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July 16th 1917 - Letter from George Sladden to his sister, Juliet Sladden

16th July 1917
Correspondence From
George Sladden, BEF
Correspondence To
Juliet Sladden, Seward House, Badsey
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter



16 July 1917


My dear Betty


Over two months ago you sent me a long letter and a copy of two of Donald Hankey’s essays; and I haven’t yet thanked you for either. I grieved for your pen hand! But it was the best way of introducing me to the Student in Arms; for a book is deadweight out here as a personal possession. Sooner or later one finds it is outside the borderline of convenience to carry it and it is jettisoned. It does not perish, it is true; it remains in some billet to sow the seed of reflection in the rain of some later comer. But there is too much chance that the late comer will assess the value of a decent book at nothing more than its use as shaving paper, to reconcile me to leaving books behind me in billets.


I enjoyed the two essays you sent; but I lost the MS after reading them once and “smelling” them once, so I can’t refer back to quote you chapter and verse of anything. Only a few slight recollections remain with me and the sense of flavour imparted at the time or reading. I enjoyed the vigour and the manner of approach to his subject. A score of years ago he would have been - for want of better employment - writing heresies for the sake of annoying the orthodox. And his essays would have included many things said not because he believed them but because they were anathema to believers in established convictions. It is fortunate that he wrote at a time when even the orthodox consider it no crime to challenge established beliefs. The essays are correspondingly free from mere contradictions. The views are indeed those of a very wide class of people; but they are barely well expressed. One can hear similar thoughts crudely expressed anywhere and often. But not with Hankey’s direct aptness. Father spoke very appreciatively of the book in his latest letter. I can well understand that he would thoroughly enjoy it, if the two essays you sent me are typical.


These beastly air-raids on London don’t make me feel a bit happy. They always seem to touch the City area round about Rosie’s office. The last raid hit the next building but one, though the bomb was a dud. Aerial bombing is a nerve-straining business, even for bovine humans; for highly-strung people the continual menace is very wearing. It is a habit that is becoming much too common out here, almost as regular as “ration-shelling” and far less dependable as regards time and place.


The development of modes of frightfulness has certain compensations. It has, for one thing, added to the list of sports that one can watch - for instance, aeroplane attacks on balloons … our balloons. The obverse operation is too distant to be entertaining. The implements required for this sport are balloons, kite as many as possible, aeroplanes, Hun, one or more; and a sky with plenty of low-hanging cumuli. All these co-existed today an hour ago and duly produced the customary strafing match. As usual it was short, sharp and thrilling. The first event was the sudden appearance of two enemy planes from a large woolly cloud. As they dived together at top speed towards the nearest balloon, the anti-aircraft guns opened on them at short range. Then two white dos appeared below the balloon; these were the observers jumping out. The dots developed into unfolded parachutes and they drifted slowly earthward with a very disturbing quantity of our shrapnel bursting all round them. A very beastly job that of a balloon observer must be! The next episode is always the comic touch; it looks amazingly funny to see the stampede of white dots from all the neighbouring balloons. Why it is funny I don’t know; but the fact remains that it does look very laughable. I suppose it is the suddenness of it. Somebody has analysed humour with the conclusion that it is “the sudden occurrence of the unexpected”. This is a case in point, apparently. After the observers are out, it is a matter of little concern whether the balloons are hit or not. Today both planes attacked the first and it was soon burning; they passed very close above it at full speed and gave it point-blank bursts from their machine-guns (phosphorous bullets are used, I believe) and two minutes afterwards the envelope was burned out and the basket had fallen. Before they reached the second balloon one of the planes found it too hot and buzzed off homeward shrouded with shrapnel bursts and pursued by several planes. The other one stuck it out and fired at the second balloon from a few yards’ range, but evidently he has wind-up badly for he missed it. He went on for a third but it was barraged all round and he had to swerve away. By this time there were about four of our machines diving at him and they sat on the top of him and right and left and took him to earth in a long glide of about two miles. It was just like policemen running in a “drunk”. Evidently the observer was out of action and they allowed the pilot no opportunity to use his gun. He was overpowered by main force of numbers and he had to go.


A few days ago we saw another balloon strafe by one plane. He was very smart and daring. Came out of a cloud in a very fast dive. Bagged two, missed one, bagged the next - three in less than three minutes, all taken in his stride. However he got no further, for one of his wings was shot clean off and he crashed all in a heap. But it was great work all the same.


Rosie is to have a summer holiday after all. It happened this way. She has been hankering after National Service for some time and at last took steps to get enrolled and went and told M & K. Now my little Rosina, although she is only nineteen, is a very considerable personage at M & K. She is the right hand of Mr Marshall, the Secretary of the Company, and they think no end of her. Her resignation caused turmoil. Partners met to decide what should be done and argued and remonstrated with her, passing complimentary references that were quite staggering. They put it to her that they simply could not replace her adequately without long notice and that is she went it would leave them in a very awkward hole. Finally they prevailed on her to stay; and she is to have a fortnight’s holiday in September. If she had been grasping she might have had a further “rise”. But she had only had one a fortnight before and did not want to make it seem that she was merely playing up for an increase of salary. They seem to be a fair-dealing firm, although their rates of pay are slightly lower than they might be; I have no doubt that Rosie will get a further increase before very long.


She is going to have a seaside holiday, for which she has been pining for a long time. Probably at Shanklin. Unless my leave coincides with her holiday, in which case ….. but why discuss improbabilities.


I suppose Arthur has been with you and left again by now, leaving Mary and Dorothy at Badsey to continue their stay I presume.


I hear good accounts of your progress in singing. Well done! I hope you will refute my ancient prophecy thoroughly. But don’t desert the piano. My view is that there is much more satisfaction in instrumental than in vocal music.


Very glad you liked my photo taken with Ned. He looks a little smaller than he really is, but otherwise the photo does him justice. Isn’t he nice!


Love to all from


Letter Images
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 4 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service
Record Office Reference