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January 16th 1916 - Letter from Cyril Sladden to his father, Julius Sladden

16th January 1916
Correspondence From
Cyril Sladden
Correspondence To
Julius Sladden, Seward House, Badsey
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Jan 16th 1916

My dear Father

The sun has struggled through today after almost 36 hours’ continuous rain, such as makes life dreary even when one lives in a good and well pitched tent which keeps the rain out properly. Several officers were not so lucky and either got the floor of the tent flooded or the whole tent collapsed on top of them, the soil being very bad for holding pegs firmly. However as compared with the same weather in the trenches this is nothing so we don’t make much ado about it. Fortunately drainage is admirable and the ground soon recovers. We are still in the same place that we came to from the peninsula, but expecting embarkation orders any day to proceed to some place in the neighbourhood of where I was in September. Of course, as usual what we expect will not necessarily turn out to be correct. Still a period of comparative rest seems probable, when we shall be held in readiness for anything that may be required. We should appreciate the chance to get straight again.

It will be nice to get regular mails once more, and fairly quick ones. At present very little is turning up because all our mail bags have been forwarded to our next destination. I had the other day a packet of old letters that reached the regiment shortly before I rejoined, including one from Mother of Oct 8th from you Oct 13th, from Kath Oct 16th.

Jan 17th. This is about the worst place for letter writing I have struck and I got no further yesterday. Since writing some, later mails have come bringing me Mother’s letter and the enclosed photo of herself and granddaughter, your long letter written just after Xmas, and the copy of the Red Cross Story Book for all of which many thanks. I am afraid I cannot honestly claim to see any strong family likeness shown in the photo of my niece, I must wait till I see her to give opinions on that.

The latest news indicates an early departure from here, possibly tomorrow and almost certainly within a few days. The weather has quite recovered, so I hope it will remain so for our journey. I have just been reading in the Observer you sent Garvin’s views of the Suvla evacuation. It is the first decent appreciation of it that I have yet been able to find. I don’t think the general public will ever appreciate it because it was such a brilliant success and they will never understand the risks of disaster that we ran. I know that preparations were made to deal with tremendous casualties – a point I learnt only after we were safely off fortunately! But if Suvla and Anzac was good I think Helles was better, though not quite so effectively carried out in the matter of material. I think it was more difficult, especially from the naval point of view; and the enemy were of course watching us very closely. In fact I think they had got wind of it, but probably were ignorant of the date of departure. It would be a curious thing if it was mere coincidence that they chose the day before we went to give us the worst bombardment we ever suffered during the eight months of the whole campaign. It was the nastiest experience I have had since Aug 10th. From breakfast they were apparently ranging the guns, dropping a fair number of high explosives all the time till just before noon, when they started fairly raining them down; after about an hour they practically stopped high explosive, and gave shrapnel a turn for an hour or so, during which time we got lunch in a dugout that was decently proof against shrapnel, having a sand bag roof. However we had to retire again to our very confined ‘funk hole’ in a hurry, where we spent a most uncomfortable afternoon. The only decent shelter from high explosives is either a regular deep cave (the entrance of which may get filled up) or else a very deep and narrow trench. In this you are really pretty safe unless a shell pitches right in or hits the very edge of the top, which is really most unlikely. The effect is chiefly moral really and our losses were far lower than I imagined was inevitable at the time. The noise alone is frightfully wearing, and we all went to bed that night with a headache from it. After the first half hour or so one feels little ordinary fear, but simply longs for the bombardment to stop. The cramp alone that results from packing eight men into about as many square feet for two hours or so, circumstances rendering it desirable to sit or squat down if possible, is sufficiently painful for ordinary purposes. When at a little before four the shrapnel began to get very thick again and considerable rifle fire started we decided we were going to be attacked, and dashed out (with immense relief) to join our companies and be ready for whatever might turn up. I was in support trenches, so got plenty more shelling while we awaited events. So far as we can judge the Turks meant to attack, but they showed nothing more than a few bayonets above their parapets in front of us, and in other places where they did start coming over the attempt was a hopeless fiasco. By degrees after five o’clock everything was quiet again and we were able to carry on in a normal manner again and repair damage done to the parapets etc. When we were expecting an attack almost every man was longing for them to come, so as to give us a chance of getting our own back a bit. It was the natural reaction after being potted at for hours with no chance of doing anything in return.

Of course we had scarcely any guns behind us to reply, until some battleships finally came up and did some good work on our behalf. But the Helles position didn’t offer the same facilities as Suvla for naval gunnery, as the ships were open to submarine attack all the time, and had to be protected. In Suvla bay they were safe inside the boom. I was among the early embarking parties on the night of the 8th; the wind got up later and hindered things rather.

It was odd that I spent my time in precisely the same bits of trench I was in before – a fairly easy bit of the line. Helles is a vile spot and I was glad to get away – though it was vastly better than in the hot weather.

I was most interested to hear that Neame had been to see you. He is an excellent fellow, and one of the most capable I know. It is the worst of luck that he wasn’t a captain ages ago. We could do well with him out here any time, but I don’t doubt that he is invaluable at his present job. I have a long letter from him in my pocket now waiting to be answered, I received it in my capacity as OC “C” Company, Neame being uncertain who was here with us now. Harold Allsebrooke joined his regiment a few days ago, and I met him for a few minutes. I am sure to see him at intervals as long as we are not out here together with our regiments. He seems to have had a bit of work being in charge of a pretty big draft for some time. I feel very glad that although I have missed a lot of time with the regiment I have been through everything of any special interest we have done – all the thick of it in early days, the flood in November, and the two evacuations.

I will try to post this here before leaving, and the next letter will probably be from somewhere else.

Best love to all from
Your affectionate son
Cyril E Sladden

Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 5 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service
Record Office Reference