Skip to main content

October 27th 1916 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

27th October 1916
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Sisters' Quarters, University House, Edgbaston Park Road, Birmingham
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Sisters’ Quarters
University House
Edgbaston Park Road

Oct 27th 1916

My own dear Cyril,

Your letter dated Sept 17th arrived tonight - of course it was too late to be answered this mail! But as it happens there is not much to answer as you were unable to give much news owing to the monotonous life you are leading.

I went to tea with a friend of Miss Allan’s today, a Mrs Price – a dear old lady who lives in Edgbaston, off the Hagley Rd. She was rather sad today because her son is ill with pleurisy. He has a nurse now which is a help to her. She tried to manage without one at first.

If only the place you are in were habitable for ladies, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I were to join you out there. You seem to be suffering from lack of work and interests, but I daresay if we were together we could rub along pretty cheerfully. I often think how very different our present lives are to what we expected them to be - mine is the daily round and the common task which alas – does not seem to furnish all we need to ask! Yours too leaves room for improvement, although both our lots might be worse! I do wish you could get your letters – a little home news would at any rate give you food for thought.

When I was at Badsey, I helped to do your mother’s grave and thought of you and her while doing it.

Oct 27th–28th, midnight
Tonight I am in B10 officers’ ward, the ward I was to have come to originally when I first came on night duty but went off with a septic finger. It is rather a lonely job, as I am on alone except for an orderly. There are only ten beds so I’m not overworked!

As a matter of fact, on the whole, I am not sorry to get a fair amount of time alone, for when the patients are asleep I get time for reading and thinking, working or writing. I believe I am to be here permanently for the rest of night duty – which will be until the 1st of January as far as I know at present. Another nurse who went off duty with a septic finger soon after I did has had to have her finger amputated today and is now in the Civil General Hospital. Before it came to this she had five incisions made in her hand and arm. I believe there is the fear yet that she may have to lose her hand. Isn’t it sad?

I was most fortunate with mine. The Surgeon prophesied I should at least lose the nail but I didn’t. There is no sign now of the finger having been septic.

It seems so odd and unnatural when I think of you thousands of miles away asleep on your little camp bed and here am I awake and looking after men who are or have been in similar circumstances to yourself. It is the irony of fate that I should be compelled by circumstances to look after every man but the right one! How nice it would be if you could be here with a nice little wound which would not damage you seriously!

I am now going to knit the muffler I started for you and then read for a bit if the patients continue to sleep. I’m reading “Candles in the Wind” by Maud Diver – it is as nice as all her books are. I often think of you while reading it because it is about the East.

Oct 28th
It is really most difficult to conjure up news these days as I sleep most of the day and work at night or rather sit in a ward with not very much to do all night!

This morning I went out for an hour or so and invested in the hat for my new uniform. It is just a plain blue felt with a blue band round it. I must get one of the nurses to snap me in my new kit so that you can see what it is like. The coat will be much warmer for the winter than my cloak and I’m quite looking forward to wearing it.

I am going to the Early Service tomorrow morning when I come off duty. It will be the first time in 2 months I’m sorry to say.

I must make an effort to go oftener. There is no Service I like so well and yet from sheer laziness due to being overtired I have missed going to it. I must really pull myself together. This life of bustle and scurry seems to leave one very little time for self-examination or spiritual exercise.

Oct 30th 1 am
There is not much news of interest to add to my budget but I will write down what there is.

Once a month the nurses are each allowed a fire in their rooms. Today Nurse Barrow, with whom I share a room, had hers. It was so cosy that I’m afraid it was eleven o’clock before we got into bed, in spite of the fact that we had arranged to get up at 3.30 in order to have a tea party in our room in honour of Nurse Richardson who is leaving.

She is a most awfully nice girl and comes from Stratford neighbourhood. Her name is Airth Richardson. Do you know the name at all? She is going out to Russia in the Spring with her sister who is married to a very charming Russian officer. She is going out to spend his annual 3 weeks’ leave and then coming home again. Possibly Nurse Richardson will come back here after that. I think you would admire her very much. In character she is absolutely frank and honest, with great charm of manner and decision of character. In appearance, she is just above the average height, slender and holds her head with the “air” of one born to command. We think her pretty but strictly speaking she is not. She has eyes like two stars of forget-me-not blue and a lovely complexion and chestnut brown wavy hair. She is a splendid worker and does not mind what she does – although I know for a fact that in private life she is to outward appearances a social butterfly.

Nurse Barrow, who shares my room, is awfully nice too. I’m afraid she will be going back on day duty before I do which means I shall have someone else in my room. I shall miss her awfully. She, too, is most attractive - with lovely eyes with quite the blackest, silkiest lashes I’ve ever seen. Her hair is black too.

I went to the Early Celebration at 7.30 am. I remembered Cecil’s name before God in the prayers for the Faithful Departed. I heard from Eva this morning when I got in from service saying she was having his name put on the list of “killed and died” who are prayed for at the High Celebration at the Parish Church.

Mother does not believe in prayers for the dead but I do. It seems to me so unloving of those on earth never to speak to God of those who have left this Earth. What are your views on the subject? Two of the patients from the officers’ wards were present. I was glad to see them there because as a rule the privates are more regular in their attendance than the officers. Of course they are here in larger numbers which may account for it.

Have you got a CE padre out yet?

May mentioned the name of the Regiment to which you are temporarily attached, but we will continue to address to the 9th in case you join up with them later.

I will continue my budget tomorrow. Don’t I just long to have you with me during my long night watches?

Mother writes today that she expects to be in Liverpool until Thursday and will then go on to London for a week in order to collect Cecil’s kit which has been sent back to England. It will be a sad mission for her and I do not like to think of her being all alone. It is at times like this that we miss Father. His place should be at her side. It is awful for her not to have a husband’s sympathy in this their great bereavement. He, too, must be feeling it deeply but I think a Mother suffers most. God grant that our life together may be one of perfect union. If I were not confident that we shall be happy in our married life for always, I simply could not face the future!

Darling, tonight an officer, not a patient, annoyed me extremely. You know how I cannot bear personal contact with just any and sundry – well this wretched little bounder of a house surgeon came about as near as he could get tonight and deliberately touched me, rubbing his shoulder against mine. I took no notice but simply walked out of the ward. I could have slapped him. You’ll think me idiotic to mind so simple a thing, but I have the sense to distinguish between what may have been an accidental collision or deliberate intention. I know he fools around with other nurses but he is mistaken if he thinks he can do the same with me. I hate men - sometimes.

Oct 31st – Nov 1st
I’ve heard tonight of such a sad thing. A year ago when I was on night duty I came across a Private Heather of the London Scottish who was with Cecil at Messines when he was in the ranks.

The other night I came across him again and found he had been in hospital here for over a year, and had lost his left leg. Today he had another operation on the stump because it was not progressing satisfactorily and he was discovered to have an aneurism and was in the theatre from 10 am until 3 pm. He is now lying at death’s door in a very critical condition. Isn’t it sad to think that after all these long months he may not live? A few days ago, except that the stump was a little painful, he was apparently in very good health.

I heard some of my patients tonight talking about the compensation money allowed for wounds by the Government. One man who had a deep flesh wound in the calf of the leg got £145 compensation and his brother who lost a leg got £250. I wonder if you will get compensation for a comminuted fracture of the humerus. You ought to if another man with only a flesh wound gets as much as £145.

I had such a dear little letter from Wilfred. He sent me some pocket money and - - - this is the fact that I thought was so sweet - - - he said I was to remember that everything he had is mine for the asking and that I’m to be sure and let him know if ever I’m hard up. It is so nice to feel that he cares for me like this. We are not a very demonstrative family and it is only on rare occasions that we express our feelings so openly.

I wonder if the mail will be kind enough to come in tomorrow before I post to you.

Nov 2nd 12.15 am
The mail has not come in so I’m afraid this will have to be posted in the morning without my having received it. If it should arrive by the first post tomorrow I will endeavor to send a few lines in reply and post by the second post in the hope that it will catch the mail.

Tomorrow I am going to tea with a Miss Hope, whom Mother met at the house in which she stayed when she came to B’ham. Miss Hope is an elocutionist and teaches at Queen’s College. We are going to have tea in her studio there. Mother says she is very nice.

I wonder if you will hear or have heard of the attempt made by the Huns to raid the English Channel. Luckily the attempt failed but nevertheless we lost two vessels and a good many lives. It was very daring of the enemy and one cannot but admire their pluck.

Talking of the wily Hun, some of that species may be here at any moment! The orderly has just been round to say that there is “warning” of an air raid and lights out at any moment! I told him I must finish this letter before they come at any rate and if I’m blown up he must rescue the letter and post it for me! I believe it is safer to be in Mesopotamia!

I’ll close now in case of suddenly being enveloped in darkness!

God bless you, Sweetheart, you are always in my thoughts – I wonder if you are with the 9th yet?

All my love from
Your ever devoted

I posted my letter this mail without a stamp because I was afraid of missing the mail and was not within reach of a stamp.

Cyril received the letter on 13th December 1916 at Shala Haji Feshan.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 8 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference