My dear Mother,
Many thanks for your letter & newspapers received this morning. We had another slack day yesterday shooting & such like only the natives are such idiots that they don’t realise the danger & insist on gathering in the corn just behind the butts or ploughing just in front of them. They have quite changed from the fright they had when we first started.
We started out for a long field day this morning, but as it rained hard & the men have only one suit of Khaki, they sent us back just in time before the fine weather came on, in which we have been basking since. They are going to take us out again I think, so we shan’t get off it. I hear that in the local county town on Sunday the Priest preached a sermon on the good behaviour of the West Kents, who are billeted there. We are far more innocent than they so we should probably have been garlanded with wreaths if we had been there. Apparently they are greatly surprised that they can go about their streets without being molested, and that their orchards are not robbed. I am not so sure of the orchards, as one notices men bumping up against apple trees – quite accidentally of course, – & their pals strolling up shortly afterwards & happen to find a few windfalls, which have been examined to find that they are much bruised & when it is found that they are covered with bruises, it is a great mistake to put them back as they would only make the good ones rot, when they fell.
We have got a grenadier Corporal over here now, trying to teach us to throw bombs, but he is a priceless ass & we know as much about it as he does. I was throwing one to-day & found out afterwards that it was a real one. Apparently they are practicing with real ones, fully charged, but without the detonators. However no one seems to mind.
We sent out machine gun officer on a course at Hqrs. last week & he came back disgusted, as he knew more about it than any of the instructors & the whole thing was a farce. Incidentally he had to live in a filthy camp, which is occupied by swarms of bugs of varying kinds & we are now disinfecting him. So I am becoming prepared for the joys in store.
I hear the Zepps. were right over the West End of London last week & got a number of houses in Holborn & near St. Pauls. They also say that one was brought down at Hendon, but I don’t know if it is true, though one of our fellows’ parents say they have been up to see it.
Love from Jack.
On August 31, 1915, Major Jack Peirs departed Southampton on a troopship bound for France. Below his cabin were the men of his battalion as well as their transportation beasts all crowded together, the ship escorted by warships towards the French coast. The 8th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment headed for war.
Arriving at Boulogne, the men disembarked, and within six hours were transported by foot and rail to their destination, Herly, where they were billeted in a farmhouse and orchard. The grounds – farms abundant with fresh ripe fruit in their orchards – would be their home as they trained daily in infantry tactics.
Jack Peirs showed no small amount of amusement in the antics of his men, whom he regarded as industrious and creative in their scrounging. He observed them anthropologically, writing home of the funny things he witnesses, specifically their awkward encounters with locals. He wrote to his mother on September 4:
The British Tommy is very amusing to watch. He is quite at home & armed with w small phrase book can get most of the things he wants.
Though a relatively inexperienced officer in 1915, Peirs understood clearly that one of the keys to leadership was keeping your men busy and happy. He understood his role to be a paternalistic one, looking after their comfort and watching after their welfare. Interestingly, he distributed harmonicas to his men for just such a purpose, which resulted in annoyingly discordant noises.
Fathers mouth organs are a tremendous boon & I heard most dismal noises proceeding from a farm last night which proceeded from one of them, while the platoon sat round & howled in unison
By September 14, Peirs had been in France for a fortnight, the battalion mostly engaged in training. He messed and slept in a French farmhouse, which he found tolerably comfortable. Peirs had no clear idea where they were going next; he knew something was brewing, the men honing their skills in musketry and learning to use bombs (grenades), which the above letter references in a snarky critique of their instructor. In their two weeks in France, the men were readying themselves for dangers unknown but ones that soon would be realized.