Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – April 1916

APRIL 1916

Kut has become a debacle. Early in the month for the third time a desperate attempt was made to force the way up the Tigris. The attempt failed – with some 20,000 Allied casualties. A later attempt by water to get food into Kut failed. The breaking news has been its surrender, with all its defenders taken into captivity. After Gallipoli the planners should have appreciated that Turk soldiers are tough fighters.

The Mediterranean effort has switched to a new front in Salonica. There the Army of the Orient has been joined by Serbian forces driven out of their country onto the island of Corfu. Hopefully this new front can begin reducing pressure on Verdun, Russia and Italy. In the Dolomites the Italian forces have made but small gains for great losses; advancing through thick snow makes easy targets for Austrian snipers and machine-gunners. Again the Russians have been driven back – death by frostbite adding to death by bullet and shell.

The hill of Mort-Homme has seen savage fighting but the French poilus are holding their own, driving off repeated Hun assaults. The preposterous Kaiser has claimed the war will end at Verdun. It may be his Empire that ends as German losses have been colossal.

Kitchener is moving units and stores into place for a big effort in the early summer, somewhere in France. Our troops are being trained for their major assault, they are gaining experience and keeping the enemy awake by aggressive skirmishes and raids. I know that British supplies are reaching Arras by rail. The French are also receiving abundant supplies from our factories through the Amiens railhead. This suggests to me the Somme valley. Colleagues returning to the War Office 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.

British civilians are suffering intensified airship raids. They are killed by ‘collateral damage’ when military targets are missed. The most unfortunate deaths were the 100 ‘munitioneers’ dying in the Faversham munitions factory explosion. Rose took this to heart, exclaiming to Natasha that women were also dying for King and Country.

A little known war is being waged over the vast distances of central Africa. British, South African and Belgium troops are trying to hold down German forces but with little success. When our forces are ready for battle, the enemy melts away into the bush.

We have had fighting on the Home Front. On Easter just the other day Irish rebels took over buildings in central Dublin. Within hours intense gunfire rang through the streets. The British Army units responded, using all means to quell the rebels. The news is their numbers were small and they have surrendered. There were British casualties. Military discipline will be imposed. I wonder if German spies were active in arousing the rebels to attack when they did.

We met Rory for the first time at Easter. On Admiral Beatty’s orders, his ship’s commander instructed Rory to travel to Chatham and bring back a new briefing on handling explosives. We stayed at the flat, the children came up to join us (a squeeze at bedtime)) and Rory joined us for an evening meal and returned for lunch on Easter Day. Rose was afire with emotion and her chatter kept us amused. I am not sure Thom and Nat were interested except when Rory spoke about life on the battle cruisers.

After he left and we took the children to Victoria station – Rose being as quiet as the grave – Natasha gave me her impression when we talked in bed. Clearly Rose is besotted with Rory. But Natasha is not sure about him. Flattered yes, but besotted no. She feels he is as sharp as a razor. When asked what she meant, she said that he was perhaps too confident, arrogant even, and was extremely ambitious. Ambition would rule over people, even women. I am not astute enough at social feelings to dispute her analysis.