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February 19th 1916 - Letter from Cyril Sladden to his fiancée, Mela Brown Constable

19th February 1916
Correspondence From
Cyril Sladden
Correspondence To
Mela Brown Constable, Seward House, Badsey, Evesham
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Feb 19th 1916


My own darling Mela


I believe there is little likelihood of posting until we reach our destination, as I hear we shall not put in at an intermediate port.  In case this turns out wrong it will be as well to have something ready written; but anyhow I propose to write at intervals on the voyage so that you may some day get a big fat letter to make up as well as possible for the inevitable gap.


I handed my last letter to the old pilot at ____ who looked a pleasant old man, and carried away a little packet of letters from various officers, so I have every hope it got posted safely.  Later some old friends from Dick New’s regiment came out to us for a short time, but I was in my cabin and did not see them at all.  They are still in the same place, you see, and they could give us no suggestion of expected move, so presumably our long association (almost unbroken since we came out) has come to an end.


Up to the present we have had at no more than pleasantly hot; in fact we have not started wearing our “summer suitings”.  It is perfectly calm, and altogether is very pleasant voyage.  Now that we are well away from land there is nothing to distract our attention, and we have settled down quietly to board ship existence.


There is not a lot of deck space on the boat, so parades are restricted at which we do not grumble.  About one hour daily is all we do in the ordinary course.


I have started writing my account for the year book of the regimental Old Comrades’ Association; as yet I have only just started however, so must get on with it.  I have also made a good start into Justin McCarthy’s Short History of our Times, to wit of Queen Victoria’s reign up to 1880.  It is a period concerning which my ignorance has always been deplorable, and I find it interesting reading.  It seems as if the long rest I have had from any form of brain work worth mentioning has made me very keen for study; as I notice, now I am always very ready for studious forms of reading the moment I get a quiet time in which to indulge in any reading at all.


I am sharing a cabin with Rawle; we always got on quite well together, so I am comfortable enough on that score.  We have another regiment on board with us, the same we shared a mess with in Tidworth days.  But they have only one officer left of those times, while we have quite a lot of our old original officers all have been away once, including Inwood who went on leave recently and has still to rejoin; but none have gone away a second time after rejoining, so our number has risen steadily.


The latest directive is that the War Office refused to sanction the promotion of Sanderson and Hiscock, who therefore have not been gazetted, and only held the rank of Temporary Captain while in command of a company – the same that I should have had till recently.  So it works out that not a single officer who sailed with us from England has had any promotion at all, though 10 are dead (including the five seniors), one has been transferred to the general list, and two or three are almost unquestionably unfit for further service in the field.  It isn’t very encouraging to the survivors.  We feel that while they were making us up to strength in numbers they might make us at least approximately to strength in ranks as well.  I suppose it is in the interest of economy!


It is a great comfort being free of special submarine precautions.  It rather takes the edge off the pleasure of a voyage when you have to wear a life-belt all day, and go to bed in the dark, and only have lights in certain places at all after dark, and the door and port holes kept tight shut there; also no considerable noise such as a little hilarious chorus singing.


As is ever the case, dear, the more civilized and comfortable my life becomes, the more I miss you.  I have lately found myself constantly longing to have you here with me.  It seems all I lack to make this a perfect holiday.  As soon as I get leisure to think about it I find I am very tired of living a lonely life; and any life will be lonely to me now without you.  The companionship of other people is nothing at all in comparison, because to them I remain a sealed book; it is only to you I can reveal my deepest feelings.  And now I have once found you to share those feelings it is a weary loneliness to have to keep them all to myself again.


Also enjoying myself, I long to have you to share the enjoyment.  The quiet decks in the bright moonlight at night simply call for you to come and walk there with me, revelling in the beauty and stillness of the warm southern night.  And all the time I was going further and further away from you, and getting more out of touch, and have only the consolation that whatever the distance between us may be, the time of reunion must at any rate be growing nearer.


I am very anxious now that when I do come home to you it may be to make you my wife, and I have this consolation that the longer I am away the better will be my chance of being able to marry you when I do get back to you.


It occurred to me last night as I stood and gazed out to sea and thought of you that I am very glad we had time to get to know each other so very well before the war came to separate us.  I like to think we can think of ‘each other’s’ weaknesses as well as the strong points, and know from well-tried experience that we love each other entirely just for what we are, both good and bad.  There is not fear whatever of a possible shattered vision to come.


I don’t know how you feel, but in all my thoughts of you I feel just as if we had been married quite a long time; the original feeling of ‘engaged’ has been replaced by the feeling of ‘married’.  I think this is the natural result first of our mutual conviction that our union is already far more lasting than any marriage service alone could make it, second of our absolute mutual confidence in absolutely every subject.  No more this afternoon; I will continue another time.


Feb 23rd  The possible chance of posting this during the voyage failed to come off, as I anticipated. We are told we may expect to arrive next Monday morning the 28th, so that is the earliest this letter will be dispatched.  Meanwhile I thought I would come to my cabin and spend a half hour before dinner writing another short instalment.  The voyage continues pretty uneventful.  We have seen a good deal of the coast in many places; it is very much more mountainous than I had supposed it to be, and makes fine rugged scenery, but not very inviting.  The sea remains very calm, a very slight roll today being the first motion we have felt at all, and that so slight as to worry nobody.  The sea surface was oily part of yesterday.  It is the sort of voyage you could delight in, and haven’t I just been wishing you could be here to enjoy it with me.  It was pretty steamy and hot on Sunday, but otherwise has not been in any way oppressive, and as you enjoy hot and sunny weather you would probably just revel in this. I must say that I think this part of the theatre of war is very much preferable during the winter months – though had we stayed on the Peninsular I might have had another tale to tell.  Whatever the weather may be in France they always have their excellent communications and supply with the very great benefit that result.  Out here we get lots of weather they would envy frightfully; but if anything does go wrong we know it.  Then in summer time they score both ways in France.  Judging from what little one knows I should imagine that in the place we are going to a continuous spell of two or three months will take some doing.  I should think sickness of various kinds is sure to take a good many away.  I am quite prepared to find it the vilest of vile places, and maybe a fairly strenuous campaign into the bargain.  At any rate I want to hold on and try to secure promotion some time, if the War Office will be persuaded to modify their present system sooner or later.


We are to come under Indian rates of pay.  At present no details of this are to be had, but I know it works out somewhere about the same in the end, except for a colonel who scores by it quite heavily.


Feb 24th. The dinner gong brought me to a stop last night.  Afterwards there was a concert arranged for the benefit of the men.  We had one on Monday but it was rather a wash out, the majority of items being appallingly bad.  Last night’s was a very great improvement, and went rather well. The difficulty on board is to get a suitable place where plenty of men can hear pretty well, particularly as the average Tommy enunciates his words so badly that it is difficult at best to make out what he says.


Yesterday afternoon I read through a large pocket full of your letters, before putting them away with others in my box; old letters are a poor substitute for fresh ones but I have to make the best of what I have got at present.  I hope you are feeling the benefit of your rest from long standing by this time; I think you must have had a rotten time with your legs aching all the time.  A continuous pain like that is very wearing; I well remember how I felt the long marches we did when we first got to Blackdown, when my feet got horribly sore and tender.  I should imagine varicose veins would affect one in very much the same sort of way.  I hope they will gradually disappear now, and worry you no more: then when I come home you will still be able to take the odd walks with me.


My letter written on Xmas Day being still undelivered when you last wrote, I am in doubts whether it may have been lost or censored out of existence.  If so you will never have received your cheque for £2-10-0 which was enclosed for your birthday present.  In case that is so I have made out a duplicate which will secure you payment in place of the original cheque, if you endorse it and send it to my bank.  In these days of submarines Cox’s branches in Egypt get everybody to make out a duplicate to every cheque they cash in case the original gets torpedoed.  Of course if the cheque arrived and has been paid, the duplicate can go straight into the fire, being no further use.


Marshall has kindly offered me a little snap-shot he took of me at the door of my tent in camp at Port Said, which I will put in with this letter.  It isn’t anything special, but will serve to convince you that I am not going into a decline or anything of the sort!  I have had one or two snapshots taken at different times out here, but never seen any of the resulting prints.  Of course facilities for getting developing and printing done are restricted.


I will stop, and start a letter to somebody else, as I have several I want to write.


Feb 27th.  Here is Sunday round again, and our voyage nearly at an end.  We expect to get in at about nine o’clock tomorrow morning.  We may be kept hanging about on board perhaps, but one never can tell.  We have very little idea what will happen next; probably we shall get a lot of marching sooner or later.  I shall have to do a lot of packing some time today, as I have all my belongings with me at present, and want to leave my box full of base kit behind at the first opportunity, and travel as light as possible.


We have been running into a pretty stiff wind for the last 24 hours, but the boat has been very steady.  It has not been hot at all for a day or two, though it is always comfortably warm.


I am writing between breakfast and church parade.  As on Sunday last I went to a Communion Service before breakfast; there were a good many officers there, and several men.  Nearly all the officers we have now are more or less regular communicants.  We have one Roman Catholic, Howell the machine-gun officer; also one Jew a man named Poluik who joined in November, a very pleasant fellow indeed, who was at Clifton and Cambridge and is now by profession a choirmaster.


Two  nights ago our one good pianist was persuaded to make the best of the piano, and gave us a very enjoyable evening.  He is our doctor, only recently attached to us, by name Ball.  He says he has played very little of late years, as he gets his wife, who plays very well, to play to him every evening.  So he is out of practice, but still can do a lot, having an excellent memory.  He played lots of things you have often played to me, which awoke very happy memories, particularly some Chopin pieces.  He also went right through Liszt’s 2nd Rhapsodie in fine style, which was good, though it shouted for a better piano.


Rawle (whose home is at Lee, on the old bus route) tells me Ball comes from somewhere round Blackheath; I wonder if you recollect the name by any chance.  I must ask him where he lives some time.  Rawle’s home is in the road where the bus turns out of Burnt Ash Road towards Catford, Newstead Road is the name I think, and the house is number 2, close to the corner; I can almost recollect it I think. His family by the way beats the Williams’ of Dowlais, as he has nine sisters, and is the only son and youngest of the family!


I shall not quite finish my history book, though I am nearly three-quarters of the way through, and have brought it nearly up to 1870.  I have found it very interesting, and really am very glad to know something more than I did about many things that happened in Queen Victoria’s reign.


I think perhaps it is about time I got back to work.  A civilized existence for a time comes as a very delightful rest and change, but after a time it makes me a bit restless, as I begin to long for the kind of peaceful life that I am always looking forward to when the military job is done with.  And the first and chief thing lacking to that is you, and the second is you again, and the third, and so on for a long way; and somewhere down at the tale end come some other minor things which have always interested me and which I miss at times.


Feb 28th. We reached the end of this boat’s journey this morning, and are waiting for somebody to take some notice of us.  At present the outlook promises another night on board.  This is a perfectly absurd place to stop, as it might be mid-Atlantic for all one can see.  It is absolutely calm again.


After much discussion I have come to the conclusion that the best emergency address in future will be c/o Cox & Co, Bombay.  So in that if I am reported sick or wounded any time, and I will write and “ask” them to forward to me if I get anywhere within reach.  Don’t insert brigade or division, and make even the regiment inconspicuous in the address.  I have found that in many cases the post people sent letters to the regiment direct when you had addressed them to Alexandria. I suppose in the hurry of sorting they notice the regiment and don’t look any further.  As long as I am with the regiment always address as usual (only omitting BMEF for the future, because we don’t belong to it, but to IEF”D.”) as it matters not where we go, the mail bags always follow us sometime or other.


As far as I can reckon mails from here will take a minimum of 4 weeks, probably more as a rule.  So you will be a long time without any news of me.  I hope in future you may hear once a week without fail though I cannot promise to do more than write as much as circumstances permit, and post when a mail is being taken.


March 2nd.  Still waiting on board.  We moved from our first anchorage and have been for some time lying off a small coast town.  I have not been ashore though just a few went today.  I am told it is possible to post from these, so I might try to dispatch a postcard just in order to let you see the postmark if I get an opportunity.   I hear this evening that a mail bag will be made up tomorrow morning, so I am finishing this off now ready to post.  I hope the mail will be a quick one as you will be wondering what on earth can have happened to me.  It seems as if they don’t want us so very badly now we are here, doesn’t it? I understand we have to unload a pretty big cargo before we are shifted on to another boat and taken further.


We have had a little wireless news telling of German attacks near Verdun which we hope will be fruitless and very costly.  We are very interested to hear of the capture of Erzerum, and of Russian progress in that region and in Persia.


We had another very successful concert again last night.  I assisted in a small way, taking part with three others, singing Four Jolly Sailormen. 


I must bring this long epistle to an end.  All my very best love, dearest; may that happy meeting am constantly picturing in my mind be not very far distant.  God bless you.


Your ever affectionate


Cyril E Sladden

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