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July 26th 1916 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

26th 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 13th Division, Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, c/o PPM, Bombay)
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

at Seward House

July 26th 1916

My own dear Cyril

After my long day’s work in the field I came back just in time for tea on the lawn with May and your Father. Ethel had gone to Harvington to a GFS meeting.

After tea I rested in the hammock which we have slung from tree to tree behind the shrubs on the right of the Fairy Bower. It is a secluded shady spot and it struck me when resting there this evening how very nice it would be if you could have been sitting on the wall close by talking over the day’s chores. After supper I sat out in the garden for a bit and had intended not to start my mail until tomorrow but I got restless and longing for you so I came in and started my weekly budget to you. The news in tonight’s paper is excellent, the Russians have taken Erzingan and the British have taken Poziéres, both places being of considerable value to the enemy. This news sent my thoughts winging off to you for every piece of favourable news brings victory nearer and this means our term of separation is drawing nearer too. I try to imagine what our meeting will be like. The first meeting is almost bound to be in public and we shall have to keep our feelings within bounds until we can snatch a few minutes alone and then ….. imagination fails to realize what the joy of the union will be like. Sometimes I feel that I shall want you to rest your head on my breast and let me show you much I love you, to try and let you feel that here is your resting place. Sometimes I feel so tired with the strain of waiting that I look forward to being taken straight into your arms there to rest and be comforted. I expect that in reality both of these things will happen and we shall just lose ourselves in the joy and relief of being together again.

Then perhaps you will say, ‘’When are you coming to me?’’, and I shall not have to answer because you will know what the answer is without me framing it. It will all seem too good to be true. I shall hardly dare to give myself up wholly to the joy of it – the experiences of these last two years make one afraid to be happy. But still I think we shall have earned the right to taste God’s blessings, for the fact that if you come home His is the mercy, and He will have ordained that we should meet again.

If poor dear Cecil has gone to his rest, I feel glad that he leaves no wife or sweetheart to mourn for him and yet I feel sorry that his manhood was unfulfilled – that he never knew the grand joy of love for wife or child. He once said to me that he would have liked to have met a girl whom he could love – he felt I think that true love of a man and a woman is something to be desired. More than aught else.

He always stood by me, and at the same time is devoted to his Mother. Both my brothers have shown their affection by actions which speak louder than words, and I think the attitude of both of them has helped towards Mother seeing my actions in a better proportion.

This open air life has made my face nut-brown. You would hardly know your pale-faced fiancée! I expect our looks in this respect would about match if we could only see one another now.

Did you receive the snapshots I sent off last week? I would love a snapshot of you taken without a hat.

July 27th
I took my dinner up to the ground with me today and when I got back May told me a telegram had come for me which she had opened for me and answered as it was reply paid. It was from Wilfred saying, ‘’May I bring two men to tennis on Saturday afternoon, not to stop the night?’’ May answered in the affirmative.

We imagine that one or other of these friends has a motor or else they could not fit in a convenient visit with the erratic train service. Wilfred asked Mr Sladden when he was down here before if he might bring a fellow officer with him, who is keen on roses, next time because, as I expect one of the two men will be this man he mentioned. Betty comes down on Saturday and we have written and asked her to take a morning train if she can so that she will be in time for a game. The worst of it is Wilfred is almost as good as a champion player, so we’ll have to be on our mettle. Betty plays better than us and also has had practice at school this summer and we have not played this year! I wish you could motor over too!

Marjorie came to tea this afternoon – while she was here a storm came on, thunderclaps and lightning, so she stayed to supper and went with us to the Intercession Service. She was looking very pretty in white with a shady hat trimmed with cornflower blue.

Life up at the ground is monotonous and mechanical but has its interesting side – one sees the envious outlook on life that the villagers have and their views on many subjects. I retail some of the conversations to your father to amuse him.

Mrs Warner retails her experiences as Vicarage cook to Mrs Sandford, also life at the Alcocks!

’Mrs ‘Ands, her come round one night and f’und a saucepan I ‘ad’nt scroobed. Next marnin ‘er told me arff abart it. When her’d finished and made herself scarcet, the girl then turned to I and said, ‘’Wot’s ’h’up Mrs Warner?’’ ‘’Wot’s up,‘’ ses I, ‘’nothin’s up it’s all down, more likely. If that there old woman can’t keep ‘er nose out of this kitching, ‘er can find another woman to cook for she. I b’aint a’comin in the marnin and her can cook her own brekfus, and if ‘her won’t cook it ‘er can goo without, or else do the h’other thing.”

She told Mrs Sandford they had had sixty servants since they came to Badsey Vicarage.

The Alcocks evidently live on the fat of the land. ‘’Mrs Sandford, you’d ‘ardly believe wot they eats, the war don’t make no difference to their eating – not it. Fresh mait every day. Master H’Arthur (Alcock) can’t abear made-up dishes nor cold mait. It’s good livin’ there and no mistake. The folks in the kitching ‘as different mait but feed as good as the gennulmen in the dinin-room. And liquor, lor bless you, Mrs Sandford, the cellar’s h’open and you helps yourself. Once a month they turns out their cupboards and throws ‘holl the clothes they don’t wants h’on the flooa, and the girls knows they’s meant fur the groom and gardener. The groom has the first choist. H’its fortunate, Mrs Sandford, as Mr Bowley is a smart man, according as ‘e can wear Mr H’Arthur’s clothes and boots. He ‘as some lovely patent shoes. Mr Bowley ‘as, you should just see them, as nice as new and not a tear - !!! and so on and so on.

July 28th
I heard from Mother today. She writes fairly hopefully still. It is the nicest letter I have had for many years. She shows signs of having realized that we intend to get married some day! I will quote you a little of her letter.

‘’I’ve written 4 sheets of paper each to Wilfred and Uncle Ben of what I call ‘talky talk’ and my ink pot is getting dry, nevertheless a letter must go to you too – as I forget when I last wrote. You write such beautiful letters - as I used to, once upon a time, so I’ve been told. Wilfred I fear is very depressed. Uncle Ben tells me he is going to Liverpool for a weekend. I am glad he gets away – as he needs to talk to his own after study hours – with the sad thoughts about darling Cecil. I feel sure God has been merciful and spared him. We have had such sad lives each one of us when we had not earned them, by the deprivation of a loving hearth and husband and Father lost to us. You will, some day not far off, know what mental agony I have endured these 18 years at the loss of my husband’s affections and your heart will beat for me I am sure. I say I feel sure God has spared Cecil, wounded though he be. That is the fruit and suffering of war – but when you think Cecil gave up all to serve King and Country unselfishly – surely he will be given back to us in good time – in God’s time. If the war is a righteous war, the British nation will be purified by it, sometimes it occurs to me that we needed it, at other times I think we were sent into other lands to show the people how to live. Don’t you think the accounts of Mesopotamia might be exaggerated. There is little doubt that life in the Torrid Zone is unbearable. The men too were not seasoned veterans, but at any rate let us hope the worst is over for them, for I heard the other day the rain had come to them.

“I think Wilfred Barrett would have found some trace of Cecil if he had succumbed to wounds. He is on the Graves Commission. I am writing him again. The longer the delay the greater the hope that Cecil is saved. The Marquis d’Ivry was reported killed and five months afterwards Madame la Marquise heard he was alive and wounded and a prisoner at Friebourg.

“You must be getting as brown as a berry picking fruit. You will learn lessons of patience thereby. At Villa Badhui I always was grateful when Rose stayed to pick the fruit. We had more than we could use there and I miss it all. Vegetables even are double the price – the dear Boulonaise are making money hand over fist.

“Cyril must have started to rejoin his Regiment. I hope he will come out of it safe. He certainly has had his share of the joys of war. A young fellow down here we know, a Captain Thompson has been wounded 4 times.’’
I shall be very thankful if Mother continues to write and feel like this about us. It has been a great strain keeping off the edge of a misunderstanding all the time.

July 29th
Your last day of freedom. You have been much in my thoughts, dear Heart. I have been wondering where you have been sent and hoping the Details Camp is not in a hot Plain Station. You will be sorry to say goodbye to Mr Lowndes and Mrs Stewart and yet I daresay you will be glad to have some regular occupation again. It is maddening to think of the weeks we have wasted but now that they are over we are spared the agony of another posting. The wrench was very big, when you sailed from England, but I think it would be even greater now if we had been husband and wife for a few short weeks and then parted again. At present our joy must of necessity be chiefly of the imagination, but had we been together this joy would have materialized and the separation would have meant more than it can as our Love stands now. So perhaps God with his far-reaching mercy has spared has spared us this agony of separation, for our soul’s good and for our own piece of mind.

Tomorrow is exactly three months since your dear Mother passed beyond the veil which veils her from our sight. Had she been here, her thoughts would have been specially with you today, and I expect she and I would have talked about you a good deal. Her spirit is with you now watching over you; and darling, the thought crosses my mind that if God should think it best to take you from me in the days that are before you, at least I know your Mother will be there to comfort you. For I cannot help thinking that however great the joy of Heaven may be, yet you would be sorry to leave me behind to live my life alone and that is why I say your Mother will be there to comfort you. Don’t think I am in a depressed mood because I write in this strain. I am not. But this war brings us up against realities which have to be faced, and probabilities which have to be thought of and so I put on paper the thoughts which come to me so that you may know how I feel.

We saw May off to Oxford this afternoon. She was looking happy and well at the thought of such a nice holiday. I trimmed up a hat for her for the travelling and she also has just had a most becoming one trimmed by Madame Ruby. May will just see Betty, who is travelling down with Kath as far as Oxford. Betty stayed at Sydenham last night – she wanted to wait up in Town until the matric results are out. I saw her papers. They were not as difficult as I expected them to be but Betty said her Maths paper was her weak point and she was afraid it might fail her.

Mary and Baby are now not coming until the 11th or 12th of August. Dorothy and Nellie are with them and Mrs Williams does not want them to remain on alone, and she cannot join them until the second week in August. We hope Baby will be here for her birthday.

The news is good again. The Russians have taken Brody and we continue to make progress on our front. The whole world is crying out about the brutality of the Germans’ action with regard to the Captain of The Brussels. They court-martialled him and shot him, because he tried to ram a submarine, who would otherwise have blown up his vessel. No damage was done to the submarine – it simply had to dive. Even if damage had been done, the Captain was within the law for he was acting in self-defence. It is looked upon as big a crime as the murder of Nurse Cavell. This poor Captain Fryatt leaves a widow and seven children, the youngest 2 and the oldest 18.

I must get ready now to go and meet Betty so bye bye for the present.

July 30th
Ethel and I met Betty last night at the station. She has not passed the Matric – but was only marked ‘’rejected’’ against one subject, and that was ‘’Maths’’. There was no remark against the other subjects so she evidently passed well in these. She has taken her failure very well. She is rather like you on occasions, she just says, ‘’I’ve failed – but it is no use making myself unhappy about it!’’ Maths being her weak point there isn’t the same feeling about failing in it as there would have been had she failed in another subject. She really takes it most philosophically.

She is at the age when she only wants the happy things of life – don’t you know what I mean? She meets sorrow or failure when it comes but they don’t crush her. This is typical of and an advantage of youth.

After supper we did the flowers on your Mother’s grave. Lilies and white roses and spirea.

Betty and I went to the Early Service this morning. I thought of you and wondered if it had been possible for you to get to this Service, your last Sunday on leave. My prayers went up for you that you may be spared once more if you have to go into action again. It was not breakfast time when we got back so I started to make my bed. Presently Betty came bounding into my room with a postcard for me which contained the definite news that Cecil is a wounded prisoner of war in Germany. It is such a relief to know the dear old boy is alive but it is not exactly an enviable fate to be a wounded prisoner in German hands. However we must hope for the best and lift up our hearts in thankfulness that he has been spared to us. Mother must be very happy and I am so glad the strain of anxious inactivity is over for her. The prisoners may only receive pcs, not letters. I suppose this saves time in censoring. The only address given us at present is “Prisoner of War’’, Germany, which sounds pretty vague, but I expect we shall get full news presently.

Do you remember an elderly man, a Mr Simmins, who used to have local dances and whom we all used to avoid because, although he danced well, he gave you the creeps because he tried to be so ingratiating and held you in such a way that you hated dancing with him? Tonight Mrs Hands told us he was dead, and did we know him? Ethel did not realize that I recognized the name and the description so she felt less uneasy in her replies. Mrs Hands says he was a connection of hers and a great friend of hers in her youth. Ethel said had she known that I remembered the man she would have felt even more uncomfortable! Luckily I wasn’t called upon to say anything!

Darling. I really must tell you that just lately you’ve had several fits of bad spelling! When you were first wounded I put it down to your brain being fagged and wearied but you’ve not got any better, you funny old thing! For instance: escort you spelt Estcourt! Convalescent – convalescent; exaggerated – with one g; despatched – dispatched, independent – independant and heaps of other words that I do not remember for the moment. Other people have remarked it in your letters to them. I’m sure you won’t mind me pointing it out. I expect it is when you are writing hurriedly that you make mistakes. Don’t you?

We are having very hot weather now – which of course I enjoy very much.

I must away to bed now - although my letter must consequently end, my thoughts of you will not, in fact they’ll increase. God bless you, Love.

July 31st
This letter is so weighty that I think I had better close it and begin another!

Very best love, Sweetheart.
Your ever devoted

Cyril received the letter on 16th October 1916 at Amara.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference