Feb 1st 1916
My dearest Mela
I am beginning to wish I had delayed more before cabling to you and raising your hopes unduly. At the moment our promised leave seems rather remote. I believe a few of the gilded staff got away, but Class A officers – namely those who have been out all the time and never left the regiment – after being on the verge of going have now been stopped indefinitely. As I am Class C to the best of my belief, it will be as well for you to give up hopes of seeing me just at present. I don’t know the reason for this change of orders; presumably some sort of prospect must have arisen of our being wanted a little earlier than had originally been anticipated. If this turns out a false alarm we may get our chance yet at some later period. At any rate we know now that the question of giving leave to officers of the MEF has arisen, and that it is decided that it may hav given when a chance arises, so there is always hope. And possibly if it is given a bit later I may have a chance of realizing my hope and coming home with an extra star. The whole question of promotion and rank seems to be in a great muddle; so far as we know, Conybeare (the Adjutant), Sanderson and Hiscock have never been gazetted captains yet, though their promotions came through in orders from HQ about October. So at present they cannot get the pay due to them. My case where my temporary rank never even got into orders is even more complicated, and will probably take a long time to put straight. Our NCOs are just as bad, and half of them are only acting rank. We cannot get to know either how many promotions are permitted to be made.
My previous letters from here gave you little ordinary sort of news. We had a pretty heavy rainstorm the night before arriving here, with the usual addition of thunder. So we disembarked next day to find things very moist – a most unusual state of affairs. We didn’t have a very jolly start here either. We spent all the afternoon waiting for the tents, which we had finally to put up in the dark, on very soft sand that would not give pegs any grip, and in a moderate wind. We only got a fraction of the proper number of tents altogether, and most of these had lost half their tent poles. We got no tea, and a scrap supper of such oddments as we carried (we have had enough experience to make sure of having a bit to carry us over 12 hours or so). At night the wind got pretty strong, so of course practically all the tens blew down. Next morning it turned pretty wet, constant heavy storms with short intervals, and no shelter available that was worth much. In the afternoon we got fixed up a bit better. Next we had to move camp a few hundred yards and got to our present site, a better one, and rather nearer the town – in fact quite close. Since then the great game has been to get all the tents in mathematical straight lines, a little idea emanating from the brigade. As the process of dressing tents “by the night” can only be done by letting down every single tent, dressing the bare poles, marking their positions and then re-pitching we have wasted quite a jolly lot of time recently at this. The game is made more entertaining because no two people have quite the same plan of action in mind, and one of the necessary qualifications for a commission does not seem to be a proficiency in geometry. The brightest effort of all was that of starting to play the game at 5 pm, in order to avoid missing any afternoon parades. As everybody anticipated, most of the camp was repitched about 6.30 in black darkness, so the game was again started today at 2 pm, regardless of the terrible loss due to abandoning afternoon parades. Result should satisfy anybody below the rank of a full general, so as long as we can keep clear of generals and field-marshals we may have a chance to get on with our work and do something useful.
Now that the weather has settled down to its normal brilliance it is delightful here, and the recent wet has laid the sand so that it doesn’t blow about, and is pretty decent to walk on. Altogether it is pleasant enough here, and we feel we are scoring for once over the men in France. Their turn will come round again a bit later when the weather begins to get hot again.
I haven’t had any further letters from you since I wrote before, and am still wondering whether you are taking a rest or not. A number of things have turned up lately, among others your poor old parcel addressed to Blue Sisters, a bit knocked about, and minus two items extracted through a small hole. Also the cake was super-stale and mouldy, though less mouldy than many terrible ones I have seen. The Plasmon biscuits are excellent, and the tinned things are of course all in good order. Thank you very much dear for sending it me; it always distresses me to think of all the labour of love expended over parcels which arrive often with absolutely not a thing fit to touch. The parcel from Kath and Jack also came a few days ago. It was splendidly packed and well chosen so that very little indeed was spoilt. Then today the big package from home arrived, but it had suffered much. The greater number of the apples had gone rotten, and the consequent moisture had rather damaged most of the rest except a few tinned things. I hope the pudding will prove to be all right after the removal of a fair depth of upper surface; I should like to eat (and enjoy) part of the family pudding. It was cheering too to have a few of the home apples, though sad that it was so few. The tiresome part is that parcels, when they do come, comes at times when we are in touch with supplies and therefore least in need of them; when we can’t get much but rations we can’t get parcels wither as a rule. At present I am storing up all preservable parts of my parcels to carry with us when we next get a move on. In these days we always open all parcels that come for men who are not with us, and distribute the contents to the men of the company; it is the only practical method, and prevents heaps of labour, besides securing a much greater proportion of the contents for the purpose they were meant for – only that everybody enjoys another man’s parcel. Anything of special interest is picked out and returned; and I have been busy today acknowledging heaps of such parcels, because I think it is only fair the senders should know if possible what happens to them. We started this scheme at Suvla shortly before evacuation when there was no post to take the parcels away again, as they only accepted letters. The regulations as to packing have made a wonderful change in the condition of parcels on arrival; there used to be heaps absolutely knocked to bits.
I have on hand a little job that the adjutant has passed over to me, namely to supply “any interesting accounts of actions etc in which the battalion took part during 1915” for the benefit of the Worcestershire Regiement Old Comrades’ Association book for that year. It will mean a bit of work to do it at all decently.
Father sent me a copy of The Times with Hamilton’s big dispatch, so I can get something like a coherent idea of what we were actually doing in the big show. I imagine the dispatch is a complete revelation to most people at home, who always had been given to think that the Suvla landing was the great part, whereas our attack on the Chunuk Bair ridge was really the important thing; and I believe if only one had gone straight on on the 7th without waiting for the help we anticipated from the left that we could have got that ridge and probably once there could have held it.
If I start discussing the Anzac show I may never stop so I had better return to the present again.
Now that the spies with which Egypt is swarming have had plenty of time to report our whereabouts, strength, fitness etc, it seems pointless to adhere to the usual rules. Port Said is a pretty rotten sort of town in every sort of way, and has very few attractions. I dined at one of the two decent hotels one day, and went to a very fair picture show afterwards. Recently also I went on board the transport I came out in with our quartermaster, Inwood, the only one who has been right through the whole time. The officers of that ship seem to recall that voyage as one of the best they remember, and were full of inquiries about everybody. We too were interested in the accounts of their doings since we left them, which have been varied and include one quite exciting event which ended very satisfactorily for them. I learn from them that the hospital Arthur was in as bacteriologist has moved so I am wondering where he is now.
On Sunday evening I went to church for the first time (real church I mean) for over four months; it was such a pleasure. Our padre, Dixon, who sat just in front of us was rejoicing in it too; he hadn’t had a church service with an organ and the psalms sung since he left England just about the time we did; he messes with another regiment of the brigade. As soon as I get into a church I always find myself feeling you ought to be there next to me. I only hope you may be able to be again before so very long. Perhaps if the Turk is fool enough to come worrying round here asking for trouble I may have to go off somewhere and help give it him first, and then may get a chance to see old England once more.
I have to post by tomorrow evening to catch the mail, so will eave this open in case I want to add anything further.
It is rotten about this leave business especially after having had it all officially on paper, so that one couldn’t avoid growing unduly hopeful and excited about it. Still I don’t know that it is quite off; and it wasn’t quite on before either. So I suppose we must pretend to be very indifferent and bide our time a bit.
Feb 2nd – At midnight last night Inwood and Holmden, our two class A officers received instructions to start by train this morning at 8.0, to go to Alexandria preparatory to going on leave. So there is better hope again after all. Then this morning a mail brought several letters, three of yours, Dec 27th, Jan 12th & 14th, the last two telling me all your latest plans consequent upon having to leave the hospital. I am glad to think you are enjoying a good rest, for you evidently needed one. A few good long visits will give you time to look round and take stock of things a bit; and if I should get home after all we shall have full opportunity to talk everything over. The only troublesome question is that of money; but supposing you are able to take on occasional private cases after a bit that will help, and is fairly remunerative I suppose. Anyhow the first thing is to get your legs better again, and bother money.
I will answer your letters at greater length later on. Best love, dear, from
Your own affectionate
Cyril E Sladden