Lt Col St Barbe Russell Sladen

St Barbe Russell Sladen

Title: St Barbe Russell Sladen
Description: SHC ref QRWS/30/SLADEN/3/11 by-nc

St Barbe Russell Sladen was born on 1 January 1873, the son of St Barbe Sladen of Heathfield, Reigate, and his wife Emma Camilla Russell of Hartley Wintney.  He attended Marlborough College between 1887 and 1890 and subsequently became a partner in the family law firm.  In 1902 he married Dorothy Alice Turner, daughter of Col Thomas Turner of Brooklyn, Frimley.  An active member of the newly formed Territorial Force, he had attained the rank of Major in the 5th Battalion, the Queen’s, at the outbreak of World War I, by which time he was living at 29 Bramham Gardens, London, SW5.

Oak stationary cabinet that belonged to Lt Col St Barbe Russell Sladen Image courtesy of Eddie Wainwright

His diaries and correspondence (SHC ref QRWS/30/SLADEN/-) are a fine source for his military career and experiences in the Great War, particularly the first months of the conflict.  They show him to be an intelligent, able officer, with a keen sense of duty, a capacity for hard work and a desire to serve his country to the utmost.

St Barbe Sladen’s notebook. This page records instructions given by his Brigadier, January 1918. SHC ref QRWS/30/SLADEN/2/9

The day after war was declared, in accordance with longstanding mobilisation orders, the 5th Battalion assembled at Guildford.  Horses, ‘which had previously been allocated to us unknown to owners’, were collected (the Battalion needed over 50 for transport) and the men were given a medical examination; some failed, generally because of poor teeth.  Leaving behind a Depot in Guildford to deal with volunteers seeking to join the unit, the Battalion was transported to Chatham in two trains, arriving at 10pm.  Billets were organised in private houses in Strood: the poor inhabitants were ‘full of kindness’. Initially the men guarded the dockyard, railways and bridges as it was feared that ‘German waiters and others’ would attempt to sabotage these vital communications.  On 9 August, having been relieved by reserve units, the battalion moved to Maidstone, setting up its HQ in the Girls Grammar School.  Sladen worked hard sorting out the transport horses and pack animals.  Two water carts provided by Lord Lovelace had to be rejected as they had previously be used to carry liquid manure.  It was planned that the two Territorial Battalions of the Queen’s (the 4th and 5th) should exchange personnel, the 4th taking all those who had volunteered for foreign service, the 5th becoming a home service unit.  The exchange of men took place on 31 August, by which time the Battalion had moved again, to Canterbury.  On 1 September Sladen attended a lecture by Brig Gen Montgomerie who ‘practically admitted that the Russian troops from Archangel were passing through England’.  Though Sladen found this ‘encouraging’, it turned out to be a complete fiction.  He was unimpressed with many of the recruits coming over from 4th Battalion whom he described as ‘mostly children’ with several no more than 5 feet tall: ‘They will have to be got rid of’.

Cartoon sent to Sladen as a Christmas card. SHC ref QRWS/30/SLADEN/2/15

On 8 September it was decided that the men of 5th Battalion should be asked if they would in fact volunteer for foreign service, which Sladen thought ‘the only honourable course’.  Despite the CO giving a speech the following day ‘that ought to damp the ardour even of thrusters’, a majority volunteered and the men who had transferred to the 4th Battalion came back on 15 September.  Over the following weeks the 5th Battalion trained, constructed practise trenches and performed night manoeuvres, but on 7 October, Sladen was sent to London to assist with the construction of a defensive line around London, using civilian labour.  The line stretched from Reigate to Dartford, following the line of the North Downs and Sladen was made responsible for the section from Otford in Kent to the Thames. 12 civil engineers were assigned to him, but there was a severe shortage of manpower to construct the defences.  Sladen got no further than pegging out trenches around Eynsford and Lullingstone, before his application to be relieved of his duties and be allowed to rejoin his Battalion, about to sail for India, was approved.  He returned to Canterbury.  During a short spell of leave before sailing, he had an interesting encounter with a wounded captain in the Highland Light Infantry who told him that the stories of atrocities committed by the German troops in Belgium were not true.  The Germans he had encountered ‘were fine, clean fighters, but he had never seen them fix bayonets against us, though we were doing so continually against them’.

Sladen said goodbye to his wife and daughter. His daughter was very upset, which distressed him: ‘Ever since the war began she has outwardly shown her affection very much, which means a great deal with her as she is far from being a demonstrative child’.  On 29 October two trains took the 5th Battalion to Southampton via Redhill and Guildford, where ‘crowds met us’.  At 9.30pm the transport ship left for India, arriving a month later on 1 December, after a voyage through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal.  It joined the garrison at Lucknow and settled down to an uneventful tour of duty.  It seems that Sladen was frustrated and felt he should be doing more for the war effort: he stopped keeping his diary in the summer of 1915, not to resume it until October 1917.  He returned to England in October 1915 to take up the command of the 2/5th Battalion in expectation of serving overseas with it.

Telegram of condolence from King to Sladen's widow

Telegram from King and Queen offering condolences to Sladen’s widow after he was killed by a shell. SHC ref QRWS/30/SLADEN/2/24

However in 1917 he discovered that the battalion was in fact to be demobilised and he sought an alternative posting. On 28 October 1917, having arrived in France the previous day, he was attached to 1st Battalion, the Queen’s, then serving in the Ypres sector.  Sladen was on the point of accepting an offer from the commanding officer of 1/5th Battalion, still out in India, to resign his command in his favour, when a training ground accident to Lt Col Crofts, CO of 1st Battalion, saw Sladen appointed to command of 1st Battalion.  He was immensely proud, as a Territorial officer, to take charge of a regular battalion.  However he did not enjoy the honour for long.  On 8 March he took temporary command of 19th Infantry Brigade while the Brigadier was on leave and while on a tour of inspection of the front line, was killed by a shell on 12 March 1918, near Passchendaele.  He is buried in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery.

Sources

Papers of Lt Col St Barbe Russell Sladen held by Surrey History Centre as QRWS/30/SLADEN.

A service file relating to his military career is held by The National Archives under the reference WO374/62844.

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7 Responses to “Lt Col St Barbe Russell Sladen”

  1. I was delighted to chance upon this link and see the wonderful work you have done here on Lt Col Sladen. I am researching and writing up (in a rather amateur fashion) the life stories of the WW1 Fallen of my City Livery Company, The Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers. I am doing this for the benefit of the Company and wider community in a voluntary and strictly non-commercial basis. Lt Col Sladen is associated with our Company through his relative, the Reverend St Barbe Sydenham Sladen, the Chaplain to the Company at the time of the Great War, and Rector of the Guild Church of St Margaret Pattens in the City. Lt Col Sladen is commemorated by name in the Roll of Honour in what we refer to as the HMS K4 memorial in the Church.
    It is wonderful to learn that the descendants of Lt Col Sladen made the decision to donate his Papers to the Surrey History Centre and once I get around to his “chapter” I shall certainly make the effort to come and visit you to look at them in more detail.

    • Imogen Middleton, Surrey Heritage

      Hello Steve,
      I’m delighted that you found this page about Lt Col Sladen helpful! Your research sounds fascinating – do keep us posted when it’s all done. We look forward to welcoming you at Surrey History Centre when the time comes.
      Imogen

  2. Eddie Wainwright

    This might be of interest to someone: I recently bought an Edwardian campaign style stationary cabinet from Lawrences Auctioneers of Crewkerne. I later found it had a brass plaque on the front and it was in fact presented to “Captain Barbe Russell Sladen” by “2nd VB The Queens” on his marriage in 1902. Strange to think that this possibly accompanied him in the trenches, during the 1st world war!

    • Imogen Middleton, Surrey Heritage

      Hello Eddie,
      Thanks for your comment. The brass plaque sounds wonderful! Would you consider sharing a photograph of it with us, for us to add to this story? If so, please do email the Surrey in the Great War team: [email protected]

  3. Lucy Anderson

    My cousin recently sent me your link. Lt Col Sladen was my great grandfather on my fathers mother side. I have the photograph that you have of him above at home and believe that he may have been awarded the Military Cross as the medal ribbon in the photograph looks very similar to that of the Military Cross. I am also serving and would be interested to learn more about his military career.

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