Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – August 1916


Our troops continue to fight with determination but at a high cost. The casualty figures each day may be less than those of early July, but they are still high. ‘Good’ news is the capture of some trench by the British or the Australians; newspapers report to the residents of our Empire that ‘some progress’ is being made. Looking at the map we have pinned up in the office, Delville and High Woods are still being contested by the Boche. I suspect their counter-attacks are being punished with equally great losses. Such is Attrition.

Our supply of men and materials continues to properly supply the fighting zone. The Robinson ROD locomotives are performing well in France, few engineering repairs being needed. Especially as they are pulling the low loaders carrying the Churchill mobile water tanks. These have smaller tanks bolted to their sides. Because they exceeded the loading gauge, they have to be unbolted and carried separately to get the trains to Amiens. I went to the Channel port to watch them being loaded onto ships. It was wise to retain a core of the skilled repair and maintenance railwaymen now needed to support this novel effort.

The fighting continues on all fronts, even the Salonica one: Brusilov on the Russian Front has made progress, the Italians at Isonzo – yet again, also in German East Africa. At sea, U-boats sink many merchant ships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Austrian saboteurs blew up the Italian battleship ‘Leonardo da Vinci’. The Italian Government has just declared war on Germany, Austria’s war partner. It amazes me that the French fight on so vigorously at Verdun whilst supporting us on the Somme.

For the infantry the conditions in the Somme trenches have varied from hot sun to rain. Getting water up to them to replenish water bottles has been tricky, hence the need for the water tanks. When injured, the soldiers soon suffer severe thirst. I also hear of reports of many psychological breakdowns brought about by the ghastly trenches they are fighting in. However when seen by doctors, they have to decide whether the complaints are genuine illness or the wish to escape the conditions. Similarly those who claim, on being conscripted, that they consciously object to fighting. Their arguments must be measured against the far greater numbers of men who volunteered or accepted being conscripted – the latter having seen the casualty lists over nearly two years.

Rose has been accepted to work at the Royal Arsenal. I did think she could house at our flat but Woolwich is in south east London, too far from the flat. Because of her academic record, she was told she would not be a ‘munitioneer’. Instead she is to be a clerical assistant, keeping records of the flow of gun parts through the workshops. When she said how disappointed she was, I replied that getting guns to France is as vital as the shells to fire from them. She grudgingly accepted the logic.

When she found that she begins in mid-October and will share accommodation with both clerical workers and munitioneers, Rose’s spirits greatly improved. With Madame Legrande arriving in four weeks, our home will be somewhat crowded for a month. Thom and Nat will have to share a room so that our guest and her daughter Mariya can have a bedroom. Natasha tells me Mariya is named after her mother, Madame Stalder, whom Delphine loved. The name sounded French so did not upset the Major or his family.

13 Zeppelins raided Deptford a week ago, killing ten people. A reminder to Londoners of how close the war is to ‘home’.