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July 14th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

14th July 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Riverwoods House, Marlow-on-Thames
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Riverwoods House, Marlow-on-Thames

July 14th 1917

My own dear Cyril

Marlow is celebrating France’s day by a regatta in which different colonial troops are taking part. The place is swarming with holiday makers.

Our part of the river is not where the contests will take place and we are staying at home because it is frightfully hot and if we were to go to the Regatta we should see very little on account of the crowds. Opposite our house is a river bungalow which has been taken for the season by some people who appear to have so much money they don’t know how to spend enough of it!

He is in the Ordnance, an Englishman – who has married a Canadian I should say. Her friends are Canadian at any rate because you can hear them talking “Canada” miles away, their voices having the true Dominion twang! He seems able to get off every Friday and Tuesday. I don’t know how he manages it. They are very gay and were dancing on their lawn last night. They have a couple staying with them – they dance beautifully – I quite envied them.

There has been no mail from you this week. The Indian mail came in on Tuesday, Mother met Edith Orchard who told her she had heard from her husband. Perhaps I shall get two letters next week if yours just happened to miss the Indian mail of Sunday last.

The Mesopotamian Debate continues. Lord Hardinge and Mr Chamberlain made a very dignified defence. It will be very difficult to pass judgement after this Enquiry is finished because so many people are implicated. It is so easy to be wise after an event, although I do not wish to take away from the credit due to the present administration in the East, at the same time they have the benefit of gaining knowledge from other people’s mistakes. The Mesopotamian Campaign of 15-16 was a ghastly muddle and I should think the men who were the cause of it directly and indirectly must be feeling the exposure acutely. At all events to give them their due those who have been examined so far have replied most honourably and with dignity, and taking all the blame on their own shoulders, trying to shield their subordinates from blame.

The day before yesterday the Germans won the Yser position from us. We hope it is a temporary setback but it was a nasty shock when we read the news first.

The Russians are doing splendidly in Galicia and Germany does not like it a bit. It was too bad of the Turks to start fighting the Russians in this heat in your part of the world! I do hope this disturbance will not necessitate British troops being brought into action – it might stop some of you getting furlough to India.

The Times Leading Article the other day spoke of the Advance and Capture of Baghdad as the most brilliant achievement of the Allies in this war. General Maude must be very pleased.

There is a family near us who interest me. The Father goes somewhere by train every morning and his three children simply adore him. One hears them calling out “Goodbye Daddy – wait for the train.” I don’t know why they think he has to wait for the train! Every evening his wife strolls up the lane to meet him, sometimes alone and sometimes the eldest girl, about 10, with her to meet him. It sends me visions of what may be – some day, dear.

I am making myself a summer frock – pale blue. Just a simple cool one - costing me 6/- in all! I think you would think it very pretty.

Sunday June 15th [sic – should be July] – I am commencing this part of my letter in the garden but I don’t know how far I shall get because although it is a lovely day there is a terrific wind which scatters one’s papers all over the place at unexpected intervals!

I went to the Early Service today. It was a heavenly morning, not so windy early. It reminded me of that walk to Wickhamford to church 4 years ago – with a great difference – you were not with me today. To my great surprise the Englishman who has a Canadian wife was in church alone. He had boated to church. He is a very distinguished looking man, and if he were not married, and if I were not engaged, he is just the type I admire, I mean outward appearance! Not knowing him I cannot say whether his character is one I would admire – but the fact of him going to the Early Service on his own like that would be a point in his favour. His wife does not appeal to me so much. She is typically colonial in her way of expecting and obtaining heaps of attention from the opposite sex, which is not the reason which does not attract me to her! but she appears to be of less solid worth than her husband who waits on her hand and foot with little apparent appreciation. Still so long as he is happy, who am I to judge her?

Bar and I went on the river last evening. My sculling improves with practice. There were not many boats on this part of the river, just a few people like ourselves who had not gone to the Regatta. It was one of the hottest days we’ve had, I was rather glad that the Colonial soldiers who took part in the Regatta should see that English weather when it is good is very, very good and cannot be beaten by any other country in the world. Although it was hot there was a cool breeze blowing.

During Matins today I could hear thunder (I can hear it now too) – the psalms were about thunder too and the organ was imitating thunder too, so altogether the effect was rather awe inspiring! I think the storm will burst before the day is out. (Altogether “too-too”!).

I hope you’ll like the snapshots Bar and I have taken between us. We had them developed at a shop and then printed them ourselves. When you come home you must teach us how to develop them. We use Cecil’s camera, Brownie No 3. It seems a very good one.

I wonder if you’ll think it rather strange about we girls not getting the insurance money in the end, after all I told you about it. When I wrote I did not know facts except through other people, and so could only tell what I had been told myself. As Cecil expressly left the money to Mother and expressed a wish she should set up a home in England, I think we have done the right thing in carrying out that wish. I am to be given some to buy my trousseau with and Barbara is to have £67. I must always appear very un-businesslike and callous where money is concerned, but it is force of circumstances this time, and I think you will agree that it would not have been right for Bar and me to have all the money, when we know Cecil wished Mother to have it and to use it. So I still must come to you without a sous. I wonder if you’ll have me just the same!
Today’s Observer tells of Bethmann Hollweg’s resignation. The reason I leave to your own direction of thought on the subject.

The rain has come at last and there are little spurts of thunder now and again. This is the prettiest little spot for scenery both on the land and in the sky. We see most lovely sunsets here. The Quarry Woods which are opposite us on the other side of the river are already taking on their autumn tints. We’ll have some lovely rambles in these woods some day, dear Heart.

I wonder what sort of scenery you are amongst just now, if you are on furlough. The scenery round here reminds us a little bit of Hill Stations in India, there are Indian looking bungalows all round us.
Next week I shall be going to Badsey until I am called up by the Ministry of Munitions. I am in correspondence now about a post but doubt if it will come to anything – it is no use taking an unsatisfactory sort of an appointment. If it comes to anything I’ll tell you all about it, but it is no use bothering you with details, at this distance unless I am going to take the job.

Barbara is writing to some swanky (awful word but expressive!) Parisian friends of hers! She has such swell friends that it takes her a month of Sundays writing a sufficiently well written, truly French letter to them!

July 17th

As usual, I got mixed in my date of the day of the week in my letter written from Sydenham. I find today is only the 17th. I dated my letter of yesterday the 18th!

My train back from London reached Marlow 3.15 and as I had previously arranged to meet Pansy and Edith there to show them a short cut across the fields at 3.30, I waited there for them. But I am getting on too quickly. I haven’t told you how I spent the morning in London. Well to begin with the train from Sydenham was held up at Brockley for 10 mins or quarter of an hour, and everyone spent the time with their heads out of the windows watching the sky. Then when I reached London, sirens could be heard, warning us of the approach of air craft. It turned out to be practice only!

I met Eloise Scott for lunch, a girl you’ve heard me mention or rather read of in my letters. Oh - by the way - she reminded me that she was calling at Holland Rd, the day you and I were there. She remembered you. She works as a private secretary – to Churchill Bros Engineers. She had a narrow squeak during the air raid. I saw a lot of the damage done. The day the raiders came was the day the King and Queen sailed for France and a number of our airmen went with them as escort, leaving us short at home. We did not know the movements of their majesties or else might have guessed where our airmen were. Then as the Huns returned they were met by our own returning aviators and then there was a big fight.

Pansy and Edith seemed to enjoy their visit to us – we took them on the river in the direction of their house so as to shorten the walk for them. It is strange how different peoples’ points of view are. Edith thought it useless for me to join you in India supposing I had been able to do so, just for one month only. She says if she had her life over again she would wait until the war was over. She said she might be having a good time in Canada now, had she not married, instead of being tied down looking after her little son!

So I suppose she thought I would feel the same. Personally I think one month together would be worth all the good times in the world, separated from you. I am beginning to think people marry without being very deeply in love. Considering it is war time what more can Edith have – a husband who has come safely through and is now stationed in India, safe for the time being, a little house of her own, and a son of her own. Some people are very hard to please. No one has her husband with her now, and some cannot even get as far as being married. Still I suppose, indeed I know, it must be very hard for her, having to live away from him, and I really do sympathize with her in my heart of hearts.

Mother had a letter from Wilfred yesterday, posted at Alexandria. He did not know how long he would be there – he might sail any day or remain there for weeks. The boat he sailed on from Malta was attacked by submarines the day before they reached port, but the attack was unsuccessful. So the Huns keep busy in that direction. If his letter came by the Indian mail, I suppose my mail would have been here today, especially as his letter was forwarded from Folkestone. I’ve not had any letters from you so am hoping it is not the real Indian mail, and that this will come in later in the week.

I think this is a fairly long epistle – if it becomes much lengthier, you’ll be obliged to ask for furlough in order to find time to read it.

I must just tell you why I have such a funny expression in the snapshot. I am trying to stop laughing too much. Bar had been moving me about all over the garden to get the light right. It was most curious, but except where I am actually standing, the light played tricks, and I looked as if I had a pair of wings and Bar did too and I saw the same effect with her through the camera. Of course this made us helpless with laughter, and we were so afraid the wings might appear in the photo, that we were hopelessly silly over the whole affair – hence my puckered face. If I really had wings I’d fly to India – what a sell for the old Passport Officer!

All my love, dearest. God bless you.

Your ever devoted

Cyril received the letter on 8th September 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference