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February 10th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

10th February 1917
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 Rd

Feb 10th 1917

My own dear Cyril

Time drags on and there seems very little news of interest to give you, so my letters are bound to be dull affairs. From the casualty lists we notice that your brigade has had a hot time of it. I think you were safe at any rate up to Jan 25th for the lists are out up to that date. I read an obituary and biography notice of an officer killed in action in Mesopotamia on that date, so if you had been wounded in January, we should have heard by now. The papers still keep their unpredictable silence and unless one knows the regiments out your way, even the casualty lists would convey nothing. We wonder and wonder how things are progressing and whether the weather is helping or hindering you.

You’ll soon begin to think I am a poor weak thing! I have now got laryngitis. It is hardly to be wondered for a large proportion of the patients in my ward have laryngitis, tonsillitis or some throat trouble. I suppose it is due to this intense cold. The nurse, whom I replaced on night duty went off with tonsillitis and pleurisy, so I’ve escaped very lightly really! I kept on duty, with my throat very sore from Saturday until Thursday but as it got no better I had to give in. I was and am awfully sick about being off duty again.

Of course when I had “flu” in December I was sent on duty much too soon and so was not fit to resist infection when it came along. Arthur was horrified at the short sick leave I got in December. He got 3 weeks – I got 3 days! Votes for women!

I heard from Mother today. She says the real pinch of war is being felt now in Boulogne. There is no more coal to be had. Any that goes to France which is not for Military or Naval purposes is to be sent to Paris – it is feared there will be a revolution there. Mother had enough coal in the house to last until February 10th and after that date can obtain no more. She is still ill with influenza so it is a bad look out for her being unable to have a fire. Let us hope and pray the weather will improve. We have been having 27 and 29 degrees of frost.

Mother tells me about Cecil’s will – I will quote from her letter.

“Cecil left these few words: I leave everything I possess to my Mother. He appointed no executor, so Uncle Ben has had to ask for letters from each member of the family if they agreed for him to be Executor. His insurance will be used by being invested for you and Bar. I am hoping there are 2 silver badges amongst his things but I doubt it as he may have had his cap badge on him when he fell. Uncle Ben will choose something for you from his books or anything you like, my child. Perhaps you will visit Aunt Jessie before long and see and choose from his things.”

She also mentions that she is paying up his tailor’s bill, also one or two long standing debts which Father ought to have paid long ago and which I believe Cecil was anxious to see settled. Poor, dear Mother, how trying all these details must be for her.

I had a nice letter from May welcoming me home in March. I asked her if I might sleep in the “boys” room so as to leave the spare room free for visitors, saying I would tuck in with one of the girls should Jack, George or you turn up at any time. May answers in the affirmative and I am pleased for I had two reasons for wanting that room. The first reason I have told you and the second I‘ll tell you but I expect you can guess it, namely that it is the room you always have. I wonder if May saw through me! I should not be surprised, should you?!

Arthur is back in Rouen feeling “flat” after his stay at Mentone. I write to him occasionally to give him news of you. I thought of sending the letter on to you but on reading it through I see there is a remark which might make you vain and which he did not think you’d see, so I’ll not send it after all! He says he sometimes feels as though he had gone out to the war and missed it! He told me once before that if it had not been for Mary and Baby he would agitate to be sent on the field.

Wilfred wrote the other day saying he has instructed Cox & Co to send me £2 every month after I have leave here. It is awfully good of him but I am sure he cannot afford as much as that. I’ve written and thanked him but asked him to send only £1. He made this offer absolutely off his own bat. I never dreamt of such a thing. He said he would like to feel I was free from money worries when I leave here. Of course, dearest, even £1 a month will be a great help to me. It will be lovely to know I need not deprive Mother of any of her small income. Wilfred wishes me not to tell others of his offer.

Wilfred’s regiment is getting up some theatricals and are going to play “Raffles”, to provide funds for an Officers’ Rest Home. He, himself, is taking the part of “Bunny”. I’m glad he is beginning to take part in little gaieties, he was very low and depressed for some time after he knew the certainty of Cecil’s fate. You felt like this when you lost your Mother, didn’t you, dear – that the best thing was to go out and about, not sit down and think. I am glad I shall be at Badsey for April, for it will be a trying month for them all.

I keep wondering and wondering whether you will get home this summer. Something tells me, that if you are spared, darling, that you will get furlough this year. I almost live on this hope of seeing you.

Feb 12th – My throat was rather worse yesterday so I did not add anything to my budget. It is much better again today and Captain Mackey says I may sit up by the fire for a bit.

Last night, the nurse who is sharing my room and I decided that hot fomentations would relieve my throat, so when everyone had gone to bed we applied them. You see we are not supposed to prescribe for ourselves once we are under a doctor! These foments relieved my throat and I had quite a good night afterwards.

I’ve asked someone to buy me “The Times” today. I am longing to see a paper, not having seen one for 5 days.

I heard from Mary this morning, it is some time since she had written. It appears that neither Baby nor she have been very well but are both all right again now. Baby keeps her very busy these days, she is getting so big that she is off and about the house before Mary has time to realize what she is up to. Her talking is getting on well, there are very few ordinary words that she cannot say now and she is beginning to string them together into sentences. Mary says her memory is very good and she will fit in a word or finish a line in her nursery rhymes and enjoys doing it. Mary asks after you and sends her love.

Did I tell you last mail that I had a charming little letter from Aunt Lizzie Fellows? She was very pleased with the ppc I sent her at Xmas of Ethel, Wipers and me sitting by the Fairy Bower. She would have written me this only on New Year’s Day she had a fall which, although leaving no permanent injury, yet gave her 2 black eyes and a bad shaking and then she heard the next day that her great friend Mrs Bruce Fellows had passed away. Aunt Lizzie asks me to let her know when my war work here is over so that she can arrange for me to go and stay with her in the Spring. Won’t it be nice if I can manage to go?

Later – Wasn’t it strange that I should have been so keen on seeing the news today that I should get someone to buy me a Times and, lo and behold, there is news of the movements near Kut? I am glad I agitated for a paper. This is from the Summary Column of news on the middle page so you’ll know how much we know up to date.

General Maude’s troops now closely threaten Kut, for they hold the south bank of the Tigris on three sides of its sweep round the fortified village. They already held the bank of the river on the East and South when early on Saturday morning they carried the trenches west of the village and the liquorice factory, a point which was held by General Townshend throughout the siege.

“Then advancing from south to north, from the Shumran bend, opposite the old Turkish Headquarters, to the factory, our troops drove the Turks farther into the angle forward by the river. The enemy had very heavy losses.”

In the Turkish version allusion is made to reports being delayed owing to the breaking of the telegraph line. I suppose this is the reason for the silence of the newspapers if no news could come through – but no mention of this fact is made in our version.

You can guess I am pretty excited about the success of our troops out your way. Well played the 13th Division and all the rest of you. You are getting some of your own back this time. It must be fine to have a decent enemy to fight. The Turks are worth much more than the Huns. I do wish I were a man to join you out there.

I shall eagerly scan the papers for further news and do not think it will be long now before we shall hear that Kut has surrendered to us. General Townshend will be glad and yet how he will wish he could be there to share the fruits of victory.

The following are some of the prices paid for food in Turkey, in an article headed “The Shadow of Russia” by a Resident Neutral. Sugar 8/- a lb coffee 7/- a lb rice 4/- a lb and tea over £2 a lb The article says that, owing to the Russian blockade, Turkey is already half dead. Their Fleet is utterly destroyed and the merchant fleet is not worth anything. The Bosphorous is wholly shut off, and Constantinople’s trade with abroad is entirely at a standstill. All these facts coupled with our successes in your part of the world point to the near approach of the fall of Turkey.

Germany too is desperate so let us hope the end is in view. I believe I shall go mad with joy – you won’t mind having a mad wife, will you?!

The old Duke of Norfolk is dead. There is a splendid amount of his life in The Times. He must have been a fine character. Another notable man whose death is in today’s paper is John William Waterhouse, the painter. I tell you all these little things because I know you like knowing events happening at home.

I must go back to bed again for nurse says my pulse is too quick – about 100 I think she murmured. I believe the news about Kut is the cause of it and nothing else! Just pure excitement!

Bye bye for the present, dear boy. I guess you are awfully pleased to be in a successful campaign, good luck and my prayers attend you.

Feb 14th – Doctor has just been. He recommends me for sick leave when I am better – meaning in 2 or 3 days’ time. Now I cannot accept sick leave knowing that I intend to leave in March, without letting Matron know this fact, whether this knowledge will put an end to sick leave I cannot say – it probably will – I don’t think it lies within Matron’s power to let me leave straight away unless I have a medical board and yet my time here is so short that a board hardly seems worthwhile. My pulse continues to be about 96 and this is too quick to be normal. I don’t think there is any serious cause for this, simply being tired out. You’ll think me a dreadfully weak creature but very few women can come through this war work without it leaving its trace. The work is hard, the hours are long, our bedrooms are damp – we have to turn out in all weather in cotton frocks, our quarters being 7-10 mins from the hospital, and we cross over for every meal. I am not complaining for I know none of these things can be prevented but an Anglo-Indian like myself is hardly the best fitted woman to live under these conditions. The severe cold in itself tries the stoutest.

If I can let you know what has been decided I will, by this mail, but if I cannot, at any rate you know this, that I am going home in March, and to address my letters to Badsey.

Don’t worry about my health. I shall be as right as a trivet when you come home and I can lead a normal home life. I hardly like telling you all these little details – things sound so much worse on paper – but I know if you heard about them afterwards you would reproach me for not having told you. But don’t let them bother you once you’ve read my letter.

God bless my dear brave husband-to-be and grant him a speedy return. All my heart’s love, Beloved of my heart.

Ever your devoted

Letter Images
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 4 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference