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.