Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – May 1916
Colleagues in the War Office have told me the Grand Fleet put to sea yesterday on intelligence received. Intercepts today say the enemy High Sea Fleet is now at sea. First reports coming in tell of Admiral Beatty’s battle cruisers in action. I asked about the Invincible, apparently she is not with the other battle cruisers but joined the Grand Fleet some days ago for gunnery practice. The purpose of Rory’s trip to Chatham is now being put to use.
Just before I left to take Natasha to hospital for a routine check-up, Randell rang me from the Admiralty to tell that the two main fleets are engaging. Battle cruisers of both the Royal Navy and the Kreigmarine have taken punishment, there are known to be losses, but which ships await confirmation.
The captives of Kut have been forced-march northwards into the Turkish hinterland. Reports from our contacts tell of many dying from no water or sun-stroke. Their bodies lie where they fall, stripped clean by Arab scavengers.
At least Verdun is holding. Attacks and counter-attacks go in, positions are lost and retaken, the casualties mount at a prodigious rate. From the flow of laden train wagons I can tell that the coming offensive will have less French units as they are taken east to make up the losses. Presumably the enemy are also transferring soldiers to make up for the German losses. I trust the training received will be good enough to compensate the New Armies volunteers’ lack of combat experience by the raw courage they have already shown. Their nightly raids appear to be bolstering their confidence, besides keeping the Hun awake. At least I know the supplies they will need are in the front area or soon to reach them.
The Austrians have given the Italians a severe mauling in the high mountains, taking peaks and passes, capturing thousands of prisoners. But attacking through the snow blizzards is exhausting, the consequence is the momentum of the Austrian assaults is slowing: thus the Italians losss are less than might have been.
Our two lads have been telling us at the weekend that, at school, the boys are becoming enthusiastic about a Big Push. The teachers try to quieten them, knowing the likely cost in casualties of the coming battle. Some are former soldiers, invalided out of the BEF because of being wounded at Mons, Neuve Chapelle and Aubers. To Thom, it means more because he knows that boys a year older have bluffed their way into the New Armies. Nat sees it more as ‘cowboys and Indians, with the Huns as the Indians. Rose understandably shows little interest, focusing on the Royal Navy, Rory being first in her thoughts.
When in France as a young girl Natasha looked after Delphine Roches, the daughter of family friends, when the two families attended functions in Paris. Delphine grew up to marry a regimental officer. He served as the deputy Military Attache at the French Embassy in Knightsbridge, for three years during the late King’s reign, where their daughter was born. Natasha says Delphine loved London and English life, loathing the barracks life in provincial France. The distressing news that Natasha received from Madame Roches this morning is that Colonel Legrande is missing in action at Verdun.