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March 11th 1918 - Letter from Cyril Sladden to his fiancée, Mela Brown Constable

11th March 1918
Correspondence From
Cyril Sladden
Correspondence To
Mela Brown Constable, Unit Administrator WAAC, Somerfield (sic) Hostel WAAC, Manor Hill, Sutton Coldfield; redirected to Handsworth College, Birmingham
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

March 11th 1918

My own dear Mela

I am sorry the second letter I hoped to write in time for last mail never got written.  As it turned out I was very busy and had very little time for letters; and as I had not written to Father or anybody at home the previous week I felt bound to write to him in the short time I did manage to get.  So I gave up the idea of trying to write more to you, intending to leave all the more for this week’s mail.  Quite likely it may in the end make no difference, as my weekly letters reach you in batches.  Yesterday I wrote a good long letter to Betty in answer to hers which I had by the last mail.  So now I am feeling free to devote most of the remainder of my available time to you.

I have been pretty busy all the week, chiefly in working on the list for Indian leave.  We have had instructions to prepare these so that if sudden orders arrive to send parties we shall be all ready.  They appear to be hopeful of being able to get transport to send a good number this year.  It is a most difficult job working out the order of preference as men have such varied records, and they are hard to compare one with another when considered as to the value of the claim they give.  The announcement about leave to England is that nothing is yet definite about it, but that if it is arranged the details will be published later on.  All of which does not mean very much, but it is worth something that it is not stated to be definitely off.

We don’t know quite for certain yet whether we shall be stopping where we are, or whether the contemplated exchange of units is to take place before very long.  Nobody seems to want to move, and you know me well enough to be sure I am among the majority on that point.

Today is the anniversary of the entry in Bagdad, and they are having a festive week down there this week.  There is a big programme of sports, for which we have sent some competitors, including a football team.

One of the officers of my company took a couple of photographs of me a little while ago, standing just outside his tent.  As he manages to do his own developing and printing he soon produced the results, and was good enough to give me copies.  One is not bad at all, but the other is spoilt by my having my helmet on, though in other respects it would have been better.  As it is my face is just a deep shadow.  I don’t believe in being snapped in a topee, it is never any good as regards features; I only put it on for the second, and on this occasion at his request.  I am sending you one print of each, and hope you will think the better one good enough to be worth having.  Quite a long time ago Price took one of me which gave a promising negative, but he cannot get any prints done, so I don’t know whether it will be any good or not in the end.

I was glad to hear from you about your Father.  Arthur being a very discreet sort of person, and not understanding your family problems at all probably took the wise course of saying nothing to anybody but me.  That would explain how it appeared he had not discussed the matter.  Perhaps when you get my second letter where I quoted his remarks you may write to him about it, and explain that it is more convenient that too many people should not know.

I am afraid you had in many ways a more rotten time when you began your present job than you let me understand from your letters.  I am glad at any rate that you have got over the worst of it.  I expect you will be as glad as I shall (and that is saying a lot) to get away from things military for good and all.  The atmosphere is worse at home where things are more on a peace-time footing than it is abroad; just as it is worse abroad in a base than it is further forward.  The fussiness when I was at home was perfectly awful, and mainly over all sorts of stupid things.  From all accounts it is worse in these days now that the early strain and confusion has been put in order.

I really loathe the whole army system, which is mainly summed up as unlimited interference from above balanced by unlimited ‘eye-wash’ from below.

I wish I could feel there was the smallest prospect of Dr Baker’s desires on my behalf ever coming to anything.  But I feel quite certain there isn’t.  He wrote last mail in answer to a letter I sent him last autumn to congratulate him on his CBE.  I will quote what he said towards the end of his letter.  “We are very busy here on chemical war work.  We have 7 officers and 2 civilians here as chemical assistants and are hard at work all the time.  This last Christmas day was the first I had off work for the last three years.  In connection with this I want more help and I have asked for your recall for chemical research in connection with the Chemical Warfare Committee.  The application was lodged at the WO by the Ministry of Munitions a month ago. [The letter was dated Jan 2nd].  I hope the GOC will not take the line that you are too valuable to be spared.”

Undoubtedly that will be the line that the War Office will take without taking long to think about it, or going to the length of enquiring as to my “value” in my present capacity.  Even if they did think otherwise there is the Indian Government which opposes the return of any officer or man to England as a matter of principle.  And possession is nine points of the law.  So pleasant as it would be now, and valuable from the point of view of preparing for the future, I fear that is likely to be the first and last I shall ever hear of that application.  For one thing if the authorities concerned had done so inspiring a thing as to decide upon my transfer I should have had orders cabled about it by this time I should think.  The Ministry of Munition’s letter, if it did not find an immediate resting place in the waste-paper basket would be hopelessly buried in dust and paper in some pigeon hole by now, to be resurrected only when the end of the war permits a wholesale clearance of all old correspondence. 

I think it is a good thing that long and hard experience has taught me to wrap myself in an armour of complete scepticism on all matters that much concern my personal satisfaction.  Otherwise I might have well been unduly elated at the bare prospects brought out in Dr Baker’s letter; only to be proportionately disappointed when they came to nothing.

I am proposing to try and do a little useful work in the coming hot weather, and have sent to India for some books to work up my scientific German again.  That is always bound to be useful whatever I get into in the way of special lines.  It is really most annoying that I should be forgetting so much of the knowledge required for my proper profession.  I find I cannot remember now all sorts of silly simple things that used to be quite familiar.

This letter should reach you with luck somewhere about May 5th.  I have made arrangements for a small hollow cylindrical packet to reach you then or – if the mail is slow – soon after. You may recall having had something of the kind to mark a very memorable date in previous years.  It is getting such a long time now that we have had to wait that it needs quite a calculation to remember how long.  It was one of the points where I had no intention of following Arthur’s example; but there is not so much difference now.  And a few days later it will be three years since I saw you.  And when I see you again I think I shall never want to let you out of my sight at all for three more years to make up for it.

Today’s paper announces that mails up to Jan 20th were expected to reach Basra by yesterday.  So I can hope for another letter before I post next week.  It will be in answer to the one of mine you cabled about, and I am a little frightened of it.  I hope I did not upset you too much.  As I want to try and forget the whole thing I intend to make the shortest possible reply otherwise it will drag on for ever.

It is rather a dreary day, and has been raining very gently all the afternoon, and never seems at present likely to continue.  Weather changes in these early months of the year are every bit as sudden and unexpected as they ever are in England, and one never can tell what is going to happen.

I am afraid I have not been in my best form for letter writing, though better than sometimes. I have felt a little bit slack and off colour for a day or two, and this added to a wet day is not very enlivening.

All my very best love, Mela dear.

Your ever affectionate

Cyril E Sladden

Letter Images
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 3 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference