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.