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March 12th 1916 - Letter from Cyril Sladden to his fiancée, Mela Brown Constable

12th March 1916
Correspondence From
Cyril Sladden
Correspondence To
Mela Brown Constable, Seward House, Badsey; redirected to 1 Kingsnorth Gardens, Folkestone
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

March 12th 1916

My dearest Mela

We finally came on shore two days ago, and went into a camp which we found, to our joy, ready pitched for us. It stands in an area of dried up and hardened mud. A fair amount of rain yesterday evening made a variation. The mud is such that the top surface becomes very greasy with rain, but the water doesn't soak in and so the ground underneath retains all its hardness and irregularity, and is in consequence exceedingly difficult and dangerous to walk on. This morning it is fine again and is drying up rapidly.

There were letters awaiting us when we got here, to our great joy. I had two, both from you, and posted on Feb 3rd and 7th. Although after so long a time it was delightful to hear again from you, there was a decided tinge of sadness owing to the contents as they now read. You had received my cable, were expecting soon to see me; and you had argued correctly from what I had written earlier that I had it in mind to take the chance to get married at last. My subsequent letters which you must have received soon afterwards will have enlightened you as to my ideas, and the way they were influenced by events. Of course by this time I have had time to settle down to our disappointment and make the best of a bad job; but reading all your joyful anticipation was like opening an old sore, and made me feel very annoyed with life in general for some time. The whole plan collapsed so hopelessly. It rested on two foundations both of which gave completely, and contrary to all reasonable expectation. At present leave seems as remote as it could possibly be. There is not the dimmest sign of any possibility of it on the horizon. Certainly the exigencies of climate together with prospect of fighting make a return by hospital ship a very reasonable possibility for lots of us within the next few months, but that is not the ideal method by any means. Besides the hospital base is India and I don't at all know whether any butt bad cases go to England at all.

So as regards the one side of the question, I have now in place of a very probable turn of leave in the near future, a fairly remote prospect of turning up in a more or less crippled or emaciated condition. The other side of the question re hopes of promotion is about as unsatisfactory. As far as I can see it is likely enough that I may find myself in charge of a company one of these days, but that is not help at all so long as they persist in making us work on paper strengths all the time. I shall not be taken in again, and jump to the conclusion that a long spell of captain's work in the field is any help to receiving promotion. Then as I told you we are reckoned over strength in captains as it is. And now I hear that one of our old captains, Minnick, has left England again, so may be sent to us any time; also a subaltern, who in virtue of having been commissioned 4 days before me, and promoted to second star at the same time that I was, ranks senior to me. Should the latter join us, the fact that most of his time has been divided between Alexandria and England is likely to be powerless to influence his position. So far as I can make out prospects of promotion get more and more remote as time goes on. The army is a fine institution for instilling the virtue of resignation.

The regulations concerning censorship are different out here. So far as I can make out we are allowed more freedom in many ways, except of course as regards any news or rumour of future events. But officers' letters get examined much more carefully than I believe to have been the case with the MEF. No objection to recounting past events or names of places seems to be made in the ordinary way. So I may as well inform you definitely (as I have hoped you could guess) that I am now at Basrah, the town which I described in my last letter was Kuwait.

This puts me in mind that I have never told you two places on the peninsula that are marked on the maps. The well that I was wounded at was Kabah Kuyu. The trenches we were in latterly up to the time of evacuation were at Sulajik - merely a biggish farm, considerably knocked about. You will find both these in the Tomes' maps.

There is a mail in today which we shall get tomorrow, so I shall have more to answer then. But I took this opportunity of a free day to start writing so that the letter is always there to post in case of orders being given us to move further up country.

March 13th - The mail brought me your letter of Feb 12th and one from May of Feb 6th. I see that my letters from Port Said didn't reach home in the order in which I wrote them, but you acknowledge on the back of the envelope mine of Jan 27 and 28, which will have explained many things. Under the circumstances you had no course open to you but to tell the family we might be getting married if I came home. My only reason for keeping quiet is that I hate anticipating things in public while there remains much chance of their not coming off. Had I been promoted I should have wanted them to know what was in my mind. As some tiresome men had chosen to spread false news of my promotion before it was accomplished it was only natural that the question should be put to you whether we thought of getting married or not. It happens that in this particular case my caution was well-advised but unfortunately ineffective. Anyhow I didn't blaze abroad that I was a captain and then have to climb down ad admit it hadn't come off, which is all that matters most.

In the period when I found promotion knocked on the head, while leave was still hopeful, I naturally gave much consideration to the question of whether I should still suggest a wedding or not, the same question you go into in your last letter. I decided that I could not settle definitely either way without seeing you and talking it over with you. So I didn't go into it on paper. It is difficult to decide upon, and now there is not special need to think about it. I perfectly understood what you intended to convey, it is of course a most important point. I think I might make up my mind to what you suggest if it should ever be necessary, though it doesn't seem quite satisfactory; at the same time there would be big advantages in it.

I was glad to hear that Cecil had been with you, also that he was doing so well. I hope he may be luckier than I have been. Evidently the general confusion is not limited to this part of the world as regards vexed questions of rank. We have a regiment here who had recently all four companies commanded by second lieutenants!

I am so very pleased your first private nursing case worked out so very satisfactorily. I knew you were absolutely certain to please everybody very much, but it is now the less pleasant to hear definitely that you did do so. It is an excellent start and there seems every hope that you will easily earn more on very much shorter time, and work that will be on the whole pleasanter though you may strike bad patches occasionally. Meanwhile I am glad your finances are sufficiently good at present for you to be able to carry on for a bit without working, until you are fit again and well rested.

I was very glad to read that Mother’s illness had not been allowed to get serious. I am very sure your presence in the house was a great help while she had to be nursed. I could tell from May's letter that she enjoys having you in the house.

I believe letters usually go from here towards the end of the week, so this will catch that mail and should reach you according to my reckoning in just about a month. Supposing nothing should come for a bit you had better assume I have gone up river, which may mean I shall miss the next week's mail.

I was awfully pleased to have such a long letter from you; I am simply greedy for letters always. I rather dread reading of your disappointment when you know I cannot be home for a long time after all. Let us hope we may have some good and rapid successes out here in the near future, and then there may be another chance for some of us hard-worked unfortunates. The thing to do will be to get to Baghdad and loot some good Turkish and Persian carpets and then get leave and take them home to furnish our house! Something Prussian about that, isn't there?

Best love sweetheart from
Your own affectionate
Cyril E Sladden

Letter Images
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 4 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference