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.