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March 4th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

4th March 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Seward House, Badsey
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

At Seward House

March 4th 1917

My own dear Cyril

It was a great treat to get a long letter from you this mail, also a pc dated Jan 5th which you intended to reach me before the letter, but they both came by the same mail.

Your Father had a pc and letter too. Mails from you take about 7 weeks now. You mention having written news in a letter to me reaching to Dec 26th, but I think this letter must have gone astray as my latest December news is that of the 23rd, and we have none of us heard how you spent Xmas Day.

I am glad you celebrated my birthday by having a wash! It was a good way of closing the old year too and looked as though you were making a good resolution to wash oftener in the new year! I think it must be horrid not to wash every day but several men and officers too have told me it is not as uncomfortable as it sounds! When I used to wake them up and make them take their shirts off to wash (on cold mornings this was a difficulty) they would say “we used to go six weeks sometimes without a proper wash, it can’t hurt us to go without just once – please, Nurse, may I only wash my face”!

How very kind of Mrs Frizelle to write to you and to send you a Christmas parcel. I feel awfully out of it not knowing all these kind friends of yours, and often wish I could write and thank them for their kind thought for you. They don’t know of my existence even but I know all about them. Do you ever write to Mr Selby-Lowndes?

The official announcement of Cecil’s death was in the Times of Thursday last. In your letter, although you think our information is fairly positive, you seem to doubt the accuracy of a soldier’s statement regarding the “missing”. I think in our case the evidence could be relied upon for the rankers of the London Scottish are nearly all men who stand a chance of getting a commission and are not uneducated men. The Colonel and Adjutant gave us no grounds for hope, although they wished that we might hear Cecil had been taken prisoner. I have not heard that any of the officers who were “missing” at the same time have been traced.

Wilfred came to make his farewells on Wednesday last and he stayed until Saturday morning. He was badly in need of a rest. He looked so seedy and tired out that your Father very kindly opened a bottle of port for him and made him have some twice a day. It certainly seemed to do him good and he went away better than he came.

I enjoyed having him very much and missed him after he had gone. He is a very loveable boy to those who understand him but he is not easily understood by the average person. Cecil was not so mysterious as Wilfred. If you could get him (Wilfred) to express his opinion you found he held very strong views, but he is diffident about airing his views. This I rather admire in young men. I hate to hear them laying down the law. He has the same little idiosyncrasies that you have pointed out to me in myself – such as looking out into space and apparently thinking about something interesting and yet never expressing those thoughts!
I used to feel sometimes that you would like to shake me when I’ve suddenly gone off into a day dream and you’ve come and knelt beside me and tried to look into my eyes and into my soul if you could, and asked me what I was thinking about. I feel sometimes as though I must shake Wilfred to bring him to earth again, as it were!

In repose his face is very serious, almost stern, but when he smiles, it is as though a candle had been lit behind his eyes. He has a lovely smile and one feels as though one must make him smile just once again.
He has not heard from the War Office yet about going into the Indian Army – but still hopes he may do so, even after he has gone to France. If he gets into the Indian Army, he will try and remain in the Army. He does not hold a temporary commission, he holds a stationary one – and therefore promotion will be slow for him, as it goes by seniority, but if he gets into the IA, his rank will date from his original commission. If he does not remain in the Army he has promised to go back to his job in S Africa for a year. When this year is up he will return to Mother or send for her and for Barbara. He has made up his mind to make a home for them. If he goes to India they will join him out there as soon as he has found his feet.

Of course nothing can really be arranged until the war is over. Wilfred has not found out yet whether Cecil was insured for £500 or £1000, but the arrangement came to by Uncle Ben, who is Executor, and Mother is that Barbara and I shall have half each of his insurance. That my share should come to me on my marriage, some of it to help me get some things – and that Barbara’s should either be spent on training her voice, which I believe has developed into a lovely one, or else help to send her to India to Wilfred later on.

Wilfred talked all this over with me and asked me my opinion. I came to the conclusion that Bar’s share had better remain untouched until after the war and mine until our marriage. The end of the war will bring great changes with it and I think it will be easier to make a decision then as to the best method of using or investing the money. In the mean time I expect Uncle Ben will invest it in something from which it can be drawn if required.

I expect I shall be able to tell you further details later on. Cecil left all his effects to Mother so that it is her wish that we should divide this money between us.

At present I hate to feel I gain anything from his will. I would so much much more have my brother back with us on earth again.

Wilfred and I were invited to tea with Mrs Ashwin. We took some of his songs over and the old lady was so delighted. He has a beautiful baritone voice and is very musical. He admired Miss Allan’s playing very much and thought her very nice too. He was rather shy with the old lady at first but tea and music made him more expansive afterwards!

We had some games of Bridge one evening. Betty has just begun to learn how to play. Wilfred and she were drawn as partners and your Father and myself. We said it was the little ones against the big ones. Betty is very reserved when she is playing, but she need not be for she makes less mistakes than the average beginner.

The almost daily news from Kut cheers us very much. Yesterday we heard the troops are more than half way to Baghdad. What a thrilling advance it must be for those who are taking part in it! I am sure from your description of the fighting in its earlier stages, in my letter of last mail, that you are very glad to have such splendid men to lead. I do hope you’ll get to Baghdad safe and sound, it will be so annoying for you to be sent back to hospital, just when victory is in sight. We are all very proud of the share you are taking in this advance, and although perhaps I say least, I expect I am the proudest. I am like the sailor’s parrot, I “don’t say much but I think a lot.” Don’t forget our drawing-room carpet when you get to Baghdad, or shall we do without a drawing-room and have a “den” instead, a mixture of library, study and boudoir?! A few Persian rugs would come in handy for this. Didn’t Aladdin find his wonderful lamp somewhere in that direction too? I hope you’ll find a wonderful lamp in the shape of “furlough” some time this year!

Thank you for your acknowledgement of a certain letter of mine. I guessed from a remark in a recent letter of yours that you had received it but am glad to know for certain.

At present our letters can be little more than diaries of events. We cannot reach each other’s souls.

8.30 pm
After tea your Father read to us. He is reading “The Campaign in France and Flanders” by Conan Doyle. Today he read about the battle of the brickfields at Messines, where Cecil won his commission. The holding up of the Germans at this point was evidently the dashing of their hopes of reaching Calais.

We went to evening service. During Lent the Bishop has drawn up a list of subjects of national importance and interest about which his clergy have to preach. This week the subject was “The Relation of the Sexes”. On Wednesday evenings there is a service and after the service the congregation are asked to discuss the subject of the previous Sunday Evening’s Service. I did not know what the subject was to be before I went to church and was quite startled when I heard what it was. I felt that Father Vaughan or someone like him was about to preach! Badsey does not often have an opportunity of hearing a sermon on questions of vital national and personal interest. It was a difficult subject and Mr Allsebrooke tackled it very manfully and dexterously. He, rather naturally, dwelt a good deal on marriage and the relation of the man to the woman and vice versa but he also touched upon their relations spiritually and intellectually. The others think my views on the subject are old-fashioned. My argument in favour of a marriage lived on the principles laid down by St Paul is, namely the submission of wives to their husbands, and the husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the Church, is that in my experience the marriages lived on these principles have been the happiest and best. The others argue that a woman is equal to a man and therefore should not be made to submit. I don’t think it is a question of equality at all. If a man loves his wife he would never ask her to submit to anything against her own judgement of what is right and what is wrong. Christ does not expect blind submission from his Church – neither do I think St Paul meant a husband to expect blind submission from his wife.

There must be a Head to every concern, and the man who makes the home and works to keep his wife in comfort as far as he is able, is naturally the head of his own household, has the right to expect his wife to be reasonably obedient to his wishes. I think St Paul says, “submit yourselves to your husbands as fit in the Lord”, which means as right in the Lord.

I know that nowadays, especially in society circles, marriage is a very difficult question. Men marry for money and marry women 10 or 20 years their senior and then comes the question of who is the head there. I think that in this case, that although the woman is head of the house affairs by virtue of having the money, yet in the relations between themselves the man is still first. You can’t get away from the fact. There is nothing stronger than nature, and nature proves that the man has the power to rule the woman. She may be and is his equal spiritually and could be intellectually if educated to be so, but physically men come first. They are stronger and nature means that they should be. To my mind a marriage without Love is no marriage at all and therefore St Paul’s argument would hardly apply. The question that has arisen now is whether a marriage ceases or can cease to be binding once Love ceases to exist? This is one of the points to be argued, I believe, on Wednesday night, if anyone chooses to bring the question up.

Looking at the question broadly and not from a church point of view, this as everything else comes down to the question of the survival of the fittest, doesn’t it?! People are always talking about the progress women are making intellectually but this doesn’t mean men are standing still or intellectually waiting for us to catch them up.

Men realize that the word “obey” in the marriage service does not mean blind obedience and do not expect it from their wives. So many girls talk as if husbands were sort of tyrants who forced their wives to do things against their own judgement. It makes me tired listening to this sort of cant. My experience of men is that they don’t always use their authority when they might do so with great effect and reason!

To get down to bedrock, the reason that English families are so small is that women do not consider that marriage and obedience to their husband is the highest calling – the call of womanhood and motherhood. They are arresting their own development by thinking so much about their intellects, that they forget their duty to their country and to their husbands by making home “Home” in the best sense of the word. A woman’s intellect is not arrested by a marriage of submission, shall we call it? – rather is it developed by intercourse with her husband and the love which he has for her and their children. There are very few men who stunt the intellectual side of their wives lives by expecting them to be mere echoes of themselves.

March 5th – On re-reading part of my letter I felt quite sorry for you having to get through my long sermon before you can finish the letter! I hope you won’t be very bored? The subject must seem such a very foreign one to all of you out there and that you’ll feel it rather bothering to wade through my humble opinions on it. But I daresay you will forgive me!

How ingenious of you to invent a new kind of rainproof shelter. You might have described it to me. It must be a useful pattern or else the Brigadier would not have taken it up. You seem to be doing so well as a soldier that it seems a pity you should give it up when the war is over. One reason Wilfred wants to get into the Indian Army is because he says there is nothing much to do beyond parades etc in the British Army during peace time, and I expect you feel like this about it too. In the Indian Army you can learn different native dialects and rise to political appointments etc. You do not necessarily remain an infantry officer. You would miss your research work if you remained in the Army and all the years of study would seem wasted to a certain extent. At present I see advertisements in The Times every day for invalided soldiers and officers to take posts in chemical and munition works – but whether they remain in the Army too it doesn’t say.

I didn’t send Baby Dorothy a Xmas present as I was not able to get to the shops at the time but I told Mary I’d send her a little book later. So the other day I got one of Beatrix Potter’s books called “Little Miss Moppet” and sent it to her. I heard from Mary and she says she is teaching Baby the difference in sound between Miss Muffet and Miss Moppet – Miss Moppet is a cat.

Baby Dorothy can make little sentences now and runs about all over the place. Mary spends a good deal of time running after her to see what she is up to. I am so glad she is not a goody goody baby – she is such a dear little pickle.

We shall be glad when we can pick flowers for the little Mother’s grave. At present we have planted a few snowdrops, which look very simple and sweet – and some crocuses (croci?!) will come up later.

The girls were telling me little bits from your Mother’s diary written from the time she was Betty’s age. She seems to have had a number of admirers, one whom she evidently disliked for she mentions that he hung round near her at a dance and even “had the impudence to ask for a dance”. There are many amusing little reminiscences and I am going to be allowed to read the diary some time or other. I think I’ll stop scribbling for a bit now or else this epistle will be too long, you won’t have time to read it!

March 6th – Nothing of any importance has happened today. Even the post brought one letter only. This was from Kath but I’ve not heard the news in it yet.

Last week I heard from her myself. She suggested that Ethel and I should apply for work as overseers or supervisors in a munition factory at Chester. I enclose her letter for you to read. I’ve answered her letter and explained to her that I do not feel equal to the work. I hope you won’t think me very namby pamby. I have done 2 years hard nursing, first at the General and 13 months at the 1st Southern and that is about all I can manage for the present.

The Women’s National Service Scheme calling upon women to volunteer is chiefly meant for those who are not already engaged in war work or who have done none up to the present. Some people think either Ethel or Betty ought to volunteer, but when it comes to putting this idea into practice it is not practicable. Ethel organizes so much local war work that someone would have to be found to take her place, no easy matter. In a week or two she is going to Abbey Manor about 3 times a week to help with the VAD work there. Mrs Rudge has had orders to double the number of her beds, and needs more helpers. So I am afraid neither she nor I can follow out Kath’s suggestion. It was very kind of her to write all the same.

I don’t want you to imagine I am ill but there are one or two things which if I could tell you would help you to understand why I am so careful of my health. They are simply due to long standing when it is about the worst thing for one and will soon get quite all right again but I do not feel justified in taking up work of a tiring nature and so perhaps unfit myself for future usefulness. Any married person, who knows me, thinks I am acting for the best and even Miss Musson, who is not married, told me I was acting wisely by having a long rest.

I don’t care if people do think I am lazy! So long as you are left to me, darling, my chief aim is to fit myself to be your wife. Not a wife who would become an invalid but a wife who could supply your every wish and want in the home.

The only news from your part of the world today is an account of the work done by the gunboats on Feb 25th. It must have been a grand sight. We saw the names Coles and Johns in the lists of wounded, and that of Captain Lucas as killed. Later we saw Major Faviell, acting colonel, was wounded. Who is commanding the regiment now?

Your Aunt George has not been very well. It is weakness of the heart. Old Mrs Nicolls died a short time back and your Father thinks she misses the old lady.

Ethel and Betty tear their hair over housekeeping now that the country is rationed, at present, voluntarily! It is awfully difficult to know what to get as substitute for flour etc. The meat allowance is all right but the bread and flour allowance is rather a squeeze. Potatoes are very scarce. We are using oatmeal and soon bread is to be partly mixed with barley.

There is an existing scheme for the production of corn by electrical means. The farmers have been supplied with harrows from America and are working day and night and during the latter time they use an acetylene head lamp. I believe that the idea is that by means of electricity the seeds become intensified and a crop of corn can be grown in 6 weeks. Won’t it be splendid if the experiments are successful?

At present only men are employed as motor harrow drivers but by the autumn women will be employed who have been trained for it. Everything that can be done is being done to win this war - and we’ve to thank Lloyd George for it. His uncle and foster-father, the old village cobbler and pastor of Criccieth, has just died and Lloyd George and his brother went to the funeral. Richard Lloyd, the papers say, although a cobbler, was very clever and could have risen himself, had he chosen to leave his village, but he preferred to remain there, but it was owing to his teaching that our Prime Minister made his way in the world.

I must end up now, dearest, until another week. God bless you and keep you from all harm. He has been very good to us, Sweetheart, and I feel very unworthy.

My love and prayers go with you.

Ever your devoted

Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 8 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference