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March 18th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

18th 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 18th 1917

My own dear Cyril

As this is Sunday, and I am leaving for Liverpool on Tuesday, I feel I must first tackle the question raised for discussion in the latter part of your last letter, as time is short before posting on Wednesday. Your letter did not arrive in time for me to reply by last mail and as it has been six weeks on the way, it will be nearly 13 weeks before you get my reply.

First and foremost, dear, I must express my joy that wish me to join you and my absolute willingness to do so if there is a possibility of our plans being successfully accomplished. This I think you will find will be the case, when you read my answers to your arguments for and against the plan. I will reply to your arguments and suggestions in the order in which you have written them.

You begin by asking me if I would consider my joining you as worthy of consideration. My darling, of course I consider it very worthy indeed of consideration. This consideration is what one might term as “already considered”, because for a long time I have been hoping you would suggest that I should join you should you get leave to India, medical or otherwise. Your first point raised is one which one might call against the idea – namely the risk of the sea voyage.

I am quite willing to take this risk and now that the voyage of passenger ships is round by Africa, half the risk is gone.

You raise the question of finance next. You quote your pay and allowances – and they appear to my mind to be more than ample. I am quite sure there are couples in India living together with one or two small children on an allowance of 300 rupees a month and living ordinarily comfortably, and entertaining a little as well. Uncle Ben and Aunt Jessie started life on £150 a year in India, which is less than 300 rupees a month, and Aunt Jessie was not a careful manager, doubtless anyone who cared to make a study of it could manage on less.

I think we ought to manage on 300 rupees a month between us or even less. Just at first we might spend more because there would necessarily be a certain amount of outlay.

From the news in my last letter about a little money coming to me from Cecil, you will see that I shall be able to have a good trousseau and would not have to buy clothes for some time after we were married. My knowledge of India and the ways of native servants ought to prevent me being taken in by them. So often young married couples come a bit of a cropper at first by being cheated right and left. I daresay the language would soon come back to me.

You next allude to the fact that when you returned to active service I might feel lonely and dull. (You flatter yourself to much, young man!)

In India, it is the custom for the newcomer to a station to call on everyone in the station of their own social rank, just the reversal of the English custom. Everyone is bound to return your call within a certain time and you soon pick out the people you want to know and want to cultivate their friendship; and from my experience of India, one is never friendless. In the large towns one naturally cannot call on everyone, but generally one calls on a “burra memsahib” and she lets you into the know as to “who’s who and what’s what”.

In addition to this Wilfred will be in India and Maud Wall is going out to her grandmother if she can get a passport. I have also got some friends who live on a tea estate at Ranchi, Baxter by name.

You next go into ways and means of getting out. Here I must first of all mention the difficulty and length of time it takes to get a passport. Maud Wall has been trying for weeks. Directly I’ve talked over things with Uncle Ben I will start trying to get a passport in order to have it ready for use on receipt of a cable from you. I think I am more likely to get one than Maud, because the authorities publicly admit that marriages should be encouraged, as a national advantage!

If I got to India and then found your leave had been cancelled, I could go to friends, Maud’s grandmother possibly – the only question would be that of expense. I might get some nursing but until I did I would have to live somehow or other!

You say that failing my people paying my passage out, you would stand the expense. This question I will be able to reply to more fully next week when I have been able to ascertain the amount of money I am to have on my marriage – from the amount coming to Bar and me from Cecil. I have only been told about this by Wilfred and am rather surprised that Uncle Ben, as executor has not informed me of the fact. I think even if you had to advance the money I could pay you back out of the money given to me on my marriage.

This finishes the replies to your arguments and questions and I am free to make my own comments and suggestions in addition.

From what you tell me your turn for leave will probably come towards the end or the middle of the summer. Suppose we put it in July. This would mean my arrival would be during the hot season. There are small hill stations near Bombay, such as Lanouli, that we could go to then I could come down to Bombay in September.

Events have been completed so quickly in Mesopotamia that I cannot help wondering whether leave to England will not be obtained more easily. Even when you wrote the question was under consideration, and leave home might be granted under special circumstances. I suggest that your reason would be considered “under special circumstances”. The whole military situation has changed so rapidly, that doubtless your own plans may have to change too – so I am quite prepared for any change you may have to tell me about or even cable about. All I have said sounds very cold-blooded, but I am really full of thrills and excitement.

Flora Stebbings (née Orchard) would possibly give me an introduction to friends of hers out in India, also the Watsons. I imagine you mean that I might be lonely at a time when I most needed your care and consideration. This I would have to face as the wives of other soldiers are doing every day – and I have suggestions to offer on the subject that can be better made by word of mouth after we have met, as to arrangements which could be made to lessen the need for companionship. From what I have said so far you can see that I am not daunted by any of the objections raised against the plan.

Goodnight – dear Heart – God prosper our plan.

March 19th - I had rather a restless night last night after the absorbing question under discussion, and feel a bit muddle-headed in consequence.

Today’s paper gives a list of honours awarded to the officers under Sir Stanley Maude, among them are Major Gibbon, DSO; Captain Myles VC, DSO; 2nd-Lt Drewitt, DSO, of your regiment. How splendid that Captain Myles should have distinguished himself for the second time. Sir Stanley Maude’s proclamation to the people is also published – a very telling speech.

In The Times there is news of 60 villages captured by us on the Western Front. The Daily Telegraph give it as 76 villages. Péronne fell yesterday morning. This news coupled with the Tigris news telling your advance 20 miles beyond Baghdad gives one plenty of hope that you will yet get home sooner than we anticipate.
When you cable to me please tell me where I am to cable to in my reply, unless I am to cable c/o your regiment, in this case you need not mention anything about our idea.

My next letter will be a more decisive one than this because I shall know a few more facts after seeing Uncle Ben.

All I want you to know just now is that if a passport is obtainable, no obstacle will be too difficult to surmount, when you cable to me to join you – you must allow a month or more for the voyage out because of going round by Africa.

I must away to finish packing and do odd jobs.

All my love, Sweetheart. God bless – may we soon meet again.

Ever your devoted

PS – Kent House, Oxton, Cheshire

I arrived here “by degrees” today – a most marvellous journey. No one was able to tell me anything beyond that I changed at somewhere or other else, at every place I changed!

Aunt Jessie met me. Uncle is in London until Thursday. Maud is away but Irene is at home although of course she is out all day. Auntie says that the difficulty about my joining you simply arises from the uncertainty about passports. At present they will only issue them 3 days before sailing. Maud is still persevering about hers and ought to hear today whether she is successful or not. She is going to interview the authorities in person in London. If she is successful there’ll be more chance that I may get one.

Mother and Barbara are with Wilfred in London – he sails quite soon. I told him our plans in a letter which will have reached him today, so he’ll tell Mother I expect. I wrote and told her but addressed to France not knowing she had crossed.

I had to finish one of my socks for your birthday parcel, in the train and posted it back to Ethel at Shrewsbury to go in the house parcel by this mail. Very many happy returns of your birthday – dearest – perhaps this is the last one you’ll spend as a single man!

Now that Wilfred has had to spend so much on getting ready for the Indian Army, he writes that he can only allow me £1 a month as he is paying off his outlay by monthly instalments and it will be a heavy drain on his purse. I am quite glad to do without for his sake but it makes it a bit difficult for me because of having started a round of visits, and needing money for railway fares. However I must hope for something lucky to turn up!

I’ll be specially thinking of you on May 5th and I daresay you’ll find time to send a thought or two in my direction!

I hope my next letter will be a clearer one on the subject of plans. Do you think I’d better take my chance of a passport when I can get it and wait in India until you get leave. If you think I had better do this you’d better cable? Supposing you want to say, “Await my arrival in India,” I’ll know what you mean if you just cable the word “India”. Cable to Badsey and I’ll tell them to forward the contents by wire.

Cyril received the letter on 22nd May 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 5 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference