My dear Family,
Very many thanks for letters from F.M.&O. also for a large parcel from O of various delicacies. As a matter of fact I have chocolate & cigarettes from Harrods regularly, but the cake & chocolate biscuits were quite welcome to the mess & have by now been devoured. We are still in the same place & they don’t seem to be in a hurry to move us. I believe we are going out to-night to practice a concentration of troops & it looks as if we are going to have a lovely night for the job.
If we stay here till the beginning of next month we shall have to find a new Headquarters as I believe the school is to re-open then. We have already been looking out for a mess room in place of the very uncomfortable one we have got upstairs & have found it in a farm near by. We are at present negotiating with the Landlady who is evidently awful fond of money & she wants the equivalent of the rent of the whole house for it. However we may beat her down in time.
It is extremely hard to find anything to say about this place. We perform the trivial round daily & so far as I am concerned this is extremely trivial as I have nothing whatever to do except to wander round and criticise people who know how to do their job much better than I do.
One humorous thing I noticed today. I was watching A. Coy practicing scratching yesterday. This sounds uncleanly but it is in fact the process you go through when unable to advance under fire & you lie down & dig a hole for yourself with an entrenching tool which is carried for the purpose. When they had dug their holes, which of course look like a line of graves when finished, they have to be filled in & I noticed to-day that each grave has been finished with a little + or tombstone at the head. It was most pathetic till you realised what the young devils were like, who treat such topics so lightly.
I went to watch the machine gunners to-day practising. They have dug themselves a beautiful little trench all tunnelled and replete with dug-outs & hidden loop holes etc. They did some firing against a neighbouring hill but the bullets must have been richocheting all over the place but I trust that no one has been killed. If any corpse is brought in it will be decently buried but not a word said.
My only entertainment lately has been in ragging the brigade office. Their Staff Captain is quite a decent fellow but rather too big for his boots & carries on as tho he was incapable of making mistakes. We caught him out yesterday in making 3 distinct & several errors & spent several hours in concocting cryptic & sarcastic answers. The adjutant saw him to-day with the intent of rubbing it in but he wouldn’t wait. But I think we have triumphed.
We have still been left severely alone by the Brigadier lately but the C.O. has had to ride over to-day to see him, so it looks as if that great and good man is re-awakening & we shall have to begin to mind our ps. & qs.
As regards footballs, we should like a couple very much later on, but at present we have 2 new ones each per company, which are quite enough to go on with.
I get some revolver practice most days & am becoming quite a fair shot with both hands. I go out with the C.O. & the poor old chap gets very annoyed, as he used to be a good shot (so he says) but he cant hit a hay-stack now. He gets so awfully nervous & rattled nowadays that Lord only knows what he will be like when we get further up. I suppose it will be my job to keep him soothed, though I don’t fancy it very much.
I return a letter addressed to Col. Peirs which is intended for father on the subject of discs together with a p.o. for father therein.
Would you mind arranging for the Autocar to be sent to me weekly & the Locomotive magazine monthly. Uncle Jos has made me a sort of offer for the pram but I am not keen on selling it unless to get something more suitable as the family go-cart. However I will wait to hear from him.
Lest I forget I don’t think the pram is registered in my name. Anyhow I have not paid any tax on it, so if father would mine writing a line about it & let me have the form to sign when he gets back to town I shall be much obliged. I suggest that the Surrey people at Kingston are the best to approach as the London C.C. ones will want to fine me if they discover that I’ve had it so long without paying tax or transferring it into my name. Those idiots I got it from promised to transfer it but have not done so. I think the Surrey Council will probably give me a new number without asking questions & Wardill can then paint it on. I hope some of you will soon learn to use it, as it is only eating its lead off & I should like to hear that you are having runs in it.
This is an interesting letter. Peirs was a London solicitor before the war and lived comfortably. The fact that he arranged to have Harrods supply him while on active service is indicative of the fact that he was used to certain creature comforts and was easily able to get his favorite cigarettes and chocolates in the trenches.
In a wider sense, there is an undeniable link between parcels from home and the emotional survival of men on campaign and under stress. Though Peirs is not yet in battle, his men are preparing for it, and he keeps close ties with home: worrying about the automobile registration, asking for particular periodicals to be forwarded to him, and telling his family (in a nice way) what he does and does not need. These types of letters fill an emotional need for writers who live both civilian and military lives, who fill their days with military routine, but carve out hours to read letters from home and write loved ones to keep those bonds tight, a distant but hopeful reminder of the domestic routines of family life.
He writes of the men of the battalion continuing their training. Peirs was growing bored by dull days spent ‘scratching’ or digging rifle pits and drilling. One anecdote amused him.
When they had dug their holes, which of course look like a line of graves when finished, they have to be filled in & I noticed to-day that each grave has been finished with a little + or tombstone at the head. It was most pathetic till you realised what the young devils were like, who treat such topics so lightly.
This bit of gallows humor clearly cut both ways: one pictures a guilty laugh at the men who recognized and relished in the notion that they were training to dig their own graves. More gallows humor was apparent in his wry comment about covering up accidental deaths with a hush hush.
They did some firing against a neighbouring hill but the bullets must have been richocheting all over the place but I trust that no one has been killed. If any corpse is brought in it will be decently buried but not a word said.
Peirs had a sense of humor. We see humor also in his frustrations with Brigade staff officers. As a former civilian now in uniform, the Army was an alien environment with its own customs and standards, many of which likely seemed petty to him, a pettiness that he ironically countered with his own sarcasm towards the Brigade Staff Captain. His sarcasm and scheming against a particularly irritating staff officer is countered by his sincerity towards his men, taking his father up on an offer to send footballs for their entertainment (at a later date). One gets the impression that he had a strong pragmatic streak to him.
The way Peirs described his commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel F.H. Fairtlough, C.M.G., is also revealing. Fairtlough had been an officer in The Queen’s for his whole career, serving with distinction. He retired in 1905 but came back to active duty in 1914 to command the battalion. He was a much older, but a much more experienced officer, and Peirs clearly respected him. But …
He gets so awfully nervous & rattled nowadays that Lord only knows what he will be like when we get further up. I suppose it will be my job to keep him soothed, though I don’t fancy it very much.
Peirs was also worried about his performance in battle – certainly not just his marksmanship – worries that may or may not grow more acute as the month goes on.