Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – March 1916

MARCH 1916

The news has been about Verdun. Heavy enemy attacks have continued against the French forts: Fort Vaux in particular has been taken and recaptured many times. The right bank of the Muse is seeing huge casualties. But now the Germans have begun attacking the left bank, the ill-named Mort-Homme hill. Despite the intense bombardment the survivors drove back the enemy. German newspapers report that at Avocourt a whole French brigade surrendered – I hope French morale is not weakening. However the road from Bar-Le-Duc is taking the heavy traffic of men and supplies to Verdun and the battlefields, it is now being called the Voie Sacree. I wonder if Captain Roches is still alive; he was a gay companion, full of wit, when we were travelling along the rail tracks into the city.

The Italians have launched yet another attack at Isonzo to try relieve pressure on Verdun. But the winter weather sweeping southern Europe makes fighting in the mountains a ghastly experience. The attack failed in the rain and snow. Further east the Russian forces have been doing well against the Turks in the Caucasus mountains and around the Black Sea. Hopefully these successes will boost their morale after the losses of last year.

In Mesopotamia, news about our forces besieged in Kut is not good. A relieving force got close to the town but were driven back with heavy losses. The General has been replaced. In France the British troops are keeping the enemy awake by skirmishes and raids, but are moving units and stores into place for a big effort in the early summer. Colleagues returning to the War Office from visiting the front in France tell me the morale of the New Army soldiers is so good, they have confidence they will defeat the Hun when they go in. They also report the rail network is performing well as are the locomotives we sent over. That news gave us a reason to share a convivial supper.

After Gallipoli the Anzac troops have been transported to France. It is interesting the interaction between the New Army soldiers and them. The Australians in particular show a confidence in adjusting orders to suit themselves, based on fighting the Turks. The New Zealanders are less brash and conform better to military discipline. The British soldiers look askance at Aussie behaviour, being so used in their home and military lives to accept orders and obey them. How different is the culture of the new countries from that of the Motherland.

On my home front news is quiet. The children are in school; I am not sure, except for Rose, they are studying hard. They come alive at weekends on what they call their ‘war work’. Rory writes to tell Rose somewhat indiscretely that the Navy is preparing for military action in the summer. Rose is such a chatterbox and Natasha hears as much news of the correspondents as if she was reading their actual letters.

I can understand: the Kreigmarine has done little so far, and with the German army losing so many at Verdun, our intelligence tell us the government leadership are asking questions about the purpose of their capital ships. They look splendid but they are machines for war at sea. The Kaiser says the stranglehold of the Royal Navy in blockading Germany must be challenged.