Jan 31st 1917
My dear Father
In the course of a few days the Indian casualty lists will be giving you hints of our late doings, and from the absence of any unpleasant cables about me you will conclude I am still going on as before.
Magnificent fine weather throughout this month has allowed operations to be carried on without interference, and by degrees we are clearing the Turk out of his positions around Kut on this side of the river. He is a tough old defensive fighter though, as we long ago discovered by experience so our progress is gradual. After he had been cleared out of the Mohammed Abdul Hassan loop of the river NE of Kut, a process which took a week or ten days before he found it wise to abandon quickly the small remaining area left to him, it became our turn to tackle the positions he has occupied in this direction. All the tremendous labour of digging which I referred to in my last short letter was of course the necessary prelude to an attack. We were previously some 900 yards from the enemy front line. He used to send out small parties of men forward to well constructed and concealed snipers pits much closer than that. We had guided these fellows a lot by careful attention, but they were a nuisance when they found we were digging every night. We had to accomplish the double purpose of reducing as much as possible the distance of the assault over the top, and also constructing a trench system suitable for launching an attack. We were given very little time, and it came very hard indeed on the men.
When operation orders were made known to me I learnt that a proportion of officers were to be held in reserve and not sent over, and that I was to be of their number. My company was chosen as reserve company, and so did not in the first instance have to go over with the attack, though it had to supply carrying and digging parties.
The attack was made just after 9.30 am on the 25th behind a very heavy covering bombardment of the enemy front line. The distance to be crossed was now 400 yards, though we had sap heads dug forward 100 yards or so in advance of our front line which could be used for many useful purposes, though they naturally attracted a good deal of shelling.
We seem to have suffered badly from a machine gun or two away on our left, and were unlucky in the number of officers and senior NCOs hit before the line was reached, so that the men were rather short of leaders after they got the trench. They got in immediately the artillery lifted their fire, and seem to have found few Turks except the casualties, the trench being full of dead.
We got one telephone wire over and were able to establish communication with Myles who was the senior officer there most of the day, and practically in command throughout. Our objective was the front line only so there was no question of further advance. The position is a strange one, and the whole section to be taken only about 600 yards long, another regiment on our left sharing it with us. Theirs was a nasty bit of line, and during the morning they got bombed out of it, and a proportion of our people seeing them retiring followed suit. Enough remained to hold our section of the line, none of the three officers we had there leaving it, while our telephone kept going. No Turks seem to have attempted even to enter our section; however the retirement from our front trench looked complete, and immediate steps were taken to re-establish ourselves in the Turkish line. A portion of the reserve battalion were taken over by their CO who was killed on the way. At the same time our CO, thinking the occasion required it, personally collected such of our men as had come back, together with what was available of my company and started to take them over, getting a shrapnel wound in the arm almost as soon as he started. These all went back to the Turkish trench which was then mostly overcrowded making all communication along it very bad. About 3.30 pm a similar bombing attack again on the left cleared us out of that portion, so that the left end of our section of the line was left unprotected. Numerous boxes of bombs which we had supplied and passed along were lost, so that we found ourselves without any and gradually in small parties were forced to abandon our portion of the line, bombed with our own bombs. Myles was wounded on his return, Callendar, who since Dec 15 commanded D Company, was badly hit at this period apparently by a bomb and a sergeant tried to get him back but couldn’t manage it so had to leave him, and he died out in no man’s land; Ainsworth, the Lewis Gun officer, crawled back most of the way bringing a gun with him and not injured though pretty well done up.
It was shortly after this that I was called up from my refuge behind the front line to assist in reorganizing the rather confused remnants. So many journeys backwards and forwards had cost us a lot of casualties, who lay out in great numbers between the lines. All who could crawled in at dusk, but most were nearer the Turks than us and assistance was almost impossible. We were ordered to keep up rifle and machine gun fire all night to prevent the Turks repossessing their trench or putting up wire, and that also made it impossible to send anybody out, apart from the fact that the Turks were making it too dangerous.
About dusk we were replaced in the front line by a fresh regiment, and during the night were relieved and went back to reserve where we have since been, refitting, reorganizing and doing just enough fatigues to prevent me getting lazy. Next morning the attack was renewed in almost exactly the same method; this time with complete success. I am certain our attack the day before though ultimately a failure had weakened resistance a good deal. It was most unsatisfactory to secure no tangible result for our efforts. Chiefly by bombing our successes have been pushed on with since the 26th and we now occupy several enemy lines.
Of our old officers Hiscock is missing, and there is fairly reliable though not absolutely certain evidence that he was killed just as he got to the trench. Howell, for a long time, was our machine gun officer, of late attached to the newly organized Machine Gun Corps, was killed with most of his section too I believe. The worst feature of our casualty list, both officers and men, was the very high proportion of killed and missing, and probably the greater number of the latter are dead.
We give the Turk a terrible bad time with our guns, and heaps of his dead have been found in all the captured trenches, so his causalities must reach a high figure.
I have myself been along his old front trench since we captured it, but by that time we had occupied it for 24 hours, and the corpses had been put into dug-outs and side trenches and covered over roughly, so that I could only guess from signs of this work how many there had been, but clearly they were very numerous in that 200-300 yards length of trench.
The amount of material that gets thrown all over the place in a fairly stiff fight is amazing, and a large part of our work since then has been collecting it up.
We have had totally unexpected excellent weather through the whole of this month, though last night there was a change for the worse and a lot of rain fell. Wet weather is so very beastly in this country that one is very thankful for a fine month that we were promised to find very wet and miserable.
The boy Knight from Badsey whom you mentioned some time ago as having started out this way joined some weeks ago and greeted me effusively. I am afraid I didn’t recognize him, but guessed Badsey at once. He came through last week all right, and I still see his very cheerful face about. I fancy he got hit in some way that doesn’t hurt, so he has reason to congratulate himself.
No mail has arrived lately, but I have heard of one being near at hand. However I will not wait for it, but send this off, and hope that after its arrival I may still have time to write some letters, and so get a reply written within a reasonable interval.
Best love to all from
Your affectionate son
Cyril E Sladden