Oct 18th 1914
My dear Mother
I can no longer rely upon my letters to Mela for providing you with regular news of myself. She got sent for quite suddenly in the end, and has left you a very small party now that Ethel has gone off. I expect you are sorry she could not get a week or two more just to keep you company. I have had two cards from her since she reached the hospital, and she writes cheerfully. No doubt she has written to you by this time. I am very glad she gets a room to herself, as that is a great boon, especially when among a lot of people one doesn’t know. She seems to feel her feet rather badly at present; I hope they will harden pretty soon as it is awfully wearing to have tender feet.
I am glad to have a tent to myself; it gives plenty of room while two is rather a squash with beds and a little camp furniture. Some of the men are 12 in a tent at present, which is a pretty good crush; at any rate they ought not to be cold at night. I think they ought to have their quarters ready for them soon. I hear that we shall be put into rooms in a big house immediately next door to this building, which is used for a colonel or general or somebody of that kind in normal circumstances. I fancy we shall be two in a room, and shall use our camp beds etc, as the rooms will be unfurnished. For the present I would far rather remain in my tent.
This morning our church parade was held in the garrison theatre, which is big enough to take about two battalions at rather short strength. After some time I recognised the chaplain as one of the men from Cambridge who was on the pea-pickers’ mission in Essex four years ago. The new Garrison Church of St Michael’s is rather a fine building, standing up on a little bit of high ground in the town. It is large, of brown stone with a well timbered roof, and with quite good oak choir stalls, pulpit, lectern and chancel panelling. When I went to the evening service there last Sunday, I found it very nearly full, the congregation consisting almost entirely of Tommies. I think the staff of chaplains have their work cut out here to provide evening amusements for the men. Of course in a place like this there is minimum opportunity for them to get into mischief, but they must find the evenings pretty long and dull sometimes. A variety show is being run at present at the theatre, and there are a number of institutions and places of that kind.
I fancy there is proper barrack accommodation for about 10 battalions here; and as we are crowded in at about double strength there must be some 20,000 troops actually at Tidworth, apart from numerous large camps only a very little distance off. Now we have the Canadians settling in only a few miles away. There is practically nobody in the place except soldiers.
The training progresses steadily but we are dreadfully handicapped by having an old type of rifle for most of the men. They have to be trained to use the rifle correctly in minute detail by constant practice until it all becomes automatic, otherwise it all goes to the winds in battle; and these old rifles are so different in make that many of the actions go quite differently. For example, we can’t train the men in rapid loading because the system now in use requires special appliances on the rifle, which these old weapons have not got. The Colonel of the Staffords said at tea today that he didn’t think that we (the first new army) would be sent to the front until the spring was well advanced, perhaps not till the summer. Of course the training is bound to be slow and unsatisfactory during bad weather in the winter; musketry practice in particular will be very much delayed.
I hope I may come and see you some time, but the journey is so bad that it is no use unless I can get away on Friday or stop till Monday night. So I intend to wait some time until I feel I can ask for rather more than a short Saturday midday to Monday morning leave. A good many officers (and men) get a short leave at the weekend. Possibly I might run up to Sydenham some time, as the train service is better up to London.
Please mend and forward that pair of pants as soon as possible, I want them badly. I have some on that are very grubby indeed, and falling to pieces. I shall be ashamed to send them to the wash here, so I will send them home to be washed and (I think) cut up into floor cloths. I have some pyjamas that want mending and which I had better send too.
From your affectionate son
Cyril E Sladden