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July 22nd 1917 - Letter from Cyril Sladden to his fiancée, Mela Brown Constable

22nd July 1917
Correspondence From
Cyril Sladden
Correspondence To
Mela Brown Constable, Seward House, Badsey; redirected to Company House, WAAC, 75 Seymour Street, Edgware Road, London W2
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

July 22nd 1917


My dearest Mela


Sunday is the one obvious day for writing, and we seem to be regularly unfortunate in our Sundays.


There has been very little wind all the week and no really dusty day, though it has been hot enough, reaching 127° again for a short time yesterday. Today as I write about 8.30 am a strong wind has been blowing the air full of dust for over an hour already. I am reduced therefore to writing in pencil, and even that grits its way over the page all the time; a fan would soon be clogged with mud and is therefore out of the question.


If there were a decent prospect of having lots of time later on I might postpone writing; but it is quite likely I may have to go out this evening with the digging party, in which case I shall have limited energy left tomorrow for writing, and the mail leaves on Tuesday morning.


We had a very pleasant surprise a few days ago in the form of a home mail up to about May 23rd.


As I had supposed it to be resting at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea I was not expecting anything for a long time. The mail of May 31st was definitely reported sunk, and I thought by that date Indian mails were being sent off fortnightly. Evidently the weekly boat was still running. Our next mail at any rate is bound to be rather a long time coming.


Your letter written on Sunday, May 20th, and posted two days later represented your share in the mail, and I had also letters from Father and Kath.


Your rotten newspapers at home are in the habit of “getting the wind up” badly, and are presumably having the inevitable bad influence on everybody. Just about the early part of May it was submarines, but that is only an example. The moment anything happens that they don’t like they begin to squeal with one accord, and generally set about searching for some unfortunate scape-goat. Of course the sinkings were bad for a couple of weeks. We got the figures out here in Reuters, without all the rubbishy nervous comment you suffered from; I had little doubt that it was a special concentrated effort designed to create a panic, and so it turned out.


At the worst rather less than one boat out of every fifty leaving harbours was being sunk, and a one in fifty risk is almost safety in the eyes of an infantry soldier. In estimating the risk you would run supposing you set out for India I also took into consideration the fact that special care is taken of mail boats; also your risk of being killed or injured would only have been a small one, as mail boats don’t as a rule sink so very quickly; you would have been put into one of the first boats; and bad weather in summer in the Mediterranean is highly improbable: lastly you would not I knew be granted a passport unless the risks were noticeably less than they had been previously.


Your remark in your letter, which of course I don’t take in any sense literally, that “even if I could obtain a passport it is a 1000 chances to 1 that I reached India safely” illustrates the false impression you had at the time. Actually I reckoned there was not one chance in 500 that you would lose your life by attempting the journey. I wish we could congratulate ourselves that I at present stood half as good a chance of reaching peace with a whole skin.


Kath writes in much the same strain on the same subject, and mentions that that so much of one’s knowledge came through private sources, people one knew or knew of being attacked on the voyage. On the other hand out here we have all the drafts arriving who never saw a submarine all the way, and most reassuring perhaps of all the old weekly mail coming along week after week, as safe as houses, and hitherto unfailingly. And mail bags don’t get saved like passengers either if the boat gets hit.


You wrote a nice intimate letter acknowledging the arrival of one of mine very opportunely on a Sunday morning when you were feeling rotten, and taking the chance to take it easy for a bit in bed. I am afraid it was a rather dull letter as mine are wont to be these days, but a letter of any sort is a great joy as I know from experience of yours.


I do so look forward to the time when I shall be able to put myself out to take special care of you on any such occasion. I promise myself (and you) a great spell of thorough petting and ‘spoiling’ when I first get the chance – not that I believe you will readily become actually spoilt, in fact I think it is a form of treatment which suits you very well when applied in reasonable proportions.


Kath is awfully pleased at your taking up the new sort of work, and makes very complimentary remarks about your natural facilities for doing it very well. I propose to be as tiresome as you generally are and refuse this time to quote, for fear you should develop a swollen head! This one passage however you may hear, as the credit is largely due to me; “the fact that she is engaged alone will be great help!”


While I write I have received from another officer a fortunate little gift in the shape of a snap he took of me unawares at the last camp just outside my little tent (seen in the background) while busy with my cases of stores and account books: beer is more prominent in the photo than its occasional presence out here justifies! I am unrecognizable enough, but you can gather something of my general get up.


I am sorry in lots of ways that Jack and Kath are leaving Sydenham; we have so many associations there haven’t we. However it will be for us to set out to work and make a new set of still better old associations elsewhere at the earliest opportunity.


Early in the week we had quite a good concert given by a concert party of a neighbouring brigade. Some of the stories more unsuited to the drawing room, but the performers were pretty good all round, and the show was quite a good effort. I think our own brigade might follow the example with advantage, as an occasional thing of that kind does undoubtedly make a change, and is a benefit to everybody. We get the native band playing somewhere near us fairly frequently.


We expect Inwood, and the rest of our first leave party back again very soon. After nearly three months away from the regiment they ought to be like giants refreshed.


24th – I did not in the end have to go out digging; my turn will come during the week. Yesterday I wrote to Father, and now this morning I am seizing a few minutes to finish up this letter in time for the mail.


I wonder whether you may by this time have taken on a job in your new line, and if so where it has taken you to, and how you like it, and what you are being paid. It is tiresome being such a very long way off in the matter of mails. I have discovered recently that two of the officers with us quite lately possess young ladies down at Basra. One of them got engaged fairly recently on his way up here from India, the girl being an old friend – a nurse of course. The other is the padre lately attached to us. Lucky fellows! But what a temptation to go sick!!


I ought to go and see to business now, so will close.


Very best love, dear. I hope you are feeling quite up to work again by now if you have taken a job on. Don’t altogether forget your own welfare in any case.


Your ever affectionate


Cyril E Sladden

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