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January 3rd 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

3rd January 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, 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

University House, Edgbaston Pk Rd

Jan 3rd 1916 (sic)

My own dear Cyril

We have been so busy over Xmas and the New Year that I’ve wondered if I should ever get any letters off to you at all. The hospital is full to overflowing and besides work there have been many things got up in the way of bun fights for the patients.

Kath came over to see me on Saturday the day before my birthday. I was most awfully pleased to see her. We had lunch together over which we chatted for an hour and then did some shopping, among other things choosing the writing despatch case which I mentioned I should be buying as your present to me, with part of the Xmas cheque you sent me. I got an awfully nice one – dark green morocco, fitted up with a paper knife, address book, calendar and a place for paper and envelopes, and a block of blotting paper mounted on leather. I think you’ll like it very much when you see it. I simply love it, not only for its own sake, but mostly for the sake of the dear giver of the gift. It was 32/6 and Kath and I considered it very good for that price.

Kath thought you were very particular and hard to please! But you see I was not only trying to please myself but also trying to lay out the money you sent me to the best advantage so that you would consider it spent well.

Mrs Horsman is dying and K says the cancer has spread down one side of her face and neck and closed up one eye. She is not in great pain as she is under morphine. The man she was to have married is broken-hearted. He admires her immensely and thinks her so clever and capable and felt she would have been such a splendid comrade and companion to him. K and Jack are paying the expenses of the Nursing Home until there is a vacancy in the Fulham Cancer Hospital, but Mrs Horsman’s friend assisted on sending each week what he could out of his earnings towards it.

K bought me a cake which came in very handy because I was having a supper party in my room on the 31st. I bought a tongue (tinned) and some potted meat as your contribution!! The other three girls in my room contributed crackers and goodies of all kinds and we made coffee.

We had 4 guests, making eight in all. It was a great success. I wish you could have seen us, larking around like children. We had a fire in our room (one of the girls had a day off and one can have a fire on one’s day off) and sat in a half circle round it and yarned and put all the eatables on the wide marble mantelpiece because we had no table.

Nobody in my own family remembered my birthday – I can’t think why. I generally get such shoals of letters – not even Mother sent a mail - and I’ve not heard from home since Xmas and then I only had a pc enclosed in an envelope. If it hadn’t been for K’s visit it would have been a very chillsome birthday. Perhaps my home folk think it is time I began to be sensitive about my age and try to pretend I haven’t a birthday!
Even my funny old thing didn’t send a birthday greeting in his last letter which he tried to get here a week after Xmas. Still I forgive him because he had only just recovered from a spell of fever which may have affected his memory!

I have also got myself a bottle of good tonic with some of your cheque. I still feel the effects of the influenza and the hospital people here never complete their treatment. Once you get up you are supposed not to need any further attention! So I am doctoring myself.

I am simply longing for you to come home. It is this longing that is affecting my health more than anything else, I feel sure. It is best to be quite frank, isn’t it? There is a whole world of meaning in the above statement if you read between the lines.

Another girl and I went to see The Gondoliers – on New Year’s day – also your treat to me. I haven’t been to any plays for ages and I love the music of The Gondoliers. The song, “Take a pair of sparkling eyes”, was sung splendidly. The rest of your money I must spend on something useful but I know you wouldn’t begrudge me using some of it for pleasure, because I knew if you had been at home you’d have taken me to some play or other during Xmas time, had we been in a town.

Goodnight – dear Heart. I wonder every night where you can be sleeping and whether you have time just to let your thoughts wander home to me for a few minutes or even seconds. God Bless you, dear Love.

Jan 4th
This is my January day off and as I am a bit “hors de combat” I am spending the greater part of it in bed. Nothing out of the ordinary the matter with me but I’m just lucky to be able to have a “slack” day just when it is required.

Darling – I was so glad to get your letter yesterday. I had quite made up my mind that I should not hear this week because latterly the mail has been coming in only once a fortnight – so it was a nice surprise. Before writing any more I must apologize for a previous remark in this letter to the effect that you had forgotten to wish me many happy returns of my birthday. I thought it was unlike you to forget and now I would like you to be here so that I could put my arms round your neck and give you a big kiss and ask you to forgive me for thinking you had forgotten.

Thank you very much for your birthday present. I am not certain yet how I am going to spend it. I shall buy something as a birthday present and part of it may go towards paying my dentist’s bill – however I’ll be sure and let you know what I do with it.

I also heard from Mother and Barbara yesterday. Mother is very anxious for me not to sign on again after March 1st. She considers, and I think she is right, that the health of the nurses here, does not get proper consideration. For instance we sleep in damp rooms and in houses that are in need of repair - and are sent on duty after an illness far too soon.

Your Father wrote in the same strain saying he was anxious about me and when I saw him last month he spoke to me seriously and kindly about the matter, begging me not to remain on to the injury of my health.
So, dearest, much as I hate giving in, I am going to give it up, if the authorities will release me, unless I feel very much stronger.

The last week or fortnight since returning from sick leave I have been in a heavy ward where the Charge Sister simply drives you like a slave – if there is no work to be done for an odd ten minutes she simply creates it, which is sheer madness when she knows that convoys continue to come in every day and that we require every ounce of strength to keep pace with the work created by this new offensive on the Western Front.

Many of the Sisters in Charge do not appear to bring ordinary intelligence to bear in their work. They are mere machines. If they read the papers intelligently they could realize that nursing will be even harder. Yet if victory is to be ours and they wear us out doing fiddling little jobs which are quite unnecessary, such as scrubbing and cleaning out cupboards which are the property of the charwoman, where she keeps her pails and brushes etc, and which she is supposed to keep tidy! She never dreams of asking the charwoman to do any work for us!

Tomorrow I am not returning to that ward, thank Heaven, but am being sent to B2 – which is a heavy ward, about the heaviest here, but I believe the Charge Sister is very nice and a sensible woman. At any rate it will only be for a couple of months.

Then will come the question what am I going to do when I leave here? You know my own view is that I would rather not go to France until after we are married. But I am beginning to realize that Bar is feeling the strain of the war and trying to keep bright and brave for Mother’s sake and I feel perhaps I ought not to shirk my responsibilities but go home and face whatever may come along.

I don’t really think I shall have any further trouble as far as our engagement is concerned and if I did I can quite well take the matter into my own hands and come back to England. I should only go home for two or three months and try and get over as a nurse on furlough.

As soon as you cabled to me that you were coming home either on furlough or to convalesce I would cross back to England and shall make this a condition before I return home, namely, that they must expect me to do this directly I know you are on your way.

I wish I could talk this over with you but as that is impossible I must act as I think best, knowing that you will understand that I gave the matter full consideration from every point of view before taking a decisive step. Possibly I shall consult Wilfred just to see what he thinks, because he has just returned from France, he tells me in his letter received today, and he will be able to tell me how Mother is. She has not been well lately.

He was sent to France on duty, and was able to see Mother en route, as it were. George Evans has been reported wounded and in hospital at Amarah, so we know your regiment took part in the new advance at the beginning of December. I try to be brave but my heart fails me sometimes. It will be so hard to lose you – but I mustn’t be a coward and shirk the sacrifice which is the privilege of every woman to make for her country at a crisis like this. But nevertheless I would rather die myself than lose you.

I shall get up and go out this afternoon and may possibly choose my birthday present from you. My friend, Nurse Barrow, is leaving here in about ten days. She is applying for a VAD post in an officers’ hospital at Gravesend – which is attached to the Royal Free Hospital. She has a friend there who speaks well of the treatment of the nursing staff there – you even get 2 hours off a day on night duty, or rather 2 hours off during the night for a rest, and the hours are not so long either. Barrow wants me to go there too but I shall not go anywhere until I’ve had some rest.

My legs are beginning their old dodges again and ache very much, but I don’t think it is the veins, it is that I am not strong enough for the work. I hate to admit it, but facts speak for themselves.

I am so glad you have recovered from your spell of fever when you wrote but you mentioned that you still had some weakness of your “inside” as you term it. There is an Indian fruit, I wish I could remember the name of it, it is quite common, which is a sure cure for troubles of this kind, it is smaller than a melon and larger than a mango – the same sort of consistency. You must have come across it. I daresay it grows in your part of the world as well as India. It will even cure dysentery. I must ask Mother the name of it, she knows it because she has tried it as a cure for Father and others. We’ve often wondered why its properties are not recognized by the world of medicine.

You say at the end of your letter you wish you could get home even for a month and take me right away and give me the best holiday I’ve ever had in my life. It would be the best holiday anyway, just to have you. I, too, would like to be able to give you the best rest and the best holiday you’ve ever had. Give you absolutely anything and everything you wanted or want most.

I must end this scribble now as I have many odd jobs to do. I will try and remember to send you some strong leather bootlaces and odds and ends of that kind. Your muffler will still come in useful I hope. I feel very remiss not sending it before.

All my love, dearest, God keep you and bring you back safely to
Your own devoted

PS – I heard from George yesterday. He tells me Rosie has been complimented on her work and has received an increase of salary. He is so delighted.

Says 1916 but is 1917. Cyril received the letter on 15th March 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference