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December 10th 1914 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Cyril E Sladden Esq

10th December 1914
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, The Nurses' Home, The General Hospital, Birmingham
Correspondence To
Cyril E Sladden Esq, The Officers' Mess, Bhurtpore Barracks, Tidworth, near Andover
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

The Nurses’ Home
The General Hospital

10th December 1914

My heart rather sank when I got your letter and postcard saying your leave was from the 17th to the 24th, just when I had obtained leave from the 24th to 27th, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Xmas week! But we won't be done this time if we can possibly avoid it - will we! The reason I did not go to Matron at once and ask for my dates to be altered was because there is the scrappiest loophole that you might yet get yours altered, and as mine are the nicer days I am waiting to hear further news from you. If I ask for mine to be altered, shall I ask for the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th? It will be just heavenly to have four whole days together, just imagine it - we shall be able to take our usual morning walks and have our evening hour together and drop back temporarily into our own life once more. What a relief from the strain and tension of the past three months! I hope, darling, for my sake that you will make a big attempt to get your leave altered. Last time there was no urgent need for you not to have it - so this time make a very urgent demand! I think if Matron possibly can alter my dates she will but it is horrid having to keep bothering her - I have done so twice in two months. She is always very nice when I do ask to see her but I o not want to overstep the mark in case it put a stop to future favours. But if you really cannot get leave from Xmas Eve onwards then I will once more brace myself to go and see her. I know it is awfully difficult for you but do try your very best.

It is my day off tomorrow so I will continue this in the morning, dear love, after I've had a cosy breakfast in bed about 9.30! What luxury! Mrs Jarvis has asked me to lunch - tea and supper so you can guess I shall enjoy myself.

I must go to supper now. The food has been abominable lately - very often I have to leave both meat and pudding and today and last night to crown everything we had condensed milk. To anyone who does not take sugar it is perfectly nauseating - I was nearly I'll when I unsuspecting lay tasted it.

Friday Dec 11th 1914
I have just had a cosy breakfast in bed – having bought myself an egg last night to ensure something palatable this morning and thank goodness the milk was fresh! You must think that I think of nothing else but food! But it is like this, one must eat to live and as we work hard here nourishing food is essential. We cannot ever get as much butter as is necessary. We all spend an enormous amount on meals outside and the consequence is our clothes are bound to suffer and yet we are always supposed to look neat and smart both on and off duty and are supposed to supply tablecloths etc for our room.

Here endeth the first grumble!

I was dreaming of you last night and was very sorry to wake to stern reality. Darling, would it be asking too much to ask you if you would send Barbara one of your photos for Xmas. I hope I am not asking too much after the treatment you received last Xmas but that is now a thing of the past and Bar and Mother always ask after you in their letters and I am sure are sorry for the past. They will then have a photo of you, Wilfred and me in uniform. Now I have let the cat out of the bag, I am having a few quite cheap photos done but the proofs have not come yet. That was the little surprise I have been speaking of in my letters lately. They are small copies and one will fit in corner of the letter case I am sending you or rather hope to give you with my own hands at Xmas. I want you to write my name and address on the back of it so that if it were found on you, someone would write to me if you were severely wounded or unconscious and unable to write. Don't think me childish to suggest this plan. I have. I have a horror of anything happening to you and no one knowing that I shall be waiting anxiously at home for news of you.

I heard of a girl, a friend of one of the nurses, whose fiance went to the front in some other capacity than that of a soldier, an interpreter perhaps, at the commencement of the war and has never been heard of since. The War Office can give no information and his people have heard nothing either.

I have bought the letter case for you, that unexpected find of a sovereign came in useful here. I have had your name and regiment put on it. I got it at a real leather shop and the man advised me to get a black leather one as the brown ones soon get discoloured. I am longing to give it to you so you do see whether you like it.

Nurse Saunders is awfully upset that I shall probably be away for Xmas. Her affection for me is really quite embarrassing! She says I don't realise how much she cares for me. I feel quite horrid because I know I don't realise it and cannot quite understand why she likes me so much.

I was interested to hear of so many of you going to church together last Sunday evening - I try to imagine what Marshall and Lancaster are like. I think I know the type of men they are or else you would not be friendly with them.

I heard from your Mother today saying they would reserve a corner for me at Xmas. Mrs Ashwin also wrote me a sweet little letter. She says she has not been feeling so well lately and has no appetite for food; I expect this war upsets the old lady.

I am now going to have a nice warm bath and tidy my room and will write again soon.

I am just living to be with you soon - the joy it will be is almost unrealisable. It makes me think of that poem of Matthew Arnold's which I have quoted to you before:

"Only - but this is rare -
When a beloved hand is laid in one's,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
by the interminable hours

Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafened ear
Is by the tones of a lov'd voice caress'd,
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast
And a lost pulse of feeling enters again:
The eye sinks inward and the hear lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we
Would we know."

Dear Love, God bless and guard you - a few days and we shall be together, God willing.

Ever your own

PS - I was very struck with the following passage from Timothy 2 v 3-4:

"Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service entangle to himself in the affairs of this life; that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier."

This could easily be Kitchener's command to his soldiers. I wonder if he ever read this passage and thought it applicable.

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