Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – April 1918

The enemy attacks continue in their ferocity; from Ypres to Rheims their troops are thrown at our lines. They are taking enormous casualties, but our troops also. Nevertheless the BEF remains in touch with the French and at Villers- Bretonneux the Australians pushed the Boche back. Near the Lys, the BEF has been severely mauled but Haig’s Special Order of the Day has restored some morale. Dispiriting were the retreats from Messines and Passchendaele; for which our country has paid so much in dead last year. Mont Kemmel was a serious loss but Mont des Cats is still held by our forces so there should be no retreat from the Salient. At least the American units are beginning to come into the line but questions begin to be asked about their management in battle.

When I was at Montreuil , the talk was grim, staff officers mentioning units they had once served in now cut to pieces with the loss of officers known personally to them. Nevertheless , after the Special Order a calmness descended on the teams drawing up plans to feed troops into any developing weak spots. I helped with plotting the locomotives needed, the availability of trucks and the routes for the trains. Though much material has been captured by the enemy, we are transporting in enough to compensate. We were pleased when the C-in- C visited our office and listened to our discussion for an hour. Haig did make such observations showing he understood what we were planning. By today it became clear that the strength of the tidal flow of German attacks has waned, I shall return to London tonight.

I had the pleasure of meeting with John one lunchtime. He continues to look after the staff officers at dinner but his day work has been frantic because of the problems arising from the retreats..

Our Royal Navy has been enterprising. Three old cruisers with support destroyers were sailed to the submarine base at Zeebrugge. The cruisers were sunk in the entrance whilst the marines stormed the Mole, destroying much of the buildings and the equipment they held. The news of the success has been a tonic to the home front, for too long fed bad news and long lists of the dead in action.

While I have been away Rose wrote to tell us Charles has been seconded to to France to help with the flow of munitions. Naturally she is worried as his base is in Poperinge.

When I telephoned home on Sunday Delphine said she had contacted Sir Percy and taken the train to see him. He will use his hunting connections to introduce Thom into the Hampshire yeomanry as a groom. But not before June at the end of the school year when Thom will be almost 17. He also enquired how I was finding moving men and materials in Britain and over in France.

Before leaving this evening, I telegrammed Delphine inviting her to come to my London flat and then to a nice dinner as a ‘thank you’ for successfully helping Thom. I recognise she has done a sterling job as a replacement mother for my boys – and father as well because of my frequent absence at weekends carrying out my duties. Gwen will look after the three children.