Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – April 1917

At long last, after her shipping losses, the United States declared war on Germany on the Sixth. Obviously it will take many months for her to make a meaningful contribution to pushing back the Boche on the Western Front. Meanwhile the British Empire and France will have to continue putting on pressure. On Easter Monday, the 9th, our Canadian forces brilliantly achieved the capture of the Vimy Ridge. Meantime our British units attacked Arras. Gains were made by using a rolling barrage. Unfortunately the tanks supporting the advance failed, mainly with mechanical breakdowns. For the next few days snow in flurries and blizzards slowed the advance until General Haig closed down the offensive on the 15th. Four miles were taken on a ten mile front.

Next day the French attacked on the Aisne. Because the enemy had pulled back, the troops were caught and slaughtered in no mans’ land. Four days later the failed offensive was close down by General Nivelle. The latest reports are that France suffered another 100,000 casualties. Haig on the 23rd ordered the continuation of the British attack to take pressure off the French and this continues.

Through my War Office colleagues I hear that the Austrians and Bulgarians have suggested a peace settlement. Two weeks later our Governments made clear that the war must continue until Germany is defeated. Having the industrial might of the States behind us has strengthened resolve.

Elsewhere, conditions are worsening. Our forces attacked the Bulgarians on the Salonica front after a 2-day bombardment but failed to make progress, so the stalemate continues. In Russia, their army is falling apart, displine has broken down, officers are being ignored or killed , orders are not carried out. The latest intelligence is the sailors at Kronstadt have revolted against the Provisional Government. How long Russia can continue the fighting is greatly uncertain.

A few days ago I went up to Bedford with Major Jones to see for ourselves the building of the Simplex Armoured trench locomotives. Hundreds have been made and they are doing sterling work pulling wagons forward with provisions and ammunition. They looked strange and our guide told us they have a nickname ‘tin turtles’. I could see the resemblance.

Natasha and I decided to spend Easter in the flat, Delphine being willing to hold the home front fort. Because of the travel restrictions, it meant Rose would not have to leave London. To our surprise Rose came with a young man with a limp, whom she introduced as Charles. We took to him immediately, a very different personality to Rory. Natasha skilfully was able to change three portion meals into four, I spoke to John Coates, our flat neighbour and he let Charles have his spare room overnight. It meant that they could stay on Easter Day and attend a service at St.Margarets, Parliament Square. On the Saturday I invited John to join us Men after dinner for ‘brandy and cigars’, actually wine and cigarettes. John , being in Intelligence, skilfully put Charles at ease so that he opened up to conditions in the trenches during last year’s summer. For me there is no doubt that soldiers of the Pals Battalions, poorly trained and led, had not deserved their fate.

After they left on Easter Monday, Natasha told me how Rose was clearly most attracted to Charles, I replied that Charles was a sensible and mature young man, well deserving of Rose’s affection. We spent that evening in a happy frame of mind. Next day I reported back to find out how the Arras attack was going.