My dear Odd,
Thanks for several letters from you. I fear I have not written lately but have been rather busy with one thing & another. However you have presumably heard that I am still going strong. We are still out of the line but expect to go back in a couple of days I went to have a look round our post yesterday & found it as attractive as most & at the moment fairly quiet (presumably because it was 5 a. m. as it has not a good reputation for placitude). I hope you like your new place. I hear suggestions that your Charlie should go to Walton for a week or two & wonder if you would like it, one of our fellows as was came from there Barry by name & as
both his parents & wife & daughter all live in the place you may come across them if you go. He is not a bad chap, but likes the rearmost place in the battle & has managed to obtain a job in rear where there is lots of bravery but little danger. However war’s war & somebody’s got to be behind so why not he. As usual I have no news, at the moment bombs are dropping somewhere within hearing, but we are
careful to extinguish our lights so as not to attract attention. I can hear the blighter but can’t see him & our searchlights are too paralytic to help. They don’t do any damage, but a tent won’t keep them out, so it is as well to lie low. I expect one of our planes will be over shortly to cope with him. For a change we appear to have more or less command of the air & we rarely see a bosch now, though a month ago he used to do more or less as he liked & brought down lots of our balloons which make a very good blare & inwardly one wishes he would do it again occasionally, as a blaring
balloon adds an interest to life. I counted 24 of ours up to-day, but narey a Bosch plane came near. Incidentally when he does come the air is at once full of hurried balloonists attached to parachutes which are a graceful & pleasing spectacle especially as the Bosch circles round them strafing the unfortunate bloke at the end of the parachute which must be very unpleasant though he rarely hits him
However most of the balloonists joined to avoid trench work so we feel they deserve it sometimes. He now shells the balloons at long range & they dont like it at all but there again they only suffer from fright, as he never hits them.
Love from Jack
On 27 July 1917, Jack Peirs wrote a letter to each of his three sisters. There are few instances of three-letter days in the collection, and so far as we can tell this is the only one on which Peirs addresses his sisters. It is possible and even likely that there were other points during the war when he did the same thing; not all of his correspondence has survived into the present day, and not all of it that has is part of this collection. The Peirs sisters travelled frequently, and might have received mail at addresses other than the family home of Queen’s Well in Carshalton. Perhaps some of Jack’s letters were lost in the mail, or never sent in the first place. All the same, Friday, 27 July 1917 gives us a unique opportunity to check in with the Peirs siblings and orient ourselves to their experiences of the First World War.
Jack wrote home fairly regularly throughout July 1917, as the battalion had a comparatively quiet month. They were, as usual, stationed in northern France, near the Belgian border. They moved from Coloumby to Caestre to Eecke, crossing into Reninghelst towards the end of the month. On 23 July they moved to Micmac Camp, headed towards Ypres where they would be part of the first push of the Battle of Third Ypres. Jack wrote on the 27th, two days before the 8th Queens moved up to the line in preparation for the launch of their attack, scheduled for 3:50 a. m. on 31 July. It would be some of the heaviest action the battalion had seen in months, and they had rarely seen a battle on this scale since suffering heavy losses at Loos nearly two years before in September 1915. Even if he didn’t know exactly what was coming, Jack knew their situation – he wrote to Cecily that he “went up to have a look round yesterday, in the early morning when things were quiet” – and he knew what his responsibilities would be.
All of this and more must have weighed on his mind as he sat down to write these three similar but distinct letters to his sisters. Cecily had just gotten a new job with the Red Cross and was going to be travelling England. Gladys had given birth to her first baby on 29 April, and had named her brother godfather to the now three-month-old. Odile was married in early June, and he hadn’t made it home for the ceremony. On 28 July, it would be exactly three years since the war started. In four days, before dawn, he was leading four battalions in an offensive into German-held territory, over ground that had already seen two incredible battles.
Jack’s next letter comes on 2 August. In it, we’ll see his initial reactions to his experiences at Ypres, which continue to develop as the battle itself does. For now we can consider his thoughts and feelings as he wrote to his sisters on 27 July.