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March 8th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

8th 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, Badsey, Evesham

March 8th 1917

My own dear Cyril

I got my mail today, forwarded from Birmingham, a nice long letter commenced on Jan 20th. In it you acknowledge two photos of me taken while on night duty. From the figure you quoted, I doubt whether your pocket will stand any further addition to its store of snapshots! You must not carry such a number about with you! Can’t you leave some of them at the base?

All that heavy digging which you describe must have just been the limit – I do hope you all got a bit of a rest before having to go into action. The way in which two of your subalterns met their death was terribly sad. You could not let the poor parents have the satisfaction of knowing their sons met a glorious death fighting to the last. This can be poor consolation for the loss of their dear ones, but I know, from experience that it helps to heal the smart of the wound, to get news that one’s brother or son died gallantly leading and encouraging his men.

Mr Pine and Mr Harrington died as nobly really but it does not seem the same to hear that “so and so was accidently killed in the performance of his duties”. It must have been a blow to you, personally, for your company naturally knew their officers, and it makes leading so much more difficult when they have new officers.

I have an idea I saw a “Jones” Worcester Regiment in the list of casualties a little while back. I wonder if this is your Jones.

I am so glad the socks were useful. I will send you some more this week or next. I don’t think I can run to shirts or else I’d like to send you a couple to go on with. I feel sometimes that I must appear very lacking in not sending you out more parcels. I long to send you all kinds of things, but, as you know, my means are small, and I think you would rather I managed to make both ends meet than I should buy things when I really cannot afford to do so.

I read out a good deal of the news in your letter to the others. It is almost pathetic to see how popular I become when I have had my mail! There are times when I want to keep your letters all to myself. This is selfish of me but I nearly always conquer the feeling and end in reading out news of interest. I suppose, when one lives in the country, the post becomes “everything” to one.

Certainly here, even ordinary letters, not mail ones, seem to absorb every energy at breakfast! It is quite a good thing in these days of rations for food becomes relegated to a minor sphere of importance when there has been a large post!

I have started eating my breakfast first and reading my letters after – on principle. Even this morning when your letter came I managed to eat my breakfast first and then to the mystification of the others, I read Aunt Lizzie’s first, the one from Nurse Sampson, and then yours. I like leaving the best to the last. I felt they were wondering how I could be so controlled, because of the little remarks which escaped them such as: “you must be glad you’ve got your mail, Mela”, and “I wonder if you’ve any different news than that contained in Father’s letters” and so on. Sometimes I feel a bit irritated but at the bottom of my heart I feel sorry that they see me getting such long letters. It isn’t exactly that I come first but it must be hard for them to come second, as it were. Don’t you understand what I mean? Still it is the way of the world and we are no different to other couples, are we?

I quite think that I am lacking in not possessing more sense of curiosity. If I asked more questions and were more inquisitive I would have a greater fund of general knowledge. I notice that your family have the bump of acquiring knowledge because they ask questions, they are curious to know about anything and everything - and thus they obtain more knowledge of events and things in general than I do. I think I am an awful duffer.

Ethel has been in bed two days with neuralgia in her eyes. Both eyes are swollen, and her left eye looks as though someone had given her a black eye. I think she has a touch of influenza as well.

Betty has had her turn in bed with flu and glands, and Ada too – since I came back. May started it, or rather I think your Father had the first attack.

I came on sick leave to find I am more hale and hearty than any of the others!

The severe cold weather has returned, 15 degrees of frost today.

March 11th - Two days have gone by and I have not added a line to my budget. I don’t seem to have been able to fit it in. The day before yesterday I spent a good deal of time reading to Ethel and in the evening I had some other letters which had to be written. Ethel came down yesterday and if the weather is fairly good she will probably go out tomorrow.

Nurse Sampson, who is nursing a case at Gloucester came over to see me yesterday and stayed to lunch. She said I had described this place and your people so well that it and they seemed quite familiar. She asked me to send kind thoughts to you, from her and best wishes for your safety. It was nice having a gossip about hospital days but it seemed years ago since I was there!

The others told me you would be interested to hear that Mrs Messenger (Lily Wood) has a son, John Stanley Messenger, born Feb 9th. Her husband is in Salonica.

Wilfred writes a very delighted note, which I received this morning, telling that the India Office have sent for him about his transfer into the Indian Army. Isn’t this good? It is such a relief to know that he will not be sent to France – any other front is preferable.

I am going up to Liverpool to stay with the Walls, on Wednesday. My address there will be: at Kent House, Oxton, Cheshire. I give you this address because I may return there after my visit to Eastbourne and Folkestone, and you might want to wire me about anything, but of course address letters to Seward House. I shall remain at Oxton until the beginning of the last week in April when I shall visit Aunt Lizzie for a few days, and from there I shall go to the Moneys for about 3 weeks.

These are my plans as they stand at the present moment, but they are liable to change if Mother should cross over to England, as she is likely to do if Wilfred is to be sent to India. She’ll want to come over to say goodbye and talk over plans for joining him in India later on, with Barbara.  

The news in The Times shows us that your movements have been very rapid and that you are well within sight of your objective. Some of the cheaper papers had taken victory at B- for granted on Saturday, but said their news was not official!

Ethel heard from Bernard who said that his contingent of reinforcements was being sent abroad alphabetically, and that one lot had just gone but he had been left behind! “M” being the last letter reached. His name beginning with “S” means he’ll be one of the last. He now hopes to get another weekend to go and see his Mother’s people at Compton, Somersetshire.

We used to receive our pay in alphabetical order and I found it an advantage to be so near the first, because I did not have to hang about. But whether I should always find it an advantage under other circumstances, is quite a different matter!

I am glad in some ways to be able to go to my own kith and kin because now that food is short and prices high I realize I must make a good deal of extra expense in the house. Your Father must be losing heavily over his business too.

Luckily, they made enough last year, to pay the dividends for this year, or else they would have been in rather a hole. I feel that every mouthful I eat is depriving one of the others. I shan’t feel like this with my own people.

I wish you could come home, dear. I feel a strange longing (not really strange) to return to my own people and I dread this feeling because I always have the memory of that Christmas the first year we were engaged, and I wonder if it will answer for me to go back. I have had this longing for some time now but I haven’t mentioned it to you because I dreaded hurting your feelings. Still, as usual, I end in telling you my thoughts, because if I do not, I feel as though I were deceiving you.

I think if you came home, this craving would be allayed, because the root of it lies in the fact that I want sympathy. My innermost being calls out to be understood and loved, and I just have to starve. I don’t suppose I shall really get understanding and sympathy even with my own people, such as I crave for but they are my flesh and blood and this in itself is a great link.

Don’t, darling, don’t think I undervalue the very, very great kindness your people have shown to me and mine.

They have been so magnanimous and kind that I am overwhelmed when I think of it. I love them all dearly but - I am sure you’d understand if you were here – their very goodness and uprightness weighs me down. I want the sunshine and laughter and joy of life. The girls do not seem to have that love of the joy of life, that joie de vivre the French call it – and because this in me is stifled, I get very depressed and they wonder what is the matter with me and say I must have a chill or a bilious attack or something just as prosaic!

Try, Sweetheart, to understand me in this. It will mean so much to me if you can. I think you will understand because you do know that there is a joy in life. You said once to me “I did not know what it was to live until I loved you, Mela”. You know what it is though, don’t you, just to be glad and happy for no reason at all. This is how I like to feel and I haven’t felt like it for a long time now.

Perhaps it is the effect this war is having on everyone – wearing us out. You simply must come house soon, if you can. I’ll go to bed now, like a good girl now that I’ve confessed my sins to you! You understand now how necessary it is for me to have a father confessor!

March 13th – When I read the last part of this letter through I hesitated about sending it to you in case you’d think me rather namby-pamby! Then I said to myself, “He loves me and therefore he will be patient with me. I’ll treat him as he deserves to be treated. He has never failed me before and he won’t fail me this time.”

I am delaying my visit to Liverpool for two or three days on account of Wilfred’s news of today. He has been accepted for the Indian Army and has gone to Liverpool to pack his things and get all he needs and settle up business matters relating to Mother and Bar before leaving. As the Walls have only one spare room I know it will be inconvenient if I turn up as well as Wilfred, also Uncle wired me to ask if I could conveniently defer my visit for 2 or 3 days. Wilfred will have to get a lot of new uniforms and as he is going to remain in the Army I suppose he will need dress uniform as well, so he and Uncle Ben will have their work cut out getting his “trousseau” ready.

I feel inclined to go with him and then if you got short leave you could get to Bombay and I’d meet you there! That would be just ripping. If I’d only myself to think of I’d run the risk of being torpedoed, but I have a sort of idea you wouldn’t say “thank you” very cordially if I had the misfortune to end my days this way.

I think I told you in my last letter that Maud Wall is going to India soon. The thing for her to do is to have Wilfred as a chaperone. A novel chaperone in the shape of a boy cousin of exactly the same age minus one month! But still a very nice arrangement, don’t you think?! Another nice arrangement would be for you to require a chaperone in Baghdad, a lady chaperone, for preference. I would allow you to choose your chaperone!

Having heard that there is a civil population in Baghdad I am uneasy in case you succumb to the charms of some beautiful princess – therefore I suggest a chaperone – but she must come from England - and be just a little older than yourself! It is much more crucial in fact for the chaperone to be the Elder. Wilfred even is one month older than Maud!

I had tea with Mrs Ashwin this afternoon. Her grandson, Richard Young, Captain, who was wounded six weeks ago, is once more back with his Regiment. He was hit in the shoulder and sent to Amarah hospital.

Ada, the maid, has a cousin, Lance Corporal King, in hospital at Amarah. He is in the Lancashires. He was wounded badly, I believe, in both legs. Brailsford told me that Sidney Knight of your Company has been slightly wounded but able to remain on duty.

We have seen the death in action of Lieutenants Snowdon and Bidlake, of your regiment. Are they not? I hear today there are several Worcesters in the lists, Captains Birtle and Stone, Lieutenants Brierly and Owen. From the names of the other regiments we think these must also be of your Regiment. I think Captain Birtle is the one mentioned in the “Killed”.

Mrs Ashwin showed me a pc from Muriel Thelwall (Holmes) who wrote very hurriedly. Her Mother is dying, a sudden bronchial and heart attack. She hoped she would live to see her other daughter who was hurrying to reach her. Poor Muriel – she will miss her Mother very much. She does not get on well with her Father.

May gets some very amusing essays – this is the end of one written on the death of “Wolsey”. “Wolsey felt very ill when he was in the train and so he went to a home and he said to them “I have come to lay my bones here.” And he did. A very modern Mode of Dying. In a nursing home!

Talking of nursing homes makes me think of the Japps. I heard from Molly today and will quote some of her letter – it is so typical of the Japps. “At present Dad is away at Folkestone, he had a breakdown, and he would not leave Mummie alone at the Nest so she is in a nursing home at Blackheath. She has been much better lately I am glad to say. A little while ago, she was not so well, because her brother, my Uncle Jack who was in Chile, died of typhoid fever – it was dreadful, and especially as he left a wife younger than Peggie and a tiny baby. You know Mummie wants to leave Blackheath and live in London, after her health is better. We don’t want to go. I don’t know about Dad, I don’t think he minds. I do hope Mr Sladden is all right, I expect he is pleased they have taken Kut? Do you remember Doris Eborall? Well, she is engaged to be married, at present, her fiancé is a soldier but in private life he is a solicitor. [Doris Eborall was their governess before me, she became a hospital nurse - M.B.C.] Mr Kendall is leaving Blackheath, he is going to Richmond, where he is to have two churches; we shall miss him very much but it can’t be helped. You will not forget what I told you about your photo in my last letter, will you please? I should love one. We went home the week end before last, and Constance [who is training as a Norland Children’s Nurse - M.B.C.] was home with a poisoned arm, but it is better again now. The niece is sweet, she says anything you tell her now.”

Now, isn’t the news in this typical of the Japps’ mode of life! Supposing I were there now, I should have the run of the house practically! We had some happy times there, hadn’t we? They hardly bear thinking of now, that is if one is to keep one’s nerve.

Betty has been reading the “Wrath” letters and others tonight – they are really awfully clever.

I may get further news about Wilfred tomorrow so I won’t close this until after post time.

Fancy getting so far and not mentioning the Fall of Baghdad. Thousands of congrats to all of you and our thanks for all your sacrifices made for us and the old home country.

March 14th - A few further details in today’s paper show us that the Turks expected Baghdad to fall and the civilian population gave you a warm welcome. I expect the poor things were glad to be at the end of their fears, even though it meant surrender for them.

I should just want to be with you. You are lucky to be a man and not a girl. Men have such lovely exciting lives.

Very best love my own brave Sweetheart. God bless you. What a lot of things you’ll have to tell me when you get back. I don’t think we shall ever stop talking! A kiss and a hug.

From your ever devoted

Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference