Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – December 1916

With a last push astride the river Ancre, and the capture of Beaumont Hamel and St. Pierre Divion, snow on the 18th followed by a thaw turned the battlefield into a quagmire. The weather has fterminated the Somme campaign . Clearly the BEF has taken enormous casualties, as we have heard from their GHQ in Montreuil. The French in action south of the Somme river have also taken large numbers of casualties in addition to their huge losses at Verdun, where Fort Vaux has been recaptured. I hope that the Boche have taken more during the two battles.

The Austrian Emperor Franz Josef has died whilst his armies are overwhelming Roumania. In the Dolomites they are resisting Italian efforts to drive them off the high peaks.

The winter will give time to make up fighting numbers, replenish battalions and Divisions – and learn lesions from 1916. Otherwise the blood bath will begin again. Geddes told me of his concern about how the railways were being managed in France. I go over to Amiens tomorrow to see for myself how the locomotives were performing. I spend a couple of days talking to the rail engineers and those driving and maintaining the Robinsons before getting back in a destroyer. Reporting back to Geddes, hopefully I can tell those in charge are getting a grip after difficulties during the summer.

On a personal note it is deeply unpleasant when we meet friends and neighbours after the Sunday service. So many families in our part of Sussex have suffered bereavements. For me, serving in the War Office, I am uncomfortable being ‘safe’ whilst many of my Oxford Year have been in action as officers and been badly wounded or killed. Holding an Army rank, even if temporary, eases my conscience – I am doing something to help win this awful war. And in Natasha we have a nurse who is helping, through her students, to bring aid to the wounded in France or back here in England. However I do worry about her coughing fits, after which she takes a few hours to recuperate.

There are increasing numbers of former Army soldiers who cannot return to France because of their injuries. Rose has written to her mother to say a number are also working in the munitions factories, mainly supervising production flows. A few with university education are being taken into departments such as hers. With managing the war effort becoming increasingly complex, their skills are most valuable.

The day before yesterday, Sir Roland rang me at the War Office to ask whether Thom was interested in a career with horses. He knew of Thom helping a local farmer with mucking out the stables and exercising the horses. Talking it over with Natasha we agreed to consider the offer with Tom over Christmas but with support for his continuing education. I replied accordingly.

I wondered how the Anglo-French relations at Home would work. Flora has been an unexpected marvel, helping Delphine cope with ordering provisions from the local shops – even walking with her to them to make sure the shopkeepers respect her. And amusingly I have heard Nat addresses Delphine as Madame Fi-Fi. She says she likes that as it means she and Mariya are being accepted.

A tragedy the harmony between people of different countries is not matched by the countries themselves.