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December 18th 1916 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

18th December 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 Pk Rd

Dec 18th 1916

My own dear Cyril,

I wonder if I shall hear from you this mail, having had 2 letters last week. I cannot hardly expect such good luck. I am in the sick-room at present and have been since Friday; this is Monday. The doctor pronounced it “flu” this morning, although I have not had the same symptoms as the other eighteen who are off duty with it.

However, I am very glad to have a good rest, and have done nothing until today except read a little. My eyes have ached too much for me to attempt more. I was sorry to come off duty as I had a second case of “tetanus” under my charge and I was so interested in the nursing of them. The second patient was sent home on leave, unwounded, and he noticed in the train after crossing from France that his jaw was beginning to stiffen. He remembered having trodden on a piece of old barbed wire which had pierced his boot and just pricked the sole of his foot. It was a Sunday when he reached B’ham and he couldn’t get any doctors to see him, so he came on here. Fancy any doctor worthy of the name refusing to see a man because it was a Sunday!

What a big result from such a small cause. This man had been a shop worker in Lewis’s in the town here and joined up at the beginning of the war and had been in France 20 months, and this is his first leave home. He is going to get over it, I think and Corporal Areker, the other patient, is practically recovered. He has recovered entirely from the “tetanus” but took “flu” and I imagine I caught it from him.

I am not sorry to be out of the officers’ ward for a bit. You were right in your summing up of the usual medical cases to be found during this war. Thank goodness I had one or two surgical cases amongst the lot or else I should have gone crazy! The majority of the medicals if the truth were known were out most of the day with some girl in the town, and then expected to be cossetted and made much of when they came in about 10.30! The men who were really ill were always most grateful and liked me I think – but the others thought me too matter of fact for their taste! I think you can guess the manner I should be likely to adopt with these “duds” as you call them. “Nurse – my bed is so uncomfortable, do make it for me again.“ “You may have your bed made again in a few minutes.” And then I’d go and find the orderly and make him make their beds for them, which was not what they wanted at all! They wanted me to make their beds for them, with them in them of course, and listen to their inane chatter of how delightful it was to have a girl to look after them after all those months abroad, (spent probably behind the lines in the ASC or some staff billet!). No I wasn’t born yesterday! A very nice married man said to me one day, “Nurse, I am sure you are either married or engaged .” And again I said, “What makes you think that?” “Just your manner,” he said. I then went on to ask him if he thought me very staid – and he said it was because I worked as if I wanted some other nurse to nurse someone I cared for as kindly as I tried to do myself. Wasn’t it sweet of him to say this? He was suffering from shell shock, a genuine case, and his pals were injured, some having been buried several hours. He was also slightly wounded in the face. I used to like looking after him because he resigned himself to my care as it was and was not always trying to give his own directions! You know how I hate being ordered about – by experience! Don’t hit me at this distance – it would be most unkind!

They are going to have a fancy dress dance here just amongst the nurses themselves – no men allowed! They had one last year and I didn’t go to it and I shall not this year. It seems quite unnecessary and will only tire us all out and if a convoy comes in as it did last year, how good for them to have tired nurses to look after them. If we were having some amusements for the benefit of the wounded I’d join like a shot. So many of us are mourning brothers, sweethearts, husbands, and yet the authorities can suggest us dancing – don’t go about with a long face – but I draw the line at fancy dress dances at a crisis like this. If you are in the same place I expect you’ll get a decent Xmas. I am sorry the muffler I was knitting for you isn’t finished but one has no time for needlework on day duty; on night duty, I used to knit when the patients were sleeping.

Friday was the anniversary of your Mother and Father’s wedding day. “A day of dearest memories” as he expressed it to me in a letter. I wanted to send some flowers for the little Mother’s grave, from us both, but I couldn’t manage it; however, I sent your father a short note and asked him to put some on from you and from me, if he had any flowers in the garden.

I have not heard anything of Mary and Baby since they left Badsey. I must write to Mary tonight if I feel up to it.

You mentioned nurses being at the sports where you are. I envy them being near you but I don’t envy them their surroundings. A young private was in the Black Watch who had been in Mesopotamia, gave us an account of the thieving propensities of the Arabs – “they’d steal anything – why – they even stole two nursing sisters”! We were rather sceptical as to the veracity of this statement but he vouched for it and said the nurses were never heard of again, and that ever since an armed orderly is always near at hand when the sisters go out anywhere.

I have nearly decided on buying myself a leather attaché case with some of the money you sent me for Xmas, and also a very nice hair brush. I am longing to go out and choose them.

I shall not have my initials put on either of these purchases because – (don’t make me blush, Cyril) well – because – they might not be my initials for much longer ….. Oh, who is the happy man, you say? Well, Nurse Lloyd told my fortune by cards the other day and said I was going to have a proposal from a “club” man shortly so I am preparing for emergencies! You’ll try and get home to the wedding – won’t you? If you don’t I shall know you’re jealous!

You must put my frivolity down to the “flu” or rather to the “viou” in the medicine I’m taking. It is a mixture of viou, ammonia, and chloroform. The chloroform will doubtless quieten me down in time and your letter next mail will resume the usual normal tone!

Well, darling, we’ve lived through another year without each other. God grant that the close of next year will see us together. Even if the war is not at an end, I should think you’d get some leave next summer after 2 years on active service. At any rate you will apply for some furlough, won’t you?

I wonder, when the war is over, whether there will be scientific work in connection with the army – because if so you might get a job without leaving the Army. Or perhaps you’d rather leave all the red-tape behind and return to research work. As far as your health is concerned the Army has suited you well. I don’t want you to become pale and thin as you were becoming when you were at Science College. The “plenum” atmosphere did not suit you at all.

Still it is no use planning for the future as we know to our cost. Man proposes and God disposes.

I wonder how Dr Baker is. I haven’t written to him for ages – have you?

May mentioned on her pc today that Ethel had just returned from Eastbourne. She has been staying with Aunt Lizzie Fellowes and I‘m sure the change will have done her good. She was getting very run down – Mother noticed how run down she was looking when she was staying at Badsey.

Poor Mother is feeling too broken-hearted to write often to anyone just at present. She told me how difficult she finds it to write without breaking down. It will be a long time before she recovers and even time will not heal the wound. It may soften the blow but the sorrow will always be there. Such a promising young life as Cecil’s was, just at its best. It seems so hard – so difficult to comprehend.

It is quite comfy in the sick room here but things could be improved if only you would call oftener and bring me some flowers occasionally! The least you could do would be to telephone! Nurse Lloyd who shares this room showed me a photo of her fiancée and I’m bothered if he is not exactly like you! I nearly bit her head off, I thought she had a photo of you! Even now I’ve caught her gazing at your photograph as though it belonged to her. It is on the shelf near her bed – really you ought to be furious – of course I think you are much nicer than he is! She thinks he is much nicer than you are – so we shan’t really fall out about it. Nurse Lloyd, being Welsh and therefore of a suspicious nature, keeps her man’s photo under her pillow, for fear I should bag it. I tell her that she needn’t be in the least alarmed, I’m quite satisfied with one man, in fact, sometimes I’m more than satisfied – finding him a bit of a puzzle at times. Well it is high time I stopped scribbling or else I shall get too tired.

All my love, sweetheart, I send you. It has been such a pleasure to have sufficient leisure to look back on the days we were together. You can guess what many of my thoughts have been these hours I’ve been off duty. Some of these only you can guess – just you and no-one else.

Dear love, when shall I see you again?

God bless you.

Your ever devoted

Letter Images
Cyril received the letter on 4th February 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 4 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference