Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – June 1916
I am writing this on Friday from Amiens. The Big Push supposd to start yesterday has not begun, because of rain. The English summer weather has reached France. However the noise of explosions has been heard now for several days since the 24th, aiming to destroy the Hun defences with gunfire. I am here to help co-ordinate the passage of shells from the coast to the gun-lines. Thanks to our railwaymen working tirelessly, the wagon trains have kept rolling smoothly. The guns are receiving all the shells asked for, regardless of calibre. Opening up the port of Folkstone has eased their passage across the Channel.
Tragedy has hit our family. The Invincible was sunk. Six were saved from the sea, Rory was not. When I heard of the fate of the ship in amongst the news of the battle I contacted Natasha. She entrained home before the news became public knowledge. When Rose returned from school Natasha took her into the lounge, having sent Thom and Nat away to the village. On being broken the news, Rose was totally disbelieving, refusing to accept that Rory was dead. As the evening wore on, and the evening paper listed the British ships lost, Rose began to break down in hysterics. Natasha held her in her arms for hours and took her into our bed to comfort her until she slipped into sleep. Next morning Rose whispered that she wished that she had experienced a closer physical relationship with him, which would be a means of remembering him as a lover and a man. Natasha kept her away from school for a week, passing the time weeding the garden, taking country walks, and talking about the time spent with Rory in Edinburgh.
Eventually Rose stated she wished to help the war effort by becoming a ‘munitionette’. After discussing the proposal with me, Natasha told her that she must finish her term. Then she could apply to become one, with our support. Rose showed the maturity she has grown into by accepting without tantrums or sullen behaviour.
For the British Empire an even greater tragedy – the loss of Lord Kitchener at sea. His ship, bound for Russia, hit a mine and sank. He has represented the military spirit of our country for so long, I am uncertain how it will affect the morale of the troops preparing for the coming offensive.
The news about the Grand Fleet and its battle off Jutland was encouraging. Despite causing the loss of six British capital ships, the German High Sea fleet returned to harbour. Britannia still rules the waves. Their retreat leaves our ships successfully blockading the Baltic Sea and the north European ports, denying them material resources and foodstuffs from the Americas and Asian countries. Intelligence reports speak of the hunger being experienced by their civilian population.
Madame Roches has received a communiqué that remains of her husband have been found. He died on the west bank of the Meuse, killed by a shell burst when inspecting his soldiers’ trenches. One consequence of this industrial war is the randomness of death. Not dying in a heroic charge, as of old, but blown apart by a shell fired from many miles away.
Variable news comes from the fronts.. The BEF were caught by a large assault at Ypres but soon recovered much of the land lost. The Russians have inflicted heavy lossses on the Austrians, taking 200,000 prisoners. A carried pigeon brought news to the French Generals that Ford Vaux had had to surrender after a siege of three months. But Fort Souville, the last fort before Verdun, has repulsed the enemy infantry. The Turks have been driven out of Mecca by the Arabs.
I begin my return to London tomorrow evening. Hopefully I can take back to my colleagues at the War Office the news that our troops are pushing through the enemy lines.