by Sam McBride

Here are the full transcripts of letters from Gerald Hamilton Peters to his relatives in 1916, along with articles in Prince Rupert, B.C. newspapers about him in that period.

The year began well for him, as he was accepted into officer training in England after serving in the Ypres trenches in 1915 as a private.  His mother Bertha Gray Peters — with whom he had an extremely close relationship as her favorite child — rented cottages in southeastern England so she could get together with him on his leaves.in

Gerald died in action on June 3, 1916 in the Allied offensive to re-take Mount Sorrel in the Ypres Salient, which the Germans had won on June 2.  Fourteen months earlier, on April 24, 1915, Gerald’s brother Private John Francklyn “Jack” Peters died in the Second Battle of Ypres.  Gerald, Fritz and other relatives were convinced, based on poor communication and wishful thinking, that Jack was alive as a prisoner of war.  It was not until late May, 1916, that Canadian Army authorities learned for sure that Jack was not a P.O.W., and therefor was assumed to have died on April 24, 1915.  It is not clear from the following letters that Gerald received the final news on brother Jack.  His mother and other relations would have heard that Gerald died within a couple of weeks of hearing that Jack died earlier.

Like Jack, Gerald was originally listed as missing.  It was not until the third week of July, 1916 that his death was announced.

This posting is the second half of the transcribed letters of Gerald Hamilton Peters in this blog.  The previous post includes all letters from Gerald up until February 1916.

Gerald to his sister Helen                                  February 13, 1916

Queen’s Hotel, Folkestone

My Dearest Ode Hagen,

No doubt Mother has told you already about my amazing luck.  The right amount of pull has succeeded in getting me a commission1 and I am back in dear old England and out of that Blasted Bloody Belgium2.  You can’t imagine how glorious it is to be back.  It was simply miserable over there, no glamour or glory of war, just unending work and nothing to do if you did get any spare time.  It isn’t hard to look back on, but at the time there was little fun in lying in ditches while their horrible machine guns swept over you, pattering everywhere.  I can’t realize my wonderful luck — three months training in Shorncliffe and such far better pay.  I have got a week’s leave now, and if I want more I can wire for an extension.  I think the O.T. {Officer Training} course begins on the 25th and until then I believe my time is practically my own.  Mother came down yesterday, and joined me here.  We were to have gone to London this morning, but she has a headache so I expect we will go up tomorrow.  I am very glad for her sake also about my commish.  I do hope she will be able to take a little cottage near here while I am training, it would be so lovely for both of us.  I know she rather felt staying so long at Spreyton3.  It is beastly to feel you are an expense, you know what it is.  My pay will be pretty good — $60 a month and $18 allowance while in England.  So I will be able to let Mother have quite a bit.

Feb 15/16

We are in London now, staying at a boarding house on Russell   Square.  Hotels are terribly expensive now, things are almost double.  It is great to be here again, you can’t think how lovely it is to be able to sleep all night instead of doing guards and snatching a few odd minutes rest.  I will miss all the drudgery that will go on from now until everything is ready for the Big Drive4.  I expect we will all be back for it, they say everyone will be hurried over in time, even the slightly wounded and the sick.  It is hard to realize the colossal scale it will be on.  Let us hope it will finish it all.  I always thought the war would be ended by fighting, and not by starving Germany out, or lack of money.  Things were just getting active again before I left.  I had a periscope shot to pieces in my hand a few days back.  It gave me a horrible shock and nearly knocked me down.  The same instant a fellow near me had his brains blown out by the same machine gun.  I left Belgium without any sorrow.  It is rather flat to have been there five months and never seen any fighting, but perhaps it is as well.  I expect real fighting is about as bughouse as trench warfare.

I rather dread going back as an officer.  It is a real responsibility – even a junior officer – as he has control of a platoon, about 50 men, and perhaps a big extent of trench.  Fancy having to take out wiring parties to within 40 yards of the Germans and work for three hours in the open.  It’s bad enough to be on these parties, let alone commanding them.  However, it will be better in most ways, and I will have a glorious time in England first.  If you ever hear a man say he wants to get back to the firing line again, you can tell him he is a darned liar.

I must go to Millbank now and wrestle with various officials for my pay.

Your loving Zarig.

P.S. Address your letter c/o Mother and please remember I am still a private.

 1 – His service file shows that he was accepted into Officer Training onFeb. 12, 1916.

2 – It is interesting to see how Gerald is much more candid describing the trench conditions with his sister Helen than he was with his mother Bertha.   He apparently doesn’t want to worry her about the dangers and unpleasantness of the trenches, and at the same time he wants to live up to her expectations of bravery.

3 – Spreyton was the address of the Poole relations in Guildford, Surrey.

4 – The big push would be the Battle of the Somme that began on July 1, 1916, a month after Gerald died at the Ypres Salient.  The Somme resulted in more than 600,000 casualties for the Allies and about 500,000 German casualties, ending in a virtual stalemate.  The result was a huge disappointment for the Allies, who were counting on a breakthrough with all of their resources focused on one campaign.  It was in line with the general trend in the war, where defenders had the advantage in battles because of the technology of the time.

 

Prince Rupert Daily Empire1 news clipping             May 6, 1916

Headline: Gerald Peters is in Officers Training School in England Studying Enemy’s Methods

          In a letter from Mrs. Peters, the city solicitor has heard that his son Gerald is in the Officers’ Training School at present, and that he is specializing in the study of enemy methods as discovered from all enemy papers discovered on prisoners, in trenches, and in captured positions.  These documents, etc. are all carefully studied and used for what they may be worth.  They frequently throw light on enemy plans and explain situations.

1 – The largest local newspaper in Prince Rupert at the time, The Empire, was founded in 1907 by John Houston, who is well-remembered in Nelson, B.C. as that city’s first mayor.  He sold the newspaper in 1909 to Seville Newton.  The Empire merged in 1947 with the Prince Rupert News, which continues to be the primary newspaper of the city today.

Gerald to Bertha                                                                     May 22, 1916

Officers Club, Boulonge-Sur-Mer (stamp impressed)

My Dearest Zarig,

I have got this far in safety.  We left at 3 o’clock and had a calm crossing.  I see that French time is an hour behind, so I gain an hour now.  I am to go by rail tonight, for which I am very thankful.  It will mean arriving in the early morning, the best time.  I am waiting at some club for officers, quite nice, and I will get dinner here.  I do hope you got home all right after I left.  Write when you decide on anything.  I look forward to your letters.  And I know you won’t be too low, you are so Spartan.  Only three months, at any rate.  I am glad the wrench is over.  I know it is far worse for you.

I met that English fellow on the boat.  There is no sign of the others, but several other boats left at about the same time, and I expect I missed them in the crush.

Nothing much to say.  How rotten it is to be writing to you again, but we can’t kick.  Good bye and good luck.

Your loving Zarig.

Gerald to Bertha                                           May 24, 1916

Belgium

My dearest Zarig,

I arrived at our camp yesterday afternoon, the Battalion being out of the trenches for a few days.  The first man I ran up against was Harris.  He joined the 7th after he got his commission.  I was delighted to meet him, and he seemed awfully glad I was joining them.  He is a very decent fellow I think.  He went back last night on leave so I nearly missed him.  I can’t tell you how splendid this battalion is.  The spirit of all the officers and men is wonderful.  The C.O.{Commanding Officer} seems to be thought the world of by everyone.  He is right there every time, keeps the battalion on the go.  He didn’t know I was coming, evidently, and he didn’t seem very enthusiastic when I arrived.  It is going to be a job to keep pace with some of our officers.  I met Wildy Holmes1, Wharton and Mr. Barton.  It is very nice meeting fellows you know so well, it is much less lonely.  Harris seemed really delighted I had come, and introduced me to the others as one of his “oldest chums”.  Rather decent of him.  He talked a lot of poor old Jack.  He said he had never met a man so cheerful and optimistic always.  He often saw him at Salisbury, and Jack was one of the ones who never kicked then.  You can’t think how glad I am to have him.  I know he will help me a lot when he comes back next week.

It will reassure you to hear that we are going in to a pretty civilized part of the line.  The method in the battalion is to give the Germans complete hell the first time in a trench, and then secure the upper hand at once.  The men seem to be beyond compare.

I have been given No. 11 Platoon, No. 3 Company.  Address No. 3 Coy., don’t give Platoon.  Clifford is in a different place now, and I didn’t go near his town, so couldn’t see him.

Please send me a new battery for my “Orilux” lamp2.  I know you can get them at an electrician in Folkestone on Sandgate Rd., about three  blocks from Town Hall.  Must stop now, but will write again soon.

Goodbye,

Your loving Zarig

P.S.: Please send a cheques book, and send a couple of cheques at once.

1 – Captain William Dumbleton Holmes from Victoria, B.C. died June 13, 1916, 10 days after Gerald.  He earned the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross.

2 – A flashlight used by Canadian officers.

Gerald to Bertha                                  May 26-28, 1916

Belgium

My Dearest Zarig

I received your two letters of Monday and Tuesday yesterday evening.  I meant to write before but as you can see by the altered dates, I was unsuccessful.  We are in the trenches now, having a very easy time.  This is the truth.  The weather is glorious, sky larks and cuckoos singing away, and frogs croaking.  The trenches are just at their best now.  I have just this moment run across Ernest Mathews, who is near us.  He tells me Rawdy is in the Artillery around here, and I will try and see him soon.  Do you remember Judge1 of Prince Rupert?  He is in my platoon, I didn’t remember him at first.  I will try to look up those fellows you mention when we go in billets again.  As for finding more about Jack, I can see that is pretty hopeless.  None, or very few of the men here now were out so long ago, and I don’t expect to hear anything new.

I don’t much hope to hear from the person you say you are writing to in Belgium.  However, there is no harm in trying.  But it seems inconsistent if the Germans let us hear after so long.  I am sure it will not be until peace comes.

I am awfully glad you are going to London, and will be near Mrs. Bell.  I am sure you will like it better than Hythe.  It is very good of you sending a watch, I would prefer with a black face.  I was going to send for one, as it is an absolute necessity.  I don’t think I will bother about the binoculars just yet, I can manage easily without them.  I got a very nice letter from Wailts, thanking me for the draft and wishing me success and good luck.  Really they have been pretty decent.

          I was on the second boat on Monday.  Barton and Ellis turned up the next day.  Barton2 is in the same company as I am.  I am glad they have come.  I know quite a few of them now.  The leave seems to come around with delightful regularity. {FURTHER PAGES MISSING}

1 – Charles Judge of the 7th Battalion diedJune 3, 1916, the same day as Gerald.

2 – Edward Stephen Barton with the 7th Battalion died November 10, 1917

Gerald to Bertha                                                   May 31, 1916

Addressed to Mrs. F. Peters,

71 Queensborough Terrace,

Porchester Gate, London

My Dearest Zarig

I have just received yours of May 28th; you should have had my first letter written on May 24th by then, but I suppose they crossed.  We are at present staying at a farm.  Luckily, however, it is not like the one in the picture.  We are behind the lines in reserve, and by the time you get this we will probably be still farther back and I don’t think we will be in the trenches again for a month.  This is really official so you needn’t worry for several weeks, anyhow.  We had an easy time in this time.  I gave you a sample of our menu in my last, so you can see we don’t suffer any as poor old Broderick would say.  We are in a very gorgeous sort of farm at present.  I thought at first it was a chateau, but I was disappointed to find it wasn’t.  It has always been an ambition of mine to stay at a chateau.  I have a little room to myself, furnished with an enormous gold framed mirror, a marble-topped table, and a very small cot which makes a very comfortable bed, if approached with all due caution.  The weather is glorious, and you can lie in the long, warm grass and listen to thousands of skylarks, cuckoos and shells singing and bursting.  Things are a good deal more luxurious for me now than before.  My batman1 brings in water for washing in the morning, and in many small things it is better.  It is so lovely getting your letters.  Your hand wasn’t very shaky.  I know you want it to be shaky, but I’m afraid it isn’t.  Poor Beetle, how I hope you can get a little flat.  As soon as we are back, in a few days, I will get the Paymaster to assign ₤8 instead of ₤4.  I don’t think I can make it more just yet, but I hope to be able soon to save a little reserve for use in emergencies.

I have been very lucky, joining this unit, as it has been so long here that it is going to have a very easy time of it for a while.  I really can’t help being glad we are having such a long spell out, and apparently it is to be always as long, so you see we will only be in the trenches a quarter as long as we were last winter.

Your loving

Gerald2

P.S.  It was very thoughtful of you to send your address three times.  If you will send it again for half a dozen times I may get it all right.

 1 – personal assistant for an officer who helped with uniforms and other such duties

2 – This was the last communication from Gerald before he died in the Canadian attack on Mount Sorrel in the Ypres Salient on June 3, 1916.  The Germans had taken the high position in a surprise attack involving huge explosions in mines tunneled under Allied troops the day before, and new commander Gen. Sir Julian Byng – who would later lead Canadian troops to glory in the victory in April 1917 at Vimy Ridge and serve as Governor General of Canada — wanted to counterattack as soon as possible before the Germans could establish defences to the position.

Prince Rupert Daily Empire clipping                  June 8, 1916

Headline: Lt. Peters Missing

          Adding to his burden of anxiety for his boys in the service of King and Country by land and sea today, City Solicitor Peters is in receipt of a telegram fromOttawa informing him that his son Lieut. Gerald H. Peters, is amongst the missing in the recent heavy fighting in France.

Prince Rupert Daily Empire clipping          June 9, 1916

Headline: Lieut. Gerald Peters of This City is Among Missing

Fred Peters, K.C., City Solicitor, has received from militia headquarters the information that his son Gerald is among those missing following the fighting which has recently taken place.

          He was a member of the Union Bank staff here, but like the rest of the family of Mr. Peters could not resist the call to arms and left for the front.  Recently he received a commission as lieutenant and was so serving.  There are reported to have been a number of Canadians captured, and there is a possibility that he is among them.


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