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January 22nd 1916 - Letter from Cyril Sladden to his fiancée, Mela Brown Constable

22nd January 1916
Correspondence From
Cyril Sladden
Correspondence To
Mela Brown Constable, Sisters' Quarters, University House, Birmingham; redirected to c/o Mr Sladden, Seward House, Badsey, Evesham
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Jan 22nd 1916


I posted you a letter today with all my news. We haven’t moved since, but I want to post you another letter when we get to the next place, and as it is a nice quiet evening I will start now. A large number of officers got permission to go ashore; I could have, but knowing the place quite well and having no special reason to do so stood down to let somebody else go who had never been out this way before. I am happy enough where I am, and don’t particularly want to go spending unnecessary money, having meals out, and probably buying things I don’t need. Should the Army Post Office be hoarding any old stray letters of mine one of the others will bring them along which is all I care about.

It is strange out here how every little we discuss the war; beyond a slight interest in developments out here and their probable influence on our own doings, anybody would imagine we none of us cared what happened. I suppose we have all got our job to keep us busy, and we know we have simply got to carry on doing our best at whatever business is give us. Nothing we think or worry about has the remotest influence either for good or ill in the rest of the whole business, so we get in the habit of thinking very little and worrying not at all.

I often find myself wondering how much and in what way this experience will alter us; I think on the balance it will be a change for the better, sometimes I feel convinced it will be much for the better, though in some points there may be deterioration. I feel myself getting a broader idea of moral values, and less inclined to accept conventional ideas of comparative values of virtues and failings. I think one should judge people more by the measure of the good we see they do than by the measure of their faults. One sees such fine work done out here by men with such obvious bad faults, that one is bound to adjust one’s philosophy of life to comprehend such complexing contrast. I feel sure we shall all be much more imperturbable in the presence of minor worries and unexpected incidents. The difficult point to decide is, how permanent will such a change be; shall we not rapidly slip back to old ways? I believe it will be to some extent permanent at any rate. How many of us before the war ever experienced conditions when we had not the slightest idea where we should be or what doing in (say) a week; occasionally even, one may say, in a day. Yet for months now we have always lived in that condition.

Moreover we get pushed about like mere luggage, here and there, being left lying about indefinitely; and all the time destitute of any idea of the reason of it all. Such a life forces one to become very independent of the varied changes of fortune, and accustoms one to assuming that it will all work out somehow in the end. I don’t believe such long experience of unprecedented conditions can leave us uninfluenced, though a return to the orderly routine of peace may make us slip back partially to old habits.

For myself I am sure I am becoming more self-reliant, and quicker at coming to a decision, and in general “older” in many respects. This apart altogether by the way from an undoubted increase in the number of those stray grey hairs that used to call for comment on occasion! This at least should relieve you when you are suffering from a fit of the blues and feel you are growing old; you see I am not letting you run away from me (I dare almost say catch me up) in this respect.

I think the time following the war will be the most wonderful to live in that anyone has ever experienced. The frightful impoverishing of nearly all the rich part of the world will absolutely compel the most radical alteration in conditions of life, and will check a lot of material progress. But I think this, combined with the vast experience of the horror of war will bring about vast moral and social developments and readjustments.

As we have quite a nice piano on board it is rather a disappointment that there is nobody who can play it at all well. My taste for music is in no way diminishing. As a company we (the officers, I mean) are unusually tuneful, and have all five of us sung in a church choir at some period of our existence. So all sorts of harmonious (but occasionally rather rowdy and discordant) sounds have been accustomed to arise from our dug-out or tent of an evening. I judge from the fact that no protests or caustic comments have been offered that the noise is not entirely disagreeable, especially as we are as a community quite critical, and not very sparing of one another’s feelings. With hymns and chants we can make great work, but memory is liable to fail in well-known anthems, or magnificats, etc. In lighter vein we can raise lots of songs and choruses. Frequently transitions are sudden and remarkable.

I don’t think I have ever said much about the other officers of the company. Snowden, from whom I took over the company on rejoining, has his second star, and coming from the special reserve has had several months in France where he got a slight wound. He came out here about September. He has only recently left school, but is generally of serious disposition and looks much older than he is. He has not been very fit most of the time, and went to hospital from Suvla, and only recently rejoined. Probably his health is responsible for maturing him, often a little depressing. I think he found that charge of a company was more than he cared about, and was glad to hand over after having it 10 days or so.

Rawle on rejoining from the details some time after me was posted to C Company, which he had been in most of the time in England, having taken over my platoon when I was doing machine gun work. He is a useful fellow who generally does a job well. He is a queer fellow to get on with though until you know him. He has a natural tendency to pick quarrels with everyone he dislikes, and his likes and dislikes are pronounced. He went over to Canada while still practically a boy, and three years and more knocking about there rather accentuated his aggressive tendencies; so that I have occasionally to do what I can to keep the peace between him and others. He is generally a boisterous and lively person, gifted with remarkable powers of mimicry – of music hall artistes in particular. But on occasion he fails to know when to stop – a weakness that I always dislike very much. Meanwhile we really get on quite well, and when (as often) we differ we contrive to agree to differ.

The next in seniority is Davies, a Worcester man, a little older I think than me, whom I first met at the details camp. He is one of those people who are shaky on pronunciations and Hs occasionally, but such a real good fellow, and so absolutely devoid of “swank” that he gets on well with everybody. He is moreover a most competent officer who knows his work excellently, and also understands how to make people do things, and is altogether most useful, and a reliable person who never plays the fool though very cheery. I have not discovered what was his work in a civil capacity; business of some kind I believe.

Just junior to him is Compton, who came from England on the same boat. He is a quiet fellow, not brilliant but quite competent and pleasant enough to get on with. He has half completed his training in dentistry and is very keen on that profession and medicine and surgery generally. He comes from Surrey, somewhere out beyond Croydon.

So there you have a rough sketch of four of the most frequent of my companions. I like you to know something about the people I am with, but it is so hard to put on paper. If only we could have some time together what an enormous lot we should have to tell each other; I should think it would take months or years to exhaust it all.

It is bedtime, so I will stop for the present and say goodnight.

Jan 24th. Arrived this morning, having done the journey by night. I had an uneventful day yesterday, I didn’t go ashore at all. We were sending some troops off and getting others on all day. I saw Cavenagh who sailed from England about the beginning of the year. He was one of the officers wounded the same night as me, and we were together till I was taken off at Malta. I expect he will join up with us before long. We secured a very large number of mails before leaving; the parcel bags are not being sorted until we settle down, but I got a lot of letters of various dates. From you three long ones, Dec 10th to 14th, Dec 19th and Dec 31st. Also two from Kath (one rather prehistoric, written in September, one each from Father, Jack, Betty and Mrs Japp, the last in reply to mine. Betty wrote a most jolly letter. These were all written before Christmas though.

I was very glad of your long quotation of George’s letter, the first expression of his own that I have read on the subject of his engagement, as his letter to me won’t turn up. We are to disembark before long as the news I hear as I write so I will close and await opportunity to post this somehow.

Very best love, dearest. I am very glad to feel I am within closer reach of you now, and may get letters more quickly and regularly.

Your ever affectionate
Cyril E Sladden

Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 7 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference