Another boche assault on the Eighth between Noyan and Montdidier was halted after 4 days. The enemy must be deep into their reserves because of the enormous casualties. Attrition has to be exhausting the supply of men taken from the Eastern Front. Meanwhile more American troops are arriving in France but few are reaching the Front, excluding the Marines who furiously fought to hold Belleau Wood.
Good news from the Italian Front. The Austro-Hungarians attacked along the Piave on the Fifteenth but the Italians with their British and French support divisions held them before forcing them into a collapse. Our aircraft have been very effective in harassing them. Colleagues in the War Office say only the German Army will soon be in the field.
I was sent to the area east of Rheims known as Lousy Champagne to liaise with the French and American railwaymen. We are exchanging information on finding better ways to get gas cylinders up to the front line, using main and narrow gauge lines. It is hazardous, once the gas is discharged. The soldiers need to be reminded to wear their respirators even though they hate the crude devices. When at Chalons, I was in the Mess when the legendary General Gouraud called in. I being introduced, he enquired about Madame Legrande, having known her husband and being aware that she left France to stay with Mrs. Pepys. I assured him that she had comforted my wife in her final months. The General then shook my right hand with his left hand. Thanks to Natasha and Delphine, my conversation French is tolerable.
It was over a fortnight before I returned to my family. Thom is spending most of his spare time with Farmer Fenn, practising his horsemanship before entering the Yeomanry . Mariya is still teasing Nat, but he is learning effective ripostes – they spar like two swordsmen. However I sensed a shyness with Delphine and found myself awkward in speaking to her. Perhaps something changed in London.
The sinking four days ago of the Llandovery Castle hospital ship by a torpedo may well not be the last of U-boat barbarity. Some three hundred died, many of them being nurses who ironically and undoubtedly would have treated both Allied and German wounded once they reached the clearing stations and French hospitals.
Rose wrote to tell us Charles is still in Poperinge – she misses him dreadfully.
The next time I returned home it was to learn that Delphine had received dreadful news from Marine, a second cousin. Her parents had been living in Guiscard but retreated to Amiens when the latest enemy offensive began. Their apartment block was hit by a shell from the enemy super-gun, was demolished in flames and their bodies lost. Because she had become estranged from them after her marriage, Delphine was sad for them but not unduly upset. When talking in the evening, she told me that, at twenty-one, she had been ‘encouraged’ to become the wife of Major Legrande. Only after the marriage did she find he was more attached to his soldiers than to her – and later their daughter. She had never forgiven her parents for not telling her of what they knew about the Major. I already knew that life in garrison towns had been grim for her.
Two weeks later Delphine was clearly over the news. She was the lady of ‘The Rag’ and our Church congregation responded to her charm over ‘coffee’ after the Service. Meanwhile I was quizzed about ‘the state of play’ but could not say more than the newspapers report.