Feb 13th 1916
My own Darling
At last Sunday afternoon has brought me some peace and quiet, and I can sit down and write to you again. I went into the town yesterday for a short time before dinner to make some urgent purchases, and discovered a mail was announced to leave that evening, so I wrote off a postcard in a hurry. I hope this letter will go tomorrow.
The loss of all our company documents has meant rather a lot of extra work, and clerical work is supposed to be largely my job at present. But in addition I have had to take charge for the last few days, as Dobson was acting adjutant. Then the mess accounts take all Friday evening, and quite a lot of odd time besides. As time goes on we get more and more training work, and at the same time are busy with a lot of re-equipping the men. Two days last week we had to train in an area across the canal, taking a boat at 8 am, and getting back to camp about 5 pm. One evening we had a riding school for officers, conducted by our transport officer who is now in touch with us again after having been long detached. We only had two casualties with ten horses! I was not one of two, and fortunately neither were very severe. Then whenever it can be fitted in all subalterns are supposed to attend a semaphore signalling parade in the evenings. So you will see we are not allowed a lot of time to waste.
On Thursday, having conducted firing on the range from 12 till 2.30 continuously, I was able to get away after a late lunch rather before four, and having drawn some money from the field cashier I went and made some purchases I had long anticipated. There are multitudes of nice things in the Oriental Art shops here, which by the way are large and numerous. But it isn’t always easy to find a lot of useful things, and I don’t think this is the time to buy many purely decorative things. So I turned to the needlework department where a good selection of quite serviceable presents can be had at all prices to suit the taste. The drawback is that I feel on very uncertain ground and need a feminine opinion to advise me. So I should have been very glad (on that account along, of course!) if you had been there too. As regards your present I had long ago decided what to get. I thought you would be sure to have lots of use for a few nice blouses, so chose two pieces of material embroidered for you to make or have made. The tendency is for them to overdo the embroidery, so I chose some with rather less work in. I thought the material looked pretty good, and as regards colour, white is safe, and I think the pale blue should suit your liking too.
I had all the little things I bought for the girls put in the same parcel, which the shop packed and dispatched by registered post; it is of course much cheaper so, and I am sure you won’t mind the trouble of distributing them for me. If you are at Badsey that will be fairly easy to do. I put a list in with the things to show you what was where, so need not repeat it here. I only hope the owners won’t think them mere waste of money.
As a consolation for not getting leave home, those of us who were to have had it were offered 5 days in Egypt. However as I feel in such good form, only needing plenty of hard work, and not in the least requiring a rest or change, I didn’t put in for that inevitably expensive luxury. Had I been a bit stale or out of sorts it would have been a different matter; but as things are, I haven’t any special interest in a holiday except to go home and see you. The others in the regiment took the chance and are away now, due back tomorrow evening.
I had letters from you and Father yesterday, both posted Jan 27th. You had received my letters giving news of our Helles business. I saw by the way a very good account of that reprinted in The Evesham Journal of Jan 29th which was lent me yesterday. It was in general very accurate, though just a few remarks deserved censoring. The account evidently appeared in the London papers originally though I missed it there. I was surprised that the papers were permitted to mention such incidents as the shooting of mules, destruction of carts etc; the British public is not generally considered capable of standing so much truth. However our official accounts are nearer on one side than the Turkish on the other, being only misleading, and not blatantly untrue like the latter.
Father wonders why we were sent to Helles for that job; the reason I gave lightly when I wrote is the real one, namely that they wanted the best troops available to carry it out. I believe it is quite true that we and one other division of great public fame share a very excellent reputation in high quarters. The others of course score by the greatness of their reputation, though as regards actual personnel they can no longer claim any advantage over us. Whether we are to be associated in the future I haven’t the least idea. Anyhow I can see we have got a real nasty bit of work allotted to us – as indeed I always anticipated we should have. When there is either hard fighting or very trying conditions ahead, and possibly both, it is natural to send the most reliable men available. I should be most pleased if in the course of circumstances I should find myself visiting a certain country you have often spoken of. This seems quite possible, especially if I should ever go sick (which I hope I may not) or get wounded again. At present though I am quite short of reliable information.
I am afraid mails will become worse than ever before which is perfectly rotten, but can’t be helped. It seems possible that if only war goes on long enough, I shall turn the tables on you in the matter of travel. Active service travel has a knack of dropping one in the most absurd out of the way places though.
I hope the Netherton Hall nursing care went well. I think it will be quite a good thing if you can start occasional jobs like that. I haven’t any doubt as to your doing well, because for most cases you will more than make up in other very valuable qualities what you lack in experience; and as regards training I would guarantee you would pick up much in 3 years as the average woman would in four, so I don’t think you will stand badly off in that line. Supposing we should manage to get married before the war ends it would be rather suitable sort of work for you to take on in my absence.
I don’t feel a bit inclined to scold you really, in fact there are lots of other things I can think of that I should prefer to do if I had you here, but you know by now that I am a perfect pig on paper whatever I may be otherwise. What I am driving at is this; you are a terrible girl for letting out things I mention in letters to you that I never meant to go past you at all. The first example is that postcard from Imbros when I said I had some cheery news in store for you – not everybody, but you. Why, you ought to have known that if it had been sort of public news I should have just stuck it down then and there baldly. But as it required more delicate treatment I reserved it for a more suitable occasion. I believe it was about my hopes of promotion, really; a subject you alone would share, the rest of the world having to wait till hopes became facts. This time the wait seems likely to be prolonged, which all shows the wisdom of keeping quiet – only as between just you and me there isn’t any keeping quiet. The second case occurs in your letter today where you mention telling Mother it was in my mind to buy her a scarf like yours some time. And that letter arrived the very day after I had sent presents to all the girls, but not Mother, leaving her out this time because I had sent her before a better one than any of these (except yours, and you don’t count – in comparisons between other people, that is, being a class all to yourself). Now, after what you said, Mother would be simply bound to be a little disappointed, though of course she wouldn’t show it in the least. Anyhow I am going to buy the scar almost at once and send it, as I promised in a postcard to her yesterday; and that will put that all right quite simply.
I don’t want to blame you about this, but mention it because, unless you recollect that heaps of things I tell you about are for your benefit alone, it will inevitably tend to make me less free in writing to you. And that is what I should hate. Poor as my letters mostly are, I always contrive to make this difference that I tell you all sorts of little hopes and fears and feeling that I never dream of putting in my letters home. And I feel sure you really know me so well now that you would have no trouble in deciding what may be published and what is just your own, only sometimes your natural exuberance gets the better of your judgement. All the time I write this I feel I am a nasty old thing because I really love that impulsive and exuberant trait in your character, and wouldn’t have you without it for anything, so I ought to be content to put up with it when it produces little minor incidents that don’t quite fall in with my absurdly particular taste. I think it is a good thing to have you to supply an antidote to my laborious discreteness.
As the result probably of having had my hopes of seeing you raised and then dropped again, I have been feeling often lately what a long, long time it is that we have been apart, and how much I wish we could get the wretched war over and settle down to a happy existence of peaceful poverty together.
Goodnight, sweetheart. Remember how well and cheerful I am, and keep the same yourself. I will get home and make you my wife one of these days; it luck, perhaps, before so very long.
All my love as ever from
Cyril E Sladden
I am sending one page of my list of your letters received, which will interest you.