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August 13th 1916 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

13th August 1916
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Seward House, Badsey
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Indian Expeditionary Force (stamped "Present location uncertain", then "Gone back to 13th, 14/8")
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Seward House

Aug 13th 1916

My own dear Cyril

This is the third letter I have begun to you this mail and I hope it will be a more successful one than the other two! The first one was so dull and uninteresting that I tore it up. The second one contained arguments which on reading them through seemed obscure so I tore that up also. The arguments were in reply to your comments on war engagements and marriages, and on your offer re expenses to Eastbourne should it be necessary.

However something has happened to prevent me accepting any invitations at present so I shall be spared the effort to put my views before you clearly. I have been called up for Military nursing service again and am to go to Birmingham on Tuesday to be medically examined, and see if after six months’ rest the doctor will think I am fit enough to take up work again. They are frightfully busy at Bournbrooke, besides every corner of the hospital being full, they have several large tents in the grounds full of wounded. I had a very nice letter from Miss Musson asking me to go back if I were fit. I rather expected this would happen because I heard some time ago that nurses who resigned when I did and after I did, had begun to be called up again. This morning I had a nice letter from Miss Bullock, the Assistant Matron at the 1st Southern General Hospital, which I will quote to you. It happens to be by me as I write.

“Dear Miss BC

“Miss Musson tells me that you are much better and might be able to work again. If you could come here any day in the morning as early as possible I would ask one of the Surgeons to see you and say whether you could safely try and see how you stand the strain. I should be very glad to have you with us at work again if it is not a risk for you to try.

Yours sincerely

E D Bullock
pp Matron TFNS”

I rather hope I shall be passed as I quite like the idea of going back there. I was getting quite restless because the papers are full of appeals for nurses. The authorities will take girls now who had no training and do not even hold St John’s Ambulance Certificates.

So with my two years’ experience I was feeling very out of things. I must look after my poor old legs as much as possible and rest them whenever I can. I have been thinking the matter over and have come to the conclusion that in order to be of best use I must spend my off duty time leisurely and not rush about seeing people. Even on my whole days off I must not make too many tiring excursions. The part I look forward to least is having to share a room with one or possibly two other nurses. I do so dislike having no privacy at all – one can never have any time alone which I consider is so essential to one’s character and to one’s well-being generally. But at a crisis like this I must put aside all samples of this sort.

By the time you get this letter I may be back in my old haunts, but do not address me there until you hear if I am to go for certain.

If I felt justified in spending the money I would wire you my change of address when it takes place, but you’d probably never get the wire.

The fact of my return to hospital will not interfere with the plans you mention I am to carry out in the event of your return to England at any time. War weddings as they are called have brought things to such a pitch that marriage now-a-days legally breaks all other contracts. So that if I heard you were coming home unwounded and not ill I should instantly set about making as convenient arrangements as possible for the wedding. If Mother and Bar were unable to come over for it, I rather hanker to be married in Badsey Church. I warned my relations some time ago that should it be a hasty wedding we might possibly just walk to church and get married and not issue any invitations. This is what I should prefer myself. I’ve lost all wish for a pretty wedding with bridesmaids and so on. So long as the knot is tied with the Seal and Sanction of the Church nothing else matters. I almost feel as though we had been married ages ago and that therefore no outward forms or ceremonies are required.

I couldn’t help laughing to myself, dear, when I read your reasons for wishing me never to refuse an invitation to Eynsford.

I really cannot live up to such an exalted opinion, or else I shall find wings growing and I shall fly away. Then you’d have become an aviator if you wished to follow me, unless you’ve already grown a pair of wings on your own account!

The battle in which George’s regiment had such a bad time took place at Vimy Ridge.

We have no further news of Cecil – except that a brother officer told Mother the name of the place where he was seen to fall wounded. It was Gommecourt. I do hope we shall hear from him soon.

We have had a very long spell of dry weather and the last few days the dust has been terrific, and a high hot wind has been blowing.

I was reading the London Scottish Magazine the other day, for July. This regiment has supplied 1400 officers from its ranks to other regiments of the British Army. It gives a list of casualties since July 1st and the majority took place on that day. There are 680, killed, wounded, and missing. There is a notice saying that since July 12th they have been affiliated to the Gordon Highlanders and the Liverpool Scottish to the Queen’s Own Cameronians.

Louisa Nightingale’s son, who used to live with Mrs Griffin has been gassed, and is in hospital in France. He is getting on well, I believe.

I made Aug 11th and 12th days of thanksgiving that you were spared and come through that awful time at Suvla.

Two parcels have arrived for Dorothy Mary – one from her Father. Mary promised that she should spend her 1st birthday here, but was evidently unable to fulfil it. Arthur evidently expected she would be here – because her letters, daily news, and Baby’s parcels are coming direct here.


Mr Allesbrooke is away for his holiday and Mr Blake of Bretforton took the services today in addition to his own. He gave us an Early Celebration at seven am to which May, Betty and I went. It was a good thing we went, apart from the fact that we wanted to go, for there was only Moisey and one other communicant. I like Mr Blake. He is a spiritual man in a simple, direct way.

His sermon tonight was very simple, and extemporary, but its charm lay in the fact that you felt convinced that the preacher lived up to what he was preaching as far as lay in his power. His text was “not every one hath faith until the Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

He pointed out that it is not the profession of religion which commends that religion to the atheist or the man who holds aloof from religion, but that it is the life led by the individual Christian. It is not what we say but what we are which really matters. A great test of a man’s character, he said, is the life of fellow-ship which he lives, a life led with and for his fellow men, a life of ministry and striving to find out God’s Will and when he has found out, acting upon it.

I applied his sermon to a certain extent to ourselves. For the last year or more, strive as we would our own will has not been granted to us. I wonder, dear, whether we have been thinking too much about our own desires, and not sufficiently about God’s will for us. Do you think we have? Perhaps when we have learnt to subordinate our wills to His, that He will grant us our heart’s desire. I don’t know how you feel and have felt, but I feel pretty certain I have failed to put His will before my own desires in the last few months. I have been conscious that my human nature has been getting the upper hand of my spiritual nature. Candid confession is good for the soul. I must try and see His will more and try to do it.

Mr Blake does not believe in blind submission but in an intelligent submission, which makes an effort to comprehend the working of the Divine Mind, and a Will willing to be receptive to His message. It will be very helpful dear when we can talk these things over in the sacredness of our own room, undisturbed by the rest of the world. I sometimes long for you to be with me when I am reading my Bible at night, and I often feel you in my imagination, reading by my side, as I say my prayers.

I think perhaps we sometimes lose sight of this side of our united future life – in the strength of our human desires. But if we only try hard enough this spiritual communing together will be a great help to our leading a happy but moderate life together. We are both made with deeply passionate natures so that we must each remember not to depend too much on the other for strength, but to rely on a Higher Power to direct and control our thoughts.

I believe we shall find life together a good deal easier than life apart. The fact of being able to give expression in words to our deepest feelings will be a check to our human love for each other. Away from each other the imagination gets the upper hand because it has no outlet in words. Don’t you agree with me?

You are on your way now to a horrible country and climate. Remember it is only a passing phase in your life and do not let the conditions out there undermine your character by weakening it in any way. It will not be easy, I know, for these awful climates sap the vitality of any one and then when one gets away from it, one’s strength to resist has become undermined.

I hope that another year may see an end of this unnatural, ungodly, warfare. You will come back to me then, God willing, and I want you to be just the same as you were when you left me, strong in the knowledge of temptation resisted and overcome. I must go to bed now Sweetheart. God bless you, darling.

Aug 14th 1916
Ethel, Betty and I rode up to Evesham this evening to meet Mary and Baby. Ethel is nearly off her head with her excitement because Baby is here. It is almost pathetic to see her adoration for children. She simply can think of nothing and no one else when Baby is here.

I should not have recognized Baby, except that she was with Mary. I should not have thought her to be the same child. She is even prettier than she was, very brown and such a jolly child and she walks quite well and begins to talk. She is like Arthur but is also very like Mary’s family.

You can guess what I’ve been picturing ever since I saw her – can’t you? Only in my picture the child has curly hair – Baby’s is quite straight.

I doubt whether I shall be able to add much to this tomorrow as I may not get back to Badsey until after 9 pm. I will be able to tell you my fate on Wednesday before posting this letter.

I feel a bit fed up this week – the consequence is letter writing is an effort. I suppose it is the fact that you are on your way back to face great risks which is acting on my mind and causing it to feel dull and lifeless.

It is supper time now – dear.

Aug 16th
The result of my medical examination yesterday will please you I think.

Captain Frank Barnes, a very able surgeon, examined my legs thoroughly. You might almost call him a specialist on varicose veins, he has done and does so many operations. She said in his opinion my legs are in a sound condition and that although I have varicose veins, they are quite healthy and not likely ever to require operating on. He says that it is unhealthy people whose veins become really diseased. He said I have very nice legs, strong and healthy flesh! From what he said there are degrees of varicose veins. He said the most important veins in my legs and thighs are not varicosed. The ache of which I used to complain probably was caused by being run down and in need of a rest, more than by the veins being varicosed. Matron told him I was going to be married possibly in the near future, but he said that my legs will not suffer abnormally or more than other people’s even then. Of course his opinion differs from Major Russell who examined me before. Matron thinks that Major Russell thought at the time that I might as well not be passed because there was a surplus supply of nurses there, and that I was evidently in need of a rest, so he made a mountain out of a mole-hill to ensure me getting a rest.

I, myself, have a higher opinion of Captain Barnes, I’ve worked under him and know him to be very thorough. Also there is Wilfred’s case. In Africa he was sent back towards the latter end of the campaign to work on the lines of communication because he was supposed to have varicose veins and complained of pain in his legs. Yet he was passed in England as physically fit, and they put the pains down to an attack of neuritis. It is quite a likely diagnosis for neuritis is what Father suffers from. I don’t suppose either Wilfred or I will suffer from it permanently even when we are old because we’ve led a different kind of life. Father’s nerves have been racked for years now and thus neuritis has developed I imagine.

I left for Birmingham by the 8.40 train yesterday morning and had gone before the others were down to breakfast. I reached Bournbrooke Hospital at about 11.30 getting caught in a drenching shower of rain on the way up! Like all medical boards and similar examinations, I waited three hours before being seen, but I quite expected this!

I had dinner at University House with the nurses then Nurse Holtom and I went out to tea together.

I shall receive an official notice from the War Office calling me up for Service in a day or two, and Matron says I must be ready to start on receipt of a wire. Nurses who have had two years’ experience wear a different outdoor uniform; at present it is optional so I shall not go to the expense of getting it as we are supposed to provide it ourselves, but shall wait and see if it becomes compulsory and then perhaps we shall get an allowance for it. Nurse Holtom has got it. It is the smartest of all the uniforms I’ve seen. A navy blue straw hat, not the same shape as the VAD uniform, a smart little hat – a well-cut navy blue coat with a touch of red on the collar and silver letters TFNS on the shoulder. The off-duty indoor uniform is navy blue alpaca – awfully nice. It is very smart but still I consider it ridiculous on the part of the authorities to go to so much expense – our ordinary cloak and bonnets would have done with a bade attached to show we were on war service. Don’t you think so?

Soon after I got back last night Elijah Crisp sent round the letters, one for me from you and one for your Father. He was awfully pleased to have such a long one. Fancy your having seen the news about Cecil so soon. It is dear of you to feel anxious on my account. Of course I have been very anxious but you exaggerate my sensitiveness about sad events. I can bear this kind of sorrow better than many other things. For instance, if anyone I care for did or does anything wrong morally, my mind seems to feel all bruised and torn. I shall miss dear Cecil very much if God has called him away, but I know he was incapable of doing wrong morally and that he was prepared to die in this sense. His nature was such that it recoiled from evil. If he has gone, we must try and see God's’ hand working for good. He may have been spared many cruel indignities at the hand of the Germans. I should have hated to think of him being insulted. In Mother’s last letter she spoke of having seen Wilfred Barrett, a friend of ours, an interpreter, who saw Cecil before the battle, and saw the London Scottish when they came out of it. The first report was that “BC”, as he is called by his comrades, was killed – it was only afterwards when everything seemed so uncertain that it as altered to wounded and missing in the lists. You see he was seen to fall but no one saw him afterwards apparently to know how badly he was wounded or whether mortally wounded. The uncertainty has been and is terrible but we, at home, know that men cannot go into fighting without taking tremendous risks, the wonder is that so many are spared.

I think, darling, you over-estimate my worrying capacity. The BCs are all the same – they can stand sorrow which is sent direct like this, but worldly matters upset their equipoise much more. Not that we do not sorrow – but we have lived lives, our ancestors have, where men have given their lives for their country, that it is in our blood to willingly make the Great Sacrifice if need be that we should. I don’t think we hold life dear. Father is afraid of many things in this life because he is sensitive but is not afraid of death. When he was younger he would visit small camps in native villages quite fearlessly to help the sufferers. He was ill in bed when an air raid took place in London, shattering part of the house he was in and others. He said he hadn’t the smallest sensation of fear, and even felt surprised at the time that he was not afraid. This is rather off the subject in question – but still helps in a way to explain what I mean.

Mother is wonderfully brave too – although one can read between the lines and see how deeply she is suffering.

I am so glad, dearest, you have written to her. If Cecil has gone, you must, if it is possible and she is reasonable, try and be a kind of son-in-law she will learn to love. I ought not to say “try”, for I sure if Mother knew you as you really are she would love you. I think, as a family, the Sladdens are very loveable but they need knowing. Don’t you think so yourself?

You mention having met the Bishop of Calcutta. I think he is the same Bishop who came and stayed at Dingpore. He was put up by Major Herbert, the Cantonment Magistrate, and we put up the Bishop’s Chaplain. I remember the Bishop told me then he knew me as a baby. Father told me he had been in the East for years and years and can speak most of the native dialects. He was a tall, kindly-looking man, white-haired and clean-shaven, with very simple, courteous manners. When he was young he went to Ceylon as a missionary I think. He had tea with us, I remember. In India a Bishop nearly always stays with people other than the clergy, because he likes to get an outside opinion of the work of the parish. He knew Father well and I believe was very sad at the hash he made of his life. Father was considered one of the most promising of the Indian Army Chaplains. He might have risen to be a Bishop himself, if only he had not made such a muddle of his home life.

Baby Dorothy is a dear little mortal, full of fun and loves a joke. She walks quite well and has a wonderful language of her own, though she says a few proper words quite clearly. Your dear Mother would have loved to have seen her. Mary brings her up well. She comes to table at meals and behaves so nicely.

Do not address letters to University House until I mention having had the official invitation to report myself at Headquarters for Service.

Mary is very keen on me going out with Baby and her and as I have exhausted all my news I will stop this lengthy Epistle.

God bless you – Sweetheart. Look after yourself as much as possible.

With all my fondest love and a big kiss.

Your ever devoted

I noticed the 2½ anna stamp on the envelope!

Cyril received the letter on 6th February 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 9 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference