At Seward House
Feb 26th 1917
My own dear Cyril
We have had a fairly eventful time since last mail. Amongst other things, Bernard Sladden wired to expect him on Friday at tea time. He came by the 1.40 train from Paddington reaching Evesham 4.17 pm. May and your Father met him and as it was a pouring wet afternoon it was fortunate for them getting a lift home in a taxi, as well as giving them the pleasure of meeting Bernard. His wire did not arrive until after lunch and Ethel ‘phoned the news through to your Father. As the country is rationed now there was not much food in the house to welcome a hungry soldier so between the receipt of the wire and his arrival Ethel and I were busy cooking. Ethel made a beef-steak and kidney pudding, and I, a fish pie, and a sponge-cake trifle. We’d barely finished and had run upstairs to tidy ourselves when the taxi arrived. Betty had a bit of a throat so we made her rest.
I think you would like Bernard very much. He appears younger than he is (38) by 8 or 10 years, and has a delightfully simple, straightforward manner and nature, and is very courteous. His life on a ranch has hardened him physically but has not roughened him. He is very tall and broad, a very tough looking specimen of manhood, not thin, but without an ounce of superfluous flesh. He and your Father had much in common about fruit growing, Bernard having an orchard on his ranch. This ranch consists of 2,000 acres of land, as large an area of land as the NZ Government will allow anyone to possess.
Arthur, who used to be in a Bank, now farms the ranch, he and Bernard spending some time together on it before he enlisted. Arthur wanted to come too but the ranch was too valuable to throw up altogether, costing years of labour in clearing scrub and trees, and as Bernard was the younger he felt he ought to go first. He is like Dolly and Mary Sladden and your Father says he is very like your Uncle Frank.
He went over to see Mrs Ashwin and the old lady thought it very charming of him. He gave us all a lovely box of chocolates which were a great treat in war time. He left here on Sunday morning, May seeing him off by the 10.52 for Paddington. Kath and Jack were meeting him in London and taking him on to Sydenham. Aunt Lottie went up to town to meet him today and he returns to Sling Camp, Bulford, tonight. He was really quite sad at leaving, and the girls say they felt as though they had said goodbye to another brother before he went to the Front. I should think Wilfred and he will be going out about the same time.
On Saturday Betty was on tenterhooks expecting a wire from Kath about the result of her exam. When it came the others were out and she dashed up to my room wildly pleased, the wire saying, “Passed, congratulations”. Isn’t it splendid to think she is through? It is a great feather in Kath’s cap, for she coached her in matters.
Today’s paper tells of “brilliant success” on the Tigris. It tells of the crossing of the river at Shumran Bend and of the capture of the 3rd and 4th trenches at the Sannai-y-at position. We are dying to know at which part of the line your regiment is fighting. If we do not hear from you by this mail it will be four weeks since we’ve heard. There are so many reasons which might be the cause of the delay. The authorities may be holding up letters at Basra for a bit on account of news getting through, or letters may have gone to the bottom through submarine warfare, or perhaps you have not been able to write. However, whatever the reason or reasons may be, news will be very, very welcome when it does come. Other people have had letters from farther back than you are by last mail so perhaps we may hear from you by this mail.
I still feel pretty seedy and your Father threatens that if I don’t improve soon, he shall send Dr Leslie to prescribe! I feel very annoyed with myself and cannot understand why I should flag like this. The weather is still awfully cold and damp – it will be great to see the sunshine again.
There is a National Service Scheme on foot for women. It is to be voluntary at first but will become compulsory if the voluntary scheme fails to bring forward a sufficient number.
Everyone advises me to go in for agricultural work. They say it suited me so well last year in the fruit picking season. As I have done 2 years nursing war-work I don’t suppose I could be compelled to take up Government war work for a good bit at any rate, the idea of compulsion (if necessary) applies to those who have done and are doing no useful work for their country. I expect I shall eventually work on the land in the summer but I am not going to worry about work for a bit.
Betty is trying to make up her mind what she will do – until going to College. She does not care for work on the land in her heart of hearts but other kinds of work mean leaving home.
Congratulations! Today’s Times gives us the news of the capture of Kut. We felt like wiring to you when we read it, just as if we felt it was due to you! But in a way it is due to individuals – for if the individual officer or man failed in his duty then nothing could be successfully accomplished. Anyhow the bulk of my congratulations go to you, dear. We think you must have got safely through up to the 24th as there is almost time for us to have had an official wire if it were otherwise. It must be very elating to your regiment and division to be taking part in an advancing campaign after the misfortunes of last year and in Gallipoli. The paper says the Turks are in full retreat on the road to Baghdad but warns us to be prepared for heavy resistance as soon as they join up with reinforcements. The Turks were wise to clear out before becoming entirely surrounded – the account says that Kut fell automatically into our hands, owing to the pressure exercised by our troops on all sides.
Mrs Wilson, Joe Wilson’s mother, the man who used to bake for the Culls, came in to see Ethel this morning. She had heard from her son last mail. He is in Mesopotamia in charge of the bakeries for the 13th Division. He mentioned having seen George Evans who told him you were a bit further on. Wilson describes his ovens and says he is able to turn out excellent bread for the troops. He says they spent a very good Xmas with no shortage of food – which we were glad to hear. You mentioned in one of your letters that the troops got very good bread.
Mrs Valentine Knight came round the other day to enquire if we had had news of you as she had not heard for some weeks from her son, who is with your division. She felt more reassured when we told her we had not heard either, which shows that there has been some unavoidable delay.
There is good news from France, too. An advance on the Ancre has been made for a depth of 2 miles and in some places more on a front of eleven miles. Several villages being taken amongst them Serre, Miraumont Petit Miraumont, Pays and others. If we do as well as this before the big Push, we ought to see “some” advance in the Spring. The Germans retired and we took over empty trenches at Serre, for the most part.
Feb 27th later
This is indeed a full week for us. Wilfred is coming here for a couple of days from tomorrow, Wednesday, to make his farewells before going to France. This is quite unexpected for when I heard from him last he did not think he could possibly manage to see me before he went. He arrives by the 4.17 train at Evesham tomorrow. I am so glad he is coming, it seemed sad to think he might have to go without saying goodbye. I heard from Father again, he is very upset about Wilfred going although of course he knows it has to be. He hoped he would have got into the Indian Army and have been sent East. We must all hope and pray for the best – he is the last boy in the family of the name and unless Uncle Fred marries and has a son, if anything happens to Wilfred the family dies out. He is quite cheerful himself about going and seems keen to get a whack at the Huns.
May is very pleased because the Governors have accepted her terms for the rent of the house next door to her school building, and have also fallen in with her terms for repairs etc.
Marion is coming here after Easter to help to furnish the house etc. She and May both have a certain amount of savings which they can give as a security to the Bank for a loan with which to furnish. The post of Science and Maths teacher is ‘vacant’ at the Secondary School in Evesham and perhaps Marion may take this post temporarily, say until September should the arrangements for opening the boarding school take longer than is anticipated. It is very difficult to get labour of any kind nowadays and everything moves slowly.
Well, my darling old thing, I think I have given you all the news. Except for news this is rather a dry sort of epistle – but you know that the love at the back of it all remains the same, though unexpressed. I simply count the days to your return and I do hope that after you’ve taken Baghdad, some of you will be able to get leave. I believe even if you do, the Government make officers pay their own expenses home. This is rather a drawback. Shall you think it too big an obstacle to surmount, should the opportunity come for furlough to England?
Everyone sends love, and congratulations on the part you’ve played in the recent success.
All my love and prayers dear from
Your ever devoted