Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – March 1917

Revolution has come to Russia, inevitable with the breakdown in military and civilian order. On the 15th, Tsar Nicholas abdicated. The Tsaravitch will not succeed him, inevitable because of his haemophiliatic disease. Three hundred years of the Romanov dynasty are ended. What concerns the War Office here is what happens to the German units tied up facing the Russians. Will they be released to come West ?

The greater activity on the French railways supplying men, material and ammunition to the Front indicates an offensive. After the French success last winter around Verdun, they are keen to strike with Nivelle in command. Our British forces have been recovering from the Somme campaign, their willingness to attack being helped by the German retreat as a consequence of the hammering they took in the 1916 battles.

I spent three days forward of Amiens and was pleased to be able to report back that transfers of equipment from main lines to narrow gauge tracks are working smoothly. Our 2-10-0s have been properly serviced over the winter so are working well. This is helped by the drivers and the firemen having been main line express railwaymen before the hostilities.

As part of my visit I took the opportunity to travel on the ‘miniature’ locomotives. Being petrol-powered did not stop their presence being observed. I found myself seeing shell-bursts at close hand – not a pleasant experience. Captain Ashby, my guide, then suggested I return to a quieter area: I was happy to agree. To exist for days with constant shelling must be nerve-shredding, even when deep within trenches.

News has come in from Mesopotamia that our desert forces have failed to take Gaza. The Turks are still capable of defending their territories.

We have been hearing in Whitehall that pressure is building up in the United States of America to take formal action against Germany, their ships being torpedoed in increasing numbers. Should they do so, and support us and the French, their industrial muscle will be more meaningful than their troops. As we have learned to our cost in casualties, it takes considerable time to turn civilians into trained troops capable of matching up against the Boche machine-gunners.

Natasha is finding her spirits lifted by letters from Rose. This Captain now has a name, Charles Northam. His family comes from the West Country, with his father having a solicitor’s practice based in Bristol where he also lectures on property law at the University. After three years in Australia on a cattle ranch Charles was to go up to Oxford but volunteered instead. He saw action at Second Ypres, Aubers Ridge and Loos.

Rose plans to come home for the Easter weekend: I am sure Delphine will extract more information from her. My schedule depends on a coming action.

Thom is making a strong effort to catch up on his learning, neglected when obsessed by horses. Mrs. Percival, his school head mistress – her husband is ‘somewhere in France’ – tells Natasha she has seen a great improvement in Thom’s commitment. Nat and Mariya like to tease each other into doing ‘dares’ – to the continuing frustration of their mothers. At least it is best they are immune to the brutalities of this War.