Dec 23rd 1917
My own Darling
It is a Sunday evening and about half past eight. We have finished dinner some time, and after sitting talking some little time until it began to be a little chilly the small party broke up to join the majority who have turned in and gone to sleep by this time.
I have to start my walk round tonight about 10 o’clock (a nice easy turn, and moonlight tonight into the bargain) and so it is more satisfactory not to attempt to get any sleep beforehand, as it only means all the trouble of waking and getting up.
The opportunity is therefore a very excellent one for writing to you, seeing that another week has almost elapsed. I propose therefore to let the padre (who has returned late from a seven o’clock service a couple of miles away) entertain himself unless he stirs me out, and remain in seclusion in my own dug-out.
Our long deferred hopes of mails have risen the last day or two a little, but so far only to disappointment each day. However I have news tonight which seems definite that they are in the district and should therefore be distributed, in part at least, tomorrow. It is three mails that that are coming, the latest about Nov 10th.
So at last I can count on hearing from you once more and knowing all about your doings for the space of a whole month extra. It was bad luck that your letter must have just missed the latest mail we have had.
I do hope we don’t have such a weary long gap again when in a quiet sort of existence. If one is away from the regiment, or on the move or fighting one never expects letters, and so there is not the same feeling about it.
I cannot make out now whether these mails were deliberately held up as I said last week (and everybody spoke of it definitely enough then as being actually the case) or whether the delay was unavoidable.
We have had a change in the weather. It clouded and was rainy all one night, since when it has been mostly cloudy, with a thick morning fog for two mornings; not cold really but rather raw and damp, with a tremendous dew at night. It is almost exactly like the weather we had in the first few days of January last, when we were employed in a manner very similar to this (but everything new and not so well finished and completed, and the Turks sometimes in view though not close). We were occupying a line out to the west of the Hai then, guarding the left flank of the force.
We had had about a week of pretty rainy weather just before. It held up I remember on Christmas day, but collapsed completely afterwards, Boxing day being miserably wet.
Everything now compares very well with that period. We were liable to move at any hour of the day or night, and might find ourselves fighting hard any time. In fact occasional shells dropped in the reserve area where we spent Christmas, and at night the bullets, aimed very high in the dark by the Turks, used to reach us, going at low speed with an ominous sort of whistle, ending generally with a sticky ‘flop’ when they struck the soft ground. They would not hurt you much probably unless they get you in an important spot, though they would probably require digging out subsequently to one’s discomfort: it was just such a one I caught in a lucky enough spot on March 10th.
I remember well one night how we were sitting on the top, dug-outs being few, small and inconvenient at the time, having our dinner by lamp-light, Major Gibbon, myself and some others. The light was no danger, being invisible 500 yards away in the direction of the enemy owing to little mullah banks between; but suddenly the Turks thought they saw or heard a patrol or something I suppose, for many bullets came streaking down, and the rate at which the party, and the dinner, subsided into my confined little hole to finish the meal was astonishing, and made us laugh.
In these days there are dug-outs with fairly reliable roofs to keep out rain, and some tents besides. At that time we were in the open. One blanket per man we had then, while this very day our two have been increased to three. In fact it was only a few days before Christmas that we got our one blanket, having been a week or so with none, and only drill clothing too, as the serge came just after Christmas. And then a man on duty in the front line was not allowed even his one blanket, lest he should be too hard to wake up in emergency.
We were not better off in the previous Christmas. We had just cleared from Suvla, and been shipped unexpectedly (owing to prowling submarines) to Imbros where were no tents for us nor any of our belongings sent in advance to the camp at Lemnos that was pitched and awaiting us. Certainly we got to our appointed place at Lemnos the day before Christmas, but we had no time to settle down to make the best of it. And as for Christmas mails, we had been to Helles and evacuated it, and reached Egypt before we saw them.
Without doubt this year holds out the prospect of a more enjoyable Christmas than any I have spent yet in service; a good deal depends on the weather. If it should be bad it will spoil everything, as there is no doubt that when it is bad weather here it is simply beastly, though I admit it clears up wonderfully quickly, and never seems to last long at a time.
If it was possible to assemble men together it would be possible to organize more amusement; but given decent weather, enough fuel for a good fire, good rations (we can count on that, they were splendid even last year on Christmas day) and then mails and parcels, with other gifts, and last but not least a bottle of beer per man they will not fail to enjoy the day thoroughly in their own way.
The soldier won’t be cheated of his Xmas just because he is on active service; and contrives to make the most of whatever conditions it finds him in; though the thought is vividly present all the time of how very much it falls short of Xmas at home, which he will compare with it at every turn.
I reckon we can thank Russia that this is a war Christmas at all. I hope that in spite of Russia, and with America’s help the next one at any rate will not make a fifth.
I must stop writing now and go on my rounds. I don’t reckon to answer this time the budget of letters I hope for shortly, but I hope just to acknowledge them.
I wish duty did not call, because I feel as if I could just write on for ever to you tonight. There is not a scrap more “news” than last week when I simply could not write a word; yet tonight it is not a question of what is there to write about, but rather what of the endless selection shall I put next. And tomorrow perhaps the spirit may move me no longer.
Three years ago today you said goodbye to me on the Midland station at Evesham when I left to return to Tidworth after my week at home. Four years ago our great adventure had just happened. Five years ago I was suddenly falling in love with a girl I had not seen for years. Eleven years ago a schoolboy, nervous of strange ladies, had found one very different from what he expected, and a very delightful and easy person to get on with. It doesn’t seem eleven years. And what a waste of good time apart.
Goodnight, my love.
Christmas Eve. Again I am burning the not quite-midnight oil to write to you. This letter has to be posted tomorrow, and I seem to have had little opportunity during today to write. So tonight I am sitting down after my rounds, which were very early ones, to finish.
My hope of acknowledging letters is doomed to disappointment as another day has bought nothing better than news that our three mails are close at hand. I do hope at any rate that they or some of them are delivered tomorrow; there will be an enormous universal disappointment if they fail again to turn up.
We had light drizzle this morning, but it has kept off since midday, and though it remains cloudy the prospect of a decent day seems quite good.
We had dinner this evening in our new mess, the first meal. I struggled hard to get it completed by Christmas. It seems a great success, and when various finishing touches have been added will make a most cosy little place. My fireplace works splendidly, it draws well, and gives lots of heat with small expenditure of fuel.
I was vaccinated a few days ago. Exactly what it proposes to do I cannot yet say, but it seems certain my arm won’t be bad. The doctor thought yesterday it looked like taking mildly which is just what I hope it will do.
Just before leaving England 2½ years ago I was done, but it was very uncertain whether it really took. I always thought it did mildly, as one place out of three done developed a reasonable little scab while the other two just vanished. But the doctor reckoned that the whole batch he did that day were bad. Anyway it seemed wise to have it repeated now in case the last effort was really a failure. Up to the present the arm has given me no discomfort at all.
I wonder what sort of a Christmas time you are having; I shall be so interested later on to get your letters telling me about it. May our next be together whatever this one is, then it will need something very bad to make it anything but a delightful one. It seems almost impossible to picture what it would be like.
Goodnight again my darling.
God bless you.
Your ever devoted
Cyril E Sladden