World War 1: Pierriche’s Chinook letter from the front

Father JMR Le Jeune of Kamloops brings us a Chinook Jargon letter that he received from the front lines of World War 1.


Not directly related (Image credit:

Elsewhere he mentions that the local Indigenous and Métis “boys” have been fighting at Arras, France, but of course the military censors wouldn’t allow much information on their whereabouts.

The letter I want to feature today appears in a later issue of Kamloops Wawa, December 1916. (Issue #269? — the numbering becomes unclear toward the end of this newspaper’s run.)

This note, Le Jeune says, came to him in Jargon, written in the still locally popular Chinuk-Pipa (shorthand) writing that Kamloops Wawa made famous.

The writer, William Pierriche, is well known to us from the earlier (1891-1904) issues that were primarily in Chinuk Wawa, as well as from letters of his that I have copies of.

While Pierriche’s surname looks French, he didn’t speak that or write that language as far as we know; instead, Father Le Jeune has presented his letter only in a translation into his own native European French.

Here’s an entry on Pierriche’s family from my draft ethnohistorical dictionary of those letters’ contents:

(also) Fiaris, Fiiaris
–personal name. Pierriche, Parish, Parrish.

“Pierriche” is greeted by Damien Maxime in [Indigenous-written letter 046.003] and by Jamie Michel in [047.007]. He may be the same William Pierriche who datelined his letter [143] Wilmer, which is very near Shuswap and Invermere, BC.

Kamloops Wawa connections:

(a) the chief of Hallout on Shuswap Lake was François Pierriche (#253, August 1915, page 35; #268, November 1916), husband of Lucy and father of late-20th century Chinuk pipa literate Dr. Aimee August (circa 1906-1993, compare Manuel 1999:21 and Ellaschuk 1990:46);

(b) François’ brother was the shanti man Guillaume (William) Pierriche who wrote to Le Jeune from the European front of World War 1 (#94, 3 September 1893; #253, August 1915, page 35; #264, July 1916; #268, November 1916; #[269], December 1916; #270, January-April 1918; #271, May-August 1917; ‘#2’, April 1918). William used Chinuk pipa for about a quarter of a century, making him one of the most dedicated shorthand writers.

And now here is William Pierriche’s CW letter to Father Le Jeune, in the latter’s French translation.

There are various features here that very clearly reflect the original Jargon wording; a “back-translation” of this letter into Chinook would be a nice contribution to Alex Code’s Kaltash Wawa site!

I can add a couple notes after the letter to discuss the Chinook-ness of the following:

Le 11 Novembre 1916
(11 November 1916)
Bramshott Camp

Mon bon Père Le Jeune [1]
(My good Father Le Jeune)
à Kamloops
(in Kamloops)

     Je viens t’écrire [2] une lettre [3]. Je me porte
     (I’ve come to write you a letter. I’m doing)
bien. Je ne suis pas malade. [4] Treize jours
(well. I’m not sick. Thirteen days)
et quatorze nuits après avoir quitté le pays
(and 14 nights after having left the)
de Kamloops, nous sommes arrivés ici en
(Kamloops district, we arrived here in)
Angleterre. Nous avons fait la traversée
(England. We made the crossing)
en cinq jours. J’ai eu le mal de mer
(in five days. I was seasick)
pendant deux jours. Il y avait du vent,
(for two days. It was windy,)
du vent très-fort, [5] et aussi de la pluie,
(a very strong wind, and rain too,)
beaucoup de pluie.
(lots of rain.)

     Dimanche dernier, [6] nous avons été à
     (Last Sunday, we were at)
l’Eglise. Il y avait beaucoup de soldats,
(church. There were lots of soldiers,)
beaucoup de prêtres…les prêtres étaient
(lots of priests…the priests were)
habillés comme des soldats. Arrivés
(dressed like soldiers. Arriving)
à l’Eglise ils se sont habillés pour la
(at the church, they dressed for the)
Messe. Nous étions bien heureux, moi et
(Mass. We were very happy, I and)
mes camarades, de pouvoir nous confes-
(my comrades, to be able to confess)
ser et de recevoir la Sainte Communion.
(and to receive Holy Communion.)
Alors j’ai senti mon coeur touché, j’ai
(Then I felt my heart touched, I)
pensé à tous mes gens à Kamloops et à
(thought of all my people at Kamloops and)
Shousouap, et partout…
(Shuswap, and everywhere…)

     Hier, j’ai été dans la ville de Londres,
     (Yesterday, I was in the city of London,)
et aux hôpitaux: là j’ai vu beaucoup de
(and at the hospitals: there I saw plenty of)
blessés qui ont été à la bataille, des gens
(wounded men who had been in combat,)
gravement blessés. Ensuite nous prome-
(gravely wounded people. Then parading)
nant dans la ville, j’ai vu beaucoup de
(in the city, I saw lots of)
de soldats revenus du front, grièvement
(soldiers returned from the front, horribly)
blessés, perdant beaucoup de sang. Oui
(wounded, losing lots of blood. Yes,)
j’en ai vu des milliers…J’ai parlé avec
(I saw thousands of them…I talked with)
eux, ils nous ont dit comment les choses
(them, they told us how things)
se passent au front, comment ils se sont
(are going at the front, how they had)
bien battus, et comment aussi ils ont bien
(fought hard, and also how they had)
prié. – Well [sic], [7] je n’ai pas d’autre pensée
(prayed hard. Well, I have no other thought)
que celle d’aller bientôt au front, et ce que
(than of going soon to the front, and)
je vais faire quand je serai là.
(of what I’ll do when I’m there.)

     Je n’oublie pas mes gens que j’ai
     (I haven’t forgotten my people who I’ve)
laissé là-bas derrière moi. Je suis
(left there behind me. I’m)
bien satisfait de la pénitence que
(well satisfied with the penitence that)
j’ai trouvé…Je suis résigné à la
(I’ve found…I’m resigned to the)
volonté de Dieu, quelle qu’elle puisse
(will of God, whatever it may)
être. Si le bon Dieu permet que je
(be. If good God allows me to)
revienne dans mon pays, très-bien,
(return to my country, very well,)
je ferai tout mon possible pour entre-
(I’ll do all I can to)
tenir mes gens dans l’amour de Dieu
(maintain my people in the love of God)
et de son Divin Fils…Si le Bon Dieu [8]
(and his divine son…If good God)
décide que je meure dans la bataille
(decides for me to die in battle)
je m’y résigne. Personne ne peut se
(I resign myself to it. Nobody can)
soustraire à sa volonté…S’il veut
(draw back from his will…If he wants)
nous imposer de l’expiation, c’est très-
(to impose atonement on us, it’s all)
bien, car j’ai vu des milliers des sol-
(well, since I’ve seen thousands of)
dats blessés, beaucoup de sang versé,
(soldiers wounded, plenty of blood spilled,)
puis ils avaient une grande satisfac-
(and then they had great)
tion de l’expiation qui leur était impo-
(satisfaction in the atonement that was)
sée, et ils parlaient du Bon Dieu de
(imposed on them, and they spoke of good God with)
tout leur coeur.
(all their heart.)

     Encore une fois, je me recommande
     (Once more, I commend myself
à mes gens de la Colombie Brittan-
(to my people in British Columbia,)
nique, pour qu’ils ne m’oublient pas
(so that they don’t forget me)
dans leurs prières. Ce n’est pas seule-
(in their prayers. It’s not just here)
ment ici que s’exerce la volonté de
(that the will of)
Dieu: elle e’exerce partout, dans tous
(God is carried out: it’s carried out everywhere, in every)
les pays. Au revoir à tous mes gens
(country. Goodbye to all my people)
à Kamloops, à Shousouap…Au revoir
(at Kamloops, at Shuswap…Goodbye)
Père Le Jeune. –Guillaume Pierriche.
(Father Le Jeune. –William Pierriche.)


Mon bon Père Le Jeune [1] Naika tlus papa Pir Lshyun, the common salutation in Chinuk pipa letters, ‘My good father, Father Le Jeune’.

t’écrire [2] = mamuk-pipa kopa maika, where mamuk-pipa is actually the normal way to say ‘write’ in this CW dialect (but Le Jeune takes it as the literal ‘make a letter’).

écrire une lettre [3]: Le Jeune’s translation with the informal t’ for ‘you’ rather than the vous expected in addressing a priest would seem to reflect how he was taught by Bishop Paul Durieu that maika is singular (and therefore tu, toi, te) whereas msaika is plural (and therefore vous, even though French vous is the polite singular as well)!

Je ne suis pas malade [3] = ilo naika sik, a standard phrase in CW letters from Kamloops-area First Nations people. 

du vent très-fort [4]skukum win, a common expression in Jargon, whereas my impression is that it’s a less conventionalized phrase in French. 

Dimanche dernier [5]last Sondi, which Le Jeune’s French appears to be directly calquing, whereas I believe we would expect le dimanche dernier, with a definite article, in normal French. 

Well [6]a sudden interpolation of an English word! It certainly reflects the frequent wal found in Chinuk pipa letters.

Put it all together, and we have proof beyond Le Jeune’s own claim, that Pierriche’s letter “from the front” was indeed written in Jargon, and thus in the BC Chinuk pipa alphabet.

What do you think?