B. E. F.
12. 12. 1915.
(16. 12. 15)
My dear Mother,
I fear I have omitted to write for 3 days but must plead work as my excuse. Fiddling little jobs mostly sending off parties woodcutting or digging or in one thing & another which keep one constantly employed.
Friday was as usual a vile day. Yesterday ditto but warm & to-day dry but turned cold, so we have heated the furnace seven times hotter than usual & shut all windows & doors & frosted generally.
The old ladies do us quite well in the coal line & I find a hot brick in bed every night, so I do not expect to perish of frost bite. We had a short route march yesterday in the rain to be inspected by the G. O. C. 2nd. Army, who appeared to be satisfied with the brigade & in the afternoon a shooting competition to decide the Company team to fire in a Brigade shooting thing this afternoon. It was run thus – two teams run along side each other & over obstacles for about 300 yards & then blaze away at tiles which represent the the opposing team. As each tile is knocked out the corresponding man of the other team ceases fire.
Quite interesting to watch. The 1st. North Staffs. won easily, as they were on their own range, which was over a chalk pit & rather a difficult place to range over & secondly all their team were regulars. None of the new army Battalions had a look in, as was only to be expected.
We went to church in our Concert Hall – now called the Cinema Hall as the Division have purchased a Cinema Machine somewhere which we shall cart about with us. I don’t quite know who runs it, but I think the Provost Marshal, anyhow he hasn’t got it working yet & when he does it will probably run upside down. Frossard has got something to do with it as the Methodist padre is on leave – so it is a cert. to be a failure.
We send Barry home on leave this week to get married. I fancy that Jo is to be hauled out to do best man, as it is considered that his limp will do better credit to the proceedings, but I fear that he will have got over it by then, so he will have to cultivate it afresh.
When I get a moment, I must get in to St. Omer to have a bath, as I’ve not had one since I left & one can’t go unwashed for ever. The people here apparently do not bathe & it is a good thing as there is only one domestic & she apparently does the cooking & house work & in addition looks after the pony, cleans the cart & feeds the fowls. In her spare moments she gardens, so if she had to empty bath water as well, I take it that the livestock would perish.
Another peculiarity I notice is that the household pump is in direct communication with the cesspool, which no doubt gives the drinking water a flavor of its own.
Luckily we dont mess here, but I am beginning to fight shy of cleaning my teeth.
The plum puddings which Father helped to purchase have arrived & were much appreciated. They were eaten at once, as we don’t know when we are to move though they say now that we shall be here over Christmas
If so, much the better.
Love from Jack.
Letters like this one are some of my favorites in this collection. As Peirs has indicated so many times before, much of his job is in keeping the men occupied and out of trouble behind the lines. Here, the battalion is in training, which takes up some time. He is responsible for assigning companies to fatigue duties to keep the men occupied. As the weather has turned, this means physical activity to get their blood moving and warm them up during days and evenings that have turned frosty. This includes mundane and basic tasks for their warmth and comfort – chopping wood – but also drill, parades, and tactical training.
Peirs is concerned with his own comfort as well and relates home the differences between his routine at the front and what his siblings would know at home. A hot brick in the bed, to remind his family he is reasonably comfortable with the less-than-comforting reassurance that he won’t get frostbite. The water appears to be contaminated and he has a (very real) fear of even brushing his teeth from the farm’s pump. Perhaps most uncomfortable, is the fact that he can’t have a bath without traveling to St. Omer. Unlike in September, when Peirs told his family that they needn’t send him anything for he was well-provisioned enough, now he is gratefully accepting all that they send. His men have been moving up and down the lines for months and now that they are in rest, he is happy for plum puddings and extra provisions which he can share for Christmas with his mess.