20 January 1916

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8th Queens
B. E. F.
20. 1. 1916
(rec’ 22. 1. ’16)


My dear Mother,

Many thanks for your last & for an Autocar. Also thanks to Cecily for her letter received to-day & for a Primus stove arrived to-day. The gloves have arrived & I like them very much. The stove should be very useful.

We are still in our rest camp, where we fondly imagined we were at peace with everyone except aeroplanes, only they have now started shelling the neighborhood. They don’t appear to be doing any harm but of course the whole district is full of huts & troops & they may get on to one in time. They are miles from us anyhow. I expect it is the same gun which shells Poperinghe which is only a little way off.

I have had a present of some Tiptree jam to-day from Aunt Katie Paul. Cecily mentions eatables in her letter & I should like a cake very much as we haven’t had one for some time.

Our time now is chiefly occupied in repairing a small fort, which is now in the Battalion’s charge. There are lots of them stuck about the country in case the Hun breaks through & we have to keep one in repair. It was handed over in a pretty bad state & wants a lot of work on it.

They caught a spy near here the other day. He was in a cottage near one of our big guns & one morning they noticed that the Hun was feeling his way up to the gun & when he got there plumped several shells right round it. He was the owner of the cottage & everyone noticed that his family rushed out in white garments, evidently to attract the attention of an aeroplane overhead, so they took him off in handcuffs. Anyhow they smashed up our gun I believe.

A better spy story is of a baker somewhere near here, & everyone knows he is a spy as they never get shelled unless there is smoke going up from his chimney.

But they don’t touch him as he is so valuable because they all go to ground directly his chimneys smoke. & no damage is done. They even take the baker with them to make sure he is not hurt as of course he is invaluable as a warning for shell fire.

We are taking over another section of trenches next door to the ones we had last time, so I shall have to go up & have a look round before we go in. Then when we come out we shall go back into our last lot & so on.

I wonder if you gave Uncle John a run in the pram. He was much impressed by Aunt K.’s & she says he will get one himself & I shouldn’t be surprised.

Love to all





If the baker spy story is true, it is simply remarkable. That being written, Peirs’s letter is indicative of one thing that happened quite a bit: searching for spies behind the lines. Men were encouraged to report suspicious activities and acutely noticed things that went beyond the merely coincidental, for example, the baker’s chimney.

The rest of the letter has the usual amount of trench repair and random artillery fire. You will note that after several months of trench duty, several weeks in Ypres specifically, Peirs seems an old salt in the way he describes bombardment and the difficulties of everyday life. He’s certainly not complaining about his lot, instead rather understating what the ground was actually like with simple phrases like ‘it was handed over in a pretty bad state.’

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