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January 13th 1915 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Cyril E Sladden Esq

13th January 1915
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, The Nurses' Home, The General Hospital, Birmingham
Correspondence To
Cyril E Sladden Esq, The Officers' Mess, 9th Worcesters, Bhurtpore Barracks, Tidworth, near Andover
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

The Nurses’ Home, The General Hospital, Birmingham

Jan 13th 1915

My dearest Heart

I am comfortably ensconced in bed at the early hour of 8.30 after having a comparatively easy day – only two operations and the rest of the time turning out cupboards and doing odd jobs in the theatre which we fit in whenever an opportunity occurs.  Sister has been better-tempered today but she is very uncertain and one can never be sure of her.

I hoped to hear from you today, hoping you would have time to answer my long letter on Sunday.  It has not occurred to me until writing the last sentence that perhaps you did not quite like all I said in that letter and that you are waiting a bit before replying to it.  I did not mean it in anything but a loving spirit and feel sure you will see it in that light eventually, although on first reading it may have appeared too much even for me to say to you.

Poor Nurse Saunders is leaving hospital in a few days.  She suffers very much with her feet and Dr Stanley Barnes says she must give up nursing as a profession, and must take up some work where she will not be required to stand more than three hours a day.  Poor girl – it is a sad blow to all her hopes.  She wants to be a Missionary but nowadays it is necessary for women missionaries to have had hospital training and for men to have qualified as doctors.  One of the doctors here is qualifying with that object.

I have seen some wonderful operations lately – amongst them a trefining case.  The man had an abscess on the brain. It was a ghastly sight but one admires the surgeon’s skill.  The poor patient yelled when he came round from the aesthetic afterwards in the ward, and we could hear him in the theatre.  Amputations are the worst to witness and there is always the fear of haemorrhage.

The RSO was doing quite a slight operation but the patient was a bad subject for chloroform and he ceased to breathe and was to all intents and purposes dead; the RSO, Mr Sampson, did artificial respiration, while Sister injected strychnine, and the man breathed again.  The operation was performed and the man is blissfully unconscious now that he went through anything out of the ordinary.  He was an old soldier and I was quite interested talking to him in the anaesthetic room before the anaesthetist came; he had been nearly all over the world and during the South African war had had the same operation performed - and what do you think was used as an operating table?  The Holy Communion table of a Dutch Church. He was evidently no teetotaller to put it mildly, as he swore horribly while going under and kicked violently, two of us had to practically sit on him to keep him down.

I feel less tired these last two days but am told I look totally different, sort of seared and pinched looking, but when I look in the glass I cannot see much difference, rather white perhaps, but that is due to being in such a heated atmosphere all day.

I heard from Arthur today, also from Mother.  I enclose the former’s letter for you to read.  Mother’s was rather a weird letter.  I cannot quite make out what she is driving at.

Barbara has been having a lot of bother with her teeth.  Mother says she is getting a handful, to use her own expression, “she fights me like a German”.

The nurses who come to my room and notice your photograph say how like “your brother is to you.”!  Several people have remarked that I am like you.  They say it is chiefly the expression of the eyes.  Fancy having to sit opposite your own kind of eyes every morning at breakfast!  How very dull!

I cannot see any resemblance myself, although I am quite happy to think my eyes are like yours.  Oh, dearest – it would be good to be able to see you – to talk over all my little worries and for you to kiss them all away.  But there it is no use crying for the moon, I can only pray for strength – strength to be patient.  It is very hard sometimes dear Love.

I have joined the Hospital Library and am reading a very fascinating Indian story called “The Way of an Eagle” by E M Dell.  It is not a clever book but sufficiently interestingly written to be a distraction.

Goodnight, dear.  I will finish this tomorrow.

Jan 14th

I’ve just made a horrid blot – so sorry!

I got off at 4.30 today so had tea and then rested and read some of my book. It is now nearly 6.30, so am feeling refreshed.  Nurse Saunders has been chatting to me for a bit too.  She is very worried as to what to do for the best, because in every profession one needs one’s legs to a certain extent and she must not use hers much.  The muscles and tissues have broken down so her legs will never be of much use to her.  She is not clever enough for secretarial work or teaching so it is most difficult to think of anything for her to take up.

It was very nice of you to send me a book of stamps.  If I forget to stamp a letter of yours for some time to come it won’t be because I have no stamps!  So sorry, dear, I omitted to stamp my letter, it was careless of me but I expect I posted it at a hurried moment.

I heard from Mother again today – quite a sweet letter.  Yesterday’s was rather difficult to follow.  I think Mother must sometimes find difficulty in expressing herself and thus conveys to the reader quite a different impression to the one she intends to convey. 

I am so glad to hear your cold is on the mend.  Mine is too.  So you see dear, we are so much in sympathy that if one has a cold one can be pretty certain the other has too!  Oh, be quiet, Mela, and don’t talk such rubbish!  I know how you loathe having a cold and imagine you flying to the quinine bottle every 3 or 4 hours!

I wonder if this will reach you before you move to Basingstoke.  What a senseless direction to send you in, Moseley or any suburb of Birmingham would be much more to the point.  I shall have to write to Lord Kitchener.  I am sure it is only because he is so busy that he has muddled things!

Mother met some men who were in the trenches with the London Scottish at the end of December and they told her that the latter were terribly slaughtered by Germans who got into their trenches.  She had a pc from Cecil about a week ago just saying he was safe.  Poor Mother – how her heart must ache – wondering …..

I got through today’s work better than usual and am gradually getting more accustomed to the heated atmosphere laden with the smell of drugs.  At first it affects one’s eyesight and one looks as though one is half asleep.

Your letters cheer me up and buoy me up so write as often as you can, dear Heart.  It is a great thing in life to feel there is someone who believes in you and is certain you will win through in the end.  If it had not been for your encouraging letters urging me to stick to it, I should have been very tempted to give in. 

In the book I am reading there is a very strong character, a man who to outward appearances has no religion but surprises one suddenly by his advice to another man, who is grief stricken at the loss of his son, a little child of a year or two.  This man says of his wife, “I’ve lost her!  It was only the kiddie that bound us together.  She never cared a halfpenny about me.  I always knew I should never hold her unless we had a child.  Oh, man, you don’t know what it is to be despised by the one being in the world you worship.  Do you know I have wanted her so horribly sometimes that - that I have even been fool enough to pray about it.”

Then the book goes on to say that he glanced up as he made this confidence, expecting to read ridicule on the alert face above him, but the expression it wore surprised him.  It was almost a fighting look, and wholly free from contempt.  The reply he got was “My dear chap, you are only at the beginning of things.  It is not just praying now and again that does it.  You’ve got to keep up the steam, never slack for an instant, whatever happens.  It isn’t just praying now and again that does it.  The harder going it is the more likely you are to win through if you stick to it.  But directly you slack you lose ground.  If you’ve only got grit enough to go on praying, praying hard, even against your own convictions you’ll get it sooner or later – you are bound to get it.  They say God doesn’t always grant a prayer because the thing you want may not do you any good.  That’s gammon – futile gammon – if you want it hard enough, and keep on clamouring for it, it becomes the very thing of all others you need – the essential.  And you’ll get it for that very reason.  It’s sheer pluck that counts, nothing else – the pluck to go on fighting when you know perfectly well you are beaten, the pluck to hang on and worry, worry, worry, till you get your heart’s desire.  I’m doing it myself.  God knows I shan’t give them any peace till I’m satisfied.  I may be small, but if I were no bigger than a mosquito, I’d keep on buzzing.”

Perhaps you wonder why I quote this.  It is because that in spite of the curious way Nick Ratcliffe expresses himself, his advice appealed to me.  It is just what I feel myself.  I want strength and patience just now, more than anything else and I shall pray and pray and pray for them and I feel sure God will answer my prayer in the end.

Well, Best Beloved, I must go for a little walk now.  So Goodnight and God bless you.  I hunger for a real “goodnight” such as we’ve often had but that must be my reward at the end of my struggle – in very truth we are being “tried in the fire”.

With all my love, write soon to your

Own loving


PS – Missed tonight’s post, so sorry.

Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 5 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference