Sherriff wrote two letters to Pips today, and the variance in tone between the two is quite marked.
He begins his first letter rather brightly, commenting on the haul of letters he has received since being back at the Battalion: ‘About 7 from you, 6 from Mother, one from Beryl [his older sister], one from Bundy [his younger brother], one from Mr Freeth [his manager at the Oxford Street branch of Sun Insurance], and a New Year present from my old Company Commander [Captain Tetley] in the form of a letter case commemorating our New Year’s day, when we had a pretty hot time for 12 hours in the line [described here].’
He had been back with the Battalion for three days, he told Pips, and they were ‘resting’ a good way behind the line. Owing to censorship restrictions he could not tell his father his whereabouts, but we know from the Battalion Diary that A & B Companies were billeted at Bas Rieux; while C (Sherriff’s Company) and D Companies were at Can Trainne. He could, however, tell him something of what they were doing:
‘…although the word ‘rest’ is used we are on the go pretty well all day – from 8:30am to 4:00pm, the last hour being devoted to compulsory games, football chiefly, and some cross-country running is being arranged.’
He told Pips that he had gone for a 2-mile run the day before with another officer, and had found it ‘quite invigorating’. The training they were doing was much the same as they would do in England – ‘Physical drill, bayonet fighting, musketry etc. etc.’ They were billeted in small villages, with their Mess in a farm house. He was billeted in a farm house as well, while his platoon lived in a barn ‘with straw beds – very comfortable too’.
He ended his first letter of the day promising a longer letter later on, but, when the time came, a mood of depression appeared to have settled on him: ‘I cannot pull myself together properly to write a good letter… I feel all I want to do is to sit and do absolutely nothing…’.
He told Pips that, during the day, the men had been at the firing range, which had taken up most of their time, since ‘there was a march of some miles there and back’. Unfortunately there had been a thaw during the previous couple of days, so now there was little ice to be seen, and ‘the old programme of Mud, Mud, Mud, has started again.’
Perhaps it was the mud depressing him, or perhaps it was just the continuation of the ‘nervy feeling’ that had persisted for some weeks. Even at the officers’ rest station he had struggled to concentrate, and his letter writing had slowed to a crawl. Nor can it have helped that the Battalion’s time in rest looked likely to be shorter than he had anticipated: ‘We have now had just a week of [rest] and we have one more before we move back to the line again – I am afraid I don’t feel very much effect of the rest yet – I cannot get away from worrying’.
[He seems to have struggled to shake off the feeling of lethargy and depression, since his letters writing remained patchy during the following couple of weeks.]
[Next letter: 22 February]