Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – October 1917

I record what has been happening this month. The assaults in front of Ypres are still bogged down in mud, the rain overwhelming the drainage ditches of the farmland. To take a bullet, even as a flesh wound, means for many of our soldiers their death, they are being sucked down and drowned. Haig cancelled further attacks once our forces captured the ridge by the village of Passchendaele. Yet again, the cost in Empire lives has been enormous. Only if the bosche have lost more will this cost be bearable.

The coming attack by some three hundred tanks must be a change from infantry assaults, even when the artillery lays down creeping barrages. Not all enemy machine gun nests are eliminated and project a lead hail storm into the faces of our soldiers. With officers and senior NCOs to the fore, they being cut down first inevitably drain the attacks of momentum. The tanks will be able to search out the nests, crush them with gunfire or with their tracks. Their steel hulls will provide some protection to the infantry following on behind. From what I have sobserved, their limitation is the slow speed at which they move, this must give time for enemy gunners to range and fire their cannons over open sites. Our artillery will have to focus on the enemy gun lines to lessen their threat.

Elsewhere the Italian and Eastern Fronts are in disarray. The German reinforcements of their Austrian allies have brought vitality, the Italian forces have been driven off their mountain peaks, many soldiers have become prisoners and their lines are now well back from where they were. The British and French Governments are sending divisions to bolster the Italian defence.

In Russia, the Bolcheviks are gaining momentum as troops desert from the front line, sailors refuse to obey their officers and railway workers strike. Kerensky’s hold on power is fast weakening. If Russia falls out of the war, then the dynamics of the Western Front could be severely changed. That it is so important that the coming tank assault is successful.

At last the French have regained their elan. Along the Chemin des Dames ridge their assaults have carried strongpoints such as the fort of la Malmaison. They also executed Mata Hari as a German spy.

In Mesopotamia, the British forces continue fighting at Gaza.

With planning for the tanks now almost complete, I have been able to get back to my home most weekends to give manly support to Tom and Nat. Tom is beginning to feel that he should be helping win the war but I remind him he is just sixteen. Nat is the one of our sons most missing his mother. In the autumnal evenings I sit reading reports and Dickens. Delphine concentrates on her needlework, meanwhile Flora loves fussing over us like an elderly aunt. I insist she sits with us so we can talk about village life. I try to refrain from reminiscing about our past life with Natasha as Delphine has always done about life with her husband. I have long gathered that their marriage was not that joyful, unlike ours. However Mariya is a great comfort to her, so mature for her ten years. Having the support of home life is giving me some comfort. As is the occasional letter from Rose who clearly is in love with Charles.