Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – January 1917

This month has been one of consolidating the railway supply of our troops as close to the trenches as possible. The narrow gauge track laying has been going ahead with already some hundreds of miles in place. With our maintenance programme for the main-line locomotives and rolling stock keeping up with their inevitable deterioration, food for men and horses is getting through. Morale is being kept up by letters from families and friends reaching the Front sometimes a day after being posted; rarely taking beyond three days. Unfortunately the weather means conditions in the trenches are as bad as those during the last two winters. Sporadic fighting continues, sniping is a constant danger, so casualties mount.

In Egypt, our Forces have pushed the Turks out of Sinai. An archaeologist called Lawrence is, with the Arab tribesmen, causing havoc in Arabia. These actions are helping compensate for the Gallipoli debacle.

The United States are furious with Germany. Our cryptographers decoded a message from the German Foreign Minister that in return for their support the Mexicans could recover those parts of America taken from them in the 1850s. Our Intelligence staff has just found that the Kaiser has ordered unrestricted sinking of all ships bound for the United Kingdom – to begin tomorrow. US ships will become ‘pheasants’ for the U-boat ‘shooting parties’. Can America stand by as her ships go to the bottom? I think not, if she does President Wilson will become a laughing stock among the leaders of the world’s nations.

The Hapsburgs are beginning to regret starting the War by wanting to crush Serbia. Massive casualties with so many prisoners taken has diminished their military ardour. They know the cost to their Empire of defeat will be the liberation of all those peoples long under their domination. With Tsar Nicholas willing to support a unified Poland, this once divided nation will be whole again.

Farmer ‘Fenn’ passed me some news likely to impact on Thom. The horses he was letting Thom ride are now of a size that they are being requisitioned for Army use. Having to respond to the offer of Sir Roland, I discussed with Natasha how to broach the subject with Thom. After lunch one Sunday I talked with Thom ‘man to man’. His reaction was unexpected. He said he was grateful for Mr. Fenn’s encouragement, wanted nothing more to do with horses, would not wish to help Sir Roland and would strive hard at school to go to University once ‘this horrible war was at an end’. Privately I had sympathy with his analysis of world affairs – the talent and wealth of Europe are being consumed at an increasing rate. I have written to Sir Roland thanking him for his kind offer but explaining that Thom wants to continue his education.

Natasha is trying to remain cheerful, helped by Delphine’s companionship. But I can sense doing so is a continuous struggle. Dr. Rawlins is giving her tonics to ease her breathing, I suspect they contain laudanum. I asked her if Rose had written recently. She said that unusually Rose had not written for three weeks. She must be well settled into London life.