Back in the line once more, Sheriff found time for very short notes to both parents. He told Pips that he was ‘safe and well at present and…I very much hope I shall remain so’, although it was ‘pretty hot’ in the district he was now in.’
The Battalion Diary shows that they were now near Hill 60, in the Ypres sector, and that during the 23 and 24 July the German shelling continued almost unabated, except for a few hours in the early morning. The British artillery returned fire, and both sides were active in the air as well. This explains Sherriff’s complaint to his mother: ‘Here I am in the middle of it again, with all of the banging and crashing and uncertainty…’. He also told Pips that the noise was ‘very worrying’, and that it kept him awake, although, on a more positive note, ‘our quarters might be worse and at least they are comfortable enough for me to write you this note’.
He reassured his mother that he was still alright, and that, in their comfortable quarters, because of the fine weather, he found no need for a blanket while sleeping: ‘all one requires is a towel and washing materials and Macintosh, and plenty of smokes and a book’, although there was not much time for reading because they tried to get as much sleep as possible.
He told Pips that he hoped they were enjoying the sea good weather, but trusted they would be able to make more use of it: ‘It is almost impossible to imagine the quiet river and parks but providing I get through safely these pleasures will be more appreciated than ever before.’
[Sherriff wrote his two brief letters home on 23 July. During the course of the next twenty-four hours or so, 3 of his fellow officers – Lt Picton, 2nd Lt Bogue, and Captain Pirie (the Battalion Doctor) – would be killed by German shelling, and another – 2nd Lt Ellis – wounded. Pirie’s death is described in a letter from the Chaplin to his sister on 25 July:
‘I am very sorry indeed to write this letter. Your brother, Captain Pirie, the M.O. of this Battalion, was killed yesterday in the trenches. He was working in his aid post when a shell burst right in the entrance and killed him immediately…’
The letter may be found in Michael Lucas’s published version of Pirie’s diary of his time in uniform.
Sherriff was sufficiently affected by their deaths that, in 1921, when on a cycling tour of his wartime haunts with his father, he made a point of visiting and photographing the site of their graves.]
Pirie’s grave, photographed by Sheriff in May 1921. (By permission of the Surrey History Centre, Ref: 2332/9/7)
The graves of Bogue and Picton, as photographed by Sheriff in May 1921. By permission of the Surrey History Centre (Ref: 2332/9/7)
[Next letter: 26 July]