Sherriff was in puckish mood when he wrote home to Pips: ‘Two months today I set foot on the Gallic soil…and my appearance in the war area seems in no way to have altered the situation’. He then went on, in jovial style, to congratulate Pips on the 10% bonus he had just received in his job at Sun Insurance: ‘You must be a millionaire now – I suppose you wash in white wine and give banquets to Mr Joseph and Wren every night: it means £40 odd, doesn’t it? Just enough to buy a motor bicycle.’
He was less upbeat in writing to his mother, recalling the day they had parted, those two months before, and saying that he:
‘…now realised almost for the first time how it [was] worse for you than for me when we parted…I had got so much to occupy my attention when I got to Folkestone with my luggage and tickets, and the rush for the boat and the journey on the sea, that before I knew where I was I was miles from home and [had] more things to occupy my attention – whilst you, dearie, had nothing novel to occupy your thoughts. I can picture, now, the last little glimpse I had of you out of the carriage window as the train left…’
He carried on in this vein of reminiscence for most of the rest of the letter, telling her how much he had enjoyed the periods of leave he was given before embarking for France – the ten days ‘pending gazette’ [waiting, after passing his officer exams, to be attached to a Regiment], and the 48 hours immediately before embarkation – and in particular the walks they had taken in Oxshott woods, in Bushy Park around the Plantation, and in Richmond Park (‘Do you remember how we got absolutely every ounce out of the last days – I am afraid I used to walk you off your feet, dearie, but I know you never minded…’). And in the evenings, after returning from his afternoon rambles with his mother, he would proceed to accompany Pips on long walks, ‘stumbling along in the dark’, which were more enjoyable than ‘all the Grand Theatres put together’.
He congratulated his mother on the ‘compliment’ which the Hospital had paid her, by offering to pay for her services – £20 and all expenses paid: ‘it is very heartening to be told you are of some use…I only wish I was the man who was specially under your care – lucky man to have such a nice nurse.’
Before signing off he thanked her (as he had Pips and Bundy) for the ‘absolutely ideal parcel’ he had received – full of all of his favourites – almonds and raisins, ginger, jam roll and chocolate – ‘all the things I like more than anything else’. He considered himself very lucky to receive such fine parcels – much better than those of many of the other men, whose families put in ‘silly things like tinned sardines’, which were readily available in France. They were probably trying their best – ‘but…none have reached your standard, dear’.
[Next letter: 1 December]