Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – August 1917

‘Look after my lovely children, and after Delphine.’ Soon after whispering these words to me alone, my beloved Natasha quietly passed into her eternal peace. Dr. Rawlins closed her eyes before Delphine brought the children into the bedroom to say their goodbyes to their mother. The presence of Father O’Brien administering the Last Rites gave solemnity to the emotions they felt.

I deliberately kept from Natasha the battle now being waged in Ypres. In her last hours, not to remind her of where her suffering began.

Consigning my Natasha to the ground was the alliance between the two Christian faiths. Our new Parish priest, the Reverend Michaelson, conducted the internment with Father O’Brien giving the eulogy from our collective memories of Natasha as my wife, the mother of our children, the woman helping train nurses for our War wounded. Many of the villagers came to pay their respects. Unexpectedly, before the service began, a black Rolls-Royce drew up. Lady Moidart, a Lady-in-Waiting to Her Majesty, joined the congregation. Before she was driven back to London, she and her chauffeur having joined us for tea in the village Hall, Lady Moidart handed me a personal letter. In it, unbeknown to me, our Queen wrote how she and Natasha had corresponded since their first meeting in Brighton. She added that she still wished for Rose to be presented at Court once the War was won.

Flora and Delphine gave stability to the necessary things that had to be done. I offered the formal instructions and they put them into practical actions. Mariya has been of great help to Nat in his grief, having lost her own father. Thom has looked to Flora for comfort. Rose has wept with Delphine, recalling her loss of Rory only a year ago. Myself, I sat quietly by myself in the study , looking over the sea, the rise and fall of the tides becoming oddly comforting. They reminded me of many peaks but few troughs of our marriage over the 23 years since I met her at the Arundel Ball.

The day after the Funeral dear Rose took the train back to Greenwich. I stayed until the Thursday, the War waiting for no man. For now, Flora and Delphine will be in charge of the household and three children – of which I am most grateful.

The attacks at Ypres continue at great loss of our troops. The foul weather meant the soldiers, once again, having to advance, wading through torn ground, against machine-gun nests. What have we learned since the Somme? Apparently little. I left London to join with Major Jones; at least we are ensuring that our guns have the shells to fire. Unfortunately the effectiveness of the artillery bombardments is limited. Hitting the mud, the shells do not explode, when the ground dries out, they bounce off the firm surfaces without exploding. Clearly the fuses are not working.

However our Intelligence has reported that the enemy ‘supposedly’ have abandoned thoughts of exploiting French disarray. Yet the French have recovered sufficiently to launch a diversionary attack before Verdun, capturing numerous prisoners. For GHQ the trade-off is the lengthening British casualty lists. Natasha would have been horrified that Ypres again becomes a graveyard for the BEF, I am thankful she never knew this.

Elsewhere the Italians attacked on the Isonzo gaining six miles of mountains and taking over 20,000 Austrian prisoners. The Russians continue to pay the Grim reaper a high price, their assaults being beaten off along the Front.

Wednesday the First of August 1917 will remain the day when my Natasha, the beating heart of our family, was stilled. She leaves three delightful children and many memories for us all.