Alexander Pepys’ War Diary – December 1914

DECEMBER 1914

The war has come to our land free of its despoilations for over two centuries. Three towns on our east coast were bombarded by German warships – many civilians were murdered. The Government’s propagandists are rightly fueling British outrage by portraying the enemy as the ‘baby killers of Scarborough’. Perhaps it was their brutal retaliation for their warship losses off the Falkland Islands.

From information I have gleaned from War Office chums the conditions for our British and Empire troops in the lowlands of northern France are even worse than I mentioned last month.. The earth has become a muddy soup. Attackers trying to get forward are finding it near-impossible, making them easy targets for the machine-gunners and snipers – sheer madness.

I hear from our Russian friends that their students are being mobilized to fill the gaps in the ranks after their armies’ great losses these past four months. Even their Empire with its vast population is running low on its manpower resource. Clearly their commanders must change their bulldozer tactics whilst their soldiers are still willing to fight.

Reports have reached us that there was fraternization between our soldiers and the enemy this Christmas. Many men climbed out of their trenches to talk, sing songs and to exchange gifts. Apparently even football matches were played but I do not know which side won them. At Christmas the human spirit prevails even in the trenches. Johnny French was most annoyed, perhaps because of the potential breakdown in military discipline. Orders were issued and next day the shelling and firing began again.

So much for those promises of getting back before Christmas. Hopefully 1915 will deliver Allied victory. However South Africa became a long war and far smaller forces were involved. The trend seems to be for modern war to stretch out, unlike in Wellington’s day when battles were finished in a day.

Natasha has been able to come home from her hospital three days before Christmas as a mother. Naturally our children were delighted because the family being re-united meant we could participate in the festivities though in a subdued way. Two days later she returned to give the single nurses the chance to see their loved ones. The next day I was back in the Ministry.