Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – November 1917

Passchendaele was closed down early this month. Little was gained at the high cost in our casualties. If the enemy took a similar number of casualties, attrition won.

At least the good news came in from Palestine that British troops, spear headed by Kiwi cavalry in Beersheba and Aussies cavalry in Gaza, had taken these two towns. Now perhaps the Turks are in retreat, two years after Gallipoli.

American troops in their first time in the trenches at Barthelemont were overwhelmed. Pershing has since decided that his troops need more training. Whilst in Italy, our allies have continued to be pushed back and are retreating to the Piave. It has been decided eight divisions are going south from the British and French fronts to boost Italian morale.

On the 8th, we learned that the Bolcheviks had seized power in Petrograd – what this means for Russia is uncertain. Since then our Intelligence say the new masters want to end the war with Germany. Clearly the Tsar and his family are at risk in Tobolsk, where they were exiled by Kerensky in August.

On the 20th, our British tanks lumbered into action from outside the wood at Havrincourt, opposite Cambrai. In the event, over 300 began the action. At first, they overwhelmed the enemy in their trenches, crushing and blasting the Boche soldiers who chose to stay. Surprise was complete, the use of aircraft noise and canvas screens to hide the tanks moving to their start lines was innovative. Then enemy guns ranged in on the tanks and numbers were blasted along the Flesquieres ridge. Most moved on to the St. Quentin Canal. But the Masnieres bridge over the canal collapsed under the weight of one, no more could cross. The cavalry were able to do so, horses can swim. Canadian cavalry charged forward north of Masnieres, did much damage, became pinned down under machine gun fire, stampeded their horse and used their sabres to return to our lines. At Bourlon Wood, tanks grounded and stuck on the felled trees, fighting once again being the province of the PBI.

Our Intelligence had not noted the presence of two German divisions resting after moving from the Eastern Front. As our advance slowed these men reinforced the retreating foe, stiffened them, and are now pushing back our infantry. The bells in our homeland were pealed too soon.

After transporting the tanks, once the attack began, our railway wagons returned to bringing up general materials, ammunition and fodder for the horses I returned to my desk in the War Office, now the railways have returned to ’normal’, no longer being needed in France.

During my last stay at home, Flora gave me ‘her notice’. Having worked for Natasha for nine years and now being aged sixty-two years she wanted to retire to her cottage in the village. But she did not wish to forsake our family. Her young niece, Gwendoline, a Somme widow, was also a trained cook. Staying at the cottage, she was brought to our house. A fine friendly woman, Delphine took to her immediately. Next day I confirmed that I would employ her after the New Year, which suited Flora, wanting to make her last one with us as memorable as could be with the rationing of festive food stuffs. Gwendoline was delighted as it gave her time to return to her Kensington flat, sort out her affairs, before returning to the rooms previously housing Flora. Not having children she looked forwards to ‘spoiling’ Thom and Nat with her pastries.