My dear Family,
I didn’t hear from you yesterday, but I suppose the Prodigal Daughter got on the jaw, so you had no opportunity of writing. There is no news here.
It snew violently all this morning & is rather chilsome & I am very glad I am not at the moment in the trenches. These guns round here are fairly on the hop & each one makes more noise than the last & they won’t stop.
I can’t imagine why they ever put infantry in this place, as we are surrounded by batteries, & of course the Hun strafes the batteries & when he misses them he gets us, though don’t imagine from this that we live in an atmosphere of smoke & shrapnel, because we don’t & up to now the Bosch has not actually hit the ground within 200 yards of us & then only twice yesterday when he did some very accurate shooting into an open field about 200 yards away, only unfortunately for him there is nothing there except beetroot.
We had some gas shells some little way off yesterday which make one’s eyes water abominably. They don’t do any harm otherwise. but I imagine that you can’t see at all if you get caught by them properly. We have spectacles which are supposed to prevent it, but I doubt if they are much use – as you are into the gas before you know its there & by the time you’ve got your goggles on the deed is done.
I am going into Poperinghe to-morrow as I want to come to an arrangement with the Expeditionary Force Canteen there as to running our own little coffee shop, which has proved a tremendous boon to the men up here, as we can’t get enough up before it is sold out at once. Of course the men get much more for their money as we are not out to make a profit but the brave little Belgians rob them unmercifully.
Another difficulty has arisen in that we can’t get sugar. Why, I don’t know, so I have to compromise on the native sanded grit, which passes for the real article here.
Love to all
This letter differs from many others in the collection as it is addressed to “My dear Family.” Though Peirs normally writes to one of his parents or sisters, twenty-four letters in the collection are addressed to the family in general. The content of the letters varies somewhat based on the addressee – Peirs is more apt to discuss business issues with his father, describe the details of his daily life to his mother, and include more humorous asides when writing to his sisters, Cecily, Gladys, and Odile. Across the board, he typically minimizes the difficulties, discomforts, and dangers he experiences both in and out of the trenches, though at times he is more candid.
In this letter, despite his description of the battalion’s position “surrounded by batteries,” Peirs is quick to allay his family’s fears, writing “don’t imagine from this that we live in an atmosphere of smoke & shrapnel, because we don’t.” Additionally, he mentions being effected by a poisonous gas attack taking place in nearby trenches. In early 1916, little was known about chemical weapons, which had first been used effectively at the Second Battle of Ypres in April, 1915.
Gases such as chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas quickly became major features of battles, representing a source of great apprehension for soldiers on the front lines and their families at home. In referencing his own experience of the gas attacks, Peirs complains that they “make one’s eyes water abominably,” but “They don’t do any harm otherwise.” His unconcerned attitude is significant, and he promptly moves on to a discussion of his plans for the following day. In expressing indifference – whether real or feigned – about this potential threat, Peirs is attempting to alleviate his family’s worries and assure them of his confidence and safety.