My dear Cecily,
Very many thanks for your letter to-day, also for a Q. book which I got yesterday. I am v. glad to hear the pram is going strong, & that she is not eating her head off.
I write this from my little dug out in a wood, in what is left of it, about 300 yards behind the line. The dug out is not unlike a rabbit hole below the level of the ground & inclined to be moist, and I have to have it bailed out but the water doesn’t interfere as I’ve got a floor with a hole for the water beneath. I also have a bed table & chair, so I am not really badly off.
The weather is a bit chilly with a strong wind, but I found last night that I kept quite warm after blocking up the door.
The trenches here are a maze, as they run through a wood & have belonged to the Huns & ourselves at different times. It is very difficult to see where one’s own trenches end & the Huns begin but he is very quiet here & though he shells from time to time & also drops in some enormous minnenwerfer bombs which break up the trees & make them fall into our trenches, he is really comparatively peaceful. I fancy that he gets such a deuce of a time from our guns round about that he doesn’t make himself too obnoxious.
The Divisional G. O. C. announced his intention of coming up to-day to look round, but he never got nearer than Brigade Headquarters which after all is only wise as we don’t want him. I thought it would be a good thing to put a man in the wood & tell them to fire somewhere near by & then swear that there was a sniper out for him, but such a strong course did not prove necessary.
The rations cause rather a bother as our battalion is very much split up with various machine guns & bombing posts in the most unlikely places. We have a wooden tram line to bring things up on, but as we had before but it doesn’t come far enough & it is a very long & muddy walk to bring them on.
On getting here yesterday we went right through Ypres & saw the parts which have been most badly damaged. Parts of the Cloth Hall is still standing but the houses all round & what I imagine was the Cathedral are simply pounded to atoms. The outskirts are not so badly hurt, though I don’t suppose there is a single home in the place which is untouched. It was very curious walking through the streets, where the houses are still standing & not a sound or movement in them, as of course they are all empty. Still more curious as we were going through the center of the town where most of the strafing has been & were surveying the scene of desolation with feelings properly attuned, a strong & lusty chorus of some topical song burst out of the bowels of the earth at our feet, proceeding from one of our Battalions who I suppose are quartered there & were trying to cheer themselves up in such a godforsaken spot – I had to spend 2 hours at X roads known as Hell fire corner while the Battn was going by in parties, & was very nervous lest the wily Bosch should shell it but he was quite silent. As a matter of fact these places get their names very easily I know 2 shrapnel corners & one Hell blast corner & I’ve never seen a shell at any of them. Anyhow this particular spot was like Piccadilly Circus with endless streams of men going & coming fatigue parties, dozens of limbers which make enough noise to stir even a Bosch into activity & a motor lorry. but nothing happened & when I left there was a Bank holiday crowd still there.
We are being relieved at once & then do a tour at the back & then up again. I don’t know why they are giving us such a short time here this spell, but we don’t mind. Of course we were all detailed to take over one section of the trenches & had made all arrangements to do so & at the last minute were sent off to take over another, but that is like them. The C. O. is going on leave this week if he can. So I shall have the Battn. on my hands for a few days.
Love to all
Peirs is back in the trenches with his men in this richly detailed letter from Ypres. There are certain things that are particularly revealing. Here are some things to think about.
- The nature of combat. Think about Peirs’s day-to-day activities and what these men consider their duty in the trenches. The men in his battalion have had extensive training for action, but most of their time is spent fixing trenches, worrying about food and water, keeping warm (if possible) and looking for cover when the shelling starts.
- The feel of the trenches and morale. This letter is full of images. How does Peirs describe the terrain around? What about the imagery of Ypres and the destruction/ruination of the town? How do you think this contributes to Peirs’s feelings at the time (and those of his men)?
- Finally, what do you think of the anecdote about the general and the sniper? Is this Peirs being lighthearted to his family or is there something more revealing in this story?