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.