels (J).

Within the futility of the Dolomites campaign the tragedy is the view of many Italian soldiers expressed in letters and memoirs. They wrote of being able to commune with Nature in the high mountains, with its silence intensified rather than broken by the moaning wind. Some came to regard war as sport. A century later we can understand their feelings about this dramatic mountain range, whether the snow-covered peaks in the still and sunlight winter days or the glorious tapestry of plants and flowers in the spring and summer. Even in the midst of warfare, young men were impressed by the magnificence of their mountain battlefield.

A) A narrow trench on the Cinque Torri built of small round boulders. © BL

B) Modern tourists descending a former military track beneath the Cinque Torrri. © JR

C) Sasso di Strai, the site of a mountain battle, sinister in the evening light. © GB

D) The Col di Lana, its modern shape a casualty of the War – see right flank. © GB

E) Forcella Travenanzes, the access to the Travenanzes valley, with the Casteletto seen above the ice road. © GB

F) The probable observation post from which the Casteletto explosion was seen by the King and General Cadorna. © BL

G) The Lagazuoi showing the scree from the explosions. © GB

H) An Austrian tunnel hewn through the Lagazuoi, showing its rough cut. © TP

I) The fascia at the end of an Austrian tunnel letting the Italian side of the Falzarego valley be seen. © TP

J) Austrian accommodation within the Lagazuoi, with rifles stacked. © TP

References:

Irving Root, G. (2008) Battles in the Alps. Publ. Baltimore.
Thompson, Mark (2008) The White War. Publ. Faber & Faber.
Wachtler, Michael (2006) The First World War in the Alps. Publ. Athesia Spectrum.

Googling ‘https:mapcarta.com/Cortina_d527Ampezzo’ gives a simple way to identify the named places of interest.

For more specialist examination, because the individual mountains ‘flow’ into each other, the best approach to locating the individual peaks is the 1:25,000 Carta topografica per escursionisti ‘Cortina d’Ampezzo e Dolomiti Ampezzane’. This map produced by Tabacco shows the topography from Cortina d’Ampezzo to the Col di Lana.

Acknowledgements:

Andrew Orgill, John Pearce and the team of the Central Library, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and John Lee, member of the BCMH, for their help and support.

Bethany Lloyd (BL) and Tracey Papiez (TP) of Colletts Holidays and Dr. Jo Roberts (JR), Clinical Lead, NHS South Devon & Torbay CCG, for their photographs taken within the Falzarego valley.

© 20 January 2017.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – November 1917

Passchendaele was closed down early this month. Little was gained at the high cost in our casualties. If the enemy took a similar number of casualties, attrition won.

At least the good news came in from Palestine that British troops, spear headed by Kiwi cavalry in Beersheba and Aussies cavalry in Gaza, had taken these two towns. Now perhaps the Turks are in retreat, two years after Gallipoli.

American troops in their first time in the trenches at Barthelemont were overwhelmed. Pershing has since decided that his troops need more training. Whilst in Italy, our allies have continued to be pushed back and are retreating to the Piave. It has been decided eight divisions are going south from the British and French fronts to boost Italian morale.

On the 8th, we learned that the Bolcheviks had seized power in Petrograd – what this means for Russia is uncertain. Since then our Intelligence say the new masters want to end the war with Germany. Clearly the Tsar and his family are at risk in Tobolsk, where they were exiled by Kerensky in August.

On the 20th, our British tanks lumbered into action from outside the wood at Havrincourt, opposite Cambrai. In the event, over 300 began the action. At first, they overwhelmed the enemy in their trenches, crushing and blasting the Boche soldiers who chose to stay. Surprise was complete, the use of aircraft noise and canvas screens to hide the tanks moving to their start lines was innovative. Then enemy guns ranged in on the tanks and numbers were blasted along the Flesquieres ridge. Most moved on to the St. Quentin Canal. But the Masnieres bridge over the canal collapsed under the weight of one, no more could cross. The cavalry were able to do so, horses can swim. Canadian cavalry charged forward north of Masnieres, did much damage, became pinned down under machine gun fire, stampeded their horse and used their sabres to return to our lines. At Bourlon Wood, tanks grounded and stuck on the felled trees, fighting once again being the province of the PBI.

Our Intelligence had not noted the presence of two German divisions resting after moving from the Eastern Front. As our advance slowed these men reinforced the retreating foe, stiffened them, and are now pushing back our infantry. The bells in our homeland were pealed too soon.

After transporting the tanks, once the attack began, our railway wagons returned to bringing up general materials, ammunition and fodder for the horses I returned to my desk in the War Office, now the railways have returned to ’normal’, no longer being needed in France.

During my last stay at home, Flora gave me ‘her notice’. Having worked for Natasha for nine years and now being aged sixty-two years she wanted to retire to her cottage in the village. But she did not wish to forsake our family. Her young niece, Gwendoline, a Somme widow, was also a trained cook. Staying at the cottage, she was brought to our house. A fine friendly woman, Delphine took to her immediately. Next day I confirmed that I would employ her after the New Year, which suited Flora, wanting to make her last one with us as memorable as could be with the rationing of festive food stuffs. Gwendoline was delighted as it gave her time to return to her Kensington flat, sort out her affairs, before returning to the rooms previously housing Flora. Not having children she looked forwards to ‘spoiling’ Thom and Nat with her pastries.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – October 1917

I record what has been happening this month. The assaults in front of Ypres are still bogged down in mud, the rain overwhelming the drainage ditches of the farmland. To take a bullet, even as a flesh wound, means for many of our soldiers their death, they are being sucked down and drowned. Haig cancelled further attacks once our forces captured the ridge by the village of Passchendaele. Yet again, the cost in Empire lives has been enormous. Only if the bosche have lost more will this cost be bearable.

The coming attack by some three hundred tanks must be a change from infantry assaults, even when the artillery lays down creeping barrages. Not all enemy machine gun nests are eliminated and project a lead hail storm into the faces of our soldiers. With officers and senior NCOs to the fore, they being cut down first inevitably drain the attacks of momentum. The tanks will be able to search out the nests, crush them with gunfire or with their tracks. Their steel hulls will provide some protection to the infantry following on behind. From what I have sobserved, their limitation is the slow speed at which they move, this must give time for enemy gunners to range and fire their cannons over open sites. Our artillery will have to focus on the enemy gun lines to lessen their threat.

Elsewhere the Italian and Eastern Fronts are in disarray. The German reinforcements of their Austrian allies have brought vitality, the Italian forces have been driven off their mountain peaks, many soldiers have become prisoners and their lines are now well back from where they were. The British and French Governments are sending divisions to bolster the Italian defence.

In Russia, the Bolcheviks are gaining momentum as troops desert from the front line, sailors refuse to obey their officers and railway workers strike. Kerensky’s hold on power is fast weakening. If Russia falls out of the war, then the dynamics of the Western Front could be severely changed. That it is so important that the coming tank assault is successful.

At last the French have regained their elan. Along the Chemin des Dames ridge their assaults have carried strongpoints such as the fort of la Malmaison. They also executed Mata Hari as a German spy.

In Mesopotamia, the British forces continue fighting at Gaza.

With planning for the tanks now almost complete, I have been able to get back to my home most weekends to give manly support to Tom and Nat. Tom is beginning to feel that he should be helping win the war but I remind him he is just sixteen. Nat is the one of our sons most missing his mother. In the autumnal evenings I sit reading reports and Dickens. Delphine concentrates on her needlework, meanwhile Flora loves fussing over us like an elderly aunt. I insist she sits with us so we can talk about village life. I try to refrain from reminiscing about our past life with Natasha as Delphine has always done about life with her husband. I have long gathered that their marriage was not that joyful, unlike ours. However Mariya is a great comfort to her, so mature for her ten years. Having the support of home life is giving me some comfort. As is the occasional letter from Rose who clearly is in love with Charles.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – September 1917

My personal life is bleak now there is no Natasha at our home nor in London. I have been to Highleigh just twice in the last month, mainly to show our sons I have not abandoned them. Delphine and Flora tell me they are coping well, having seen the deterioration in their mother’s health these past three years. Their teachers know the circumstances so are watching out for them in classes.

Charles contacted me. He has been consoling Rose and for that I am most grateful. They plan to be with us over the Christmas period besides visiting his family.

The battles around Ypres are developing into a repeat of the Somme in the late autumn. Mud is glueing up any attacks: rifles and gun barrels are being cleaned almost constantly to prevent their seizing. Tanks bog down in the mud. The innovative gun carriers however proved effective in carrying supplied forward when the ground permitted it. But overall the hell of the fighting is leading to inhumanity, with British prisoners being bayoneted and our soldiers being disinclined to accept surrenders shortly afterwards. The casualty lists are impacting on the War Office, Willie Robertson querying the progress being made with Haig. His answer is he believes the enemy are suffering worse than our soldiers. The answer of those who believe in attrition as a winning tactic.

Reports have been sent by GHQ about battles at the Menin Road and Polygon Wood. The optimism being suggested about territorial advances of a hundred yards leaves me cold.

At least a new plan is beginning to be prepared. East of Albert, we are beginning to plan for an offence. Trains will be needed to transport the new tanks to training areas. This time it will be easier because of design changes meaning the sponsons can be folded into the body of a tank. The former sponsons had to be removed, then rebolted, to avoid fouling the loading gauge. I went across to monitor the exercises to test the low-loader rolling stock being used. It was a relief to get away from England. It meant I had to concentrate on the mission. Mixing socially with the railwaymen and the officers and NCOs in the evenings has helped to lighten my black moods.

One afternoon I went forward with Bertie Richads to see beyond the trenches held by our troops. Bertie had to tell me to stop peering over the parapets, not because of my being sniped, but not wanting a German whizz-bang to land on him. My grief was making me complacent. However I was interested to see the ground around Bourlon Wood – the trees are still heavy with leaves, not like the blasted timber of High Wood. The fields are not ruined by shelling. I was not sniped. .

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – August 1917

‘Look after my lovely children, and after Delphine.’ Soon after whispering these words to me alone, my beloved Natasha quietly passed into her eternal peace. Dr. Rawlins closed her eyes before Delphine brought the children into the bedroom to say their goodbyes to their mother. The presence of Father O’Brien administering the Last Rites gave solemnity to the emotions they felt.

I deliberately kept from Natasha the battle now being waged in Ypres. In her last hours, not to remind her of where her suffering began.

Consigning my Natasha to the ground was the alliance between the two Christian faiths. Our new Parish priest, the Reverend Michaelson, conducted the internment with Father O’Brien giving the eulogy from our collective memories of Natasha as my wife, the mother of our children, the woman helping train nurses for our War wounded. Many of the villagers came to pay their respects. Unexpectedly, before the service began, a black Rolls-Royce drew up. Lady Moidart, a Lady-in-Waiting to Her Majesty, joined the congregation. Before she was driven back to London, she and her chauffeur having joined us for tea in the village Hall, Lady Moidart handed me a personal letter. In it, unbeknown to me, our Queen wrote how she and Natasha had corresponded since their first meeting in Brighton. She added that she still wished for Rose to be presented at Court once the War was won.

Flora and Delphine gave stability to the necessary things that had to be done. I offered the formal instructions and they put them into practical actions. Mariya has been of great help to Nat in his grief, having lost her own father. Thom has looked to Flora for comfort. Rose has wept with Delphine, recalling her loss of Rory only a year ago. Myself, I sat quietly by myself in the study , looking over the sea, the rise and fall of the tides becoming oddly comforting. They reminded me of many peaks but few troughs of our marriage over the 23 years since I met her at the Arundel Ball.

The day after the Funeral dear Rose took the train back to Greenwich. I stayed until the Thursday, the War waiting for no man. For now, Flora and Delphine will be in charge of the household and three children – of which I am most grateful.

The attacks at Ypres continue at great loss of our troops. The foul weather meant the soldiers, once again, having to advance, wading through torn ground, against machine-gun nests. What have we learned since the Somme? Apparently little. I left London to join with Major Jones; at least we are ensuring that our guns have the shells to fire. Unfortunately the effectiveness of the artillery bombardments is limited. Hitting the mud, the shells do not explode, when the ground dries out, they bounce off the firm surfaces without exploding. Clearly the fuses are not working.

However our Intelligence has reported that the enemy ‘supposedly’ have abandoned thoughts of exploiting French disarray. Yet the French have recovered sufficiently to launch a diversionary attack before Verdun, capturing numerous prisoners. For GHQ the trade-off is the lengthening British casualty lists. Natasha would have been horrified that Ypres again becomes a graveyard for the BEF, I am thankful she never knew this.

Elsewhere the Italians attacked on the Isonzo gaining six miles of mountains and taking over 20,000 Austrian prisoners. The Russians continue to pay the Grim reaper a high price, their assaults being beaten off along the Front.

Wednesday the First of August 1917 will remain the day when my Natasha, the beating heart of our family, was stilled. She leaves three delightful children and many memories for us all.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – July 1917

Natasha is critical. Her coughing has abated but she is breathing heavily then shallowly. Dr. Rawlins has told me to expect an end in the next few days. Indeed he is amazed at how fiercely she had been fighting the condition for many weeks. We sit with her as she lies semi-conscious. When I sleep, Delphine sits by her. The boys have been very good, also spending time by their mother. Flora keeps up the steady supply of tea, soft drinks and cakes. Mariya has been gentle as well, accepting her mother’s focus is on Natasha.

A fortnight ago, I was ordered to go to the railhead near Poperinge to check on the transfer of shells from the wagons to the lorries and light railways. Geddes knew of my wife’s condition but said it was vital for the coming offensive for him to receive a verbal report. With so many sizes of shells arriving, it was important that the soldiers were delivering the right size of shells to the individual batteries. Fortunately the quartermasters were properly co-ordinating the flow thus within a few days I was able to report back. When I did, I received the message I dreaded, Natasha’s condition was deteriorating. I left to the sound of the bombardment, the first of the over one million shells being fired at the Boche defences in front of Ypres.

Back in London and before entraining to the coast, I was asked about observations reported to me by officers of the conditions at Ypres. The rain was heavy, and the ground was beginning to show signs of becoming glutinous as the land drainage broke down under our and enemy shelling. However the morale of the infantry was good, boosted by having seen the tanks that will give them protection. In my place, Major Jones has been sent to Poperinge to continue monitoring artillery supplies.

I was also told the news from other theatres. Lawrence with his Arabs has captured Aquaba. The French enjoy the sensational spy trial of Mata Hari, the renowned ‘entertainer’. Otherwise, the focus is on Ypres to take pressure off the French on the Aisne. The overall plan is to take the communications centre of Roulers and open up the coast to allow the Belgian forces to recapture swathes of their homeland.

When speaking to Geddes, I asked him if he could use his influence to allow Rose leave. He did more, because two days later there was the sound of a powerful motorcycle coming down the road. When it reached our house, two figures dressed in leathers got off. One was Rose, the other Charles. He said he had been given enough fuel to take his ‘bike’ out of storage, bring Rose and then return to Greenwich. He stayed the night and then drove away.

With the family complete, we wait patiently. I have written short notes to her parents and friends from my desk placed near her bed. I cannot expect them to come, recognising the travel restrictions – but at least they have been informed.

Today John rang from our mansion block. Reports coming in to the War Office tell of the launch of the infantry assaults. Progress is being made, but conditions underfoot are bad compared to the first day of the Somme. It is difficult to take this in when I am so concentrating on Natasha. The War seems far away from her bedroom.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – June 1917

The staggering set of explosions on the 7th under the Messines ridge and a furious artillery bombardment blasted the Boche off the ridge. Four days later they had to withdraw to new lines further east. At the very least, they have little opportunity down south to exploit the insurrections of some French units – the price for Nivelle’s hubris. Petain understands what is needed to bring the troops back into action – food, rest and recuperation. And retribution by firing squad of the worst mutineers to encourage the others.

Orders being implanted within the War Office show our positive response to French woes: our trains are now being concentrated on carrying men and materials to the north. Across the Pond, the Selective Draft Act is bringing Americans to the standard – the sooner these men can arrive at the Western Front the sooner they will make a vital impact. Their General Pershing has visited the King before leaving for France to meet the first contingent of American ‘pioneers’ – to train and equip the later arriving units for battle.

Little positive news from Italy. Peaks are won, then lost, for some 20,000 Italian casualties. A few days later our ally Portugal had her first action in Flanders.

One again London children became the innocent victims of enemy bombs. They numbered among the 150 civilians killed on the 13th in broad daylight, the bombers flying at over ten thousand feet. None were shot down.

Kerensky and Brusilov are valiantly trying to keep their troops fighting, very difficult with the numbers leaving the front to go home. The Germans offered an armistice but the Provisional Government rejected it – for now. I can see little hope of Russia coming out of the chaos. My mother’s latest letter tells of Boris fearing a Bolshevik grab for power.

Of great importance to our household, I fear that Natasha is sinking fast. Dr. Rawlins took me to one side when he came last weekend and said I should prepare for the worst. He is giving her strong medicines to suppress her coughing. So I asked the Roman Catholic priest I know to adminster the Blessed Sacrament to her. Father O’Brien lives in Arundel, so I drove to collect him. Delphine also received it, keeping Natasha company. Father O’Brien did not query my wife’s lapse of faith, saying that nowadays succour is more important than status. I was grateful for that.
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I have written to Rose warning her, a ghastly letter to send, especially I am not emotional – having to be so focused on war work with its horrors. Delphine and Flora recognise what is happening and offer much emotional support to the children. They let me sit quietly by Natasha, when I am down at the weekends. She rests on the chaise-longue in the library, where she can look over the roses in full bloom in the hot sunlight before being carried upstairs to her bed by Flora in the evening.

Natasha is no fool, she knows but is being positive. We recount our memories of courtship, the births of our children, the important moments and the silly events, the life within the family, close and extended. Even to the intimate and erotic feelings that bind us together.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – May 1917

Through much of May, our troops have been sent into attack at Arras, despite Allenby warning on the 7th of their being semi-trained. Churchill in the Commons three days later urged the Government to conserve British and French troops until the American forces were ready for action. So we have had to ensure supplies to the Arras Front. Despite the gains of over sixty square miles of Boche held territory the losses of our men are high. One of them was the pilot, Captain Ball, shot down on the 7th. Death does not visit alone the trenches. However the reports tell of one benefit, the tanks are beginning to show that they can aid the advance of the infantry. I hope that the British effort has been good enough to prevent the collapse of the French Front. Action there has been taken, Nivelle being relieved of his command; Petain replaced him on the 15th. But a War Office report that arrived two days ago states that sections of the French army are refusing to man the front-line trenches. Petain will have to exert strong authority to prevent the weakening of his sector.

The Eastern Front remains in turmoil. Russia’s Provisional Government is continuing the war, but troops are voting with their feet, deserting in great numbers. Desperation is shown by the forming of a battalion of women. Yet complacency prevails among the citizenry, with the social life of St. Petersburg still continuing. The latest news is that their Minister for War, Alexander Kerensky, has appointed the competent Brusilov and a week ago ordered an offensive. Hopefully that will put pressure on the Germans.

The Salonika Front seems to have reached stalemate. Enemy heavy artillery is thwarting the infantry of the many Allied nations trying to capture the peaks, similar to what is being experienced in the Dolomites. There the Italians were driven back from the captured peaks by Austrian counter-attacks but have captured over 20,000 of the enemy. British artillery was in action there; a new dimension to Allied co-operation.

In the air the Germans have replaced their Zeppelins with ‘Gotha’ heavier-than-air aircraft. The two that got through killed some 100 people and injured 200. This is a new phase in terrorising our civilians. These weapons may be less vulnerable than the airships which our pilots can now readily set on fire with their explosive bullets.

After much discussion and terrible losses of our merchant ships, the Government has demanded the Admiralty provide warships to escort the ships and beat off the enemy U-boats. News of the first convoy is the loss of just one merchant ship. There is no point keeping warships inactive in Scapa Flow when the small ones can be used for convoy defence. With many hundreds of thousands American troops to be lifted across the ‘pond, the troops ships must be protected. Already some have reached our country to set up a hospital, the recognition that the Americans will also take losses.

Since Easter, home life has returned to ‘normal’. Natasha is staying at home with her coughing spasms, Delphine gives her so much care whilst making sure the three youngsters are getting their schooling. Rose has writen, clearly all goes well with her work and her ‘beau’. Meanwhile I manage the flow of materials and munitions from my Whitehall office.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – April 1917

At long last, after her shipping losses, the United States declared war on Germany on the Sixth. Obviously it will take many months for her to make a meaningful contribution to pushing back the Boche on the Western Front. Meanwhile the British Empire and France will have to continue putting on pressure. On Easter Monday, the 9th, our Canadian forces brilliantly achieved the capture of the Vimy Ridge. Meantime our British units attacked Arras. Gains were made by using a rolling barrage. Unfortunately the tanks supporting the advance failed, mainly with mechanical breakdowns. For the next few days snow in flurries and blizzards slowed the advance until General Haig closed down the offensive on the 15th. Four miles were taken on a ten mile front.

Next day the French attacked on the Aisne. Because the enemy had pulled back, the troops were caught and slaughtered in no mans’ land. Four days later the failed offensive was close down by General Nivelle. The latest reports are that France suffered another 100,000 casualties. Haig on the 23rd ordered the continuation of the British attack to take pressure off the French and this continues.

Through my War Office colleagues I hear that the Austrians and Bulgarians have suggested a peace settlement. Two weeks later our Governments made clear that the war must continue until Germany is defeated. Having the industrial might of the States behind us has strengthened resolve.

Elsewhere, conditions are worsening. Our forces attacked the Bulgarians on the Salonica front after a 2-day bombardment but failed to make progress, so the stalemate continues. In Russia, their army is falling apart, displine has broken down, officers are being ignored or killed , orders are not carried out. The latest intelligence is the sailors at Kronstadt have revolted against the Provisional Government. How long Russia can continue the fighting is greatly uncertain.

A few days ago I went up to Bedford with Major Jones to see for ourselves the building of the Simplex Armoured trench locomotives. Hundreds have been made and they are doing sterling work pulling wagons forward with provisions and ammunition. They looked strange and our guide told us they have a nickname ‘tin turtles’. I could see the resemblance.

Natasha and I decided to spend Easter in the flat, Delphine being willing to hold the home front fort. Because of the travel restrictions, it meant Rose would not have to leave London. To our surprise Rose came with a young man with a limp, whom she introduced as Charles. We took to him immediately, a very different personality to Rory. Natasha skilfully was able to change three portion meals into four, I spoke to John Coates, our flat neighbour and he let Charles have his spare room overnight. It meant that they could stay on Easter Day and attend a service at St.Margarets, Parliament Square. On the Saturday I invited John to join us Men after dinner for ‘brandy and cigars’, actually wine and cigarettes. John , being in Intelligence, skilfully put Charles at ease so that he opened up to conditions in the trenches during last year’s summer. For me there is no doubt that soldiers of the Pals Battalions, poorly trained and led, had not deserved their fate.

After they left on Easter Monday, Natasha told me how Rose was clearly most attracted to Charles, I replied that Charles was a sensible and mature young man, well deserving of Rose’s affection. We spent that evening in a happy frame of mind. Next day I reported back to find out how the Arras attack was going.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – March 1917

Revolution has come to Russia, inevitable with the breakdown in military and civilian order. On the 15th, Tsar Nicholas abdicated. The Tsaravitch will not succeed him, inevitable because of his haemophiliatic disease. Three hundred years of the Romanov dynasty are ended. What concerns the War Office here is what happens to the German units tied up facing the Russians. Will they be released to come West ?

The greater activity on the French railways supplying men, material and ammunition to the Front indicates an offensive. After the French success last winter around Verdun, they are keen to strike with Nivelle in command. Our British forces have been recovering from the Somme campaign, their willingness to attack being helped by the German retreat as a consequence of the hammering they took in the 1916 battles.

I spent three days forward of Amiens and was pleased to be able to report back that transfers of equipment from main lines to narrow gauge tracks are working smoothly. Our 2-10-0s have been properly serviced over the winter so are working well. This is helped by the drivers and the firemen having been main line express railwaymen before the hostilities.

As part of my visit I took the opportunity to travel on the ‘miniature’ locomotives. Being petrol-powered did not stop their presence being observed. I found myself seeing shell-bursts at close hand – not a pleasant experience. Captain Ashby, my guide, then suggested I return to a quieter area: I was happy to agree. To exist for days with constant shelling must be nerve-shredding, even when deep within trenches.

News has come in from Mesopotamia that our desert forces have failed to take Gaza. The Turks are still capable of defending their territories.

We have been hearing in Whitehall that pressure is building up in the United States of America to take formal action against Germany, their ships being torpedoed in increasing numbers. Should they do so, and support us and the French, their industrial muscle will be more meaningful than their troops. As we have learned to our cost in casualties, it takes considerable time to turn civilians into trained troops capable of matching up against the Boche machine-gunners.

Natasha is finding her spirits lifted by letters from Rose. This Captain now has a name, Charles Northam. His family comes from the West Country, with his father having a solicitor’s practice based in Bristol where he also lectures on property law at the University. After three years in Australia on a cattle ranch Charles was to go up to Oxford but volunteered instead. He saw action at Second Ypres, Aubers Ridge and Loos.

Rose plans to come home for the Easter weekend: I am sure Delphine will extract more information from her. My schedule depends on a coming action.

Thom is making a strong effort to catch up on his learning, neglected when obsessed by horses. Mrs. Percival, his school head mistress – her husband is ‘somewhere in France’ – tells Natasha she has seen a great improvement in Thom’s commitment. Nat and Mariya like to tease each other into doing ‘dares’ – to the continuing frustration of their mothers. At least it is best they are immune to the brutalities of this War.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – February 1917

The Third may be the shift of the balance of power in this awful conflict. The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany: the reprisal to the Kaiser and his use of unrestricted sinking of all ships, whatever their cargoes. With this industrial warfare, it will be those who can finance and manufacture the equipment and munitions who should win.

However set against this are reports that the Russian armies are becoming ill-disciplined: officers are not obeying orders and soldiers are deserting the Front and hiding in their villages. Industrial unrest is widespread. How long the social structure can be held together by the Tsar is debated vigorously in the Carlton Club when I call in mid-evening on the way here.

The response of the enemy on the Western Front has been to begin shortening their lines by moving away from the Somme into newly developed trench fortifications set back by 10 miles. Having to defend some 40 kilomtres less of trenches, their manpower requirements are reduced. Perhaps this is a sign that their casualties of last summer, at Verdun and on the Somme, coupled to losses in the East, are now putting a strain on the numbers of youngsters and older men available to replace their casualties.

Kut was a debacle in Mesopotamia for our Empire. News has been coming in that the Turks have been retreating to Baghdad, quitting the former battlefield. By retreating from this symbol of their military prowess, perhaps the power of the Ottoman empire is also on the wane.

The Army HQ in France is planning to take advantage of the enemy pulling back. But the land between has been wantonly vandalised. When the time comes to push forwards, the normal gauge track will take too long to ballast, lay, and thereby carry the weight of the locomotives and wagons loaded with ammunition and tanks. Geddes has decided that our colleagues co-operate with GHQ by planning for the speedy extension of the light railways forwards from the trenches where our troops have been surviving the winter. The short sections which will need to be bolted together are being prepared in the home factories, our trains then carry them to storage depots once they are landed in France. They will then be able to be taken forward to be speedily laid with minimal ballast, to carry small train units of some 25 tonnes. The ‘miniature’ locomotives will not be steam-driven but powered by petrol, making their presence less easily spotted by enemy observers, on land or from the air.

On my home front, Natasha feels her medication is helping her. Certainly she is less inclined to suffer depression from the gassing since Delphine came to live with us. Which makes it a more loving relationship when we are together in the flat or at home. She has been telling me about a friend Rose is working with. At Gommecourt wood, this young Captain tried desperately to force a way through the uncut wire for his North Midland company but was shot in the thigh. Badly wounded, he was brought back to England, was awarded an MC, but is now lame. Rose says he is over any mental distress, dismissing his injury as one of those things when one gets mixed up with the Army.

List of Essays and Book Reviews

E1 to 26

ESSAYS, ARTICLES AND BOOK REVIEWS FOR BEF-BATTLES.ORG.UK

E1. “The Lessons of History”, 1 November 1997
E2. Lord Moran and ‘The Anatomy of Courage’, 30 November 1997.
E3. ‘Live and Let Live’ and Trench Raiding, 1 January 1998.
E4. The Failure of the French Plan XVII, 22 January 1998.
E5. The South Africans’ defence of Delville Wood, 6 February 1998.
E6. The Armoured Car in the First World War, 2 January 1998.
E7. BEF Project Management Dynamics Conference, 4 June 2004.
E8. Rawlinson and the 1917 amphibious operation, 18 July 2004.
E9. The Second Battle of Champagne, 20 November 2004.
E10. The cameraman who filmed the Western Front, 4 April 2006.
E11. My Great War lecture notes, 20 February 2007.
E12. Queen Mary visits the troops: the ‘overlooked’ reel, 1 March 2007.
E13. Individual Somme and Ypres sites, 2 June 2007.
E14. The Royal visit of 1917, 6 August 2007.
E15. The King visits his troops in the Great Advance, 13 August 2007.
E16. The photographic album of Sir Derek Keppell, 21 August 2007.
E17. Forcing the Aisne, September 1914, 30 October 2010
E18. ‘If you’re reading this’ book review for Mars & Clio, 19 March 2012.
E19. ‘Our youngest son’, Eric Heaton of 1 July 1916, 29 April 2012.
E20. Gas and Second Ypres, 28 September 2012.
E21. ‘Drawing fire’ book review for Mars & Clio, 1 January 2013.
E22. ‘Love Tommy’ book review for Mars & Clio, 20 May 2013.
E23. Nicholas Saczkowski and his Great War, 3 August 2013.
E24. The Repulse of the Prussians, 15-16 July 1918, 16 June 2014.
E25. Eric Heaton, the article published in IWM Despatches, 30 November 2014.
E26. Fighting for the Falzarego Pass, 20 January 2017.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – January 1917

This month has been one of consolidating the railway supply of our troops as close to the trenches as possible. The narrow gauge track laying has been going ahead with already some hundreds of miles in place. With our maintenance programme for the main-line locomotives and rolling stock keeping up with their inevitable deterioration, food for men and horses is getting through. Morale is being kept up by letters from families and friends reaching the Front sometimes a day after being posted; rarely taking beyond three days. Unfortunately the weather means conditions in the trenches are as bad as those during the last two winters. Sporadic fighting continues, sniping is a constant danger, so casualties mount.

In Egypt, our Forces have pushed the Turks out of Sinai. An archaeologist called Lawrence is, with the Arab tribesmen, causing havoc in Arabia. These actions are helping compensate for the Gallipoli debacle.

The United States are furious with Germany. Our cryptographers decoded a message from the German Foreign Minister that in return for their support the Mexicans could recover those parts of America taken from them in the 1850s. Our Intelligence staff has just found that the Kaiser has ordered unrestricted sinking of all ships bound for the United Kingdom – to begin tomorrow. US ships will become ‘pheasants’ for the U-boat ‘shooting parties’. Can America stand by as her ships go to the bottom? I think not, if she does President Wilson will become a laughing stock among the leaders of the world’s nations.

The Hapsburgs are beginning to regret starting the War by wanting to crush Serbia. Massive casualties with so many prisoners taken has diminished their military ardour. They know the cost to their Empire of defeat will be the liberation of all those peoples long under their domination. With Tsar Nicholas willing to support a unified Poland, this once divided nation will be whole again.

Farmer ‘Fenn’ passed me some news likely to impact on Thom. The horses he was letting Thom ride are now of a size that they are being requisitioned for Army use. Having to respond to the offer of Sir Roland, I discussed with Natasha how to broach the subject with Thom. After lunch one Sunday I talked with Thom ‘man to man’. His reaction was unexpected. He said he was grateful for Mr. Fenn’s encouragement, wanted nothing more to do with horses, would not wish to help Sir Roland and would strive hard at school to go to University once ‘this horrible war was at an end’. Privately I had sympathy with his analysis of world affairs – the talent and wealth of Europe are being consumed at an increasing rate. I have written to Sir Roland thanking him for his kind offer but explaining that Thom wants to continue his education.

Natasha is trying to remain cheerful, helped by Delphine’s companionship. But I can sense doing so is a continuous struggle. Dr. Rawlins is giving her tonics to ease her breathing, I suspect they contain laudanum. I asked her if Rose had written recently. She said that unusually Rose had not written for three weeks. She must be well settled into London life.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – December 1916

With a last push astride the river Ancre, and the capture of Beaumont Hamel and St. Pierre Divion, snow on the 18th followed by a thaw turned the battlefield into a quagmire. The weather has fterminated the Somme campaign . Clearly the BEF has taken enormous casualties, as we have heard from their GHQ in Montreuil. The French in action south of the Somme river have also taken large numbers of casualties in addition to their huge losses at Verdun, where Fort Vaux has been recaptured. I hope that the Boche have taken more during the two battles.

The Austrian Emperor Franz Josef has died whilst his armies are overwhelming Roumania. In the Dolomites they are resisting Italian efforts to drive them off the high peaks.

The winter will give time to make up fighting numbers, replenish battalions and Divisions – and learn lesions from 1916. Otherwise the blood bath will begin again. Geddes told me of his concern about how the railways were being managed in France. I go over to Amiens tomorrow to see for myself how the locomotives were performing. I spend a couple of days talking to the rail engineers and those driving and maintaining the Robinsons before getting back in a destroyer. Reporting back to Geddes, hopefully I can tell those in charge are getting a grip after difficulties during the summer.

On a personal note it is deeply unpleasant when we meet friends and neighbours after the Sunday service. So many families in our part of Sussex have suffered bereavements. For me, serving in the War Office, I am uncomfortable being ‘safe’ whilst many of my Oxford Year have been in action as officers and been badly wounded or killed. Holding an Army rank, even if temporary, eases my conscience – I am doing something to help win this awful war. And in Natasha we have a nurse who is helping, through her students, to bring aid to the wounded in France or back here in England. However I do worry about her coughing fits, after which she takes a few hours to recuperate.

There are increasing numbers of former Army soldiers who cannot return to France because of their injuries. Rose has written to her mother to say a number are also working in the munitions factories, mainly supervising production flows. A few with university education are being taken into departments such as hers. With managing the war effort becoming increasingly complex, their skills are most valuable.

The day before yesterday, Sir Roland rang me at the War Office to ask whether Thom was interested in a career with horses. He knew of Thom helping a local farmer with mucking out the stables and exercising the horses. Talking it over with Natasha we agreed to consider the offer with Tom over Christmas but with support for his continuing education. I replied accordingly.

I wondered how the Anglo-French relations at Home would work. Flora has been an unexpected marvel, helping Delphine cope with ordering provisions from the local shops – even walking with her to them to make sure the shopkeepers respect her. And amusingly I have heard Nat addresses Delphine as Madame Fi-Fi. She says she likes that as it means she and Mariya are being accepted.

A tragedy the harmony between people of different countries is not matched by the countries themselves.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – November 1916

With a last push astride the river Ancre, and the capture of Beaumont Hamel and St. Pierre Divion, snow on the 18th followed by a thaw turned the battlefield into a quagmire. The weather has fterminated the Somme campaign . Clearly the BEF has taken enormous casualties, as we have heard from their GHQ in Montreuil. The French in action south of the Somme river have also taken large numbers of casualties in addition to their huge losses at Verdun, where Fort Vaux has been recaptured. I hope that the Boche have taken more during the two battles.

The Austrian Emperor Franz Josef has died whilst his armies are overwhelming Roumania. In the Dolomites they are resisting Italian efforts to drive them off the high peaks.

The winter will give time to make up fighting numbers, replenish battalions and Divisions – and learn lesions from 1916. Otherwise the blood bath will begin again. Geddes told me of his concern about how the railways were being managed in France. I go over to Amiens tomorrow to see for myself how the locomotives were performing. I spend a couple of days talking to the rail engineers and those driving and maintaining the Robinsons before getting back in a destroyer. Reporting back to Geddes, hopefully I can tell those in charge are getting a grip after difficulties during the summer.

On a personal note it is deeply unpleasant when we meet friends and neighbours after the Sunday service. So many families in our part of Sussex have suffered bereavements. For me, serving in the War Office, I am uncomfortable being ‘safe’ whilst many of my Oxford Year have been in action as officers and been badly wounded or killed. Holding an Army rank, even if temporary, eases my conscience – I am doing something to help win this awful war. And in Natasha we have a nurse who is helping, through her students, to bring aid to the wounded in France or back here in England. However I do worry about her coughing fits, after which she takes a few hours to recuperate.

There are increasing numbers of former Army soldiers who cannot return to France because of their injuries. Rose has written to her mother to say a number are also working in the munitions factories, mainly supervising production flows. A few with university education are being taken into departments such as hers. With managing the war effort becoming increasingly complex, their skills are most valuable.

The day before yesterday, Sir Roland rang me at the War Office to ask whether Thom was interested in a career with horses. He knew of Thom helping a local farmer with mucking out the stables and exercising the horses. Talking it over with Natasha we agreed to consider the offer with Tom over Christmas but with support for his continuing education. I replied accordingly.

I wondered how the Anglo-French relations at Home would work. Flora has been an unexpected marvel, helping Delphine cope with ordering provisions from the local shops – even walking with her to them to make sure the shopkeepers respect her. And amusingly I have heard Nat addresses Delphine as Madame Fi-Fi. She says she likes that as it means she and Mariya are being accepted.

A tragedy the harmony between people of different countries is not matched by the countries themselves.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – October 1916

For most of the month Canadian divisions have been fighting hard to take the Regina trench, the Boche resisting fiercely. On the 14th, however, Schwaben Redoubt finally was in British hands, having been recaptured by the enemy on the first day of the offensive, some 15 weeks previously. Rain has been turning the earth into mud. Reported casualties continue to be high.

I inspected the War office maps of the Somme valley from Albert to Peronne. The land captured hardly looks substantial when measured against British Empire and Dominion losses. So this is what attrition means, fighting until no enemy remains alive, irrespective of one’s own losses. I hope the Generals know what they are doing. Nevertheless, I and my colleagues continue to work hard at our various tasks for logistically supporting the BEF.

In other theatres, the French are again on the offensive, they have recaptured Fort Douaumont – their talisman. The Italians yet again have attacked at Isonzo. But the Russians have reached their limit, there is disturbing news of political strikes at home.

Early in the month, Eric Geddes was appointed to oversee the logistics, Sir Roland being asked to take on the Heritage portfolio, which will suit him better. A week later I was asked to see Geddes. At our meeting, he spoke of being pleased by my work on the railways. I was put in charge of keeping the Robinson locomotives in France properly supplied with coal, oil and spare parts from England. He wanted me only to go to France to check on performance but to remain in Whitehall co-ordinating. I was to be promoted to Major. The ROD of the RE are building up numbers toward 500 locomotives. As an aside, he asked me if my family had links to the diarist Samuel Pepys, I replied it was through his cousin. I have been to Cambridge to look at the diaries in Magdalene College.

As part of the Geddes overhaul, a number of colleagues from the start of the war have been moved elsewhere. Those staying, those going, gathered at the Café Royal to remember the comradeship of the last two years. Some of the younger men, Matthew, Donald and Wilfred who were with me, are applying for commissions in the infantry and Royal Flying Corps. I wished them well.

Rose left for her new life at Woolwich. Natasha was understandably upset but proud that our daughter was going to help the war effort. A week after she went, she wrote to say she is calling herself Vi – her first name is Violetta – as this fits in better with the names of the others. She was not home-sick, proving how much she has grown up in the past year.

Thom and Nat now have regained their separate bedrooms. I asked Reggie Brownlow, our local builder, to open up a small room besides Delphine’s bedroom, so that Mariya can have her own bedroom. Otherwise it will be a changing room for her mother. Reggie said it will be decorated by December.

Natasha asked to become part-time with her hospital. The matron is agreeable, condensing Natasha’s teaching sessions into a more efficient package. For me, it means that she is at the flat every other week, which makes life more pleasant with the winter setting in.

Domestic arrangements at Home are Delphine looking after the house when Natasha is in London while Flora continues Mistress of her domain – the kitchen. Mariya has joined Nat at the local school where the pupils apparently find her fascinating, never having met a French –speaking girl. Nat proudly shows her off in the playground.
OCTOBER 1916

For most of the month Canadian divisions have been fighting hard to take the Regina trench, the Boche resisting fiercely. On the 14th, however, Schwaben Redoubt finally was in British hands, having been recaptured by the enemy on the first day of the offensive, some 15 weeks previously. Rain has been turning the earth into mud. Reported casualties continue to be high.

I inspected the War office maps of the Somme valley from Albert to Peronne. The land captured hardly looks substantial when measured against British Empire and Dominion losses. So this is what attrition means, fighting until no enemy remains alive, irrespective of one’s own losses. I hope the Generals know what they are doing. Nevertheless, I and my colleagues continue to work hard at our various tasks for logistically supporting the BEF.

In other theatres, the French are again on the offensive, they have recaptured Fort Douaumont – their talisman. The Italians yet again have attacked at Isonzo. But the Russians have reached their limit, there is disturbing news of political strikes at home.

Early in the month, Eric Geddes was appointed to oversee the logistics, Sir Roland being asked to take on the Heritage portfolio, which will suit him better. A week later I was asked to see Geddes. At our meeting, he spoke of being pleased by my work on the railways. I was put in charge of keeping the Robinson locomotives in France properly supplied with coal, oil and spare parts from England. He wanted me only to go to France to check on performance but to remain in Whitehall co-ordinating. I was to be promoted to Major. The ROD of the RE are building up numbers toward 500 locomotives. As an aside, he asked me if my family had links to the diarist Samuel Pepys, I replied it was through his cousin. I have been to Cambridge to look at the diaries in Magdalene College.

As part of the Geddes overhaul, a number of colleagues from the start of the war have been moved elsewhere. Those staying, those going, gathered at the Café Royal to remember the comradeship of the last two years. Some of the younger men, Matthew, Donald and Wilfred who were with me, are applying for commissions in the infantry and Royal Flying Corps. I wished them well.

Rose left for her new life at Woolwich. Natasha was understandably upset but proud that our daughter was going to help the war effort. A week after she went, she wrote to say she is calling herself Vi – her first name is Violetta – as this fits in better with the names of the others. She was not home-sick, proving how much she has grown up in the past year.

Thom and Nat now have regained their separate bedrooms. I asked Reggie Brownlow, our local builder, to open up a small room besides Delphine’s bedroom, so that Mariya can have her own bedroom. Otherwise it will be a changing room for her mother. Reggie said it will be decorated by December.

Natasha asked to become part-time with her hospital. The matron is agreeable, condensing Natasha’s teaching sessions into a more efficient package. For me, it means that she is at the flat every other week, which makes life more pleasant with the winter setting in.

Domestic arrangements at Home are Delphine looking after the house when Natasha is in London while Flora continues Mistress of her domain – the kitchen. Mariya has joined Nat at the local school where the pupils apparently find her fascinating, never having met a French –speaking girl. Nat proudly shows her off in the playground.

Alexander Pepy’s War Diary – September 1916

SEPTEMBER 1916

The warfare in Europe is spreading even further. Roumania has come in on the side of Russia, now doing well against Austria. Since then Bulgaia joined the Germans to fight Roumania, which asked for help from France and Britain. The response on the Somme was to take Guillemont, and Clery in the French sector. High Wood and the Schwaben Redoubt near Thiepval were not taken. Both on the Salonica and Italian fronts, fighting leads to superficial gains which are soon lost.

Some fifty of the ‘water tanks’, now military weapons, were prepared for action. On the 15th, half were soon damaged by shell- and gun-fire, nevertheless those able to advance assisted the seizure of the accursed High Wood and three by-now flattened villages. One even reached Flers with the Kiwi troops. Eleven days later the machines proved their worth by assisting the capture of Thiepval, Combles and Gueudocourt. The HQ is sufficiently impressed to request the manufacture of another thousand. But the Cabinet is less impressed by how, when once in France, they were taken to the fighting zone. Rumours circulating in the War Office is that the Prime Minister wants ‘his man’ to take over transportation. I hear our Minister is worried. To be fair to him, he has held his post for over two years, a time of massive strain for him running the railways .

In France, where fighting at Verdun continues, the railway tunnel at Tavannes was destroyed by the explosion brought about by a fire in stored ammunition. Unfortunately, not required for the passage of trains, it has housed hundreds of men. Many died, it took three days for the fire to burn out. But I hear the French are still preparing to begin retaking land lost earlier in the battle.

At home, one of the Zeppelin airships taking part in a great raid was spectacularly short down by a small fighter plane. The burning gas was seen for miles, thousands of people cheered; at last there is a means to destroy these inhuman monsters.

Natasha went to Dover by train to collect Madame Legrande and Mariya, I being at a Ministerial meeting that Thursday to discuss changes to improve the transportation of the larger military items. I was asked to attend to respond to questions about the capabilities of the locomotives – Mr. Geddes in the Ministerial team seemed satisfied with their performance. The meeting was adjourned until next day. Meanwhile my wife and our guests trained straight from London to our home. When I got down myself, it was very late, not time to do more than briefly welcome Madame. Next morning I was formally introduced to her, a handsome woman, dark haired and strong Gallic features. Though she was reserved with me, I noticed, when I overheard her with Rose, they talked’ intimately: Rose is once again a chatterbox. What surprised me was Nat, who was paying close attention to Mariya, revelling in her broken English.

On Sunday, in the presence of Natasha, Madame Legrande asked me not to address her as ‘Madame’, but by her Christian name’ Delphine’. I consented. That ‘broke the ice’. After a pleasant lunch, prepared and presented with panache by Flora, I left them and returned to London alone, Natasha having requested leave. With her medical condition, her matron accepts she needs time away.
SEPTEMBER 1916

The warfare in Europe is spreading even further. Roumania has come in on the side of Russia, now doing well against Austria. Since then Bulgaia joined the Germans to fight Roumania, which asked for help from France and Britain. The response on the Somme was to take Guillemont, and Clery in the French sector. High Wood and the Schwaben Redoubt near Thiepval were not taken. Both on the Salonica and Italian fronts, fighting leads to superficial gains which are soon lost.

Some fifty of the ‘water tanks’, now military weapons, were prepared for action. On the 15th, half were soon damaged by shell- and gun-fire, nevertheless those able to advance assisted the seizure of the accursed High Wood and three by-now flattened villages. One even reached Flers with the Kiwi troops. Eleven days later the machines proved their worth by assisting the capture of Thiepval, Combles and Gueudocourt. The HQ is sufficiently impressed to request the manufacture of another thousand. But the Cabinet is less impressed by how, when once in France, they were taken to the fighting zone. Rumours circulating in the War Office is that the Prime Minister wants ‘his man’ to take over transportation. I hear our Minister is worried. To be fair to him, he has held his post for over two years, a time of massive strain for him running the railways .

In France, where fighting at Verdun continues, the railway tunnel at Tavannes was destroyed by the explosion brought about by a fire in stored ammunition. Unfortunately, not required for the passage of trains, it has housed hundreds of men. Many died, it took three days for the fire to burn out. But I hear the French are still preparing to begin retaking land lost earlier in the battle.

At home, one of the Zeppelin airships taking part in a great raid was spectacularly short down by a small fighter plane. The burning gas was seen for miles, thousands of people cheered; at last there is a means to destroy these inhuman monsters.

Natasha went to Dover by train to collect Madame Legrande and Mariya, I being at a Ministerial meeting that Thursday to discuss changes to improve the transportation of the larger military items. I was asked to attend to respond to questions about the capabilities of the locomotives – Mr. Geddes in the Ministerial team seemed satisfied with their performance. The meeting was adjourned until next day. Meanwhile my wife and our guests trained straight from London to our home. When I got down myself, it was very late, not time to do more than briefly welcome Madame. Next morning I was formally introduced to her, a handsome woman, dark haired and strong Gallic features. Though she was reserved with me, I noticed, when I overheard her with Rose, they talked’ intimately: Rose is once again a chatterbox. What surprised me was Nat, who was paying close attention to Mariya, revelling in her broken English.

On Sunday, in the presence of Natasha, Madame Legrande asked me not to address her as ‘Madame’, but by her Christian name’ Delphine’. I consented. That ‘broke the ice’. After a pleasant lunch, prepared and presented with panache by Flora, I left them and returned to London alone, Natasha having requested leave. With her medical condition, her matron accepts she needs time away.
as come in on the side of Russia, now doing well against Austria. Since then Bulgaia joined the Germans to fight Roumania, which asked for help from France and Britain. The response on the Somme was to take Guillemont, and Clery in the French sector. High Wood and the Schwaben Redoubt near Thiepval were not taken. Both on the Salonica and Italian fronts, fighting leads to superficial gains which are soon lost.

Some fifty of the ‘water tanks’, now military weapons, were prepared for action. On the 15th, half were soon damaged by shell- and gun-fire, nevertheless those able to advance assisted the seizure of the accursed High Wood and three by-now flattened villages. One even reached Flers with the Kiwi troops. Eleven days later the machines proved their worth by assisting the capture of Thiepval, Combles and Gueudocourt. The HQ is sufficiently impressed to request the manufacture of another thousand. But the Cabinet is less impressed by how, when once in France, they were taken to the fighting zone. Rumours circulating in the War Office is that the Prime Minister wants ‘his man’ to take over transportation. I hear our Minister is worried. To be fair to him, he has held his post for over two years, a time of massive strain for him running the railways .

In France, where fighting at Verdun continues, the railway tunnel at Tavannes was destroyed by the explosion brought about by a fire in stored ammunition. Unfortunately, not required for the passage of trains, it has housed hundreds of men. Many died, it took three days for the fire to burn out. But I hear the French are still preparing to begin retaking land lost earlier in the battle.

At home, one of the Zeppelin airships taking part in a great raid was spectacularly short down by a small fighter plane. The burning gas was seen for miles, thousands of people cheered; at last there is a means to destroy these inhuman monsters.

Natasha went to Dover by train to collect Madame Legrande and Mariya, I being at a Ministerial meeting that Thursday to discuss changes to improve the transportation of the larger military items. I was asked to attend to respond to questions about the capabilities of the locomotives – Mr. Geddes in the Ministerial team seemed satisfied with their performance. The meeting was adjourned until next day. Meanwhile my wife and our guests trained straight from London to our home. When I got down myself, it was very late, not time to do more than briefly welcome Madame. Next morning I was formally introduced to her, a handsome woman, dark haired and strong Gallic features. Though she was reserved with me, I noticed, when I overheard her with Rose, they talked’ intimately: Rose is once again a chatterbox. What surprised me was Nat, who was paying close attention to Mariya, revelling in her broken English.

On Sunday, in the presence of Natasha, Madame Legrande asked me not to address her as ‘Madame’, but by her Christian name’ Delphine’. I consented. That ‘broke the ice’. After a pleasant lunch, prepared and presented with panache by Flora, I left them and returned to London alone, Natasha having requested leave. With her medical condition, her matron accepts she needs time away.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – August 1916

AUGUST 1916

Our troops continue to fight with determination but at a high cost. The casualty figures each day may be less than those of early July, but they are still high. ‘Good’ news is the capture of some trench by the British or the Australians; newspapers report to the residents of our Empire that ‘some progress’ is being made. Looking at the map we have pinned up in the office, Delville and High Woods are still being contested by the Boche. I suspect their counter-attacks are being punished with equally great losses. Such is Attrition.

Our supply of men and materials continues to properly supply the fighting zone. The Robinson ROD locomotives are performing well in France, few engineering repairs being needed. Especially as they are pulling the low loaders carrying the Churchill mobile water tanks. These have smaller tanks bolted to their sides. Because they exceeded the loading gauge, they have to be unbolted and carried separately to get the trains to Amiens. I went to the Channel port to watch them being loaded onto ships. It was wise to retain a core of the skilled repair and maintenance railwaymen now needed to support this novel effort.

The fighting continues on all fronts, even the Salonica one: Brusilov on the Russian Front has made progress, the Italians at Isonzo – yet again, also in German East Africa. At sea, U-boats sink many merchant ships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Austrian saboteurs blew up the Italian battleship ‘Leonardo da Vinci’. The Italian Government has just declared war on Germany, Austria’s war partner. It amazes me that the French fight on so vigorously at Verdun whilst supporting us on the Somme.

For the infantry the conditions in the Somme trenches have varied from hot sun to rain. Getting water up to them to replenish water bottles has been tricky, hence the need for the water tanks. When injured, the soldiers soon suffer severe thirst. I also hear of reports of many psychological breakdowns brought about by the ghastly trenches they are fighting in. However when seen by doctors, they have to decide whether the complaints are genuine illness or the wish to escape the conditions. Similarly those who claim, on being conscripted, that they consciously object to fighting. Their arguments must be measured against the far greater numbers of men who volunteered or accepted being conscripted – the latter having seen the casualty lists over nearly two years.

Rose has been accepted to work at the Royal Arsenal. I did think she could house at our flat but Woolwich is in south east London, too far from the flat. Because of her academic record, she was told she would not be a ‘munitioneer’. Instead she is to be a clerical assistant, keeping records of the flow of gun parts through the workshops. When she said how disappointed she was, I replied that getting guns to France is as vital as the shells to fire from them. She grudgingly accepted the logic.

When she found that she begins in mid-October and will share accommodation with both clerical workers and munitioneers, Rose’s spirits greatly improved. With Madame Legrande arriving in four weeks, our home will be somewhat crowded for a month. Thom and Nat will have to share a room so that our guest and her daughter Mariya can have a bedroom. Natasha tells me Mariya is named after her mother, Madame Stalder, whom Delphine loved. The name sounded French so did not upset the Major or his family.

13 Zeppelins raided Deptford a week ago, killing ten people. A reminder to Londoners of how close the war is to ‘home’.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – July1916

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – July 1916

It is now a month since when the New Armies began their assault. I find it difficult to understand what has been achieved for the loss of thousands of casualties. Whole Pals Battalions have been wiped out by enemy cannon and machine-gun fire. Whole streets of families in Northern cities are receiving official telegrams of the deaths of their husbands and sons. The printed lists are far longer than for Loos. To the north much of the enemy wire was uncut. What progress was made was in the south . The French broke through but were obstructed by British units failing to keep up. I have heard from colleagues that the British bombardment stopped before the infantry ranks walked forward – giving time for the enemy machine-gunners to set up their guns and observers to direct shrapnel onto to our exposed soldiers. In the two weeks that followed severe fighting gained ground, such as Mametz and other Woods.

On the 14th the commanders tried another tactic, by bringing up the assaulting troops close to the enemy trenches. Once the bombardment stopped the soldiers rushed in and captured their trenches. The advance was halted for the cavalry to be brought up. In the hours this took the enemy had recovered. The initiative was lost. Next day in Delville Wood the South Africans held on to the salient they had captured but paid a heavy price in casualties. The infamous High Wood nearby remains in enemy hands.

The Australians have taken Pozieres after bitter fighting. They are experiencing shell and machine-gun fire worse than they faced so stoically in Gallipoli. They have also taken many casualties

So much hope was invested in the Big Push and in the power of cannon to destroy enemy trenches. We know enough ammunition was available but their trenches are too well constructed. The British command is reduced to launching small assaults, capturing small pockets of land but taking large casualties – hopefully inflicting similar numbers on the enemy. Colleagues tell me the policy is known as Attrition. It is based on our troops being more numerous than theirs. The thinking is Verdun must have reduced their number considerably. This is my private diary so I can comment on what seems to be a murderous policy without being charged with treason. I shall do my duty and continue to help with transportation of men and munitions to the Front – but with a heavy heart.

My colleagues in charge of routing hospital trains have had to find ways of cramming more wounded into them and directing them to widespread railheads near hospitals with the capacity to treat the soldiers. The injuries are such that many die on the journey from France.

Jellicoe is being blamed for not achieving another Trafalgar. Many ships were sunk, besides the Invincible. However Speer took the German High Seas Fleet back to port and keeps it there. The Grand Fleet is back isolating Germany from world markets. For its civilians, food supplies are declining.

The Brusilov Russian offensive has been taking large numbers of German and Austrian prisoners. Hopefully this will reduce enemy reinforcements to our Front. Thereby increasing opportunities for the break-through.

News of the Home Front pales into insignificance besides the losses of our brave soldiers in France. Natasha prevailed on me to ask permission for Madame Roches-Legrande to come to stay at our home. Last week I visited the French Embassy to request permission out of courtesy as her husband was a RI commander. They agreed so she is now invited. I am not sure of Natasha’s motive; she has not been straightforward with me – somewhat unusual. It may be to help Delphine recover in a happy household, it may be related to her own lung injury, it may be to help Rose recover from Rory’s death. It may be to provide a friend for our two sons now she is grown up. Women are a mystery.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – June 1916

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – June 1916

I am writing this on Friday from Amiens. The Big Push supposd to start yesterday has not begun, because of rain. The English summer weather has reached France. However the noise of explosions has been heard now for several days since the 24th, aiming to destroy the Hun defences with gunfire. I am here to help co-ordinate the passage of shells from the coast to the gun-lines. Thanks to our railwaymen working tirelessly, the wagon trains have kept rolling smoothly. The guns are receiving all the shells asked for, regardless of calibre. Opening up the port of Folkstone has eased their passage across the Channel.

Tragedy has hit our family. The Invincible was sunk. Six were saved from the sea, Rory was not. When I heard of the fate of the ship in amongst the news of the battle I contacted Natasha. She entrained home before the news became public knowledge. When Rose returned from school Natasha took her into the lounge, having sent Thom and Nat away to the village. On being broken the news, Rose was totally disbelieving, refusing to accept that Rory was dead. As the evening wore on, and the evening paper listed the British ships lost, Rose began to break down in hysterics. Natasha held her in her arms for hours and took her into our bed to comfort her until she slipped into sleep. Next morning Rose whispered that she wished that she had experienced a closer physical relationship with him, which would be a means of remembering him as a lover and a man. Natasha kept her away from school for a week, passing the time weeding the garden, taking country walks, and talking about the time spent with Rory in Edinburgh.

Eventually Rose stated she wished to help the war effort by becoming a ‘munitionette’. After discussing the proposal with me, Natasha told her that she must finish her term. Then she could apply to become one, with our support. Rose showed the maturity she has grown into by accepting without tantrums or sullen behaviour.

For the British Empire an even greater tragedy – the loss of Lord Kitchener at sea. His ship, bound for Russia, hit a mine and sank. He has represented the military spirit of our country for so long, I am uncertain how it will affect the morale of the troops preparing for the coming offensive.

The news about the Grand Fleet and its battle off Jutland was encouraging. Despite causing the loss of six British capital ships, the German High Sea fleet returned to harbour. Britannia still rules the waves. Their retreat leaves our ships successfully blockading the Baltic Sea and the north European ports, denying them material resources and foodstuffs from the Americas and Asian countries. Intelligence reports speak of the hunger being experienced by their civilian population.

Madame Roches has received a communiqué that remains of her husband have been found. He died on the west bank of the Meuse, killed by a shell burst when inspecting his soldiers’ trenches. One consequence of this industrial war is the randomness of death. Not dying in a heroic charge, as of old, but blown apart by a shell fired from many miles away.

Variable news comes from the fronts.. The BEF were caught by a large assault at Ypres but soon recovered much of the land lost. The Russians have inflicted heavy lossses on the Austrians, taking 200,000 prisoners. A carried pigeon brought news to the French Generals that Ford Vaux had had to surrender after a siege of three months. But Fort Souville, the last fort before Verdun, has repulsed the enemy infantry. The Turks have been driven out of Mecca by the Arabs.

I begin my return to London tomorrow evening. Hopefully I can take back to my colleagues at the War Office the news that our troops are pushing through the enemy lines.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – May 1916

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – May 1916

Colleagues in the War Office have told me the Grand Fleet put to sea yesterday on intelligence received. Intercepts today say the enemy High Sea Fleet is now at sea. First reports coming in tell of Admiral Beatty’s battle cruisers in action. I asked about the Invincible, apparently she is not with the other battle cruisers but joined the Grand Fleet some days ago for gunnery practice. The purpose of Rory’s trip to Chatham is now being put to use.

Just before I left to take Natasha to hospital for a routine check-up, Randell rang me from the Admiralty to tell that the two main fleets are engaging. Battle cruisers of both the Royal Navy and the Kreigmarine have taken punishment, there are known to be losses, but which ships await confirmation.

The captives of Kut have been forced-march northwards into the Turkish hinterland. Reports from our contacts tell of many dying from no water or sun-stroke. Their bodies lie where they fall, stripped clean by Arab scavengers.

At least Verdun is holding. Attacks and counter-attacks go in, positions are lost and retaken, the casualties mount at a prodigious rate. From the flow of laden train wagons I can tell that the coming offensive will have less French units as they are taken east to make up the losses. Presumably the enemy are also transferring soldiers to make up for the German losses. I trust the training received will be good enough to compensate the New Armies volunteers’ lack of combat experience by the raw courage they have already shown. Their nightly raids appear to be bolstering their confidence, besides keeping the Hun awake. At least I know the supplies they will need are in the front area or soon to reach them.

The Austrians have given the Italians a severe mauling in the high mountains, taking peaks and passes, capturing thousands of prisoners. But attacking through the snow blizzards is exhausting, the consequence is the momentum of the Austrian assaults is slowing: thus the Italians losss are less than might have been.

Our two lads have been telling us at the weekend that, at school, the boys are becoming enthusiastic about a Big Push. The teachers try to quieten them, knowing the likely cost in casualties of the coming battle. Some are former soldiers, invalided out of the BEF because of being wounded at Mons, Neuve Chapelle and Aubers. To Thom, it means more because he knows that boys a year older have bluffed their way into the New Armies. Nat sees it more as ‘cowboys and Indians, with the Huns as the Indians. Rose understandably shows little interest, focusing on the Royal Navy, Rory being first in her thoughts.

When in France as a young girl Natasha looked after Delphine Roches, the daughter of family friends, when the two families attended functions in Paris. Delphine grew up to marry a regimental officer. He served as the deputy Military Attache at the French Embassy in Knightsbridge, for three years during the late King’s reign, where their daughter was born. Natasha says Delphine loved London and English life, loathing the barracks life in provincial France. The distressing news that Natasha received from Madame Roches this morning is that Colonel Legrande is missing in action at Verdun.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – April 1916

APRIL 1916

Kut has become a debacle. Early in the month for the third time a desperate attempt was made to force the way up the Tigris. The attempt failed – with some 20,000 Allied casualties. A later attempt by water to get food into Kut failed. The breaking news has been its surrender, with all its defenders taken into captivity. After Gallipoli the planners should have appreciated that Turk soldiers are tough fighters.

The Mediterranean effort has switched to a new front in Salonica. There the Army of the Orient has been joined by Serbian forces driven out of their country onto the island of Corfu. Hopefully this new front can begin reducing pressure on Verdun, Russia and Italy. In the Dolomites the Italian forces have made but small gains for great losses; advancing through thick snow makes easy targets for Austrian snipers and machine-gunners. Again the Russians have been driven back – death by frostbite adding to death by bullet and shell.

The hill of Mort-Homme has seen savage fighting but the French poilus are holding their own, driving off repeated Hun assaults. The preposterous Kaiser has claimed the war will end at Verdun. It may be his Empire that ends as German losses have been colossal.

Kitchener is moving units and stores into place for a big effort in the early summer, somewhere in France. Our troops are being trained for their major assault, they are gaining experience and keeping the enemy awake by aggressive skirmishes and raids. I know that British supplies are reaching Arras by rail. The French are also receiving abundant supplies from our factories through the Amiens railhead. This suggests to me the Somme valley. Colleagues returning to the War Office tell me the morale of the New Army soldiers is so good, they have confidence they will defeat the Hun when they go in. They also report the rail network is performing well.

British civilians are suffering intensified airship raids. They are killed by ‘collateral damage’ when military targets are missed. The most unfortunate deaths were the 100 ‘munitioneers’ dying in the Faversham munitions factory explosion. Rose took this to heart, exclaiming to Natasha that women were also dying for King and Country.

A little known war is being waged over the vast distances of central Africa. British, South African and Belgium troops are trying to hold down German forces but with little success. When our forces are ready for battle, the enemy melts away into the bush.

We have had fighting on the Home Front. On Easter just the other day Irish rebels took over buildings in central Dublin. Within hours intense gunfire rang through the streets. The British Army units responded, using all means to quell the rebels. The news is their numbers were small and they have surrendered. There were British casualties. Military discipline will be imposed. I wonder if German spies were active in arousing the rebels to attack when they did.

We met Rory for the first time at Easter. On Admiral Beatty’s orders, his ship’s commander instructed Rory to travel to Chatham and bring back a new briefing on handling explosives. We stayed at the flat, the children came up to join us (a squeeze at bedtime)) and Rory joined us for an evening meal and returned for lunch on Easter Day. Rose was afire with emotion and her chatter kept us amused. I am not sure Thom and Nat were interested except when Rory spoke about life on the battle cruisers.

After he left and we took the children to Victoria station – Rose being as quiet as the grave – Natasha gave me her impression when we talked in bed. Clearly Rose is besotted with Rory. But Natasha is not sure about him. Flattered yes, but besotted no. She feels he is as sharp as a razor. When asked what she meant, she said that he was perhaps too confident, arrogant even, and was extremely ambitious. Ambition would rule over people, even women. I am not astute enough at social feelings to dispute her analysis.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – March 1916

MARCH 1916

The news has been about Verdun. Heavy enemy attacks have continued against the French forts: Fort Vaux in particular has been taken and recaptured many times. The right bank of the Muse is seeing huge casualties. But now the Germans have begun attacking the left bank, the ill-named Mort-Homme hill. Despite the intense bombardment the survivors drove back the enemy. German newspapers report that at Avocourt a whole French brigade surrendered – I hope French morale is not weakening. However the road from Bar-Le-Duc is taking the heavy traffic of men and supplies to Verdun and the battlefields, it is now being called the Voie Sacree. I wonder if Captain Roches is still alive; he was a gay companion, full of wit, when we were travelling along the rail tracks into the city.

The Italians have launched yet another attack at Isonzo to try relieve pressure on Verdun. But the winter weather sweeping southern Europe makes fighting in the mountains a ghastly experience. The attack failed in the rain and snow. Further east the Russian forces have been doing well against the Turks in the Caucasus mountains and around the Black Sea. Hopefully these successes will boost their morale after the losses of last year.

In Mesopotamia, news about our forces besieged in Kut is not good. A relieving force got close to the town but were driven back with heavy losses. The General has been replaced. In France the British troops are keeping the enemy awake by skirmishes and raids, but are moving units and stores into place for a big effort in the early summer. Colleagues returning to the War Office from visiting the front in France tell me the morale of the New Army soldiers is so good, they have confidence they will defeat the Hun when they go in. They also report the rail network is performing well as are the locomotives we sent over. That news gave us a reason to share a convivial supper.

After Gallipoli the Anzac troops have been transported to France. It is interesting the interaction between the New Army soldiers and them. The Australians in particular show a confidence in adjusting orders to suit themselves, based on fighting the Turks. The New Zealanders are less brash and conform better to military discipline. The British soldiers look askance at Aussie behaviour, being so used in their home and military lives to accept orders and obey them. How different is the culture of the new countries from that of the Motherland.

On my home front news is quiet. The children are in school; I am not sure, except for Rose, they are studying hard. They come alive at weekends on what they call their ‘war work’. Rory writes to tell Rose somewhat indiscretely that the Navy is preparing for military action in the summer. Rose is such a chatterbox and Natasha hears as much news of the correspondents as if she was reading their actual letters.

I can understand: the Kreigmarine has done little so far, and with the German army losing so many at Verdun, our intelligence tell us the government leadership are asking questions about the purpose of their capital ships. They look splendid but they are machines for war at sea. The Kaiser says the stranglehold of the Royal Navy in blockading Germany must be challenged.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – February 1916

FEBRUARY 1916

Nine days ago tat the easter city of Verdun the French troops guarding the city and its fortresses were subjected to a massive artillery barrage – which continues day after day. Then the enemy began their assaults. Fort Douaumont was taken four days ago, a colossal loss as ‘Papa D’is their prestige fortress, apparently built after the Prussian victory 44 years ago to defend eastern France. A General Petain has just been given command, found off duty in Paris. Let us hope he concentrates on the duty to inspire his troops to repel the assaults.

By coincidence, at the beginning of the month I was studying the French light railways. The purpose was to see the performance of the French in bringing up supplies by small wagons from Bar-le-Duc to that front. Also how useful our British rail engineers are in helping with he construction of the 60cm gauge tracks. Though the front ws quiet, some French officers I spoke to thought it was time Verdun received German attention, being at right angles between the Champagne and St. Mihiel fronts. I was taken by Captain Roches, a young engineer, along the Decauville tracks to the city. The lines are well engineered and in this new emergency should help get men and materials into the trenches. When I returned to London the office of the President of Board of Trade asked to give my impressions of the area to the Rail Executive Committee. Naturally enough the War Office is worried as to how the French forces will fight, having suffered so many casualties last year. I was later told my assessment was illuminating. Not sure what that means.

The Turks, having moved troops from Gallipoli, are offering great resistance to the British forces pushing north to relieve Kut. Last month over four thousand became casualties at two battles. Clearly the enemy have become battle-hardened from their defence of the Dardanelles. With wintry conditions in Russia like in Mesopotamia the Eastern front is ‘quiet’ but at the expense of great hardship to those manning the trenches. Similarly for the Italian troops in the Dolomites. Avalanches are as deadly as shellfire.

As to British shells, Lloyd George is hustling their manufacture. Production has not yet risen, they will be needed for the Spring Offensive. An Eric Geddes has been livening up our colleagues by employing his commercial expertise to cut away bureaucratic tape.

I can see Natasha is gradually getting weaker. But she still comes with me to our flat during the week. When I put to her she should not she stops me by saying the young trainee nurses are keeping her going. I cannot doubt her determination. Flora is a tower of strength, keeping the household running for our children. Rose is studying hard – buoyed up by the letters from Rory. The boys are understandable about the lack of birthday celebrations, etc. They appreciate the context of war.

A letter arrived from Paris. Papa Onegin wrote to tell me how the morale of the French people is under considerable strain because of Verdun. Should the city fall, it is a straight road for the enemy to reach Paris. The casualty lists already are appalling. He confides that unfortunately the ghastly poodles of his Mere Marie are, but for one, not on the lists.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – January 1916

JANUARY 1916

This Christmas was so different from the last. Then our front line soldiers believed 1915 would bring an end to this war. Now they know otherwise. No fraternisation with the enemy was permitted. Firing shells was done to keep heads down.

Our manpower losses are to be made good by conscription – the Military Services Act has been passed. From May 25th men will be called up to supplement those who have already volunteered. But these volunteers will be carrying the fighting load in this year’s campaigns whilst the conscripted men are trained.

Early this month a battle was fought to relieve Kut. Despite the Turks retreating Kut remains besieged. Natasha has heard that medical care of the wounded is close to collapse.

At least the Gallipoli agony is over. On the 8th the last troops were evacuated from Helles. Careful planning resulted in no casualties. What if this planning could have been done when the troops first hit the beaches at Helles, Anzac and Sulva. But hindsight is an easy master.

Thinking of its originator, Churchill, I was recently at an Army depot, linked to the railway, when I saw a large metal box circumvented by two sets of tracks. On asking what it was the officer told me it was Churchill’s ‘landship’. Testing its performance was to begin on the 29th. Perhaps it represents the future.

The Eastern Front is looking more hopeful. Russian victories in the Caucasus are netting Turkish prisoners but cold is causing frostbite. However industrial unrest is the result of discontent at the losses sustained last year.

I was carried to France on a destroyer two days ago, then took trains to Paris and on to Reims, before riding in a military lorry to Chalons. I am now the guest at the HQ of the French 4th Army before moving on to Bar-le-Duc. Last night their hospitality is as before the war: to savour good chateau red wine was delightful. The French use of light railways is becoming critical to move men and materials closer to the trenches. Sir Percy had asked me to find lessons that can be applied in Picardy and further south. In Boulogne I saw the first GCR locomotive running on french tracks. Its pulling power is impressive. They will be a great asset in moving the heavy loads of the BEF and the French Armies.

Rose returned from Edinburgh, tired but jubilant at her visit. She clearly had a most enjoyable time – so Natasha gleaned from her excited ‘chatter’. A Hogmanay dance filled up with Highland reels, an afternoon walking on Carlton Hill overlooking the city and a surprise visit to HMS Invincible where Rory introduced her to other junior officers. She said she blushed furiously when they complimented Rory on finding a girl so pretty – and could not understand how he had achieved this. Returning to school was boring afer this, though she was able to tell her classmates, to their envy, of her exciting visit.

‘Farmer’ Fenn called to tell me that Thom has become an excellent horseman, on weekends he is riding our neighbour’s hunter over the fields and ditches. When older, my son has told him he will want to join the cavalry. In European war I doubt the cavalry will have much future where machine-guns reign supreme.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – December 1915

DECEMBER 1915

Natasha was signed off later than we expected. When I went to collect her, in a War Office car with their blessing, the consultant Mr. Dawkins asked to speak with me. The diagnosis is bad. They can but try to clear her lungs but her life hangs on a thread. She must avoid exposure to un-burnt town gas. When we got back to the flat I telephoned home and asked our local gas company to check our house for leaks. I had electric lights put in long before the War, gas being used for washing, warmth and cooking. Next day their engineer confirmed all was well.

We went home on the Saturday and I did my best to reassure Rose and the boys but feel they are suspicious. Nevertheless Natasha said she wanted to return to mentoring her ’girls’. She came back to London after a week resting at home. The first morning she was presented with a framed cartoon entitled ‘Our Sister peeps over the top’, organised by a girl who knows Paul Nash. I am proud they think so highly of her. But I thought the depiction of the trenches too realistic.

On the War front, our rail work runs smoothly. I have not made any trips since Manchester but have been asked to check the French rail network in the new year.

The major news this December is the changing of the C-in-C. John French has gone, Douglas Haig takes his place. In the Department we are not surprised. Too many have died in battles where the land won is too small it can only be drawn onto the largest-scale War Office maps. We can hope that Haig will bring a more positive effort to driving the Boche out of France. The same day the ‘swine’ subjected our troops in the Salient to a gas far more toxic than chlorine. Even chlorine is deadly, as my poor Natasha knows. The enemy learned a lesson when the gas blew back over their own trenches. Again the winter rains have made the trenches into moats of putrid mud, the men manning them have suffered terribly from loss of feeling in their feet.

Meanwhile Churchill’s ‘master stroke’ is being undone. The ANZAC troops have been pulled out of Gallipoli; Kitchener had seen for himself the impossible tasks they were expected to perform. In Mesopotamia our Indian troops are now contained within Kut: both in the north and south the Turks are showing they are tough fighters when organised by their German advisors.

We got home on Christmas Eve. Celebrating Christmas was subdued this year, the church sermon was all about the sacrifice of our men must not be in vain. The Kitchener divisions are being prepared for 1916. The Regulars and Territorials have fought well but with no help from ‘General Luck’. Dispiriting though was the performance of the newly trained soldiers when sent into battle, enthusiasm is not substituting for experience.

One ray of good spirits over Christmas was Rose; she even kept her temper when her brothers teased her about the ‘tartan beau’. As agreed with Maud and David, when we returned to London it was with Rose. After putting her on the train at Kings Cross, Natasha observed to me how radiant she looked and how she was turning into a beautiful woman. The War is forcing our young to grow up faster than in Victorian or Edwardian times.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – November 1915

NOVEMBER 1915

I cannot write this without recording Natasha’s relapse. A week ago she woke beside me with a hacking cough. This lasted even after we got up. Whilst dressing she threw up phlegm coated with speckles of blood. Immediately driving her to the Westminster hospital, she was admitted. I visit her nightly. The doctors are working to clear her lungs. We expect her home next week.

Earlier in the month, liaising with the Rail Operating Division, I went up to Manchester to see progress with building locomotives for our War Department. They are copies of the Great Central Railway 8K class, 2-8-0s whose characteristics were judged the best able to deliver our needs here and in France. I was fascinated to see how the Gorton works in Openshaw forged the component parts and assembled them into working chasses before the boilers and controls were added. The machining of the huge steel cylinders by giant lathes showed how such workshops could so easily be adapted to produce cannon barrels and breeches.

As 1915 draws towards its end, our Regulars and Territorials have fought well but taken enormous casualties. Three New Army divisions have been badly bloodied in France and Turkey. Kitchener went to Gallipoli to gauge for himself what is happening on the ground. The continuing value of continuing to fight on the peninsula could now be judged against our presence in Salonika. Perhaps the thrust against the southern flank of the Ottoman armies may deliver success though the amy there had to retire to Kut for more supplies. What is clear the aim to create a way through the Dardanelles to help Russia from the south has been lost.

The Sunday before my wife took ill she had a heart to heart talk with Rose about Rory. There is clearly a spark between them – even if on paper alone. Back in London Natasha suggested that perhaps my cousin Maud might be happy to allow Rose and Rory to meet at her home in Edinburgh. She and David have a house overlooking Arthur’s Seat so the youngsters could walk there with some freedom. Natasha is writing to Maud to see whether her husband would be willing to have Rose visit. I could then ask my Admiralty chum if Rory could be permitted to visit Edinburgh when given shore leave. Once I know, this would enable Rose to travel there, possibly after Christmas when the Scots enjoy Hogmanay.

Reports coming in to the War Department speak of the steps that have been taken to lessen the worst effects of a northern France winter. Last winter was truly ghastly for our troops manning the front-line trenches, the rain and the mud. So much for the false assumption that victory would be won by Christmas. Rumours are spreading that John French is to be relieved of command and probably replaced by Douglas Haig. No general seems to have impacted his mark on the Hun. What must not happen is the replacement to be based purely on seniority in the Army listing. When that happened at Sulva Bay General Stopford was found to be hiding on his boat, not giving leadership on land. The great opportunity that day was lost, condemning troops to exist under Turkish fire from above.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – October 1915

OCTOBER 1915

At Loos, in Artois and in Champagen, the battles are over. Only in the last was there a gain of 100 square kilometres of French soil, but ar great cost in casualties. Despite the efforts of our railway workshops to produce heavy shells for the guns they were not enough to quieten the german machine-guns sited in their front line trenches. With Lloyd George in charge of munitions production, before another major assault his new factories will have to make many more shells to those produced in the workshops. One report is that many shells bought from overseas were poorly sized, thus when fired the rounds landed randomly. We need shells that land on their targets, not many yards away. At least the ‘Shell scandal’ of earlier in the year brought new thinking to supplying the means of fighting this war. One example, we have been packing into our wagons steel helmets for the front-line troops. I know from colleagues that many men have died and suffered ghastly facial wounds from being protected only by cloth caps. Snipers in No-Mans’ Land can shoot an unwary head being exposed above the trench parapet. Adopting the Hun practice, now cloth is giving way to steel – and our soldiers are beginning to receive their helmets.

A British nurse has been shot by the occupying military in Belgium. Three weeks ago she was put before a german firing squad. Her crime: assisting British soldiers to return to England. Now the occupied countries are under military so called ‘law’ many are being shot out of hand. Nurse Edith Cavell is another to die, a civilian like the 71 killed by Zeppelin bombs a day later. The outrage at their deaths is hardening our nation in her determination to drive the germans out of France.

Our forces are now landing with the French divisions at Salonika in Greece to defend Serbia. The promise of a Gallipoli victory has receded: how long our soldiers will remain there is for Kitchener to decide, having replaced Ian Hamilton by Charles Monro. The troops of his Kitchener’s Army have suffered grievously there and at Loos. Clearly civilian volunteers need more training if they are to make a meaningful contribution. Pure ‘elan’ is not enough.

While Russian forces hare being pushed out of Poland. the Italians on the Isonzo and Dolomite fronts have failed to capture the peaks, the Austrians being skilful mountain fighters. Vitally needed munitions from Britain are arriving at Russia’s northern ports of Murmansk and Archangel. But lacking the sophistication of our railway network they are being taken south in dribs and drabs.

Our personal life is London from Monday to Saturday lunchtime, home until Sunday evening, then train back to London. We see little of the boys on Sundays as they continue assisting local farmers from early morning to dusk; helping the war effort – but avoiding going to Church. I attend irregularly, Natasha comes with me but emotionally is still with Rome. On our marriage she honoured me by putting it before her Catholic faith. Rose now is comfortable playing the Lady of the House, we the invited guests. Natasha has on occasion to bite her tongue but I recognise the reality of making the best of these difficult times. This is when Rose is not penning letters to the Firth of Forth to catch the evening post.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – September 1915

SEPTEMBER 1915

The Western Front flared with light from shellfire as the Entente began their planned autumn battles. The key one is centred on Perthes-les-Hurlus, west of Rheims. Thirty divisions were committed. In Artois another attempt is being made to capture the ridge above Vimy. The BEF is attacking at Loos. Gas has been used, my suitable revenge on the Huns for Ypres – and personally for Natasha; she still has moments of coughing. But it was not effective, blowing back over our trenches as the wind changed direction.

Bad news has come, two divisions of volunteers have been shattered before Hulluch. I hear Rudyard Kipling’s son is missing. In The Times the ‘Role of Honour’ notices already fill many columns. Shells for the cannons are in short supply. I do not expect the battle to be sustainable for long, the shells and materials transported to France are rapidly being exhausted. Our factories will need time to replenish them and our loaded wagons to take them towards France.

On Gallipoli the belligerents are now holding their lines having exhausted themselves, I have heard that the French are so disappointed with the Dardanelles that their troops may be transferred elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. However in Turkish lands to the south in Mesopotamia the Indian Expeditionary Force has moved up the Tigris river to capture Kut.

John wrote thanking me for my assistance towards him joining up. As I expected, he is too old for trench fighting. He has settled into GHQ at Saint-Omer where he is an ordnance clerk. But when the Generals sup, he attends the meals making good use of his life before as a butler.

We decided to rent a flat near Whitehall so Natasha could take a role talking to the many young girls flooding into nursing. I do not want her to pine for what she lost at Ypres and the VAD were co-operative. She tells the girls what they can expect to find when they eventually get to France. She also teaches basic French so that they can communicate at a rudimentary level with French people they will meet over there. Her matron says that the girls, having gleaned why she suffer illness, are in awe of her having been into the front trenches, many having fathers and brothers who are there. Sadly some have suffered bereavements.

Our three are back at school, bur Rose rather unwillingly. She wanted to become a nurse but I insisted she complete her higher education, having done exceptionly well in her public examinations. She can then take her love of the biological sciences towards a medical career, perhaps becoming a doctor as opportunities for women seem to be opening. However I have accepted her writing to Midshipman Hawkins who I now learn is called Rory – a good Anglo-Scots name. She is delighted and letters continue to fly north, though less come south. She, with Flora and Becky, holds the fort while we are in London during the week. With the set-up to Loos completed I can spend weekends at home.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – August 1915

AUGUST 1915

Sir Percy Jones, our Minister, called me in. As a Devon Parliamentarian who stables his hunting mare at the Barracks, he enjoys country pursuits. Having heard from the Court he was willing to give me ten days in the South-West so that I can take Natasha to convalesce. Two days later she was discharged from the hospital, leaving Brighton by train. Waiting at the platform we were all emotional when the train pulled in and she stepped from the carriage. Driving home the children did not find time to stop talking. This continued until Monday when we left, the children returning to the farm.

We drove along the coast road in the Vauxhall with the hood up. Warmly dressed for protection from the wind, Natasha was able to enjoy the warmth of the autumn sun. Above the noise of the engine we brought ourselves up to date with what has passed since she was at Ypres in April. She had heard of the Russian losses, now the withdrawal from Warsaw. Petrograd has become a broodingly sad place with so many families having lost sons, killed or taken prisoner. Her French family writes often, but there is so much grief expressed for their armies’ casualties.

In the early evening of the second day we arrived at the hotel, a converter Georgian mansion near Praa Sands. It was very pleasant to relax together with cocktails and a fresh fish meal. Retiring at nine, we found it strange to undress in front of each other after the months apart. Once in bed she slipped into my arms. During the next few days we enjoyed a level of intimacy we had forgotten since the arrival of Rose. During a tender moment she let slip that she had welcomed our daughter receiving letters from the Midshipman she met in March, I could not be angry.

The staff were most accommodating, not troubling us to keep to the hotel meal times but making sure we could eat when we sought meals. Clearly instructions had been passed to treat us ‘Royally’. Our room overlooked the sea and we could just see St. Michael’s Mount beyond Cudden Point. Two days we spent exploring the Mount, other days we visited St. Ives, Penzance and Newlyn, leaving the car to walk on the cliffs overlooking them. When we stopped at Land’s End to enjoy a picnic, it was difficult to believe we were at war. However we did note the passing of warships on the horizon, the smoke trails giving away their presence off shore.

The week passed like a second honeymoon. Driving home we sang songs from Carmen and other French operas, Natasha’s voice rising above the passing wind – a magical experience. Once home I had to return to London, leaving Natasha with our children to decide her future plans. She cannot return to front-line nursing.

Back in Whitehall I was briefed. The urgency to move ammunition wagons is less than expected. Greatly increased munitions production is proving more difficult to achieve then Lloyd George predicted. War news is grim. A new landing at Sulva Cove was badly handled, three generals were sacked. The supporting attacks above Anzac Cove and Krithia gave nothing but more casualties. With the stalemates now in France and Gallipoli hopefully the great efforts to come against the Germans will weaken the resolve of the Central Powers.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – July 1915

JULY 1915

Natasha sent me exciting news in her last letter. A week ago Her Majesty the Queen came to visit the Royal Pavilion. As Empress of India she wished to meet the Indian Army officers and seniors Indian soldiers who had been injured at Neuve Chappelle. It was a private visit, she being only accompanied by her Lady-in-Waiting. Natasha said that her smile helped lift the morale of the men. She also spoke on behalf of the King who valued their contribution to the efforts of the Empire.

Natasha was asked to join her for tea. The Queen had heard of how Natasha went into the front line and was gassed. She thought the selfless act of nursing the injured soldier in the trench was brave. Being aware of the Canadian sensitivity over the ‘Limouged’ doctor, the tea party was just for the three ladies. The Queen asked of the family and noted I was assisting in the national rail transport programme. Perhaps when, in the Queen’s words “this beastly war is over”, Rose can be presented at Court. That would be a great honour to our family.

The Royal visit has also lifted her morale and she hopes the doctors will release her to come home next month. But there is still the question mark over damage to her lungs, even though the coughing spasms have abated.

British troops have been fighting ferociously at Ypres, however the front is largely at stalemate. Yesterday’s internal report tells of the Germans projecting liquid petrol: first gas, now fire. The Italians have found attacking in the mountains is as terrible as Russians attacking on the plains.

The French forces in Gallipoli suffered the loss of their inspirational General in command, Henri Gouraud, when he was blown over a wall by a Turkish shell, losing his right arm and being transported back to France. On Kereves Dere his forces had almost broken through. The aftermath was a collapsed morale which even affected the British troops. Twice they refused to advance. Hamilton has lost an important ally towards making sense of this campaign.

The past three months’ reports tell of the Turks continuing to massacre thousands of their Armenian christian subjects because the Ottoman Empire is muslim. Religious differences cannot justify the rapes and murders of countless women, children and babies.

The British conduct of the war should now become more urgent that Lloyd George has taken over Munitions and urging women to work making cannon shells. Our earlier battles were weakened by too few to bombard the Hun trenches. We shall have to improve their safe transportation to the guns in France, no repeat of the ‘Bulwark’explosion !

John, now living in the village, has just told me he wishes to volunteer. He served in the Zulu war, but I think he now is far too old for active service. Rose and Becky have said, being aged 16, they want to do their bit to ’defeat the Hun’. The past fortnight they have been harvesting with our nearby farmer, Mr. Fenn. I have let Thom go as well and he now looks after the working horses. Flora remains a stalwart support, preparing meals. Nat is kept occupied taking the knapkins with meals to the girls in the fields. He is devoted to Flora in his mother’s absence, but whether it is her warmth or her cakes ’seducing’ him I cannot say.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – June1915

JUNE 1915

I was able to go to Etaples early this month to celebrate our belated twentieth anniversary. Natasha is in better spirits though still weak from coughing. When back at the Ministry I was unable to help in her return to England, to the hospital in Brighton. This hospital, for Indian Army officers wounded at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers, also lets her convalesce away from the prying eyes of journalists. The Canadian doctor has been ‘limouged’ to Vancouver Island after a courts martial. The awkward political problem for our military has been resolved – especially the instruction that VAD nurses are forbidden to go into the front line.

Natasha has become a heroine to the Indian soldiers for having gone there. When Rose visited her she was soon made to be very proud of her mother and enjoyed the many compliments showered on both of them. As to Natasha, regaining full health to able to return to the VAD is uncertain. Meantime she is using her experiences of Picardy and Ypres to bring comfort to the men, some who are in the throes of dying from their wounds.

Last Sunday I drove the boys to see their mother. They were greeted enthusiastically by the men, who had been away for months from their own sons. Whereas for England the Channel is a ‘bridge’ that can be crossed in a day, for India the ‘bridge’ is two oceans long and weeks away.

On Gallipoli the British and French forces made advances at Krithia but had to pull back, no gains for large casualties. Later that day when General Gouraud refused to allow further senseless assaults, Hunter-Weston was livid. 17 days later French units did capture the formidable Haricot Redoubt above Keres Dere.

In France it has been a quiet month on the British sector, although the French sustained heavy casualties in Artois and the Argonne. Five million Frenchmen are now bearing arms showing the numbers of soldiers needed to carry their country’s rate of attrition. Steel helmets are being made to lessen head wounds from shells and snipers. A reversion to the technology of the Middle Ages, now defence from fast moving bullets, not swinging axes.

The news from the Eastern Front is still one of Russian retreat and surrender of fortresses. However German advances towards Riga have been halted, a Russian minelayer blocked the Gulf with mines so that enemy ships were unable to support their northern army. Sunk when returning to base only one officer survived with a dozen ratings. The loss of 300 lost seems small against Russia’s overall casualties on land. However British submarines are helping Russia prevent the Baltic becoming a German lake in which to sail their capital ships.

Inevitably our Government has introduced its National Registration Bill – the number of volunteers coming forwards is drying up. Two million to service all of our fronts will not be enough. Better management of this previous resource will ensure our country become a nation properly committed to defeating the Axis Powers.

Our department is planning ahead for the movement of men and materials needed for the proposed autumn offensive.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – May 1915

May 1915

May has been a ghastly month, personally and professionally. I arrived at the hospital at Poperinge to find Natasha gone. Because of ‘why’ she had become a casualty of war, and to avoid journalists finding out ‘how’, she had been moved to Etaples once her choking subsided. After camphor injections she had some blood removed and replaced by water and saline to prevent clots in her lungs and bronchial tubes. The doctor is under investigation for endangering her life, even though she agreed to go to the front line. Using my new commission I was able to commandeer a truck and driver who drove me to Etaples. As we went south I saw the congestion military traffic can create. Delays meant it was night when I arrived at the ward. Natasha was awake but lying very still. She recognised me and smiled faintly. I stayed with her until dawn stroking her dark hair as she passed in and out of a morphine-assisted sleep.

The next days were spent by her bedside as she gradually breathed regularly. But I have been warned by her doctor, a chlorine gas specialist, that her lungs are damaged. After a week I had to leave her and return to England. She will follow for convalescence once Dr. Melson believes she is safe to move.

I got home to tell the family that their mother had been injured but will be back once she is better. Rose and Thom looked devastated because they have read of the German gas attacks. I spent the weekend quietly with them in the garden before leaving for London.

When I arrived at the War Office I was asked many questions about the transport arrangements ‘over there’ after my colleagues had expressed their deep sympathy. I appreciated this as already some have lost sons. Our Principal Officer told me in confidence that the British Government had sent a sharp note to the Canadian authorities. No BEF nurses were to go forwards of casualty stations kept out of range of German artillery.

In my sadness I focused on work which had built up whilst absent in France. Cunard’s ‘Lusitania’ has been torpedoed with great loss of life. The BEF have attacked again at Aubers and Festubert, but with no lasting success. French forces have suffered greatly failing to take the Lorette Spur and Vimy Ridge. Gallipoli is no better. Battling for Krithia the Entente troops gained just 600 yards. The Australians and Kiwis are stuck on the northern beach despite fierce fighting; the Turks are keeping them off the ridges. Conditions there are hellish. At sea three British battleships have been sunk.

Elsewhere Italy has joined us to fight Austria. A report has arrived of Armenians within the Ottoman empire are being slaughtered without mercy. Now a terrible accident on the Scottish border. A troop train has been hit by two others, the carriages bursting into flames and over 200 soldiers being burnt to death. We have begun an immediate examination to understand ‘why’ and to take action against further disasters. For our Scottish soldiers to be killed in England before they even got to Gallipoli is their bizarre fate.

Today I witnessed a Zeppelin bombing London. Again many civilians have become casualities of this ghastly war.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – April 1915

APRIL 1915

I am finding this difficult to write. Dreadful news has come from a hospital in Poperinge. They have Natasha there. She is suffering from asphyxiating gas

The brief report I have received from the War Office is that she was near the front line with the Canadian doctor on the 23rd. Whilst tending a wounded soldier in the bottom of a trench a cloud of yellow gas settled on her. She breathed in the gas. When she began to gasp the doctor carried her to the rail track and put her on a stretcher. He was able to do so because he was standing up when the cloud settled around her. He got her back to Ypres from where she was taken to the hospital.

I have now been told that thousands of French and Canadian troops have died from the gas. Natasha is still alive but sh has now been retching for seven days. The medical staff there are doing their best to ease her gasping for breath. Speaking to my Minister I have been grateful for his sympathetic response. He has found out GHQ in Flanders have heard and are investigating why a woman was near the front line the day after the Germans first released the gas. He has also got permission for me to hold a commission and go to Belgium.

I travel out next Monday. I cannot go beforehand because of rail demands for the Dardanelles. I have to tell our children at the weekend. Rose and Thom may understand but Nat is perhaps too young. It will be so difficult. Rose and Becky must take charge whilst I am away.

The past month has been hectic getting stores by rail to the ports for loading on to the ships sailing to the Orient. So little time was available, just 30 days. On the 25th the British Empire forces and French units landed on the Dardanelles. The Turks were waiting having been pre-warned by the ships and Royal Marines attacking. Many men were cut down even before they reached the shore. The survivors are clinging to the beaches under the precipitous heights – where the Turkish machine guns are sited.

I have arrived home but await the best time to talk to the children. Meanwhile I have to pack my clothes not knowing how long I shall be in Belgium. Planning clothes appropriate for the rank of Captain gives relief from thinking about my beloved wife suffering in a hospital. I must stop writing this report.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – March 1915

MARCH 1915

The allies are intensifying their efforts to drive the Germans back to Germany. At Neuve Chapelle, a little village in Picardy, the BEF attacked on the 10th, after a barrage, but taking only some trenches and driving back a short part of the German line. Losses were horrendous for so little gain. The listing of the dead in the better newspapers tell of the number of families who will be grieving. At the War Office where I am now based the reality caused despondency even though we knew to expect serious levels of casualties for the Regular and Territorial units engaged.

News was no better from the Dardanelles. The Royal Navy and French battleships steamed into the Narrows on the 18th after their gunfire wrecked the Turkish forts in the days before. Half of the battleships were sunk or put out of action. Turkish mines, not cannon, were the cause. Just last summer I remember the sunny day we went with the children to see over HMSs Irrestible and Inflexible in Portsmouth. The seamen were so charming especially to Rose, she blushed for days whenever Nat teased her about a certain young Midshipman.

Next day bad weather intervened, no more efforts were made to reach the Sea of Marmara. I have heard that planning is now well advanced for a sea-borne landing on the Gallipoli peninsula, using British, Australian and New Zealand troops now training in Egypt. General Hamilton is already there to command the land battle.

Though the Russians have not fared well against the German forces, they have done splendidly against the Austrians. On the 22nd the fort of Przemysl surrendered, over 100,000 laying down their arms and were taken together with hundreds of cannon. Hopefully the grave disappointments of the last few months will be in the past – though the massive Russian losses cannot easily be made good.

Natasha has written about her discussions with a Canadian doctor. Hearing of my work, they feel that light rail track could be used to get the wounded on stretchers back from the trenches. She is going up to the front with him to see how practical would be this proposal. Gaily she tells me that she will dress in men’s uniform as a military medical officer so as not to invite suspicion. I hope she knows what she doing. Snipers have been wounding and killing many French and Canadians in that sector.

I am delighted to report Rose has taken to ably managing the household. With Becky’s support Thom and Nat are having little about which to complain. When they return from school they find the evening meal is always ready.

This is such a relief to me. It means when I am at the War Office I do not need to trouble about their days: I can concentrate on liaising with the military organisers. In the evenings when in London I am invited to their Messes where we talk into the evening about the logistical problems of this war.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – February 1915

FEBRUARY 1915

Natasha has written to me saying the Queen Alexandra’s IHS have asked her to go to Belgium. As she speaks French they wish her to assist with the French and Canadians of French extraction near Ypres. I am worried as moving overseas is bringing her closer to the battlefront. But how could I object when she has powerful family reasons to hate the Boche and play her part in sending them packing When I explained her commitment to our children they reluctantly understood , saying ‘Mother is doing a job that’s worthwhile. She would not be Mother if she refused to go, and we love her as she is’.

The Germans have increased their bestiality, declaring their submarines will attack even ships of neutral nations such as the United States. Their citizens will be drowned. At least their partners the Turks were stopped from getting into Egypt. Our naval ships have retaliated by again bombarding the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles. This must be the start of a bigger effort to get Turkey pushed out of the War, the Ottoman Empire is said to be a spent force.

Information seeping in from the east is dispiriting. Fighting around the Masurian lakes has lead to thousands of prisoners being taken by the Germans. Is our Russian ally able to give effective help towards letting us gain a competitive advantage in the west ? Or can Germany place its best troops in Picardy., Artois and Champagne ? I realize conditions of snow and ice are appalling in Polish Russia, perhaps the Tsar’s commanders need to take time to regroup and rebuild their weakened armies –then push forward when Spring comes. This is the policy our commanders are using, as I know from the movement of war materials to the docks.

I have become involved in planning for the future. I know the Minister was pleased about my suggestion to beware of losing too many railwaymen as volunteers. Materials for the front have to be competently supplied. Checking the rails, maintaining point and signals are as vital for the new armies as administering their food and clothing in the training camps.

After I wrote to Natasha giving our blessing to her transfer Rose raised an issue at supper on Saturday. She said that at 15 she can do more for the family by taking responsibility for Thom and Nat and helping Becky with household duties. After all, younger girls in the village help parents running their shops and farms. Her practical logic was irrefutable. I was pleased to agree. This war has made her a young woman

The 1919 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

JANUARY 1919
January 10-15
Communist Revolt in Berlin.
January 18
Paris Peace Conference begins. Armistice extended monthly until treaty signed.
January 25
Principle of a League of Nations ratified.
FEBRUARY 1919
February 14
Draft of the League of Nations completed.
MAY 1919
May 6
Under the conditions of the Peace Conference, the German colonies are annexed.
JUNE 1919
June 21
German High Seas Fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow.
June 28
The Treaty of Versailles is signed.
JULY 1919
July 19
The first (wooden) Cenotaph is unveiled on Whitehall.

The 1918 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

JANUARY 1918
January 16
Riots break out in Vienna and Budapest as the Austro-Hungarians express mounting dissatisfaction with the war.
MARCH 1918
March 3
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed between Germany and Russia.
March 21
Second Battle of the Somme marked by the German Spring Offensive, the ‘Kaiserschlacht‘ (The Kaiser’s Battle). Germans attack along a 50 mile front south of Arras.
March 22
The German Operation Michael is a complete success. They use new ‘Storm trooper’ assault teams to smash through British positions west of St Quentin, taking 16,000 British prisoners.
March 23
German assaults now reach the Somme Line. The greatest air battle of the war takes place over the battlefield as 70 aircraft are involved in a single combat.
March 28
The German offensive (Operation Mars) along the River Scarpe is halted at great loss. The American Expeditionary Force plays a vital role in the battle.
APRIL 1918
April 5
The German Spring Offensive halts outside Amiens as British and Australian forces hold the line. The second 1917 battle of the Somme ends, as Germany calls off Operation Michael.
April 9
The Battle of the Lys, marked by Operation ‘Georgette’, is the second German Spring Offensive.
April 21
The ‘Red Baron’ is shot down and killed.
April 23
Allies carry out raids against the harbours of Ostend and Zeebrugge. Obsolete vessels are driven ashore and blown up in order to blockade the entrances. Zeebrugge is partially successful; the Ostend raid fails.
April 29
The Battle of the Lys ends. Three British Divisions hold off 13 German divisions, inflicting crippling loss.
MAY 1918
May 10
The British launch a second raid on Ostend. HMS Vindictive is this time successfully scuttled in the harbour entrance. German cruisers are no longer able to use the port.
May 19
The German Air Force launches its largest and last raid on London. Out of the 33 aircraft, 6 are lost, while 49 civilians are killed and 177 wounded.
May 27
Operation Blucher, the third German Spring Offensive assaults the French army along the Aisne River. The French are forced back to the Marne but hold the river after being reinforced by American troops.
JUNE 1918
June 9
The fourth German Offensive on the Western Front, codenamed ‘Gneisenau,’ between Noyan and Montdidier. It fails to break the French line and ends four days later.
June 15
The second Battle of the Piave River, Italy, opens with a massive offensive by the Austro-Hungarian Army. Italian and British troops first hold and then push back the attackers. Despite heavy losses the Allies destroy the Austro-Hungarian Army, precipitating the collapse of the the Empire.
JULY 1918
July 15
The second Battle of the Marne marks the final phase of the German Spring Offensive. Allied counter attacks inflict irreplaceable German casualties. The defeat leads to the cancellation of the planned Invasion of Flanders and puts the Germans on the complete defensive.
July 16
The Russian royal family are murdered.
July 26
Air ace Mick Mannock VC, DSO and two Bars, MC and Bar kia.
AUGUST 1918
August 8
The second Battle of Amiens begins (The ‘Black Day’ of the German army). German resistance is sporadic and thousands surrender. Fighting is now defined by mobility as the lines of trenches are breached.
SEPTEMBER 1918
September 19
The Battle of Samaria marks the British offensive of Palestine.
September 22
Allied victory in the Balkans.
September 27
The Great British Offensive on the Cambrai Front leads to the storming of the Hindenburg Line. The Battle of St Quentin – British and American troops launch devastating offensives, piercing the Hindenburg Line along the Canal Du Nord and St Quentin Canal.
September 30
British and Arab troops take Damascus, capturing 7,000 prisoners.
October 1918
October 4
The German and Austrian peace proposal is sent to the American President, Woodrow Wilson, requesting an armistice.
October 8
The Allies advance along a 20 mile front from St Quentin to Cambrai and drive the Germans back 3 miles, taking Cambrai and le Cateau. Over 10,000 Germans are captured.
October 17
British and American troops launch attacks at the Battle of the Selle. The British liberate Lille and Douai. Belgians retake Ostend and reach Zeebrugge the following day. The whole of the Channel coast in the west of Flanders is liberated.
October 23
The British launch a night attack with all three of their armies, the First, the Second and the Fourth. This time the British advance six miles in two days. The British are now 20 miles behind the rear of the Hindenburg Line.
October 29
German sailors aboard the High Seas Fleet at Jade mutiny and refuse to engage the British Fleet.
October 30
The Turkish army surrenders to the British in Mesopotamia. Turkey signs an armistice with the Allies. Fighting ceases the following day.
NOVEMBER 1918
November 3
German sailors mutiny at Kiel. Austria-Hungary signs an armistice with the Allies.
November 8
Armistice negotiations between the Allies and Germany begin in Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage HQ at Compiègne
November 9
Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland. Revolution breaks out in Berlin.
November 11 – Armistice Day
The Armistice is signed at 5.00am and comes into effect at 11.00am.
At 10.57am Canadian Private George Lawrence Price is killed while on patrol in Canal du Centre (Conde Canal). He is the last Empire soldier to die in action on the Western front.
November 14
General Von Lettow-Vorbeck surrenders his East African forces on the Chambezi River, Northern Rhodesia.
November 21
The Capitulation of Rosyth – Nine German battleships, five battle-cruisers, seven cruisers and 49 destroyers arrive off Rosyth to surrender. Thirty nine U-Boats surrender off Harwich.
DECEMBER 1918
December 12
The British Cavalry cross the Rhine and begin the Occupation of Cologne.
December 13
Americans cross the Rhine and occupy the bridgehead at Coblenz.
Armistice is prolonged for one month until 17th January 1919.

The 1917 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

JANUARY 1917
January 19
British cryptographers decipher a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt; offering United States territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. This message helped draw the United States into the war.
January 31
Germany announces the continuation of unrestricted submarine warfare, hoping to starve Britain into submission.
FEBRUARY 1917
February 3
The United States severs diplomatic relations with Germany as U-Boats threaten US shipping.
February 21
The Great German Withdrawal begins. They will evacuate Serre, Miraumont, Petit Miraumont, Pys and Warlencourt, falling back 25 miles to establish stronger positions along the Hindenburg Line.
February 24
Turkish retreat to Baghdad, abandoning Kut in Mesopotamia.
MARCH 1917
March 8
First Russian Revolution begins with strikes, demonstrations and mutinies in Petrograd.
March 11
Turkish retreat to Baghdad, abandoning Kut in Mesopotamia.
March 15
Tsar Nicholas II abdicates (also for his son) as Moscow falls to Russian Revolutionaries. Demise of the Russian Army frees German troops for the Western Front.
March 26
The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, as the British attempt to cut off the Turkish forces in Mesopotamia from their homeland. They fail to take the town and are forced to withdraw.
APRIL 1917
April 6
US declares war on Germany. Troops begin to mobilise immediately.
April 9
The Battle of Arras. The British successfully employ new tactics of creeping barrages, the ‘graze fuse’ and counter battery fire. Significant feature of Vimy Ridge captured by the Canadians during this battle.
April 16
The Second Battle of Aisne begins as part of the ‘Nivelle Offensive’. Losses are horrendous, triggering mutinies within the French Army.
April 19
The Second Battle of Gaza begins in Palestine. The plan consists of nothing more than to throw troops against well prepared Turkish positions. It is eventually called off due to mounting casualties.
MAY 1917
May 7
Captain Albert Ball RFC shot down and killed.
Posthumously awarded the VC.
JUNE 1917
June 7
The Battle of Messines Ridge. The British take the ridge with few casualties, as it is preceded by the detonation of 19 mines under the German front lines. The explosions are reportedly heard in southern England.
June 13
Germans launch the first major heavy bomber raid over London. Bombs dropped from 18 Gotha GV aircraft kill 162 people and injure 432.
June 25
First US troops arrive in France.
JULY 1917
July 16
TE Lawrence and the Arabs liberate Aqaba in Jordan after crossing the Nefu desert, which in turn assisted with the capture of Damascus.
July 24
Mata Hari stands trial for espionage.
July 31
The Third Battle of Ypres begins along a 15 mile front in Flanders. Initial attacks are successful as the German forward trenches are lightly manned.
AUGUST 1917
August 15
The Battle of Lens (Hill 70). Canadian troops are in the vanguard of this assault. Hill 70 is only 15 feet higher than the surrounding landscape but it dominates the battlefield. The Canadians take and hold it against five German counter attacks. Allies lose 9,200 men.
August 20
The Third Battle of Verdun begins. French progress is marked by gaining lost territory in the earlier battles.
SEPTEMBER 1917
September 20
The Battle of the Menin Road.
September 26
The Battle of Polygon Wood.
October 1917
October 12
The British launch their latest assaults at Ypres against the Passchendaele Ridge. New Zealand and Australian divisions in the vanguard of the attack take terrible casualties, then are bogged down in the mud and are forced back to their start lines.
October 15
Mata Hari executed
October 19
The last airship raid on Britain is carried out by 11 Zeppelins.
October 24
Joint attack of Austro-Hungarian/German armies launched at Caporetto against Italian army, who are severely overwhelmed. Allies now give significant support with the dispatch of both French and British divisions.
October 25
The Second Battle of Passchendaele begins with 20,000 men of the Third and Fourth Canadian Divisions advancing up the hills of the salient. It cost the Allies 12,000 casualties for a gain of a few hundred yards.
October 30
Reinforced with the addition of two British divisions, a second offensive is launched in torrential rains to capture Passchendaele. The Allies hold the town for the next five days in the face of repeated German shelling and counterattacks.
October 31
Battle of Beersheba, Palestine. British forces take the town capturing 1,800 Turkish troops. This leaves the way open for the advance on Jerusalem.
NOVEMBER 1917
November 7
The second Russian revolution results in the Bolsheviks under Lenin taking over. Known as the October Revolution as Russia operating the Julian calendar until February 1918. British capture Gaza.
November 10
Battle of Passchendaele ends. After months of fighting, the Allies have advanced only 5 miles, but have taken the high ground that dominates the salient. Half a million men are casualties, of which around 140,000 have been killed.
November 20
The Battle of Cambrai begins, using significant numbers of British tanks for the first time; combined with a predicted artillery bombardment. During the attack, the RFC drop bombs on German anti-tank guns and strongpoints to clear a path for the Allied tanks and ground troops. It is an early example of the ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics used by the Germans so in the Second World War. Church bells were rung in Britain.
DECEMBER 1917
December 11
Britain liberates Jerusalem, ending 673 years of Turkish rule.

The 1916 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

JANUARY 1916
January 4
The Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad is the first attempt to relieve the besieged British in Kut, Mesopotamia. The Turkish finally withdraw but the British casualties number 4,000, a situation exasperated by the poor medical facilities.
January 8
Allied evacuation of Helles marks the end of the Gallipoli campaign.
January 24
Introducing conscription, the British Government passes the Military Service Act, due to become law on May 25.
FEBRUARY 1916
February 21
The Battle of Verdun starts with a German offensive against the Mort-Homme Ridge. The German plan is to bleed the French dry of men and resources. The battle lasts 10 months and over a million men become casualties.
MARCH 1916
March 9
Germany declares war on Portugal. Six days later, Austria follows suit.
APRIL 1916
April 5
The Battle of Kut. The third and final Allied attempt to relieve Kut flounders in the mud along the Tigris, with 23,000 Allied casualties.
April 21
Easter Rising in Dublin.
April 29
Besieged garrison at Kut in Mesopotamia surrenders after 143 days and 3,000 British and 6,000 Indian troops go into captivity. The majority of these die of disease and starvation in prison camps.
MAY 1916
May 13
Arabs capture Mecca from the Turks.
May 31-June 1
The Battle of Jutland. The German High Seas Fleet is forced to retire despite inflicting heavier losses on the Royal Navy (14 ships and 6,100 men), but the German fleet remains in port for the rest of the war.
JUNE 1916
June 4
The Russian Brusilov Offensive begins on the Eastern Front. It nearly cripples Austria-Hungary out of the war.
June 5
TE Lawrence aids Hussein, Grand Sharif of Mecca, in the Arab revolt against the Turks in Hejaz.
Lord Kitchener sails for Russia on board HMS Hampshire. The ship is mined off Orkney and Kitchener is lost along with 643 other crewmen and general staff.
June 8
Voluntary Enlistment in Britain is replaced by Conscription.
JULY 1916
July 1
The opening day of the Battle of the Somme. 750,000 Allied soldiers are unleashed along a 25 mile front. By the end of the day the British sustained 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 died. It remains the worst single day’s fighting in British military history.
July 14
The Battle of Bazentin Ridge marks the end of the first Somme Offensive. The British break the German line but fail to deploy the cavalry fast enough to take full advantage. Some 9,000 men are lost.
July 23
The Battle of Pozières Ridge marks the second Somme Offensive. Close to the highest point of the Somme battlefield, Pozières dominates the surrounding countryside. The action to take the village costs 17,000 Allied casualties, the majority of whom are Australian.
AUGUST 1916
August 26
Under General Smuts, Britain enters the Morogoro Campaign in East Africa. The Germans lead a deadly guerrilla campaign, but disease kills 30 men for every one that dies in combat.
August 28
Italy declares war on Germany.
SEPTEMBER 1916
September 2
The first Zeppelin is shot down over Britain by Lt Leefe Robinson. The Royal Flying Corps uses a new combination of explosive and incendiary bullets to great effect. Robinson awarded the Victoria Cross.
September 9
The Battle of Ginchy. The British capture Ginchy – a post of vital strategic importance, as it commands a view of the whole Somme battlefield.
September 15
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette signifies the start of the third stage of the Somme Offensive. Tanks are used for the first time. Despite initial gains the Allies fail to break through German lines.
September 27
The Battle of Thiepval. Tanks play a crucial role in the capture of this strategic village.
NOVEMBER 1916
November 13
The Battle of Ancre. The fourth phase of the Somme Offensive is marked by the British capturing Beaumont Hamel and St Pierre Divion, taking nearly 4,000 prisoners.
DECEMBER 1916
December 7
David Lloyd George appointed British Prime Minister.
December 12
Germany delivers Peace Note to Allies suggesting compromise.
December 18
The Battle of Verdun ends. It is the longest and costliest battle on the Western Front.

The 1915 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

JANUARY 1915
January 19
In the first airborne attack on British soil, Zeppelins bomb Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, killing five civilians.
January 24
Battle of the Dogger Bank
FEBRUARY 1915
February 7-22
Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes result in huge Russian losses but halt German advance
February 18
Blockade of Britain by German U-boats begins. All vessels are considered viable targets, including those from neutral countries.
February 19
Allied naval bombardment of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli begins.
MARCH 1915
March 10
The British Offensive at Neuve Chapelle begins. Allied losses amount to 12,800 in two days. Some of the blame falls on the poor quality and lack of British shells, initiating the ‘Shell Crisis’.
18
Combined French and British naval attack on the Dardanelles. When this fails the army assumes responsibility.
APRIL 1915
April 22
Second Battle of Ypres begins. First use of poison gas by Germany.
April 25
Allied landing at Gallipoli – 70,000 British, Commonwealth and French troops are under heavy fire. On ‘Y’ Beach, 1,200 out of a force of 1,500 men are casualties.
MAY 1915
May 2
Austro-German offensive on Galicia begins.
May 7
German U-boat torpedoes British liner Lusitania with the loss of American lives, creating a US-German diplomatic crisis.
May 9
Battle of Aubers Ridge
May 23
Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary.
May 25
The ‘Shell Crisis’ exposes the failings of the British Government in supporting front line troops. Discontent over rising casualty figures grows and a coalition government is formed as Prime Minister Asquith struggles to maintain control of the House of Commons.
May 26
Churchill forced to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty after the Gallipoli landings debacle, but continues as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
May 31
The first Zeppelin raid on London kills seven and injures 35. British morale is shaken as Germany demonstrates it can attack the capital at will.
JUNE 1915
June 4
The Third and final Battle of Krithia begins at Gallipoli as Allies attempt to push inland from their beach-heads. British losses amount to 6,000 men.
June 21
British troops reach the Euphrates in Mesopotamia, and re-occupy Aden.
JULY 1915
July 30
German troops use flame throwers for the first time against the British lines at Hooge, near Ypres.
AUGUST 1915
August 4
Germans annex Warsaw.
August 6
Allies land two divisions at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli. They opt not to take the strategic heights overlooking the beaches and are eventually pinned to the coast by Turkish troops.
August 16
A U-boat bombards Whitehaven, proving that Britain’s maritime defences can be breached by German submarines.
August 21
The Battle of Scimitar Hill, Gallipoli, is the final British offensive in the Dardanelles. They are repelled and lose 5,000 men.
SEPTEMBER 1915
September 25
The Great Allied Offensive focuses on Loos and Champagne. At the Battle of Loos the British use gas for the first time but the wind blows this over their own troops resulting in 2632 casualties – seven are killed.
September 27
British and Canadian regiments take Hill 70 at Loos and break the German line, but lack of reserves to exploit the breach results in limited success. The Canadians alone receive over 9,000 casualties.
OCTOBER 1915
October 5
Under German pressure to open up military rail links to Constantinople and the Middle East, the Austro-Hungarians step up their campaign against the Serbians. Anglo-French forces land at Salonika to counter allied German expansion in the Balkans.
October 12
British nurse Edith Cavell is executed by German firing squad for helping POWs escape from Belgium to Holland. She becomes a popular martyr and British heroine.
October 31
Steel helmets introduced on the British Front.
NOVEMBER 1915
November 22
Battle of Ctesiphon, 25 miles south of Baghdad. Allies inflict heavy casualties on the Turks, but are forced to retire to Kut due to lack of supplies. The Turkish soldiers give chase and besiege the town.
DECEMBER 1915
December 15
Sir Douglas Haig replaces Sir John French as Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force.
December 20
Allies complete the evacuation of 83,000 troops from Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli. Not one soldier or sailor is killed in the withdrawal and the Turkish are unaware of the evacuation

The 1914 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

JUNE 1914
June 28
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg are assassinated in Sarajevo.
June 29
Secretary of the Austro-Hungarian Legation at Belgrade sends despatch to Vienna accusing Serbian complicity in the assassination.
JULY 1914
July 20
Austria-Hungary sends troops to the Serbian frontier.
July 25
Serbia orders mobilisation of troops. Russia arranges for troops to be stationed on Russo-Austrian frontier.
July 28
Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
July 29
Great Britain warns Germany that it cannot remain neutral. Austrians bombard Serbian capital Belgrade. German patrols cross the French border. Czar Nicholas II orders partial mobilisation.
AUGUST 1914
August 1
French military mobilisation ordered. Germany declares war on Russia. Italy and Belgium announce neutrality.
August 2
Germany gives Belgium an ultimatum to allow passage of German troops.
August 3
Germany declares war on France. Belgium rejects ultimatum. Great Britain gives order for troops to mobilise.
August 4
Germany declares war on Belgium. United States declares neutrality. Great Britain gives Germany ultimatum to stand down from hostilities. Germany doesn’t comply; a state of war is declared at 11.00pm
August 5
Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia.
August 6
Royal Navy cruiser HMS Amphion is sunk by German mines in the North Sea, causing the death of 150 men and the first British casualties of war. Serbia declares war on Germany.
August 7
First members of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) land in France.
August 11
‘Your King and Country Need You’ slogan is published, calling for the first 100,000 men to enlist for Kitchener’s New Army. The call is answered within two weeks.
August 12
Great Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary
August 13
The first squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps arrive in France.
August 20
Brussels is evacuated as Germans occupy the city.
August 23
First engagement of the BEF at the Battle of Mons, after which the allies are forced into a tactical retreat. Japan declares war on Germany.
August 25
The Royal Flying Corps claim their first ‘kill’ as three aircraft from 2nd Squadron force down a German reconnaissance plane.
August 26
The Battle of Le Cateau. BEF suffers 7,812 casualties. The retreat continues.
The Battle of Tannenberg on the Eastern Front (Aug 26th-30th). German victory.
August 28
Batttle of Heligoland Bight.
SEPTEMBER 1914
September 5-12
The First Battle of Marne checks German advance at the cost of 13,000 British, 250,000 French and 250,000 German casualties.
First Battle of the Masurian Lakes on the Eastern Front (Sept 9th-14th). Russian victory.
September 12-15
The First Battle of the Aisne pushed the German army north of the river and then began ‘The Race to the sea’ to deny the enemy access to the Channel ports.
OCTOBER 1914
October 16
The British Indian Expeditionary Force sails from Bombay to the Persian Gulf in preparation for the defence of Mesopotamia.
October 19-November 22
The First Battle of Ypres. Trenches established from the North Sea to the Swiss border.
October 28
River Yser flooded to halt German advance to the Channel ports.
October 29
Turkey enters the war on the side of the Central Powers.
During October, the East African war starts with the SMS Köningsberg being trapped in the Rufiji River, German East Africa.
NOVEMBER 1914
November 1
Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile.
November 23
The British enter Basra, securing oil supplies in the Middle East needed to supply most of the Royal Navy.
DECEMBER 1914
December 8
The Battle of the Falkland Islands. A Royal navy task force sinks three German cruisers that were victorious at the Battle of Coronel in November. Only the SMS Dresden escapes.
December 16
The German First High Sea fleet bombards Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough, killing 137 civilians and proving that the British mainland is susceptible to attack.
Christmas
Partial truce observed. Football match(es) played in No Man’s Land.

(c) B. Taylor (09/02/2015).
This and the other 5 timelines were prepared for the British Commission for Military History Great War Commemorations by Barbara Taylor, member of the Western Front Association, and grateful thanks are given to her.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – January 1915

JANUARY 1915

Our citizens now face aerial bombardment. Giant Hun ‘slugs’ crossed the East Coast and dropped bombs reportedly killing some dozen non-combatants.

In the British trenches soldiers are being killed in steady numbers by shellfire, snipers and small-arms fire – with no positive progress being made through the mud. The French launched attacks in Artois and Champagne gaining some ground but with heavy losses. I wonder at the ability of the French population to soak up these losses from the six months of fighting.

At least one victory to raise our morale has come at sea after the loss of ‘Formidable’ to a submarine torpedo. Our warships caught the German cruisers on the Dogger Bank and sank the ‘Blucher’. The rest scurried back to their harbours licking their wounds. Britain still rules the waves even though what is underneath them poses real danger.

On the East front the intense cold of winter stops all movement, the Russian troops spend their days trying to keep warm. When they attempt to fight they end by becoming prisoners. However colleagues have told me over drinks that plans are being made to use British and French battleships to force the channel up to Constantinople and the Black Sea. Then supplies can be got to that front.

The Ministry is coping well with the demands being made by the BEF and the Royal Navy even though their spheres of activity are at opposite ends of our Isles. In meetings we have discussed increasing the flow of munitions, horse essentials for fodder and hay, when active campaigning begins again in France. The Minister is especially concerned that the horses receive their requirements – once a cavalryman always a cavalryman, even when a politician.

I get letters from Natasha every second day, which I gladly accept knowing the pressures resulting from nursing the returning wounded. I confess my letter writing is weaker, I put down my scribblings averaging four days. But honesty compels me to add her letters seek reassurance that the children are being well looked after. Fortunately I see them most evenings and at weekends.

Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – December 1914

DECEMBER 1914

The war has come to our land free of its despoilations for over two centuries. Three towns on our east coast were bombarded by German warships – many civilians were murdered. The Government’s propagandists are rightly fueling British outrage by portraying the enemy as the ‘baby killers of Scarborough’. Perhaps it was their brutal retaliation for their warship losses off the Falkland Islands.

From information I have gleaned from War Office chums the conditions for our British and Empire troops in the lowlands of northern France are even worse than I mentioned last month.. The earth has become a muddy soup. Attackers trying to get forward are finding it near-impossible, making them easy targets for the machine-gunners and snipers – sheer madness.

I hear from our Russian friends that their students are being mobilized to fill the gaps in the ranks after their armies’ great losses these past four months. Even their Empire with its vast population is running low on its manpower resource. Clearly their commanders must change their bulldozer tactics whilst their soldiers are still willing to fight.

Reports have reached us that there was fraternization between our soldiers and the enemy this Christmas. Many men climbed out of their trenches to talk, sing songs and to exchange gifts. Apparently even football matches were played but I do not know which side won them. At Christmas the human spirit prevails even in the trenches. Johnny French was most annoyed, perhaps because of the potential breakdown in military discipline. Orders were issued and next day the shelling and firing began again.

So much for those promises of getting back before Christmas. Hopefully 1915 will deliver Allied victory. However South Africa became a long war and far smaller forces were involved. The trend seems to be for modern war to stretch out, unlike in Wellington’s day when battles were finished in a day.

Natasha has been able to come home from her hospital three days before Christmas as a mother. Naturally our children were delighted because the family being re-united meant we could participate in the festivities though in a subdued way. Two days later she returned to give the single nurses the chance to see their loved ones. The next day I was back in the Ministry.

Eric Heaton and the IWM Despatches

E25 of Collected Articles

Dear Editor,

REMEMBERING THE DEATH OF A YOUNG VOLUNTEER ON THE SOMME

Frank Capa’s iconic image capturing the apparent death of a soldier during the Spanish Civil War has long been thought the first photographic depiction of a man being killed in action. By contrast Geoffrey Malins’s footage of the death of a British soldier on the First of July 1916 has been largely overlooked. However I wish to argue that this footage within the ‘Battle of the Somme’ is of greater historical significance due to new evidence as to the identity of this soldier.

Analysing this film in 2007 I noted a soldier rising from the front line trench to run forward towards the Hawthorn Redoubt guarding the fortified village of Beaumont Hamel, followed by men of his platoon (Reel 3, Sequence 31, frames 2414 to 2846, approximate running time 23.8 seconds). The film is of poor quality because of the technology available for portable cine cameras in 1916. However Sequence 31 clearly shows this soldier leading his platoon forward at a run, being hit by a shrapnel bullet, falling to the ground, trying to rise, then collapsing not to rise again.

Last summer I reviewed Sian Price’s book ‘If you’re reading this’. Her brief biography of Second Lieutenant Eric Heaton called to mind a section in Malins’s autobiography where he recalled filming from his exposed position near the White City for the remainder of the morning, after recording the famous scene of the explosion of the mine under the Hawthorn Redoubt. His position was in direct view of the slope over which the British troops assaulted the crater left after the explosion. The sequence in the film matches Price’s documentary evidence of the running charge of Heaton, and these parallels provide a strong argument that Heaton is the soldier fatally wounded in ‘Battle of the Somme’.

This discovery is all the more notable considering Heaton’s heroic stature, as testified by Sian Price. As a volunteer, he willingly giving up a promising medical career to serve King and Country and deserves to be remembered as more than inscriptions on a gravestone* near where he fell at Beaumont Hamel.

Respectfully,

Dr George Bailey OBE

Included with the article was the photograph taken on 9 May 2013 from the site where Geoffrey Malins filmed of the slope along which Heaton charged.

A section of the article was not published: ‘Carved with pride on his gravestone at Plot A.89 in the Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No 1, Auchonvillers, are the inscriptions ‘Our youngest son’ and (from his last letter to his parents on 28 June 1916) “I came out willingly to serve my King and Country”.’

Alexandr Pepys’ War Diary – November 1914

NOVEMBER 1914

 

The war is ever expanding.  Our Allied warships bombarded Dardanelles forts so Turkey declared war to side with Germany.  The sea passage up the Bosporus to Russia is now closed.  Russia needs our help with munitions from being pushed back at Lodz and out of Austria-Hungary. The news I glean from colleagues in the War Office is of large Russian casualties – I hope not including the sons and former retainers of our friends.  Germany won a naval victory in the Far East sinking two of our cruisers but an Australian cruiser sank one of theirs.  The battleship Bulwark was blown up when loading ammunition at Sheerness – showing me our trains carrying explosives must be more carefully laden.  An explosion in a city such as Southampton would be a crippling blow to National morale.

 

The murderous fighting in France and Belgium has lessened, probably the result of exhaustion by both sides.  It is difficult to launch large-scale attacks through rain and deep mud against shelling and intense machine-gun fire..

 

The railway network is holding up to the great increase in heavy traffic. The excessive numbers of wagon pre-War have given us flexibility during the mobilization months.  However I am concerned about the tracks as so many men maintaining them have volunteered.  I have put to our Minister that keeping the flow of men and munitions is as much a contribution to the war effort as facing the enemy in Belgium trenches.  We should retain a core of experienced men to train others to carry out the vital maintenance – fortunately he agreed with me.  A decision to this effect is being made.

 

Natasha is becoming enured to the state of the wounded soldiers.  She says this helps her to show kindness even when it is clear the wounds are mortal.  So often the men call for their mothers as they pass over, sometimes Natasha has spoken as would their mothers which brings them comfort in their last moments.  It helps that she has been a strong mother to our children.

 

Our friendly help is coping well with the children, perhaps she is letting them get away with too much when she stays overnight with my often sleeping in London.

 

Will Christmas and 1915 see a change in this dreadful war?  Already I question how much further it will expand.