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August 2nd 1915 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Lieutenant Cyril E Sladden

2nd August 1915
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Sisters' Quarters, University House, Edgbaston Park Road, Birmingham
Correspondence To
Lieutenant Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 39th Brigade, 13th Division, British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Sisters' Quarters


August 2nd 1915


My own dear Sweetheart


By rights I ought to be answering a letter from you which I know is in the post but which I have not yet received.


I was at Badsey yesterday. May met me at the station and the first thing she said to me of any importance was that they were all looking forward to hearing further news of you from me supplementing a letter they had received from you. I was astounded, not having received a letter from you for a fortnight. I then made up my mind it would be waiting for me this end when I got back on Sunday night and I could hardly wait patiently until then; I felt I wanted to catch the next rain back! You can imagine my disappointment when I returned and rushed to the letter pigeon holes to find a letter for me but not from you. I then felt almost convinced I should hear this morning, but no – and as it is Bank Holiday, there are no more posts today. Perhaps because it is Bank Holiday weekend is the reason your letter has somehow been delayed. It is awfully tantalizing knowing you’ve written and yet being unable to get your news!


Well, as I said before, May met me at Evesham – my train was nearly an hour late and packed with the most curious and not particularly desirable conglomeration of humanity. We walked to Badsey where we found them all just beginning supper. Your Mother looks the picture of health – I have never seen her look so well. She is quite brown with sunburn and what is better than anything I noticed that her nerve concerning war and all connected with it is so much stronger than the rest of the family. She was quite gay and altogether very well. She enjoyed her holiday very much and Betty told me she had been up to walking great distances for her. On Sunday your Mother had on a new dress, a charming one – made of some soft black material relieved with white. It is the nicest dress she has ever had and is very well cut, loose and flowing. The great mistake about her old dressmaker’s dresses was that she made the sleeves and fronts of your Mother’s dress too tight. This one is designed so as to fall loosely and daintily in the front and suits your Mother beautifully.


They all had their pretty things on – even your Father had his long black coat on! He is well but struck me as rather nervy. May and he seemed rather overstrung and the former looked rather tired. I think she worries a good deal over the housekeeping – often quite unnecessarily – and combined with her school work this fags her out.


Ethel read me many letters from the front in France and in the Dardanelles. She receives numbers and numbers and if she keeps them all will want a room in which to stack them!


Betty looked blooming in a very pretty pink and white flowered muslin frock – I envy her her complexion! She is becoming very pretty. Her latest photo with her hair up is charming – she has given me a copy.


Your Mother and Betty called on Aunt Martha when at Folkestone and Eva and Betty went for a ramble over the hills one day. Betty said there were many soldiers also rambling and one said to her, “I’ll carry your umbrella for you, Miss, if you’ll carry my rifle”!


Brailsford has another son, three weeks old. This is his fifth son, so I told him he must make some of them soldiers or sailors when they grow up.


After church, Ethel, Betty and I went for a short walk round the village and on our return met Mrs Ashwin coming out of Seward House where she told me she had been to pay a formal call on me! The old lady was looking better than she did a little while ago, she also thought I was looking well, which is a lot for her to say.


Mrs Watson, Peggie and Roddy and the Rylands were all at Pool House. Coming out of church, Roddy squeezed my hand and shook it until I thought he would never stop! His eyes lit up – you would have thought I was his lady love and he my knight! He is a quaint little chap.


The garden is a blaze of colour - the Pool Garden rambling rose is simply glorious. The fruit trees are packed with fruit and you and George will be sadly missed in “picking” time.


George’s last letter was cheerful – he places great faith in the Russians and thinks they’ll win through again shortly.


On Sunday evening Ethel walked to the station with me. The Midland line is open on Sundays now so I got a return ticket on that line for single fare by warrant. We can have two of these warrants a month; this privilege has lately been extended to the Nurses and the VADs – at one time only the Sisters were allowed it, which was rather too much of a good thing, considering they draw double the salary we do!


Today, the Nurses in the wards have had extra off duty time and they had from 10 to 3, or 3 to 10. We poor Theatre Nurses did not get any extra time, we were too busy.


I will finish this letter tomorrow, dear. I am feeling a bit off-colour this week so am rather tired and think I’ll rest a bit.


You dear Funny Old Thing!


Aug 4th


I got three letters from you! You can imagine my delight when I came over to tidy up at 8.30 this morning to find three letters from you! I felt the colour rush into my face and I wanted to scream with joy, instead of which I sped away up to my room and eagerly scanned them. I was unable to read them properly until just now, 2.15 pm – and this being my half day I feel at liberty to enjoy them to the full and to reply to them.


You, dear, darling Boo, to write me such long ones and so full of interesting details. I imagined you would be seeing a picturesque side of life but I did not realize you would take it all in, so to speak, in such a short time.


First of all I want to unburden your mind about my work in the theatre. I had no idea my letter re this would have upset you so much and had I known you would not have received my letter until you were about to enter the firing line, I would not have written as I did. I thought you might get it at Gibraltar or at any rate Malta. The thought did pass through my mind that I would not tell you that I had been given this work again, but on thinking it over I felt it best not to keep anything from you even if it were something that might hurt you – I think we will always do this with each other. I never forget Father’s words in his letter written at the time of our engagement, “If you want to be happy, have no secrets from each other.”


I am keeping well and the Sisters with whom I work are very good to me. The work is certainly the hardest of any in hospital but here my efforts are appreciated and I am given full credit for anything I do in my small way. Matron has remarked on the cleanliness of my work and Sister says the work of clearing up etc is done much more promptly, effectively and properly than it was before I joined their numbers. Sister allows me to do more advanced work than I did at the General which adds interest. I have been shown in every possible way that my work is thoroughly appreciated and so I feel I can put up with a lot that is distasteful to me. I have prayed for guidance in the matter and the answer has come in the fact that I am really needed where I am, to put it plainly I am the right person for the job.


It is distasteful to write a eulogy of my virtues but I am trying to show you that taking things all round I have very little to grumble at.


The varicose veins in my legs are not giving me much trouble now that I wear the elastic bandages while on duty – they are a great boon and my legs do not get so tired while wearing them, and whenever there is an opportunity, Sister allows me to sit down. For instance, as a rule one stands to cut up stock, clean instruments, etc, but Sister lets me sit down for this now so you can see I am well looked after. She asks me every day how my legs are and is altogether most considerate.


I took my table centre (you were quite right in judging it to be such!) home on Saturday last and saw your Mother’s as well. Of course we each liked our own best though of course we were quite polite about each other’s to one another!


Your description of how the soldiers broke away that night on shore did not surprise me. Even here, if they are given the smallest liberty, they take advantage of it. Some of them break away from here and we have a detention ward for the offenders who are generally brought back in a drunken condition.


Another difficulty we have is about their visitors. Some most extraordinary looking girls come to see them and it has been ascertained that when the convoys of wounded come in, girls hand them boxes of cigarettes inside which is also a photo of themselves and their address. When the passes are given out, the patients give the names and addresses of these girls and say they are relatives. The result is these girls come in, who ought not to be allowed to darken the doors of any hospital and most unhappy complications ensue. However, measures are being taken to prevent this happening any more but I doubt if anything will answer which will prove absolutely satisfactory.


I understand now why Uncle Harry did not wish Dora to nurse in the wards but preferred her to cook for the men. I have seen more of the undercurrent of men’s lives in these few months than I dreamed of as possible all the 27 years of my life. If anything would make me a militant suffragette, this knowledge would that I have acquired, I cannot say gained because I feel it is more a loss than gain.


I am told the German Army is gradually losing strength and now the war is a matter of time and munitions. I expect if the Turks had less of the latter your job would be fairly easy, as you say they are pretty broken spirited.


Fancy your coming across Cecil Crane. Ethel read me his description of the landing at the Dardanelles.


I heard from Cecil yesterday, I think I told you he was attached to the batteries as a “bomb” officer.


Yes, we saw you had casualties among your officers. Bourne, I thought I recognized as the name of the man who shared your room at Tidworth. I feel very sorry for his people.


I saw the “company” photos on Sunday. In the one of the officers, Bourne and Tree are side by side and they were the first two to fall.


Arthur expects to be home by the middle of August. A letter from Mary, read out by Ethel, told of the arrival of the cot, and we were amused by the fact that she speaks of “him”, thus betraying what her wish is. I wonder which Arthur would like.


Darling, I was so relieved and glad to read you have been keeping well. I think the kind of life, herded together, you have to lead must be more trying than the “danger” side of it. It must be awful to feel you can never really be alonge – not that one would really care to be alone if any army of Turks were advancing! But there must be times when you long to escape for a short while to get your bearings as it were. I always feel that it is such a help to come face to face with oneself as it were, occasionally, and then try to get face to face with one’s Creator. It is the only way in which to keep balanced and able to take an unbiased point of view of life and one’s surroundings.


A year ago today war was declared and we had a very impressive service today in the courtyard, the Bishop giving us an address. We had the band and a march past of the RAMC. If I can get a photo of the scene I will send you one. I am hoping to send you one or two other little snapshots, among them one of the theatre and staff.


I will answer the bulk of your letters another time, this epistle having become quite a book already.


Don’t fret about me at all, old fellow, I am well and considering all things, very happy. The home people thought I looked very well and even said I had a colour. At any rate, I am much happier than I should have been had you not volunteered, that would have broken my heart. My heart aches for you always but it is the sort of ache I like to have, and it almost bursts with pride sometimes! Sad case of a nurse who suffered from heart disease due to excessive pride getting the upper hand!


God bless you, my Love. (What a horrid man censored your letters – he wrote his name large enough anyway!)


All the love of your devoted


"Wounded" has been added to envelope, so it may have been redirected to Blue Sisters Hospital, Malta.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 7 double sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference