Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – September 1917

My personal life is bleak now there is no Natasha at our home nor in London. I have been to Highleigh just twice in the last month, mainly to show our sons I have not abandoned them. Delphine and Flora tell me they are coping well, having seen the deterioration in their mother’s health these past three years. Their teachers know the circumstances so are watching out for them in classes.

Charles contacted me. He has been consoling Rose and for that I am most grateful. They plan to be with us over the Christmas period besides visiting his family.

The battles around Ypres are developing into a repeat of the Somme in the late autumn. Mud is glueing up any attacks: rifles and gun barrels are being cleaned almost constantly to prevent their seizing. Tanks bog down in the mud. The innovative gun carriers however proved effective in carrying supplied forward when the ground permitted it. But overall the hell of the fighting is leading to inhumanity, with British prisoners being bayoneted and our soldiers being disinclined to accept surrenders shortly afterwards. The casualty lists are impacting on the War Office, Willie Robertson querying the progress being made with Haig. His answer is he believes the enemy are suffering worse than our soldiers. The answer of those who believe in attrition as a winning tactic.

Reports have been sent by GHQ about battles at the Menin Road and Polygon Wood. The optimism being suggested about territorial advances of a hundred yards leaves me cold.

At least a new plan is beginning to be prepared. East of Albert, we are beginning to plan for an offence. Trains will be needed to transport the new tanks to training areas. This time it will be easier because of design changes meaning the sponsons can be folded into the body of a tank. The former sponsons had to be removed, then rebolted, to avoid fouling the loading gauge. I went across to monitor the exercises to test the low-loader rolling stock being used. It was a relief to get away from England. It meant I had to concentrate on the mission. Mixing socially with the railwaymen and the officers and NCOs in the evenings has helped to lighten my black moods.

One afternoon I went forward with Bertie Richads to see beyond the trenches held by our troops. Bertie had to tell me to stop peering over the parapets, not because of my being sniped, but not wanting a German whizz-bang to land on him. My grief was making me complacent. However I was interested to see the ground around Bourlon Wood – the trees are still heavy with leaves, not like the blasted timber of High Wood. The fields are not ruined by shelling. I was not sniped. .