Nov 23rd 1915
My own Darling
You will forgive me if my letters are less frequent than they have been. It is difficult to get opportunity for writing. I am not really especially busy, but, when in the firing line in particular, I am very uncertain how long I am likely to be undisturbed. All sorts of details constantly crop up that require attention. Also one is dependent upon conditions to some extent; unless ones dug-out is pretty efficient either wet, or cold or wind – which generally means dust – makes it so uncomfortable to do anything that one attends only to urgent business. For the first two days here we were busy sand-bagging my present abode which was so constructed when we arrived that a biting north-east wind came right into it in concentrated form, collected by converging [N.B. Interruption No. 1] trenches. It was only the night before last that I managed to write home to give them news of my arrival here.
Our spell up in front comes to an end tomorrow evening. I am beginning to feel my feet now, and am rapidly discovering how things are wanted – what the GOC specializes in and all the brigadier’s and the CO’s particular (and occasionally conflicting) fancies. Once one has become well versed in these the rest is straightforward at least, even if not entirely simple – namely to see these manifold orders get carried out.
Regarded as warfare this life is perfectly absurd. Our noisiest times are little more active than the most peaceful hours I recollect at Helles, which experience I had long been accustomed to look upon as a very tame affair indeed. The Turk just occasionally drops a little shrapnel about – pretty poor stuff I think, as it often doesn’t explode – and he seems to have an aversion to firing a rifle; so we have little to worry us. Meanwhile we do what we can to worry him, but he doesn’t show his head very much, and is probably busy making himself very snug behind his barbed wire.
We are about busy enough to keep warm, and it takes a bit of exercise now to do that. This cold weather is an advantage in some ways, and at least makes a change in the prevalent types of sickness. At least it is ‘strafing’ the remaining flies in a magnificent manner.
Experience confirms my original opinion of the excellence of the rations now issued. We are fortunate too in having an ingenious officers’ mess cook in our company mess who makes the most of things; he excels in bully-beef rissoles and cheese fritters. I brought up a supply of mess stores from Lemnos, which we draw upon quite slowly. Officer mess officers generally get very badly tied up, as was rather inevitable, and at present they are being settled up and put quite straight before any fresh arrangement is made to get supplies regularly from England. However a certain amount can be got more locally, and with good rations well cooked there is little to grumble about, especially now that the weather encourages good appetite. It was a very different tale in the summer when bully and biscuits were both about the last thing on earth one fancied.
A little time ago, while still in reserve, I dined out with D Coy, at Sanderson’s invitation, the [Interruption No 2 – a very long one] quartermaster Inwood being there as well. He and I by comparing notes can give a fairly good account of the August affair. We had a cheery evening, Sanderson being about the most irrepressible and cheerful man I ever encountered. Not bad work going out to dinner only some few hundred yards from the Turkish lines, is it?
I was of some assistance to the Adjutant in helping him in the compiling of the official regimental diary; my tendency to minute accuracy in matters of time came in useful for once. I am not sure that a diary of my own might not be worth writing, just to cover a short period I mean.
My last interruption above noted shows rather typically the way in which time is consumed. It started by the General’s orderly warning me that he was about to visit my lines. I found him accompanied by the brigade major and the CO and worked from left to right along the whole length of the front line. There can’t have been much wrong as the only complaint lodged was the failure of a man to sew on his overcoat button! This however is equally a tribute to the exceptionally uncritical mood of the general. Then back from right to left again with the CO, where we finally spent quite a long time at a snipers’ post, potting at periscopes chiefly though we spotted one Turk through the telescope – my first that I have seen this trip. Even dead ones are scarce here (luckily); and that by itself distinguishes this show completely from Helles where there were scores.
Returning to my dug-out (which is also our officers’ mess) I found lunch beginning, and a pile of letters to be censored by 2 o’clock, which we soon managed between us. By this time the half-killed flies, collected in great numbers owing to the shelter and comparative warmth, began to rouse under the influence of a decided tendency on the part of the weather to get milder; and in [Interruption No 3] consequence of being sleepy became a rather worse nuisance than usual. So we found it necessary to have a good clearance. When that was finished I was able to start again – but with no hope of catching today’s post. That however doesn’t matter necessarily, as it may easily catch the same mail by going tomorrow.
On Sunday I had a good mail in, with several from you, the latest being posted Nov 3rd, so it only took 18 days coming which I consider pretty good – at any rate a great improvement upon all but those few I got direct in Malta and Alexandria. It is ever so much nicer feeling up to date in my news of you. I also had a letter from Father in which he described meeting Sergeant Bloomer, an Evesham man belonging to B Coy who was home on leave; he evidently enjoyed having some first-hand news of some of our early doings. Lastly my bank sent me, as requested a statement of my account, by which I find myself nearly £20 richer than I expected. I can’t account for this as I had allowed for all the various allowances that I thought were due to come to me. Anyhow it is a mistake very much in the right direction, isnt it? I shall have to try and discover where it all comes from all the same.
I wrote the other night to the relation of Capt. Falcon whose address Wilfred sent me. Unfortunately it was most difficult to give any but the vaguest news, as he was killed with the 4th, not with us. He was attached to us for a little while, but did not sail with us as we were over strength; he was sent to the 4th very soon afterwards. It is possible I may get a chance of learning some details later on.
You must be glad to think there is a chance of seeing Wilfred in the spring, though you must wish he weren’t coming home with the idea of doing more fighting.
It was very good news when you wrote and said it was your last night on duty; it was time you got back to day work I am sure. I felt from your letters that you were feeling the strain, and were consequently more worried; probably you were picturing me back under fire, as you didn’t then know of my stop at Lemnos. As a matter of fact now I am under fire it is absurdly little to worry about. I think it is a very good thing you have got Sammy to go to when you feel you want a bit of sympathy; I am sure everybody needs occasionally to relieve pressure, or the perpetual bottling up of strong feelings tells very severely. You had been rather a long time without hearing anything of me, and that probably made you feel worse just then. You sounded much more cheerful when writing to acknowledge my letters a day or two later, being also then on day duty again, and with a trip to Badsey in view in the near future.
I am sure you had small hesitation in refusing a job in a hospital ship for 12 months. You would probably have secured letters from me about 6 times during the whole period. I know from observation how mails are for ships’ crews out here. Then if I ever get home you would be in mid-Atlantic or somewhere. There is lots of work for nurses in England, and I much prefer you to be one of them; plenty of girls who have no intention of getting married at present can go abroad. You see (as you probably realise) command of a company for a little time is a great help to securing promotion, and I believe brigade MGO is equally so. So the present outlook is brighter than I had anticipated (this between ourselves), though at present I know that for technical reasons the CO cannot put in any more names for captaincy. Should the regulations be altered – as I think must be done sooner or later – my chances appear good.
And perhaps all this goes a long way towards explaining why I am feeling in such excellent spirits just at present. For glad as I should be to get promotion for its own sake, you know there is something that interests me far more which I always have in the back of my mind, and promotion is the first step towards it.
As regards feeling cheerful the first thing is to feel well, and I am certainly doing that. I sleep splendidly – boots, puttees etc notwithstanding – and my appetite is as healthy as ever. Talking about sleeping it is awfully funny getting into bed with boots on, which is of course necessary in the firing line. In the old days there was no question of getting into anything; the most one ever did was to cover oneself with a waterproof sheet during the coolest early morning hours. Now I have a nicely made up bed in my valise, so there is a perceptible amount of ‘getting in’.
It is a great advantage of commanding the company that I don’t have to do watch duty unless the number of officers becomes very depleted, in which case one has to take ones share. Of course I have to be up before dawn for the tiresome procedure of ‘standing to arms’ every morning when in the firing line.
I lost count of interruptions, and it is now time to turn in.
Very best love, dearest, from
Your most affectionate
Cyril E Sladden