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January 19th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

19th 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

Sisters’ Quarters, University House
Edgbaston Park Rd

Jan 19th 1917

My own dear Cyril

Being still on the sick list there is not much outside news to give you. My knee is getting on well. I have got it off the splint and now have it bandaged with an elastic bandage and have daily massage for it. I’ve never been massaged before and like it very much. The masseuse paid me a compliment by saying I had perfectly shaped legs! I roared with laughter and asked her if she means it or whether she was “pulling my leg”!

I heard from Kath this morning. She told me about Mrs Horsman’s death, which took place on Saturday last. She was unconscious for 4 days before she died and was not in pain. In a sealed packet which she left to be opened after her death, there was a little note dated in October for Mr Frith, her intended husband, bidding him goodbye, very simply but just as though she knew then that her days were numbered.

Juliet has been staying with Kath – while sitting for her Matric. She is going to spend a couple of days at Highgate and then go on to Aunt Fanny’s for a short visit. You will see more change in Juliet than in any of us, I expect. She is quite grown-up. Her most noticeable charm is one of “manner”. She has great charm of manner. Mother and other people as well as myself have remarked it. She has reached the age when girls try doing their hair in different ways until they find a style which suits them. Judy does hers quite prettily, and it suits her but to my mind she has not quite hit it yet. I think if she dressed her hair rather higher in the middle of the back of her head it would be still more becoming. She has more hair than she used to have – just the right quantity for the present style of hairdressing.

I had a ppc from Arthur from the Riviera, where he had been sent to recruit after his attack of influenza. His doctor decided that England would be too cold so sent him south. The address he gives is “The Michelham House” BEF. I believe this is at Mentone. He mentions Monaco, Nice and Cannes on the card and the picture is of Monte Carlo. It is a Home of Rest for weary officers and Arthur is thoroughly enjoying the rest and the lovely air and scenery. He asks for news of you so I must write to him.

Jan 21st – Something or someone, I forget what or whom, interrupted my letter last night and being in rather a mood for letter writing it was a pity that the thread should have been broken! However I’ll see whether my brain will rise to literary heights tonight. It is such an effort to write to you, you know!
The nurse, who has shared this room with me for a week, Brimson by name, and who had laryngitis, has been given ten days leave, and departed this morning. She has been replaced by Sister Poole who seems to either have “flu” or else a very bad cold and cough.

Nurse Brimson is quite a character – not young – but apparently very energetic. Although she had lost her voice, as it began to get better she made my hair stand on end with tales of her experiences. She has been a nurse in a lunatic asylum or rather in several asylums, Knapsbury being one of them. This is now given over entirely to soldiers.

It is a wonder she has not become mental herself. Insanity seems to turn men and women into beings lower than the animals; it must be terribly exhausting mentally and physically to be constantly with beings of unsound mind. Brimson looks older than her years and evidently is of the working classes, because she told me she was engaged to a man in the RFA who was a carpenter by trade. At present he is in France and has been for nineteen months. From the number of letters she receives from him he must be awfully fond of her and yet she does not appear to be a bit attractive – being plain and very ordinary. But that is the lovely part of love – looks and general attractiveness have very little to do with it. Cupid shoots his darts indiscriminately.

Captain Barnes saw me today and said I could sit up in a chair with a leg rest attached and could walk a very little – but I’m not allowed to walk further than the bathroom which is only about 10 yds away!
Captain Barnes says that a piece of partly attached cartilage slips out under the knee cap, causing my knee to catch and lock. He thinks the cartilage is not altogether loose. He calls it a “fringe“. You know how I always get over all these maladies and complaints. So don’t worry about me.

Jan 21st – While I have been in bed I have made myself a dressing jacket. A present from you really because it was with part of your birthday cheque I bought the material. It is cream ripple cloth, lovely and soft – trimmed with a border of old rose and green. I am wearing it today and it has been much admired! It is dainty, yet is warm and comfy. This reminds me I must make a list of how I spent the cheques.

In hand                                                                          5. 0. 0.
Brush and comb (silver)                                            1. 1. 0.
Writing Despatch case                                               1. 12. 6.
Gaberdine Cap                                                             0. 6. 11.
Pair of walking shoes                                                  0. 14. 6.
Mending shoes                                                             0. 4. 6.
Theatre and pantomime + incidental expenses    0. 10. 0.
Material for dressing jacket + trimming                 0. 8. 0½.
Elastic bandage                                                            0. 1. 5.

                                                                                        4. 18. 10½

I hope you will be satisfied with the above and not think I’ve spent too much on pleasure.

I have paid my dentist’s bill - £1.15.0 this month which is a load off my chest. I don’t quite know how I shall manage for funds when I leave here in March but am generally lucky and will have to trust to luck.

I heard from Ethel today. She says your Father heard from you this mail – dated Dec 10th – you naughty boy not to have written to me! I’ve been simply longing for a letter all this week! I expect you hadn’t time to write more than one letter.

Sister Poole’s brother is in the Gloucesters, a Company Sergeant Major, and his regiment was sent to reinforce the 9th Worcesters at El Hanuab but failed to reach there. Sergeant Poole was wounded and was sent to England. He has been offered a commission but refused it because he is married and his wife gets a separation allowance so long as he is a non-com. He was originally in the 1st Somersets in France and then when only 90 of them were left – they were joined up to the Gloucesters and sent East.

Jan 22nd
I am longing to see a newspaper to see if there is any news from your part of the world. It seems such slow work because we are told nothing of your movements. We only know what your objective is.

I have just heard a sad but true love story in connection with a QA nurse working in the East. Her sister told me. This nurse was engaged but broke off her engagement to marry another man, a Colonel. This wedding took place at Malta. The man went back to New Zealand to get a home ready and she was sent back by Government to England and she went out to join him a few months later. On arrival there he did not meet the boat so she went to the address of her mother-in-law who welcomed her and told her her son was in the north taking over his Father’s land who had recently died. However he never wrote to her and gradually the mother broke the news to her that her son had never been any good. The girl is now stranded out there.

On hearing further details I realized that the man was of the earth. The girl had once had a serious operation which prevented her ever becoming a mother. She told her intended husband this and he swore to her that he would rather have her disabled as she was, than any other woman. She believed him and this is the result. He went to New Zealand and his Mother had to tell her he cared for someone else. Isn’t it too pathetic for words? I’ve seen his photo and hers. She looks a lovely, merry girl and he is a handsome man, a very fine face, with no trace of dishonesty or sensuality about it. He told her he was willing to make the sacrifice of not realizing the joys of parenthood – and then deserts her for another woman. A more dastardly act could not be imagined. She was honest before accepting his love, and he was not true to his plighted word.

I’ve felt quite sick at heart ever since hearing the story, but her sister was so unhappy about it that she told me all about it.

Evidently human nature was too strong for him – but it is hard luck on us women to have to realize that sort of thing is more to a man than the companionship and comradeship of the woman he professes to love. I know it is hard on the man – he is as he was made, but I do wish that we could be loved most of all for ourselves and everything else next. It must be awful for that poor girl.

Jan 23rd
Time drags on and I am still in this room. I hate inaction and yet I see the wisdom of rest so far as my knee is concerned. I feel sure I’ve done it no more permanent damage.

Our family seems to be in the wars! Mother has a bad attack of flu; Aunt Jessie is slowly recovering from blood poisoning; Aunt Martha (Mrs Money) fell downstairs the other day and was shaken up a lot but I’ve not heard yet if the consequences are serious.

Mother mentions that the lease of her flat is up in May and says she is uncertain of her plans after that and says I had better not try and get over to France until I know what is going to happen after that date. This is a great relief to my mind because now I know I can settle down in England at least until May and I think it probable they will come to England after that date. If one only waits long enough things shape themselves, don’t they!

Well, dearest, I will end this long budget and if a letter should come tomorrow from you I’ll scribble off a short note acknowledging it.

I can feel Spring in the air and in my blood. It makes me restless, yet one is always happy in Spring-time without knowing why. If you were here I know you’d feel the call of spring too.

Perhaps next Spring will see us a fairly old married couple and we shall be able to hear and feel all these things together. It is good to be able to have this to look forward to. God grant its fulfilment.

With a big kiss and all my heart’s love.

I remain
Your ever devoted

Cyril received the letter on 16th March 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 5 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference