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January 25th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

25th 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 Park Rd

Jan 25th 1917

My own dear Cyril

You will notice that I put my name and address on the envelopes now. This is in order to prevent the necessity for opening the letters, should they fail to reach you. I’ve only had one returned by the dead letter office, and although they do not know me from Adam, or I suppose it would be more correct to say, from Eve, yet I hate to think anyone should read them except yourself. I don’t suppose they really have time to read them, but nevertheless I’d rather get them returned unopened, if they fail to reach you.

Your Father sent your last letter to him for me to read because he thought it would cure me of feeling “Jay”, as he had heard from you and I hadn’t. It looks as though this week is to pass by too with no news from you. This is Thursday and no mail has yet appeared.

The enclosed poem in this letter is one I copied because it describes so exactly what and how I feel sometimes. Even In the stress and rush of work there are moments when the thought comes to me that I cannot bear this waiting any longer. The best years of our life we are being compelled to spend apart – I was going to have said that the best years of our life are being wasted but this would hardly have been true. You see, darling, I feel I do not grow younger as the years roll on and I long to feel our destiny is fulfilled before I leave the best years behind me.

I know you think the differences in our ages makes no difference because it is but a couple of years – but a woman grows older sooner than a man, especially after thirty has loomed in sight. When I think of your future, and stand “outside” myself as it were, I often think it is a pity you didn’t fall in love with a fresh, pretty girl of twenty summers.

When I look around me, men seem to have lost their taste for young girls as wives, nearly all the engagements and weddings one hears of are of girls between 25 and 35 and even older. It hardly seems natural to prefer age to youth.

Jan 26th
I can do quite a lot of walking now without my knee being painful, but I have not been allowed out of doors yet. Captain Frank Barnes is coming to see me again tomorrow and I hope he will say I may go out for short walks. I am feeling the need for exercise and fresh air, having been indoors a fortnight, shut up within 4 walls of a small room, the other occupant of the room suffering from influenza and laryngitis, so the air could not have been healthy for me. Everyone has been most kind and I feel a pig to be leaving in March after all the thoughtful attention I have received.

I am going to ask your Father if after all he will be very angry if I sign on again! This fortnight’s rest has done me a lot of good and I have a fortnight’s leave due to me in March or April so I should be well set up for another 6 months. The summer months here are not nearly so trying. I don’t expect he will agree to my remaining on - and I will not do so against his wishes, because he says he asks me in your name to give up. I shall have an answer from him before next mail so you will not remain long in ignorance of my movements. I hope you won’t think me very undecided - as far as I am concerned – if I were not engaged and therefore in duty bound to consider my health on account of the future, I feel inclined to sign for another 6 months, because they are the summer months – but I would not spend another winter here from choice.

Your Father thinks the work is too hard for me and asked me for your sake to give it up. You can understand it is a difficult problem to settle. I shall miss the money, small as the amount is and I shall feel a slacker into the bargain. Of course this knee of mine may settle the question for me, willy nilly. I believe I am lucky to have escaped having an operation for removal of loose cartilage which so often results in a stiff knee.

Jan 28th
Today is Barbara’s birthday and I wish I were at home to spend it with them. I wish I were as young as she is!

I went out yesterday and so as not to walk too much I took the tram in to town and a friend and I went to see Ellen Terry acting in a cinematograph play. Old as she is, she is still a marvellous actress.

I felt very tired when I got back, so retired to bed early. Captain Frank Barnes saw me yesterday. He said I was not to go on duty yet.

This morning I went to service at the Cathedral. We have so few opportunities of going to Church that I was looking forward to hearing a good sermon once again. The sermon was good of its kind and a necessary one so far as the usual cathedral congregation were concerned but not one to recommend itself to a chance worshipper. It was for funds for the Diocesan fund - very well preached but with not much appeal to the soul, unless you were a parishioner.

My mind and soul are very much in need of refreshment and there seems very little means of obtaining it. Even at Badsey the services are not what one would call “inspiring”! I would like to be able to stay in London and go to various churches where I know nothing of the preachers and hear things which would be a help spiritually.

Mrs Goddard, one of our VADs, has just told me that she is going to demobilize for a couple of months in order to spend this time with her husband, Captain Goddard, because he expects to be sent to France in the late Spring. How I envied her when she told me! Two whole months. She laughingly said, “You see my husband finds that the time comes when he cannot do without me a minute longer, and then he finds some excuse to send for me”! How lovely it sounded to me. To be wanted so much. He is taking a furnished cottage near the camp, at Whitchurch. Doesn’t it sound jolly? Still, they have their time of renunciation to come yet – so I must not begrudge them their present good fortune. Who knows what may be hidden in the future?

I have regretted my words to you on that long walk at Badsey when you got home for a bit. You suggested we should marry before you went out - and I said I thought it wiser that we shouldn’t. What a cold blooded mortal I must have appeared to you. Now, if I should never see you again, I shall never know the joy of having been your wife. You’ve been very patient with me, dear, when I must often have appeared very cold to you. If God spares you to me, I will try and make up for my deficiencies of the past.

Jan 31st
Dearest, a letter came from you this morning to my great joy – it is 2 weeks since I heard but it seems like 2 years! I’m afraid my character is sadly deteriorating! Just because I didn’t hear last week I thought all sorts of silly things. Such as – oh – he must get tired of writing after all these months away! “I wonder if he is getting tired of me”, “He has so many men friend’s now, I must seem very dull in comparison” - and so on. At the back of all this I know perfectly well that the reason you have not written is probably that you hadn’t the time or else missed the mail. So am I not a silly donkey to have doubts and fears! If anyone else started suggesting the above reasons for your not writing’, I should jump down their throats at once! I can’t think why I get these silly moods. You’ll have to give me a good whipping when you come home.

I have been put on night duty again – isn’t it sickening? Matron says it is more restful for my knee than day work. As a matter of fact in this ward I am in there is a good deal of walking about to be done. It is a busy surgical ward with a good number of night dressings. The staff is not so big on “nights” either.

All this bunkum about the duty being lighter is all in the eye, the real reason I’ve been given night work again is because so many of the night staff are on the sick list.

I had been hoping to hear from your Father before I posted this as to the advisability of my signing on again – now he hears I’m on night work again I’ve afraid he will be more than ever against it.
The papers are full of “compulsion” for women to be war workers now that I hardly feel justified in throwing this up. I know my general health suffers and yet look at the soldiers, they have to go on whether their health suffers or not.

How soon you were in action after that long march? As you point out in your letter I knew you were or had been in action from the newspapers in December but since then the papers have been dumb and it is so tantalizing. Your task has been a longer and more difficult one than was anticipated. There is a remark at the end of your letter which seems a bit obscure on reading it at first sight. You had been speaking about the fact that the thought of death does not appall the average man - and you go to say, “It would be just the same with me had I not the vision of your life alone to compare with that of ours together. I am glad you don’t know at present what little I do.” Do you mean “What little I know” or “I do”? I take it you mean the former - and if this is the right interpretation – it is the first indication you have given me that you have received a letter of mine, a very fat one, which I have been afraid had gone astray. In that letter detailed a fact and your remark which I have underlined leads me to surmise that you know that fact and so have received my letter evidently. You must remember to tell me if I am right – won’t you dear? I do so want to know if you got that letter – it cost me an effort to post it in case it should fall into other hands than yours – but I risked it!

I forgot to add that the reason your Father has not replied to my letter is that he has influenza. He got Betty to send a pc to say he would reply to it as soon as he could get up and go downstairs. Betty added that he was going on all right and was nearly well again. We’ve had the coldest winter since 1881 – 12 degrees of frost so it is no wonder your Father took cold.

I really must end now, dear – address your letters to Seward House after this, it will be the safest plan in the event of my leaving here.

With all my love, God bless you, darling – how I long for you to come home. As this little poem says: -

“How can I wait?” Still everything comes to those who wait and what is good is worth waiting for so I’ll wait for you trusting that God will grant us our heart’s desire.

Ever your devoted

PS (on envelope) – Your letter of December 23rd just received. Good luck be with you.

How can I wait until you come to me?
The once fleet mornings linger by the way:
Their sunny smiles touched with malicious glee
At my unrest, they seem to pause, and play
Like truant children, while I sigh and say,
How can I wait?

How can I wait? Of old, the rapid hours
Refused to wait or loiter with me long;
But now they idly fill their hands with flowers,
And make no haste, but slowly stroll among
The summer blooms, not heeding my one song,
How can I wait?

How can I wait? The nights alone are kind;
They reach forth to a future day, and bring
Sweet dreams of you to people all my mind;
And time speeds by on light and airy wing.
I feast upon your face, I no more sing,
How can I wait?

How can I wait? The morning breaks the spell
A pitying night has flung upon my soul.
You are not near me, and I know full well
My heart has need of patience and control
Before we meet, hours, days and weeks must roll
How can I wait?

How can I wait? Oh, Love, how can I wait
Until the sunlight of your eyes shall shine
Upon my world that seems so desolate?
Until your hand-clasp warms my blood like wine;
Until you come again. oh, Love of mine,
How can I wait?

Cyril received the letter on 26th March 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference