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January 10th 1915 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Cyril E Sladden Esq

10th January 1915
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 General Hospital, Birmingham

Jan 10th 1915

My darling Boo

I was so glad to get your letter this morning.  I commenced a letter to you last night but am not sending it as I was rather upset at the time of writing and think it best not to send it, although you will get a good deal of its contents in this letter, but they can wait until I comment on any news in yours of today.

I am so very sorry to hear of the sad death of your Colonel, whose name I don’t think you’ve told me, although I remember you describing the wonderful personality he possessed.

How dreadfully sad for his poor wife.  He must have been quite out of his mind at the moment he took his life or else I am certain no man could have done such a thing knowing that the shock might kill his wife too.  I wonder, dear, if he had private worries of his own which helped to increase his already overtaxed brain.  For, the very fact of him being in command of a regiment, proved that his capabilities were of a high order and so I feel sure he could not have only taken that one thing to heart, namely the war and all that includes, there must have been something else besides.  He would otherwise have considered his wife – the child is too young to feel it – although it is sad that he will never know his Father or have his guiding influence.  This has haunted me all day – it is such a pitiful end to a soldier’s life.

I heard from Ethel and Kath yesterday but actually did not read their letters until this morning – for reasons you will read later.

Have you heard the news of Lily Wood’s engagement.  I quote from Ethel’s letter.  “I expect you have heard us speak of Lily Wood, one of Cyril’s half-sisters, as they used to call themselves.  I had a long letter from her this week, she finished her course of training at Guy’s in May, and offered her services for Military Nursing abroad if wanted, but was sent to a hospital at Southend where she is a Sister.  It is a large hotel turned into a hospital for 300 beds.  She is also engaged to be married to a man who was a doctor at Guy’s.  Yet another nurse and doctor engagement!”

Poor old George is most unfortunate.  He was not at all fit Ethel tells me, having a very bad cold which has pulled him down considerably.  Perhaps the little change home may do him good and help to throw the cold off.

Kath was unable to come down and see me after all on account of her foot taking so long to get well.  She returns to Sydenham tomorrow where May will join her for a week, after her stay at Folkestone.  Don’t you think Wipers (Ypres) is a splendid name for the new little dog?!

So glad you continued yet again to get a room to yourself.  This is one point at any rate on which we agree entirely and that is having a room to oneself!

It just makes all the difference to life, to be able, if even for a few minutes to be alone.  One can face things better and come to better decisions and form better judgements if one can only get away alone – alone except for one’s Creator.  I very much appreciate having a room to myself here.  It is sometimes perhaps a trifle lonely, but it is a blessing to be able to get away from uncongenial companionship.

Well, dear Heart, I am not very tired tonight and am beginning to get into the work, especially the most important part during an operation.  Today we had a private patient of Mr Barling’s, a Nurse, to be operated on for appendicitis.  I, being new to the work, the other nurses and I all thought I should not be allowed to help but that a 3rd year nurse would take my place, as of course everything had to be particularly well done today.

However Sister never hinted even that I shouldn’t help so I did and all went off quite well and Mr Barling was actually quite amiable!  The fact that I was allowed to help made me think that I must just swallow all Sister said to me yesterday, which I am now going to tell you, and try and put up with her ungovernable temper.  I think she must suffer mentally, to put it kindly!

Just before I came off duty last night she said to me “Nurse, you have not attempted to clean the sinks this afternoon.”

Now, I had done them very thoroughly but after I had done them, she had used them to wash theatre masks, gloves etc.  But I did not know this at the time, having been away from the sterilizing room, cleaning instruments in Theatre I.

The reply I made to her was simply, “Yes – Sister I did clean the sinks.”  Then she let fire and said, “You need not expect to get on in the Theatre if you answer me back every time I speak to you; if I say you haven’t done a thing, you mustn’t say you have.  I am not accustomed to being spoken to like you speak to me or being answered back and I won’t have it.” ! ! ! ! and a lot more nonsense to that effect.  All this time not another syllable passed my lips, I simply gasped in utter amazement – tongue-tied.  I could not have answered her back if I’d wanted to!

She kept me on half an hour over time to clean the sinks, which would only take a few minutes to do really.  I did not mind cleaning the sinks again a bit but did object to the running fire of abuse which Sister kept going all the time!  I was perfectly civil to her but do feel now that as I was stormed at for being rude I might just as well have been rude and relieved my feelings a little bit!

I am told that she means nothing personal – but really the strain of the work is killing enough without anything else.  The remarks she makes to one are unjust and uncalled for.  I try my best to take no notice of them but when you are tired out at the end of the day you haven’t the same will power and most days lately I have come off duty and gone to my room absolutely done and cried until I could cry no more.  We never get off duty up to time so that there is not much catch in having a longer “off duty” time if you don’t get it.  When you are kept on duty like this you miss 4.30 tea and have to stay in for the 5.30 tea – unless you go out and have it.  The last two days I have had mine out as I did not care to appear at tea in “hall” with swollen eyes.  At first I had no appetite but the other Theatre Nurses told me I must eat or else I’d never stand it.  There are so many operations that one generally has to swallow one’s dinner and rush back, or else come down to a late meal about 2.30 or so, so that it is imperative that one should have a good meal when one comes off duty and tea here is simply dreadful – wish-wash and bread and butter.  Supper is not until nine.

It is awfully extravagant of me to have so many teas out but I simply refuse to break down for anyone!

You see, darling, the reason for this is the same old reason, Y O U.  I keep the thought always in front of me, how you would hate it if I were ill.

Now, today, I have not worked any differently and Sister came to me and said “Everything has been done beautifully today, Nurse.” ! ! !

I expect you’d like to know some of my duties.

My most important one is to see the Surgeon who is operating is not put out in any way!  My real work, though is to see he is supplied with the right lotions at the right strength at the right moment.  The principal ones we use are of course, Carbolic, Mercuric, and Biniodide.  These are made up in large glass tanks at different strengths which I have to dilute according to requirements.

I also attend to the sterilizers, keep bowls boiling, supply all dressings, sterile towels etc and generally wait on the Surgeon.  I also have to dress the Surgeons in their sterilized gowns, sleeves and masks, the latter are most tiresome to manipulate.

There are also heaps of odd jobs in connection with the patient, the telephone, the anaesthetist etc which are too numerous to enumerate here.

I am also responsible for the cleanliness of the sinks, the walls and the brasses and the cleaning of the instruments, washing out the lint and abdominal sponges or mops previous to boiling them up again and many other things.

Carbonizing and scrubbing all mackintoshes and preparing the theatre previous to an operation, seeing everything is ready, all the little fads of each individual Surgeon.

Well, goodnight, Sweetheart.  I’ll do my very best to keep going.  “Are we downhearted”?  NO.  “Shall we win?”  YES.  I am hoping that I shall be able to win through, unless I am obliged through ill health to ask for a change of billet.

I have a horrid cold and cough but they seem a bit better tonight.

With all my heart’s love.

Write soon again, dear; there’s a Funny Old Thing.

Ever your own


Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 3 double and 1 single sheet of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference