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June 24th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Major Cyril E Sladden

24th June 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Riverwoods House, Marlow-on-Thames
Correspondence To
Major Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Riverwoods House, Marlow-on-Thames

June 24th 1917

My own dear Cyril

I have put the address of the house we are moving into this week. We hope to get in on Wednesday if the decorators will have the kindness to hurry themselves. It is a very nice house near the river and if we are married in England, it will be a nice place from which to be married.

The Parish Church here, which would also “figure!” in our wedding scheme, is a church you will love. The building itself is beautiful externally, and the interior is all that a church should be. The Vicar, Mr Spearing, is a very good man, and reads well and the whole service is done “decently and in order”. There is a good organist, Dr Bath. He played a beautiful voluntary tonight. Both my brothers were confirmed in this church (All Saints) and it is like old days to see so many of their school caps about.

Marlow Grammar School, Borlase, used to rank as one of the lesser public schools, but the present Headmaster, Mr Skinner, has turned it into a secondary school, to everyone’s disgust, as the whole tone of the school has changed.

It is your Father’s 70th birthday tomorrow. I’ve just finished writing to him. As it will not arrive in time, I am going to wire to him tomorrow morning. I thought I’d say something like this “Cyril and I are both thinking of you today. Best wishes”. I want it to be a greeting from us both.

I heard from you this week – your letter dated April 15th. You were beginning to realize that I should probably be unable to get a passport, so my wire will not disappoint you as much as it might have done had you really been pretty sure I could join you. It is hard luck you cannot get home either, but on the face of things, for all we know, we may have both been saved from being victims of the U-boat campaign – and we have great cause to be thankful that we still have each other, for in these days of air raids and munition explosions even civilians lives are not safe, and God has been merciful to us in this way, dear.

I saw six blind officers the other day, and I felt again how mercifully we’ve been treated. They were being led by VADs – they were all totally blind. It was a lesson to me seeing these splendid, patient men. I often grumble at my lot when I think I cannot be with you on your furlough, grumble inwardly at any rate, and when I saw these blind men, very young they were, bearing their lot with smiles on their faces, I felt what a worm I am to murmur when I and you have been so mercifully treated.

I went to see the Orchards yesterday, who live a mile out of Marlow. Flora and her baby were there. Flora looking pretty but very depressed. It turned out she had had a wire from her husband asking her to go out to him in India, and she too had had to wire that she could not get a passport. I felt she must think me awfully callous laughing and joking but really I do feel one ought not to sit down and mope. It is not kind to other people. Flora’s baby is now 10 months old – a perfect darling. She has Flora’s beautiful colouring and her Father’s features. I lost my heart to her on the spot, and played with her for ages.

They all congratulated me on your having received the DSO! I had to explain they were mistaken – a rather embarrassing situation for me! It appears that Harold Allsebrooke comes over from Reading to see them, where he is training for the Flying Corps, and he spoke very highly of your fighting qualities, and I think Harold must have said he thought you deserved the DSO and they understood him to say you had been given it! At any rate they said their informant was Harold. However they beamed just as much when they heard you are acting Major, I felt I was the indirect cause of your promotion or something like that, the way they billed and coo’d round me! It was “reflected glory” to such an extent that I felt I’d won the DSO myself!

Mrs Orchard and Pansy are exactly the same. Edith Orchard has a cottage quite close to them for a bit. I only saw her for 2 seconds, she was going out to tennis. She looked sad and worried too. Her husband and Donald too, I think, are in Mesopotamia, in the Persian Hills guarding some oil wells. They are in the Rajputs. Donald’s wife has been staying with them for a week. She is doing VAD work. They’ve only had 5 days together since their marriage.

Mother cries herself to sleep nearly every night over Cecil. It is terrible to see her grief. I think she is getting a little better since I came home which is some reward for coming. I feel I am of some use in the world if I can help people to be a little happier. It will be a year ago next week since Cecil died – so this is an especially trying time – because of course we keep thinking about it.

I will go on with this another time, Sweetheart, it is high time I went to bed – which means to think of you – it is some time now since I had an experience like that kind of waking dream – although I always feel you near me – more at some times than at others.

June 26th

Today’s “Times” says mails to Mesopotamia and India are to run weekly once more instead of fortnightly – isn’t that splendid? In the same paragraph is the notice that mails for Mesopotamia and India leaving London May 31st have been sunk. So one of my letters has gone to a merman at the bottom of the deep blue sea! It will be one written the second week I was at Aunt Jessie’s, full of hope of getting out to you if I could get a passport and telling you of my various ways of trying to obtain one. I tried every means – working passage out – or going out as a nurse – any way they’d take me but all to no success.

We went on the river this afternoon and I surprised Mother and Bar very much because I am able to scull! It was just glorious and although I haven’t sculled for some years I did not get a bit tired. I don’t know if you know this bit of the river – do you?

It is perfectly lovely. Our house, Riverwoods, stands quite near the river, in its own bit of garden – on the opposite side of the river to the famous Quarry Woods. The house is built on the Riverwoods Estate and except for people inhabiting the other half dozen houses, the road leading to it is private. So we are very select! About three minutes from us is a boat house so we don’t have to go far for a boat. Of course we shall only boat occasionally as it comes rather expensive. I will try and get a snapshot taken of the house and send you one.

After tea Bar and I went over there and did some gardening. It was a perfect evening and I just longed for you to be there too. Indeed I wished it were our own little house - you’ll just love it when you see it.
We cannot get our pictures, linen etc over from France, which is a bore – but we’ll manage somehow until we can.

I must tell you how Cecil’s insurance money was eventually planned out. After paying off anything he owed, and also paying off some debts which Father ought to have paid a long time ago, and which Cecil wished paid, there was only £250 left in all. We, children, ascertained that Cecil wished Mother to set up a little home in England with any money he left, should he never come home, and so we have persuaded her to do this instead of giving it all to Barbara and me. She has given Bar £50, and me £50 – which I shall keep for my trousseau. It would have been useful if the plan I told you of before about the money could have come off – but this is the fairest way and the way Cecil wished it to be used. I only hope Mother will settle down happily – although I am afraid it will be a long time before she resigns herself to Cecil’s loss. She does not seem able to reconcile herself to it even with the help of a belief in a Future State. It is so difficult to comfort her.

It is still not easy for (us) Mother and me to fully understand each other although relations are not so strained. I think it is due to a sort of jealousy of my complete happiness in our mutual love. I don’t know why I’m sure but there is something still that I cannot quite understand in her attitude. However I mustn’t dwell on it.

All my love, dear Sweetheart, hoping you’ve had a right royal holiday in India.

God bless you, dear Love.

Your ever devoted

Letter Images
Cyril received the letter on 19th August 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 4 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference