Dec 31st 1915
I fear there is a poor chance of my having written so that you will hear today, but at any rate I can write today for you to hear later.
One reason for my promise of more letters being so badly fulfilled is that my expected respite has been cut short and I am back at work again. On Sunday night orders came for us to be packed up ready to march off by 8 next morning; not much warning, was it?
My suggestion in the note I sent on the 20th has been fulfilled exactly. I am in the very same place where I first saw active service, and occupying trenches I was in before - dirtier but not otherwise much altered. There is a lot more going on here than we were lately accustomed to; less rifle fire than in the old days but lots more artillery fire on both sides, and a great deal of bombing in several places where the lines are close together. Just where I am we are a couple of hundred yards apart on the average, so are quieter than in many spots. Part of the forward line has been advanced a bit by a process of digging since I was here before, but very little has been done considering the length of time. The various regiments who have been here must have had the poorest idea of making themselves comfortable, while their idea of cleanness falls much below ours.
This part still retains some of its former disadvantages, and is thoroughly gruesome and still a bit malodorous in spite of cooler weather. The former one doesn’t mind so very much after getting used to it, but the latter is annoying and largely avoidable had our predecessors carried out their obligations. It makes all the difference that there is no heat to take away every shred of energy, and flies are generally absent except when a series of mild sunny days wakes a few of them. On the whole I can now live a life that retains most of its “humanity”, with only an added roughness and crudity and a distinct blunting of finer points. I am thoughtful that there is time for anything to happen before the vile hot weather returns.
My letter made no progress yesterday, and did not reach the bottom of the first page, so I took it up first thing this morning between early morning duty and breakfast which is being made ready as I now write. The Turks wished me a happy new year by waking me up at 1.0 am with half a dozen shrapnel in this locality. This is not a great cause for anxiety when one reposes in a sandbag roofed dug-out which is more weatherproof to shrapnel than the sun; but it is unusual to be disturbed in this way at night and I felt I had a grievance.
Two days ago we had quite a big gun “strafe”, both sides letting off every kind of gun all the afternoon. Some thousands of shells must have passed in the time, but very little damage seems to have been done to us so far as I can hear. I spent the time writing a letter to George, which however I have not yet been able to get taken, but hope to post today. I have not had his letter yet, and hope very much it will turn up soon. Two more mails have come in since Christmas Day when I last wrote, bringing four of your letters dated between Nov 20th and 26th, so they were all older than the one I had on Christmas Eve. No parcels have come for me, but all our incessant moving easily explains delay in delivery.
It was very nice getting a quiet Christmas, though it came as a surprise having to turn out after only one day more at such very short notice.
Before so very long I should get letters giving account of the Christmas they spent at home. I wonder whether you will be getting a holiday before long. I hope you will, and enjoy a good rest as it will do you good after a long spell of work.
From today you start a fresh “sign-on”, don’t you? Do you have any better pay now that you have more experience to your credit; it seems to me you ought to get a bit of increase. It will be a good thing if you can take some more lectures as you suggested in one letter. By process of agitating it should be possible for you to secure some certificate of full qualification when you have completed 3 years hospital work; these things can as a rule be managed somehow. It might be very useful to do this some time, and you only lack 6 month of the time now. It might involve taking a few exams, but the Bournemouth people would have to give you certificates of all you did there if you demanded it.
From your letters I gather that I failed to acknowledge your snap-shots which I had long ago. I generally try to tell you of everything I get so must have missed mentioning these. They are quite jolly ones, and have travelled in my pocket since I had them.
The only serious gaps in the series of your letters are between the following pairs of dates Aug 27–Sep 3, Sept 4th-19th (except for the parcel from Boots posted the 10th; and Oct 8th to 22nd, except for one long letter of 14th – this being during your night duty period when you were writing almost every day. There have been one or two occasions when five days or so elapsed with no letter, indicating probably one letter gone astray.
I had – in my capacity as OC company – quite a long letter from Neame by the last mail. He was applied for by his firm through the Ministry of Munitions, and is now working long hours with them turning out bombs, shells and gas apparatus as hard as possible. He gives most encouraging accounts of the future state of affairs as regards munitions, which seem plentiful enough already. He is perfectly fit again, but I expect they will keep him where he is. I must write and give him all the news I can as soon as possible.
I hope the letter I wrote on Christmas Day will reach you quickly; I enclosed my cheque in it. It ought to reach long before this one. I don’t suppose Mother failed to dispatch you my Christmas present. It is one of many nice things that can be purchased in Alexandria, and not quite as expensive as most. I was able to judge of the appearance of that kind of scarf because a girl was staying at the Majestic who used to wear one every evening at dinner – given her I expect by her brother who was a very smart fellow in the ranks of the Australian forces, at the time convalescing there. They and their mother were always there together every night. It was merely the family likeness that gave them out to be as I state. Walton and I always agreed they looked particularly nice people, which is more than one could say of many other visitors we saw about. The scarf I selected was good of its kind, though more expensive ones were to be had which were either longer or had a very large amount of the metal work making them unduly heavy I thought. I should rather like to get Mother a similar one in black material. They are not expensive at all in my opinion.
I have just discovered that one of the officers’ servants of the company was at the 1st Southern General Hospital for five weeks, and then went on to Mrs Rudge’s at Abbey Manor, where he was one of the first lot she had there. He seems to have had a great time at Evesham. That was about May and June. He was in the landing out here.
Everybody has the same New Year wish, that the year may see the war finished. I am sure nobody wishes it more than I do, unless it is you!
Best love dearest from
Your ever affectionate
Cyril E Sladden