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April 6th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Major Cyril E Sladden

6th April 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Kent House, Oxton, Birkenhead, Cheshire
Correspondence To
Major Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

at Kent House, Oxton, Birkenhead, Cheshire

April 6th 1917

My own dear Cyril

Good Friday this year has seemed sadder even than usual to me. Not only because of the thought that it was for the sins of the whole world that Our Lord died, but also because even after all these centuries people are slaying Him day by day. Yet, one ought not to be sad, for it is the Example of the Death on the Cross which inspires men at this time when their own hour comes – laying down their lives for their friends.

As it is now nearly a month since you were wounded, I wonder if you are well enough today to go to the Good Friday Services. I hardly know what to think or what to pray for you because we’ve had no wire yet from you. Perhaps wires are being held up somewhere.

Uncle Ben got a wire yesterday from the Congo which was wired on March 10th and it has only just reached him. It took 16 days to pass the censorship before it was actually transmitted to England, and 25 days in all to reach Uncle. As it was not a war telegram and not sent off from an area where fighting was taking place, it is extraordinary that it should have been held up so long. Uncle constantly receives telegrams from the Congo, and until this time they have come across in 24 hours. If this censorship applies now to the rest of the world, I should think we may get a letter from you before we get a telegram!

It annoys me to think you may have wired in ignorance of this strict and lengthy censorship, so that you may be wondering why I have not cabled to you in reply, that is if your cable should require an answer.

I heard from Mother today. She says that Kathleen had tea with them the other day and that Jack is dining with them on Sunday. Kath will have departed for Badsey on Saturday.

The restrictions on Easter holiday travelling are very strict this year – even the clerks in the booking offices have authority to refuse tickets to anyone. No excursion tickets, or return tickets, or bookings other than on one line can be obtained, and no guarantee is given that you will ever reach your destination. England is feeling the war on all our sides both as regards food and freedom of action.

I am reading a book by Phillip Gibbs called “The Battles of the Somme”. It is a wonderful description of all the battles from July 1st 1916 to September 1916. There is an account of the part the London Scots took in the fighting at Gommecourt on July 1st. I could clearly see that Cecil and his company must have met their death trying to hold a redoubt that they had captured, and were cut off from all supplies of ammunition. It is recounted that one officer returned to the English lines to tell the tale, not even wounded. There is a thrilling account too of the defeat of the Prussian Guard by the Wiltshires and Worcesters. What a lot of books there will be for you to read when you come home, although for a bit you may not want to read war books – you will have had quite enough war at first hand.

I sent a wreath of white spring flowers for your Mother’s grave on Easter Sunday, and marked it “from Cyril and Mela”, Easter Day 1917.

I wish we could have had news of you before Easter and Low Sunday, as I think your Father is very anxious, and also it is a trying time for him full of memories of this time last year.

You, too, dearest, will feel lonely at this time of memories. It all makes me feel so helpless. I can do nothing to comfort you either in your pain of body or of soul.

I try to be patient when I realize that there are others who are suffering even greater things than I am called upon to bear, but my spirit often rebels at the apparent injustice of this war.

Even if you cannot come home and if I cannot get out to you, there is great hope that the war will be over at the end of this year. The news from the Western Front continues to be good and the Germans appear beaten on all sides. America coming in has eased the financial situation for us. Uncle says that the Liverpool bankers whom he meets at his club etc, say that as soon as America showed she was coming in, all anxiety disappeared on the Exchange.

April 8th, Easter Day – I wished you a happy Easter in my thoughts this morning, dear. I was feeling happy too because I had had a pc from your Father telling of your quick recovery. The War Office wired that you were discharged from hospital, for duty, on March 17th. So you must have had a very slight wound. I am so glad, darling, I feel so angry when I hear you are wounded, to know that the Huns indirectly through the Turks, have the power to mar and wound my loved one.

I am glad too that you are with your regiment able to enjoy the fruits of victory. It must be sickening to be out of things, just at the moment of victory.

Summer Time started today. We went to the 7 o’clock celebration (really six). It was a beautiful morning and a church nearby was chiming the Easter hymn times. The church the Walls go to is rather like a mission church, only that it is not in a poor parish, but it is built like one. At present the services are not very extreme, although of course they wear vestments, but the vicar (very much backed by Aunt Jessie!) is gradually introducing ritual. The curious part of the vicar is that although he wears vestments and preaches the most advanced doctrine, yet he does not strike one as being a High Church Priest. He is very practical and is very keen on “strength” in Every form – Strength of Mind – Strength of Will - and although he preaches Confession and practices it, yet I don’t think he is a man who would influence a person against their own judgement. I mean he does not wish his congregation to be priest-ridden.

Aunt Jessie simply lives in church, and has the care of the fair linen and vestments. It is a beautiful life, but to a certain extent - selfish, because she neglects everything else, her husband, home and children, and no one can convince her that she does so, and if one does nearly convince her, then she replies that her work for the Church is a higher work, and she will put it first. I do not agree with her and I’m afraid she feels I am a backslider! I feel that a religion which apparently aims at the salvation of one’s own soul to the extent that other souls are being lost in the meantime is not typical of Christ. The rest of the household are being influenced in the opposite direction to herself inwardly, although outwardly they attend many services.

She is an awfully good woman and an invaluable church worker, and perfectly sincere in her worship – but she forgets that her neglect of her home life may be hindering the souls of those at home.

I forget whether I told you that she is to have a small operation the Monday after Low Sunday, and the doctor asked me if I would see him through with it. It is only very slight and Auntie will only be in bed a week. The following week I hope to get to Eastbourne, and may perhaps see Mother and Bar for a day or two on my way through London.

Amongst Cecil’s things I have come across several films of photos of himself taken in Africa and many of his work, such as bridges, his camp etc. Maud and I are printing them for different members of the family. The snapshots are awfully good - and it is so sad to see his dear face gradually appearing again.

I have filled in my application form for a passport to India tonight. Maud and I had great fun over the description of my appearance. The “mouth” was the most difficult for us to decide on. Maud said “Cupid’s bow” but I finally said “no, nothing so frivolous, they’ll never give me a passport”. Maud then said “a firm mouth but wavy in outline”! We finally decided on “wavy” and left it at that! For “any special peculiarity”, I wrote “The upper edge of ears slightly serrated”. This sounds freakish but it is a fact and should anyone ever require some mark by which to identify me, it is quite a good one, because it is peculiar to me, and also to Father. It is not noticeable except on very close examination.

I am asking Mr Allsebrooke to sign this passport application, and your Father too as the “recommender”.

Mind and make your cable to me very plain as I may have to produce it as any authority for going out. I have to state for what purpose I am going out. If you think it best, I am quite willing to take the first opportunity of sailing and then waiting in India until you could join me. You must let me know if you wish this, by cable.

I shall probably not be allowed to give you the name of the Line or the ship I shall be sailing by – so that you could not meet the boat in any case. I should have to let you know through Cox’s after I had arrived – April 10th.

After I have actually sailed, someone at home would wire to Cox’s to give you some idea when I should be arriving. I shall go overland to Marseilles because I am told the mail boats are better protected and are accompanied by escorts – and one is only a few days in the danger area by this route.

If it can possibly be managed Maud will sail by the same boat as I am to join her grandmother in Mussoorie, and if I should be stranded by any chance, if your leave were cancelled, then I could go to her grandmother’s. She is Aunt Jessie’s step-mother really but the only mother she remembers. She lives at Dehra Dun in the cold months and goes to Mussoorie in the hot weather. Dehra Dun is at the foot of the mountain road leading to Mussoorie.

To make matters simpler for me, will you be able to wire me the passage money. The passage money from Marseilles is £48 I think, and the journey overland might run into another £10.

My people cannot see the way to paying my passage out. I wish they could. So, dearest, to accomplish our end, I’m afraid we’ll have to fork out ourselves. So that I do not run short and in case of unforeseen extra expenses cropping up, will you make up the passage money to £70 in all, and then I will return you the balance when we have joined forces.

I am calculating on this letter reaching you about the 3rd week in May, and if your furlough is due the latter part of the Summer, I don’t suppose you’ll cable before this reaches you.

We heard of one lady who obtained a passport for India the other day, so I may prove successful if I badger the authorities hard enough. I had my passport photo taken today – I expect it will be an awful sketch as they only charged me 1/- for 3 copies!!

We heard from Wilfred from Havre! We were so surprised because he thought he was going round by the Cape! This goes to prove I think that evidently the overland route is the safest on account of the strict escortship.

Today’s paper says that America has taken over the guarding of the Western Atlantic so as to relieve the Allies to contend with the North Sea and Mediterranean submarine warfare. This is all in favour of our plan, isn’t it?!

With heaps of love, dearest. I will do my very best to join you. May we have every success.

Ever your devoted

PS (on envelope) – I wrote c/o Cox’s last week, and this mail have written them to forward letter.

Cyril received the letter on 1st June 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 5 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference