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August 24th 1916 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

24th August 1916
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Seward House, Badsey
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Indian Expeditionary Force D (redirected to "Again left for ? 14/8/16")
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Seward House

Aug 24th 1916

My own dear Cyril

Thursday has come and gone and still no mail.

It is most aggrannoying! I get awfully fed up while day after day goes by and still no dear letter from you.

My marching orders have not come yet! It is so typical of Army methods. Tremendous fuss and to do and you are told to hold yourself in readiness to be called up tomorrow if necessary etc etc. These days go by and you begin to wonder if you will be called up at all! And just as you begin to settle down to a normal house life again you get a frantic wire to leave by the earliest possible train!

In the Gazette of Aug 23rd under Worc Regt Service Battalions a 2nd Lieutenant R C Marshall is gazetted 1st Lieutenant. Is this Lieutenant Marshall of the 9th? If it is I am very glad, it is high time some of your junior officers, who have seen so much service should get some official recognition.

Do you know that temporary officers holding commissions in the British Army will get a gratuity for each year’s service, at the end of the war? I noticed a reference in today’s Times about it. Someone was suggesting it should be paid yearly so that officers, who have had to leave unpaid accounts behind them owing to being called up for service and thus losing their incomes earned in private life, may have the benefit of the gratuity and perhaps be enabled to put their affairs on a better footing.

I have been plum-picking today and went to the tip toppermost branch of the tree overlooking Mrs Ashwin’s garden. Being rather windy it was like being at sea. The old ladder swayed backwards and forwards gaily. Judy was on another ladder on another part of the tree, also very high up. Suddenly both of our ladders seemed to kick and we swayed towards each other, and looked as though we were about to embrace in mid-air! However the ladders righted themselves miraculously – but we were so surprised at being safe that we simply yelled with laughter, causing Minnie, Mrs Ashwin’s servant, to pop her head out of the back door to see what on earth was happening. Betty and I are the champion climbers and pickers of the family – we go up the highest and picked the most.

It is very close tonight. I think we shall have a storm. It is very still in the garden tonight and quite dark. The sort of night which speaks to you of many things if you go out alone.

I’ll tell you the effect or rather one of the effects of your letter on confidential matters has had on me. I feel you said so much that there is really nothing more to be said – which we can say in our letters. I mean to try and convey what we feel each for the other.

One’s tenderest, deepest thoughts are bound up indirectly and directly with what you wrote, even though we are not always aware of it. I feel now that I know all you long for and need. First, you want me, your “little” girl companion, the friend of your youth. Secondly you want me as your wife, part of your very self. Someone who will understand, sympathize, and help if it lies in her power. Thirdly you want what only a wife can give, our love represented in human form. I too need you in the same way. I want you for your dear camaraderie – and I also want you as my husband and for all this will mean in the future.

Mary is so quaint about her love for Arthur. Why do other people’s love affairs nearly always appear amusing?! She always speaks of him as though he were a paragon of all the virtues! He was “such a good little boy” (ahem!), “he has such good face”, in fact he never does or has done anything he shouldn’t!

Just out of pure naughtiness I cannot help referring to you as Uggy Boo on every possible occasion and saying what an ugly little boy you were etc! I expect she thinks I don’t really care twopence about you!

Ethel is going to write and tell you all about her visit to the Woods. They were very glad to have news of you and recalled many funny little stories of your young days, such as competitions as to who could eat the most gooseberries in a given time and so on! Lily said that once you and she ate several hard beans for planting, bean seeds. She ate fifteen – I don’t know how many you had! When Ethel was telling us this your Father looked quite anxious as though you’d just eaten the beans and might have appendicitis at any moment! He said it was the first time he’d heard of it and supposes that is why he looked anxious!

Aug 25th
Still no letters. It almost seems as though I shall get two mails in one next week.

I went into Evesham this morning to get a tyre mended and while waiting I went into the Free Library, and ran across Pansy Orchard and Flora Stebbings. The latter had just had a cable saying her husband had been invalided to Bombay with typhoid. She hopes that this will mean he will not be sent back to Mesopotamia and that being in the Regular Army he may get a billet in India and then she could join him. They are staying at High Mead, Bengeworth, somewhere near Nurse Beazley’s nursing home. They have chosen to be near the nursing home for obvious reasons. Flora looked very happy, very pretty. Her husband was ordered to Mesopotamia soon after their marriage. They enquired after you and sent their love to you. I expect we shall see them again soon.

The girls say I ought to have asked them out here but knowing what I did I knew they would want to be quiet. I have not told the girls because I expect Flora would rather tell them herself when they go to see her. I do not like talking about other people’s private affairs and I know if I said anything it would be discussed and I’d rather not be the first one to start it.

Pansy is just the same as she used to be. I gave her quite a start when I spoke to her, not having seen me for so many years, she said it was like seeing a ghost from the past! I don’t know if Mrs Orchard is here.

Having been to Evesham this morning, I shall pick plums this afternoon, that is if the weather holds up. At present it looks as though we shall have a storm.

I wonder if Elijah Crisp will send your letter along tonight if the mail is in.

Douglas Wilding has been wounded again for the second time. In the head I think. His Mother was wired for and has gone over to France, so evidently he is severely wounded.

Mrs Godfrey sent us a statement of accounts of the Worcester Fete yesterday. The profits were £2,600 odd. Very good, don’t you think?

I am writing now in Mary’s room. Partly because it is quiet and I can write better and partly because if Baby wakes up and cries I can call her Mother. The dining room is such a long way off to hear her.

Your Father brought home the Lancet this afternoon in which there is an article written by Arthur about typhoids. It is very technical but I can follow it a little. If it were in simpler language I might possibly follow it altogether if Arthur were there to help me out here and there.

There was another article which interested me written either by an Australian doctor or by a doctor who lived in Australia, on the way infection is carried in cerebro-spinal-meningitis. I have never yet met anyone who could tell me anything much about this disease. This man’s explanation is this, and I tell it to you because as an officer you may come across opportunities to help to prevent the spread of the disease. The infection is carried by lice which have bred on some one suffering from a certain disease brought about by evil living. The person who gets meningitis in this form may be absolutely free from this certain disease, but the germ carried by the lice germinates in such a way that it reaches thorough the nose the arachnoid membrane of the brain which is very susceptible to this certain kind of germ, and the irritation set up in that region causes cerebro-spinal-meningitis. This seems to me to be a very clear explanation of the disease and the way it is spread. It is a very dreadful explanation but still I live and learn that so many things are caused in this way and it makes me more eager than ever to see this evil stamped out.

This afternoon Sergeant Hyde of your regiment called to see your Father at his office. He told him the story of the capture of the machine gun in detail which your Father repeated to us. It seems you had a large share in the capture of it. Sergeant Hyde was very pleased indeed to hear of your promotion. He told your Father many little personal things about you which I will not repeat to you because you would only feel embarrassed, but I will say this that all he said makes me very proud of you. Although darling I always expected you to do well, still, I must honestly confess that you have exceeded even my expectations. I knew you didn’t like army life and so I felt if you just went through with it as it were doing your duty you would feel it was all you cared about. But from different things we’ve heard you’ve done more than well and earned the love and respect of your men, which is everything when it comes to leading them into action. I knew you would be good at controlling your men, that much I judged from my own estimate of your character, but I wondered whether you would get up sufficient enthusiasm for your job to make you an exceptionally good officer. Don’t think I underestimate you, Sweetheart, it was simply that I felt you would be like a fish out of water.

I am very, very proud of you and wish I could give you a nice big kiss to show you how proud I am.

The hooter has just gone. I wonder if it means Zepps. They came over south and southe-east yesterday and one came west – so perhaps they are having another shot to come west tonight.

Elijah Crisp sent some letters round tonight but there was no Indian mail - alas!

Ethel tells me that Lily Messenger and her husband expect a third little person in addition to their two selves before long.

Aug 26th
Your dear long letter came today – full of all your doings which make such refreshing reading.

I am awfully glad you were asked to stay at Windcliffe. If you stayed on at Oakover or had gone to the Craggs you would not have seen Indian life at its best. I am happy to think you’ve had this experience. I am sorry you couldn’t come home chiefly because I want you so badly, but also because one never knows in war time when another opportunity may arise to get home if ever. Apart from this I would not have had your visit to Simla missed. In a household like Mr. Lowndes you naturally met the crème de la crème, and really they are so much the nicest people to meet socially. I don’t think I could ever be a real socialist, I might agree with some of their ideas, but I must say that class distinctions do make a difference. Don’t you think so?

I’ve longed to be with you, so that in the days to come we could look back together, but even as it is, from your descriptions, and from my own recollections of the kind of people, I can imagine the people you’ve been meeting. Mr Lowndes knows how to be generous in the right way. His war work takes a very nice form, I mean his home war work. I expect his official work too is bound up with the war a good deal.

The pc I sent to Cecil addressed Prisoner of War, Germany has been returned to me by the Dead Letter Office, stamped in German, French and English, “Place of detention not traced”. Of course it was very vaguely addressed but there have been cases where a pc has reached a prisoner of war addressed like this. Your Father agrees with me in thinking that he died of wounds on the field, after having been picked up by the Germans.

Of course, one would not be surprised in this kind of warfare if one heard from him at some distant date even, but what I mean to say is all evidence points to the fact that he was wounded very badly, probably mortally wounded.

It is a great blow to us all but we must not murmur. We would not have wished him not to have volunteered and we are proud to think he gave his life in an advance on the enemy. I can imagine how glad he was to be advancing at last. I am so glad he came down here and saw all your people, especially that he and your Mother should have met so shortly before he and she were called away to do still higher work. He even saw Mary and Baby.

It seems unfortunate for us as a family to lose Uncle Harry and Cecil but we cannot see what God’s plans are. He may have some wise purpose which we cannot see.

I have not had any more bad attacks of indigestion – just occasionally I get it very slightly but not worth mentioning. My inside is rather like your arm, it soon responded to treatment! I don’t believe I shall ever have much the matter with me when we have our own little home and we can lead our lives as it suits us best. Just an ordinary home life with plenty of fresh air and exercise and dear loving companionship will be the best cure for all my aches and pains. I sometimes feel I want to get right away somewhere, away from everything and everyone except you. You can’t help this war giving you the “hump” however much you try. It seems so senseless to go on killing and killing as they are doing, and yet it must be done if all the Hunnish methods of evil are to be stamped off the face of the earth.

I heard from Mother today. She seems quite happy about me going back to hospital. Just lately she has been worrying because I have made such a long stay at Badsey, she says I am placing myself under an obligation to your family and brings up the old refrain that it is not correct to stay with your fiancé’s people for so long on end! Poor dear old Mother, I am awfully sorry she will worry so much about imaginary troubles which don’t exist. The latter part of my stay here has been since I was recalled by a wire to come and nurse your Mother.

That was hardly like forcing myself upon you! She forgets that Xmas 3 years ago when she gave me my choice, you or her. I think your Father and Mother would rather have had me here to stay than that I should have thrown you over for no reason and so have saddened your life - even did they not care for me personally.

Mother’s own life has been so unhappy that she does not seem able to grasp the idea that loyalty to one’s fiancé comes under the same class as loyalty to one’s husband.

I feel very sorry for her about dear old Cecil but I don’t honestly feel that if I went home I could really be a comfort. Perhaps for a day or two I should and then if Mother hinted things about our engagement the fat would be in the fire all over again. I may be fairly patient about some things but I am very impatient on this one point. I expect there are faults on my side as well as perhaps more than on hers, but anyhow wherever the fault lies most, it does not lead to a peaceful life.

Kath was very pleased to hear from you. I read some of your letters to me to your Father. Kath said hers was not of the kind to hand round so I felt your Father would feel a little sad if he did not hear one or the other. He does not care nearly so much for news when it is told him, he likes it first hand. I hope you haven’t said anything to Kath about me in connection with any little thing I’ve told you which has perhaps rubbed me up the wrong way. I should feel shy about saying anything like this in my letters if you have. I only mention things like this to you so that you know everything which passes in my mind, not because I am grumbling. Kath has not said that you have but she told me her letter was one which referred to various family matters and people including me!

I had a letter from Mrs Jarvis this morning. She asks me to spend next week with them at Strensham where they have a cottage, somewhere near Bredon way. I have accepted but told them I could not come if I am called up before that time. I believe they have a dear little cottage, called Mill House, situated amongst the most lovely scenery. I expect I shall enjoy being there.

We are only 1000 yards from Thiepval, tonight’s paper says. In your letter you were hoping we should be there soon. The papers say that our success towards Thiepval is due to the speedy, unflinching courage and tenacity of the Worcester and Wiltshires. Thiepval and its neighbourhood is much more strongly fortified than we anticipated. We could have taken it before this had we been willing to squander the lives of our men.

You wrote very kindly about my attack of indigestion. It makes me feel rather a fraud now that it is all over! However sympathy is very acceptable however belated it is. When I go back to hospital I must be careful about the food there. They told me the other day when I was over that it is not as good as it was at Bournbrook although of course it is better than that of the General Hospital.

There is an Early Service tomorrow at 7 am to be taken by Mr Blake, Mr Allesebrook being still away. Betty and I are going to get up and go.

Tonight the grave has been done with buddleia and Rose of Sharon. I like to see it best in the early morning when the shadow of the tower falls across it.

There are two beautiful magnolias out in flower. Your Father is so proud of them.

In tonight’s paper there is a description of the new English Zeppelins, they are much faster than the Germans, and superior in other ways too. This is causing much uneasiness in Germany!

The rumour you mention in your letter about that which would possibly grant us our heart’s desire, tallies with what Mrs Inwood told me at the Worcester Fete, and which I think I mentioned to you. I have not told anyone and shall not do so. Naturally the thought stirred my pulses, and set my imagination roving ahead but I shall only treat it as a rumour so as not to be disappointed.

Aug 27th

I received intimation from the War Office today confirming the fact that I have been re-enrolled for service, and stating I am to hold myself in readiness to be called up. Personally I should think it likely that the 1st September will see me on my way to B’ham. It is a good date to commence work of any kind, the first of a month.

I have mixed feelings about going back. I know it is my duty to go but having had previous experience of the life, the ups and downs of it are only too familiar. But still it has its advantages like everything else.

There is rather an amusingly written article in this week’s Observer, which ought to reach you by the same mail as this letter, describing the capture of Kurmah. The sentiments expressed in it must be very typical of the views held by troops out there!

Betty and I went to the Early Celebration this morning, and when we got back we found ourselves locked out, so we had to serenade Ada under her window beseeching her to come down and let us in. When one gets up so early the rest of the world appears so lazy – blinds all down and no one stirring!

I made it my special intention this morning to pray for patience – patience to bear with Mother’s variableness - and for discretions to deal with her suggestions and plans in the wisest way without causing another breach. I don’t think she will ever go so far as she did that Xmas 3 years ago. This is an additional reason for wishing I was really Mrs Cyril Sladden, because then it would clearly be my duty to obey you and no one else could interfere.

I am so glad, Sweetheart, your arm made such a splendid mend. It realized its duty I think, the nature of which I pointed out in a letter written from Folkestone!

The hand bag and nursing necessities that I bought will still be useful although I shall not be doing private nursing. And also most of the things are things which are useful to have in one’s own house, and will come in useful in our own house.

Kath’s friend Miss Bydon and her friend Miss Nairn came to tea this afternoon. Miss Bydon picked plums for Mr Mustoe last year and this year she and Miss Nairn are picking at Pershore. They both seem nice girls. They were at Holloway with Kath.

Miss Nairn lives in Belfast and says the Irish rebellion was very much exaggerated.

Evening service is at 7.30 tonight – we are having supper before we go or else we have such a short evening.

Aug 28th
We finished picking the Pershores this morning so took a half holiday. Tomorrow we are going to pick apples and on Wednesday we begin the Damozenes. Betty and I did some pretty perilous picking today but enjoyed it all the same. This evening Ethel and Betty rode into Evesham to see Flora and Pansy. They were told Pansy was out and that Flora is in the nursing home, a baby daughter having arrived this afternoon. Ethel and Bet then went on to Evesham post office and on the way there they met Pansy and had a chat with her. She had been sending off telegrams. She says Flora is very disappointed that it is not a boy. She and the baby girl are both going on well. Ethel came back and said she had a surprise for me and then told me Flora’s news!

The evening papers report very fully and on good authority, although not officially, that Rumania has declared war on Austria-Hungary. This is satisfactory, isn’t it?

The fame of the Worcesters and Wiltshires in this attack on Thiepval is winging throughout England – they are said to have beaten all records for bravery and have absolutely done for the Prussian Guard.

We have no official news about Cecil yet.

I saw Miss MacDonald today and asked after her brother and Mr Amos. They are both getting on well but Mr Amos has still to undergo treatment for his eye after his other injuries are better. Douglas MacDonald is at Abbey Manor and spent yesterday with his sisters. Some people have all the luck, don’t they?!

I wonder how you would spend your evenings where you are when not in action. Do you sleep in a tent or in the open? All these details interest me because when I try to imagine you it is so much easier if I can picture your surroundings.

In your comments on some remarks of mine about the kind of girl with whom men fall in love. I think you misunderstood what I said about your sisters’ views “on the subject”. I quite think they understand mutual sympathy and so on, but what they maintain is that in their opinions men so often fall in love with such hopelessly incompetent girls! This is what they cannot understand.

It is a question for which there is no real answer. Mutual attraction is something indefinable. I haven’t the least idea what made me care for you. I know what I liked in you but that is not sufficient, because I like the same things in other men too. In fact the day you told me you loved me was a very perplexing one for me, because although I hardly felt justified in saying yes, yet some unseen power prevented me from saying no – I knew I didn’t want to say no, but couldn’t understand what made me say yes. It was simply this, I suppose, I was in love with you but not consciously. I think perhaps the first time I remember feeling actively in love, if one can use such an expression was the day you came to St Leonard’s – we went for that long walk and rested in the meadow. You showed signs of wishing we had not so long to wait until our marriage, and I felt too that I wanted the time to pass quickly. It was a day when we were both pretty highly strung up – I realized this most some time after.

I must write to Aunt Lottie tonight so will close for the present. How I wish you were here to spend our evening hour together.

Aug 29th
I wonder if the mail will be late again this week. I hope it will come before I go to Bournbrook on Friday. My orders to rejoin my unit on Sept 1st came this morning, so I’ve just two more days of freedom. It will be strange to go back to a life where I never hear your name spoken. It makes one’s trying moments all the more trying because of the enforced repression of one’s thoughts. I think this was one of the factors in the intensity of your feelings at times, about which you wrote to me. You could never give expression to even one smallest thoughts about me. I shall miss the garden, the room I am occupying, the piano and all the hundred and one dear things which serve to make me feel you so near although so far.

Ethel, Betty and I went to tea with Mrs Ashwin this afternoon. Hildegarde and her eldest girl Dorothy are staying there, also Roddy and Peggie. After tea we had round card games and I have never laughed so much for a long time. A good romp of this kind does me a world of good.

This morning I called to enquire after Flora and took her some roses from the girls. I saw Nurse Beazley who very kindly suggested that as I am going away she would allow me to see Flora and the baby for a few minutes on Thursday. It was awfully decent of her as no visitors are to be allowed for a week. Nurse says it is a lovely baby with big blue eyes like Flora’s.

I got such a wigging from Ethel last night because I said nothing to her about this event before it took place. It seemed pretty obvious Flora or Pansy would have written and told her if they had wished to do so. It was not my business to be the first to publish news which I only suspected but did not know for a fact.

Well, dear Sweetheart, I think this is all my news up to date. I wish I could afford to send you a wire informing you of my change of address so that you would not be kept so long in ignorance of my movements. If the mail should come in time for me to reply to it I will write another letter. This is quite heavy enough.

God bless you, my darling, my heart simply yearns for you tonight. Perhaps now that Rumania has come in Turkey may not be able to hold out very much longer. Supposing you should be coming home at any time, send as definitely worded a wire as you can because if I had it to show to the authorities I might get released from my contract the easier.

All my love and a kiss.

Your ever devoted

Cyril received the letter on 6th November 1916.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 12 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference