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July 6th 1916 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

6th July 1916
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Seward House, Badsey
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, c/o Messrs Cox & Co, Army Agents, Bombay, India (redirected to Windcliff, Simla)
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Seward House

July 6th 1916

My own dear Sweetheart,

I wonder if the mail will come in tomorrow or Saturday, as it did last week, or shall I have to wait until Tuesday? I can just manage to wait a week for news in a fairly patient frame of mind, after that time I get very annoyed with life in general. I, like you, seem to live for the mail letters after I’ve heard from you, although the longing to see you amounts to pain, yet to have news of you is like drinking in beautiful fresh water when one is thirsty, which satisfies but makes you long for more. You find it difficult to put all you feel on paper but I can read between the lines and know you want me as much as I want you. I sometimes almost get cross with myself for wanting you so much and it hardly seems right to be so dependent on another person for all that makes life beautiful. Scenes which your eye tells you are beautiful fail to rouse enthusiasm, fail to appear to you as they should, because your other self cannot share this beauty with you. That is how I feel these days and I think you do too. People ask after you and speak of you to me but no one guesses the anguish of longing that is in my heart.

Harold arrived at the Vicarage yesterday. Oh – dearest – picture if you had arrived home yesterday! We should be together, talking over plans for our wedding - and there would be long, long silences, when lips on lips we should silently feel our love radiating from your soul to mine and mine to yours. The fact that I can feel this as I write shows what perfect moments we have had. Loving memories which can never be offered. It is a pouring wet afternoon. If you were home now I would think we should hardly notice the weather.

Don’t imagine for one moment that when I write in this strain that I do not realise how sad your homecoming is bound to be with no “little Mother” here to welcome you. I do realise it to the full and shall be waiting for you, your wife, eager to comfort and console. You will tell me everything, won’t you darling – all your trials and difficulties, heartaches and yearning - and the burden will then be the lighter because two will be sharing the load.

I hope you’ve been able to chum up with a cosy congenial spirit amongst the men in Oakover Bungalow. Friendship is a great blessing, and I think in this war, friendships will be made that will last forever.

I told you in my last letter, didn’t I, that I was going to go gooseberry picking? I went on Wednesday and Thursday, as today has been too wet. Working in the open air suits me and I already look a better colour. One hears a tremendous lot of village gossip whilst one is working – some of the tales make my hair stand on end with surprise! I don’t expect any of them are true. I sincerely hope they are not. I only go up to the fields in the mornings.

Yesterday Ethel and I went to tea with the Miss Empeys. We’ve been asked several times but each time the weather has been wet. We managed to get there between the showers yesterday. This continual rain is becoming a serious question.

The hay is cut in many places and not carried in and is fast spoiling. The papers say that in some agricultural districts in Germany there have been hail storms, with hail stones as large as eggs destroying the harvest crops – so I’m afraid the Kaiser’s dream of a great harvest this year is being gradually shattered.

The reason Harold has got home so soon is because the hospitals in London are being emptied to make room for the wounded from France which arrive daily from the Western front. Five London Scottish are expected to have arrived overnight – the wounded in Edinburgh.

George was coming home on leave last week and that very day all leave was stopped. Arthur too says he does not expect leave until October instead of in August.

Mary and Baby will be here in a week or two. I am looking forward to helping to look after little Dorothy. Mary finds her quite a handful to look after by herself. She is getting so heavy to carry about.

I cannot write any more just now. I feel like you do sometimes, bursting with thoughts to say but too difficult to write down so lessens pressure to please easily.

June 9th [sic - should say July]
Yesterday’s morning post brought me the sad news that Cecil is reported (officially) “wounded and missing since July 1st”. It gave me an awful shock for as Cecil has been out so long and unharmed it had seemed as though he bore a charmed life. Missing is awful news, the most unsatisfactory and you can imagine how worried I have been feeling, wondering where he is and if he is a prisoner or what really has happened. At tea time yesterday I received a wire from Wilfred saying he was coming down to see me and would arrive by the train leaving B’ham at five.

I got William Keen to drive me in to meet the train and as he is rather a cheery old fellow, he kept my mind distracted and I was able to meet Wilfred quite cheerfully. He, too, takes a hopeful view and hopes we may get better news soon. He said he got special leave in order to come and cheer me up if he could and to be together at this anxious time. He had to go back tonight by the 7.35 Midland train and will reach Lichfield some time before eleven.

It was very nice having him and we had many things to talk over but can do very little until we are in communication with Cecil. Also Wilfred does not think he will be kept training for the full 4 months but that he may go out any time and he wants to have everything in order before he goes, to see that Mother and Bar will be properly provided for in the event of anything happening to the boys. It was sad having to talk things over in this strain but one must look things in the face at a time like this.

Wilfred loved this house and garden and enjoyed the rest and change. His remark about the family in general was that he “found them all charming”. He quite took to your Father. He had a bad cold so the girls gave him hot rum and milk and we managed a hot bath for him and dosed him with quinine today and he has gone back feeling much better. Your people are really awfully good to me and mine.

We are trying to trace Cecil in all kinds of ways. Uncle Ben has put Levers Bros’ Agency in Switzerland on the track. Uncle Fred is trying through the War Office. We’ve asked Jack to make constant enquiries at the Territorial Enquiry Office in London Wall. I’ve written to a friend at the 1st Southern to ask her to interrogate any of his men who may be sent there.

Wilfred had met some London Scottish men who have been at the Front in the ranks and are now training for a commission in his school, they know Cecil and recognised the likeness in Wilfred to him. They told him Cecil is considered simply “fair” in every way and is much admired by his brother officers. One ought not to praise one’s own but I like just to tell you.

Mrs Amos had a postcard from her husband saying he was in hospital in England wounded but she was not to worry.

Another Badsey man, Albert Perkins is also reported wounded.

I must away to bed now. If my letter is dull this week you will understand I feel a bit dull and not up to writing much. Perhaps by the time mail day comes round I shall have better news to give you.

July 11th
I heard from Mother today. She received news about Cecil being wounded and missing through a wounded officer of the L.S. before she received official intimation. This man told her that a large number of the regiment got very far in advance and were cut off from the rest and surrounded.

They were unable to get ammunition through to them and it was probable that after expending all they had with them, there was nothing else to be expected but that the Germans were able to take them prisoners. The officer told Mother that some men who were eye witnesses told him that they were pretty certain Cecil was alive, and a prisoner amongst this lot.

The German doctor, who, I suppose, was taken prisoner by us later, told the English doctor, that he, himself, had dressed the wounds of three L.S. officers who had been taken prisoner. I know they would never have got Cecil unwounded, he’d have fought like anything before he would give himself into their hands.

Mother wrote, very hopefully and pluckily and I was so glad she had this news unofficially before she got the bare telegram saying “wounded and missing”. The Vicar saw me in the village today and said he can tell by my face that I had had better news. I thought of what you said about my face and the cinematograph!

There certainly seems ground for hoping that Cecil is alive and that he will soon be able to get into communication with us.

Miss MacDonald heard today that her brother Douglas is wounded and in hospital at some place in Hants. A man called Southern, who was in the 9th Gallipoli and was wounded and sent home and then sent to France, is reported wounded in the hospital at Lincoln. Did you ever come across him? He told Ethel he saw you out there. The casualty lists are enormous, 430 officers today but the majority of them are wounded, I think 50 were killed.

Mr Wilding’s son Humphrey is reported wounded in today’s paper.

Jack said in a letter from him today that Kath had heard from George and he said that his regiment had not yet taken part in the fighting since the advance began on July 1st.

I haven’t been gooseberry picking today but did some weeding for your Father. If I don’t get a job in August owing to the scarcity of illness I am going to keep with the fruit picking.

Ethel went to Worcester on Sat. to some Sunday School Teachers Conference and afterwards went to see the Godfreys. He is doing some work at the Army Records Office there. She found them both very friendly and nice. He motored Ethel to the station and when saying goodbye said “give my love to Sladden”. He thought Ethel was very like you.

Brailsford has at last given up drinking. He has given up taking any at all. There is such a change – he is a different man and so much better in health too. He came to church yesterday, the first time since he was there at your Mother’s funeral.

This household will no longer contain a “stupid little party” in August. Jack is getting nearly 3 weeks’ holiday, Aunt Lottie, Mary and Baby will be here so we shall be a tight squash. Jack will have another bed in your Father’s room - Betty and I will share a room upstairs – Aunt Lottie will have your room and Mary and Baby the spare room!

July 11th
The Indian mail came in this afternoon, Tuesday. May brought it with her at tea time. It is ten days since I heard and seemed much longer. I am delighted you write so cheerfully and that you found life in court circles amusing. I can picture it all so well having been through it all myself, even to “suffering from a weakness of the knees” as you ungallantly call the curtsey of the ladies of Simla!

I expect I was rather like Miss Dwyer in some ways when I first went out. I had just left school and was certainly not thin and had the reputation of saying exactly what I liked. I remember being very angry once when somebody called me an “ingénue” and I asked them exactly what they meant!

What fun to think you are your former don’s senior officer! Punch always revels in a situation of this sort.

I expect by now you are with the Lowndes. I am glad you will get an insight into the home life of Anglo-Indians – it is rather different to that of a club or hotel and even of the bungalow life at Oakover. It is not like the English home and yet still holds many attractions of its own.

I am sorry I could not oblige by running in occasionally to play the piano at Oakover! Occasionally would have suited you nicely wouldn’t it? Half a loaf is better than no bread, isn’t it? Now that you are meeting Army people a good deal I think you will agree with me that the majority of them are very jolly, kind-hearted people, much as other folks and not the stand-offish stuck-up lot that they have the reputation of being? They need knowing but underneath a slight veneer of seeming uppishness very true hearts beat.

I saw the obituary biography notice of Mr. Beard, who used to be in your Regt. but who came home after the evacuation of Gallipoli and was afterwards sent to France. He was killed in action on July 4th in this big advance. He was in a Worcester Battalion.

Mrs Amos went to see her husband and found him more badly wounded than she expected. It is probable that he will lose the sight of his right eye – his neck and right shoulder have wounds, and his right arm is simply peppered all over. Mrs Amos is very brave about it - and is very thankful his life has been spared.

The Christ Church Records Roll of Service book came for you today. Your Father forgot to forward mention of your promotion but it was evidently seen in the Gazette for you are down as Captain. He noticed that Mr Beard was an Epsomian.

A very sad tragedy happened in Badsey yesterday. Charles Addis was found in a shed shot dead. His little son found him. He is supposed to have taken his own life. The whole of the upper part of his head was blown off. He leaves a family of children who are now orphans. It is supposed that he had money difficulties preying on his mind. He was half-brother to Phyllis Barnard’s husband. The little boy of ten had his baby sister with him and had the presence of mind to hurriedly push her out of the shed before she saw anything. He seems to have grasped what had happened for he ran back to his Aunt saying, “Father has been killed.” What a terrible sight for a young child.

Jack wrote to me today, such a nice letter. I will quote it to you as it contains information he received when making enquiries at the Territorial Records’ Office for Cecil:

“I was very sorry to hear this morning that Cecil is reported wounded and missing. I went to the Territorial Records’ Office this afternoon to make enquiries and saw a Major there. No more news has come through so far. This Major told me that the ____ Regiment were engaged in the north part of the attacking line, somewhere I take it in the line between Thiepval and La Boiselle, and that one of the German reports announced the capture of 48 officers in that district. He thought there was quite a possibility that Cecil might be among them. It usually takes, he said, about three weeks to get definite news that a man is a prisoner. In the meantime no news need not necessarily be considered bad news. Any further news will of course be sent to your people at once. It must be a terribly anxious time for you, but I hope it may turn out that he is a prisoner, although the lot of a prisoner in Germany is a very hard one. Still the efforts the Government are making may induce the Germans to treat their prisoners more humanely. The successes of the Allies may be a still more powerful inducement. One of my colleagues knows some men in the home battalion of the ____. They get a good deal of news from their foreign service battalions so he said he would mention your brother’s name at the first opportunity. It is of course rather an off-chance of hearing anything that way, but is worth trying.

“I hope you continue to get good news of Cyril and you must be thankful he is out of it all for some time. Simla must be much more satisfactory than Mesopotamia at this time of the year. With love and much sympathy in your anxiety.

“Yours affectionately, J D Sladden.”

Now is that not a wise letter for quiet Jack to write. I haven’t written to him. I ought to thank his for going to the office

Uncle Harry gets weaker and weaker and now has to be entirely artificially fed. He is so weak, poor dear man, and his last days seem cruel to those looking on. I hope God will soon give him rest. Your dear Mother was spared anything like this.

No, I never dreamt you were keeping my letters or else shouldn’t have written you nearly such long ones! It is awful to think of all the evidence you have against me – “She said in one of her letters that I was a Funny Old Thing. Wives should be punishable by law for misinformation as to their husband’s age and for using terms engendering disrespect”!

It will be rather awkward for you if at any foreign port you should be called upon to declare the contents of that tin box. ‘’Letters?’’ ‘’Whose letters?’’ ‘’Private letters.’’ ‘’Hand over Capt. S. as suspected of carrying letters from his lady love from continent to continent – thereby setting a bad example to his men who have been told to avoid the fair sex at any and every place in the world’’!

You really will have to be careful. I feel hot all over when I think of any one of those letters falling into anyone else’s hands!

I will end this long epistle now. I couldn’t possibly add another sheet of paper when you write that my letter of such and such a date was ‘’colossal in size’’! I hope this very short note will meet with your approval oh – friend of niceness, and the flower of the nobility!

With all my love, dear Sweetheart, it will not be long now until the war is over – a little more patience and then our reward – a life of happiness and natural confidence – God bless you – I’m so glad you’re happier.

Ever your devoted

Cyril received the letter on 4th August 1916 at Simla.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 8 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference