My dear Father,
Many thanks for yours of the 11th received yesterday also for the promise of a ham. We have now got the mess on a better footing and are getting things regularly from the Field Force Canteen, so please do not worry to send things in future or any how so prolifically as there is no reason why the mess should feed at your expense. Still I would not say that an occasional little trifle would not be acceptable.
We were warned at 2 hours notice to relieve trenches last night & we came in late in consequence. I got in presumably about 1:30 but the chief reason for the delay was the activity of the Huns in shelling the main road which hung up all the transport & reliefs in the district for a good hour or more & yet they did no damage except to some houses & trees by the roadside. We are going for them tonight I believe with every gun in the neighbourhood as the Bosches have been getting rather uppish with their skills lately & want to be put in their place. The guns are beginning now (5:30 p.m.) & the shells big & little are whistling away far overhead, while we are quite comfortable under the lea of a hill & quite secure from everything which does not drop direct from the skies.
Unfortunately our fire trenches are not so protected, so they may retaliate on them, which they are rather fond of doing.
I don’t think I should let you know exactly where we are in the trenches but from the indications I have given with regard to the canal should help you as I only know of one round here. The rest camp is at a place beginning with R ʌ5 miles south of a town beginning with P which I have already mentioned.
Yesterday I had to conduct 2 M.P.s round our billets They were brought up by one of the staff to be shown round the trenches, but owing to the shelling aforesaid he did not dare risk their valuable lives by taking them into the trenches so he compromised by showing them the men in billets.
I took them round & I think opened their eyes a bit as I am not sure they did not expect to find each man in a bed, whereas they were all together in such houses as had not been absolutely smashed to bits & some sort of roof or upper floor still standing & mostly in pitch darkness except for candles, as of course there is no glass left in these villages near the trenches owing to its being broken by concussion & the windows are blocked up to keep out the balmy breezes
However they are doing in such places & it is marvelous how cheery they are.
I was a little too early with them, as about an hour afterwards the place was shelled & we had to get the men out. However they didn’t hit the house or do any damage at all. I expect this shelling business will get a little heavier now as the leaves are off the trees, or it may be that they have got some new batteries up, but it has been much more noticeable lately. It might be that it is in reply to our own, as our people don’t appear to stint the ammunition nowadays & loose off whenever they’ve a mind to. I hear that the Munition Ministry has not yet sent a single shell out, so when theirs begin to arrive the bally guns will get red hot in trying to loose it all off.
To revert to the M.P.s one was a Unionist a [condescending sot], of course, who thought he was conferring a favour on the men by coming to see them & the other a Labour M.P. I forget their names. The Unionist was rather like the M.P. in Stalking & Co. who went to talk to the boys. They both certainly knew nothing whatever about soldiering & the one in question had some rotten ideas to propose which I proceeded to squash at once.
I take it that we shall be here for a week before we clear out & I think it will be not so bad, if the weather holds up. It was glorious to-day though cold & freezing a bit, in fact it was possible to get in last night over the mud without going in very deep.
Many thanks for your subscription to the Plum Pudding fund & also for taking so much trouble about the license.
By the way, it occurs to me that Trustee Stocks must depreciate now that govmt. loans are being issued at 4½ & 5% unless they are in something reasonable at par. I don’t want to make any alteration, but it should be considered for my Trustee Stocks. What do you think?
The 8th Queens had spent the previous two weeks developing a routine of trench rotation within their Brigade. The battalion had four or five days of rest and training and then went up the line where they relieved another battalion, here the East Surreys, and served several days in the trenches before they were relieved, in turn, by another battalion. As Peirs indicates, sometimes they were called up to relieve a battalion at short notice, as was the case in this letter, the battalion coming up at the last minute under cover of darkness and manning their fire, support, and reserve trenches.
Most of this letter concerns artillery bombardments. Artillery was the great killer of the First World War, outpacing all other means of destruction, and striking fear in men in the lines (as well as behind) who were subjected to the random terror of bombardment. As Peirs indicates, artillery not only made men afraid for their lives, but it also made both moving and rest difficult. Artillery strikes were often motivated by reprisal: British guns would bombard a German position, so German guns would retaliate. The battalion war diary indicates 11 casualties from artillery fire the day after this letter was written. Things were getting hotter for the men in his battalion when Peirs wrote it.
There are two other interesting tidbits. First, Peirs does not tell his father where he is located, but he gives enough hints that his father can surely figure it out (and so could the Germans). He was aware of the risks in giving out his location, but likely felt that the enemy already was aware of their movements (which they probably were) so his observing secrecy protocol is more a formality than anything else. Secondly, Peirs led two Members of Parliament through the lines to show them conditions at the front. He clearly found both their presence and their personalities a nuisance. Tours like this were reasonably common: MPs tried to understand the war’s conduct informational visits to the trenches. As Peirs writes, sometimes politicians can’t help themselves in imparting information, rather than observing and taking it in.