Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – May 1917

Through much of May, our troops have been sent into attack at Arras, despite Allenby warning on the 7th of their being semi-trained. Churchill in the Commons three days later urged the Government to conserve British and French troops until the American forces were ready for action. So we have had to ensure supplies to the Arras Front. Despite the gains of over sixty square miles of Boche held territory the losses of our men are high. One of them was the pilot, Captain Ball, shot down on the 7th. Death does not visit alone the trenches. However the reports tell of one benefit, the tanks are beginning to show that they can aid the advance of the infantry. I hope that the British effort has been good enough to prevent the collapse of the French Front. Action there has been taken, Nivelle being relieved of his command; Petain replaced him on the 15th. But a War Office report that arrived two days ago states that sections of the French army are refusing to man the front-line trenches. Petain will have to exert strong authority to prevent the weakening of his sector.

The Eastern Front remains in turmoil. Russia’s Provisional Government is continuing the war, but troops are voting with their feet, deserting in great numbers. Desperation is shown by the forming of a battalion of women. Yet complacency prevails among the citizenry, with the social life of St. Petersburg still continuing. The latest news is that their Minister for War, Alexander Kerensky, has appointed the competent Brusilov and a week ago ordered an offensive. Hopefully that will put pressure on the Germans.

The Salonika Front seems to have reached stalemate. Enemy heavy artillery is thwarting the infantry of the many Allied nations trying to capture the peaks, similar to what is being experienced in the Dolomites. There the Italians were driven back from the captured peaks by Austrian counter-attacks but have captured over 20,000 of the enemy. British artillery was in action there; a new dimension to Allied co-operation.

In the air the Germans have replaced their Zeppelins with ‘Gotha’ heavier-than-air aircraft. The two that got through killed some 100 people and injured 200. This is a new phase in terrorising our civilians. These weapons may be less vulnerable than the airships which our pilots can now readily set on fire with their explosive bullets.

After much discussion and terrible losses of our merchant ships, the Government has demanded the Admiralty provide warships to escort the ships and beat off the enemy U-boats. News of the first convoy is the loss of just one merchant ship. There is no point keeping warships inactive in Scapa Flow when the small ones can be used for convoy defence. With many hundreds of thousands American troops to be lifted across the ‘pond, the troops ships must be protected. Already some have reached our country to set up a hospital, the recognition that the Americans will also take losses.

Since Easter, home life has returned to ‘normal’. Natasha is staying at home with her coughing spasms, Delphine gives her so much care whilst making sure the three youngsters are getting their schooling. Rose has writen, clearly all goes well with her work and her ‘beau’. Meanwhile I manage the flow of materials and munitions from my Whitehall office.