Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – October 1916

For most of the month Canadian divisions have been fighting hard to take the Regina trench, the Boche resisting fiercely. On the 14th, however, Schwaben Redoubt finally was in British hands, having been recaptured by the enemy on the first day of the offensive, some 15 weeks previously. Rain has been turning the earth into mud. Reported casualties continue to be high.

I inspected the War office maps of the Somme valley from Albert to Peronne. The land captured hardly looks substantial when measured against British Empire and Dominion losses. So this is what attrition means, fighting until no enemy remains alive, irrespective of one’s own losses. I hope the Generals know what they are doing. Nevertheless, I and my colleagues continue to work hard at our various tasks for logistically supporting the BEF.

In other theatres, the French are again on the offensive, they have recaptured Fort Douaumont – their talisman. The Italians yet again have attacked at Isonzo. But the Russians have reached their limit, there is disturbing news of political strikes at home.

Early in the month, Eric Geddes was appointed to oversee the logistics, Sir Roland being asked to take on the Heritage portfolio, which will suit him better. A week later I was asked to see Geddes. At our meeting, he spoke of being pleased by my work on the railways. I was put in charge of keeping the Robinson locomotives in France properly supplied with coal, oil and spare parts from England. He wanted me only to go to France to check on performance but to remain in Whitehall co-ordinating. I was to be promoted to Major. The ROD of the RE are building up numbers toward 500 locomotives. As an aside, he asked me if my family had links to the diarist Samuel Pepys, I replied it was through his cousin. I have been to Cambridge to look at the diaries in Magdalene College.

As part of the Geddes overhaul, a number of colleagues from the start of the war have been moved elsewhere. Those staying, those going, gathered at the Café Royal to remember the comradeship of the last two years. Some of the younger men, Matthew, Donald and Wilfred who were with me, are applying for commissions in the infantry and Royal Flying Corps. I wished them well.

Rose left for her new life at Woolwich. Natasha was understandably upset but proud that our daughter was going to help the war effort. A week after she went, she wrote to say she is calling herself Vi – her first name is Violetta – as this fits in better with the names of the others. She was not home-sick, proving how much she has grown up in the past year.

Thom and Nat now have regained their separate bedrooms. I asked Reggie Brownlow, our local builder, to open up a small room besides Delphine’s bedroom, so that Mariya can have her own bedroom. Otherwise it will be a changing room for her mother. Reggie said it will be decorated by December.

Natasha asked to become part-time with her hospital. The matron is agreeable, condensing Natasha’s teaching sessions into a more efficient package. For me, it means that she is at the flat every other week, which makes life more pleasant with the winter setting in.

Domestic arrangements at Home are Delphine looking after the house when Natasha is in London while Flora continues Mistress of her domain – the kitchen. Mariya has joined Nat at the local school where the pupils apparently find her fascinating, never having met a French –speaking girl. Nat proudly shows her off in the playground.
OCTOBER 1916

For most of the month Canadian divisions have been fighting hard to take the Regina trench, the Boche resisting fiercely. On the 14th, however, Schwaben Redoubt finally was in British hands, having been recaptured by the enemy on the first day of the offensive, some 15 weeks previously. Rain has been turning the earth into mud. Reported casualties continue to be high.

I inspected the War office maps of the Somme valley from Albert to Peronne. The land captured hardly looks substantial when measured against British Empire and Dominion losses. So this is what attrition means, fighting until no enemy remains alive, irrespective of one’s own losses. I hope the Generals know what they are doing. Nevertheless, I and my colleagues continue to work hard at our various tasks for logistically supporting the BEF.

In other theatres, the French are again on the offensive, they have recaptured Fort Douaumont – their talisman. The Italians yet again have attacked at Isonzo. But the Russians have reached their limit, there is disturbing news of political strikes at home.

Early in the month, Eric Geddes was appointed to oversee the logistics, Sir Roland being asked to take on the Heritage portfolio, which will suit him better. A week later I was asked to see Geddes. At our meeting, he spoke of being pleased by my work on the railways. I was put in charge of keeping the Robinson locomotives in France properly supplied with coal, oil and spare parts from England. He wanted me only to go to France to check on performance but to remain in Whitehall co-ordinating. I was to be promoted to Major. The ROD of the RE are building up numbers toward 500 locomotives. As an aside, he asked me if my family had links to the diarist Samuel Pepys, I replied it was through his cousin. I have been to Cambridge to look at the diaries in Magdalene College.

As part of the Geddes overhaul, a number of colleagues from the start of the war have been moved elsewhere. Those staying, those going, gathered at the Café Royal to remember the comradeship of the last two years. Some of the younger men, Matthew, Donald and Wilfred who were with me, are applying for commissions in the infantry and Royal Flying Corps. I wished them well.

Rose left for her new life at Woolwich. Natasha was understandably upset but proud that our daughter was going to help the war effort. A week after she went, she wrote to say she is calling herself Vi – her first name is Violetta – as this fits in better with the names of the others. She was not home-sick, proving how much she has grown up in the past year.

Thom and Nat now have regained their separate bedrooms. I asked Reggie Brownlow, our local builder, to open up a small room besides Delphine’s bedroom, so that Mariya can have her own bedroom. Otherwise it will be a changing room for her mother. Reggie said it will be decorated by December.

Natasha asked to become part-time with her hospital. The matron is agreeable, condensing Natasha’s teaching sessions into a more efficient package. For me, it means that she is at the flat every other week, which makes life more pleasant with the winter setting in.

Domestic arrangements at Home are Delphine looking after the house when Natasha is in London while Flora continues Mistress of her domain – the kitchen. Mariya has joined Nat at the local school where the pupils apparently find her fascinating, never having met a French –speaking girl. Nat proudly shows her off in the playground.