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.