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July 29th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

29th July 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

July 29th 1917

My own dear Cyril

I got back to the old home yesterday after a very tiresome and hot journey – 4 changes – Bourne End, Maidenhead, Reading and Oxford. I stood in the corridor nearly all the way from Oxford.

When I got to Reading the train I was expressly told I could catch had been taken off, so I had to wait 3½ hours. I wired to Badsey to tell them as one of them was going to meet me at Badsey at 1 o’clock. Instead I got to Evesham at 4.15. There was no one to meet me and I could not get a taxi or cab. A little boy helped me to carry my suitcase and we’d just got to Evesham bridge when we espied a Badsey dray – nothing daunted, we chased it, and I arrived at the house, on the dray, sitting on my suit case!

When I got here, I found Mary and Baby had arrived about half an hour sooner than I had, the reason why no one could meet me. Ethel couldn’t be expected to tear herself away from Baby, Ada the maid has gone for her annual holiday, so Betty and May were very busy.

Olwen Williams has come with Mary, and she shares the spare room with her and Baby. I am sleeping in your room of former days, which is really looking quite swagger, having been re-arranged for Aunt Lottie’s benefit, when Arthur was here on his leave. He and Mary had the spare room. There is only one bed in your room now, a table with a pink cloth on it on the left side of the bed. I am so glad to be in there – it reminds me of so many things. As my Bible was not unpacked, I read your Bible last night, which opened itself at the place where you put my lock of hair. It is keeping so well, but looked so fair in colour, that I fear me you’ll find my hair is a good deal browner in colour than when you saw me last.

Your Father is looking very well – quite sunburnt - and rode to Northleach and back the other day, 50 miles! Not bad for a septuagenarian?!

Jack has taken a cottage or several rooms in a cottage at Northleach and has invited us all to go and stay there in turns.

May looks fairly well but terribly thin – it really cannot be good to be as thin as she is – she almost looks like Norah, when she is tired.

Ethel and Betty are flourishing - especially the latter who looks a picture. She and Olwen are having a good gossip in the drawing room while the rest of us are scribing.

Mary is stouter and looks awfully well and Baby Dorothy is just a wonder. She talks so well and remembered Auntie Mela straightaway. She can even say Mesopotamia! Her hair is growing long and is inclined to curl at the back, which makes her look such a dear fluffy thing. She puts her Teddy Bear to bed and gives it strict instructions – “no more talking”. Then she’ll look round as she moves away and say “I am doing downstairs, so no more talking”. Just as Mary says it to her! When Betty plays the piano, Baby says, “Thank you so very much Auntie Judy.”

Mary has taken a tiny furnished cottage at Porthcawl, between Swansea and Cardiff. Arthur may perhaps get some more leave this year – expiration of contract leave – so they’ll have a gorgeously homey time together.

Mary has just asked me to give you little Dorothy’s love and to tell you that the latter knows your photo quite well. May and your Father have kindly let me see your last letters to them. In your letter to May, at the end, you speak of the wearisomeness of “hope deferred” – but how dare you give me away and say I was feeling the strain of years more than you are doing?! You ought to see me and you would retract your words! I look far from one’s usual idea of a love-sick maiden! The others tell me they’ve never seen me look so well, that I am plump and have much more colour! So, no, young man, ye flatter yourself too much. I am not anywhere near one foot in the grave yet, and am even not above a mild flirtation or two if they turn up – with people like ….. Lord Tom Noddy or the Chinese Emperor! You must hurry back home or else I may fancy a trip to China, anywhere where there is plenty of sun!

I have come to the conclusion that long engagements are a mistake. I daresay you’ve come to the same conclusion. For instance I often am prevented taking a job on account of being engaged. Employers want someone with a prospect of staying in their Employment for years.

However I don’t mean you to think that I mind this really, for, of course, loving you as I do, I am content to wait for you. I have proved this more than once by snubbing men who have wished to be more than friends, while you’ve been away. I don’t mean to say they’ve proposed to me, but they’ve made themselves very attentive. You see in uniform one is not allowed to wear an engagement ring, so people don’t know, and one cannot keep on advertising the fact. A long engagement is a great test of the endurance of one’s affections, and I know you have probably thought so yourself. If you weren’t engaged, you’d feel freer in many ways to enjoy life, instead of having to save for the future.

Isn’t it sad? Harry Horsfield has broken off his engagement with May Openshaw? The latter has joined a concert party under Lena Ashwell to tour in France. They say she is very hard hit about it. Harry Horsfield behaved very badly – because he came home, spent all his leave with her and her people, then broke it off after leaving her to go back to the Front. Such is life.

Being 11 pm I must away to bed.

July 30th

It has rained steadily nearly all day – a proof that I must accept the Chinese Emperor next time he asks me and go where there is more sun. The rain did not stop May and I from going to Cheltenham. She had shopping to do and I had to go to see our family solicitors, Brydges & Mellersh, on business for Mother. We donned mackintoshes and suitable hats and footgear and sallied out on bicycles to Broadway. The countryside looked lovely through the rain and mist and the hills appeared like mountains.

I had a satisfactory and indeed quite an enjoyable interview with Mr Mellersh. He is the son of the solicitor whose clients we have been for two or 3 generations. It is some time since I have met such a nice man – quite 2 years and 1 month ago to be accurate! He asked me where I was staying just before I was leaving and I said “With my fiancé’s people near Evesham”. He then got up and shook hands with me very heartily and congratulated me and wished me every happiness. I told him you were in Mesopotamia and he thought I ought to be thankful that you were there and not in France.

I am quite glad to have had the opportunity of seeing him because they have done as much business for us at many times, and the partners have known all the BCs for years. It is quite useful to know a good solicitor too – one may need his advice at some time or another.

There was some time to spare before our train went so we did a little shopping. I bought two books of modern poetry, as your present to me for last Easter and the other day I bought two new songs which I will tell you about a little later. I fancied modern poems this time dear. I hope you don’t mind. They attracted me because they are about Helles. One is “Half hours at Helles” by A P Herbert and the other “The Orange and other poems” by Edward Shillito.

Herbert has written some good ones - and I would like to send them to you – if it were not for the submarines. Herbert was evidently out in Gallipoli himself. One is “Reflections on the Evacuations” and there is one called “The Parcel” and “The Song of the Spade” (with apologies to Sir Thomas Moore). You’d like this last it describes the dig, dig, digging of the trenches.

I am rather deliciously sleepy after my ride out from Broadway and my grammar is becoming sleepy too. So I’d better stop and continue another day.

July 31st

This will be the last addition to this week’s budget, unless I am lucky enough to get a mail to reply to tomorrow, when I’ll answer anything requiring an immediate answer.

The Mesopotamia and Indian mails of July 7th have gone to the bottom, The Times announces today, so at the end of August I must expect no letter OR mail from you. It is just rotten, when, without submarine intervention, mails are so few and far between – there is no need for any further prevention of them reaching their destination.

Before going any further I must look up your last mail letters and see if they need any comment.

You had not had my wire by June 3rd. By now you know your wire took 10 days and then I made another application for a passport and got a final refusal before replying to your wire. I left no stone unturned to get out to you but to my great regret I was unsuccessful.

It is very bad for you to know from all my efforts to join you that I must be very keen to be with you again! It doesn’t do, does it, to let a man know you want him as much as he wants you! Still if I spoil you at this distance I can easily make up for it when we do meet by being extra severe, can’t I?!

For instance supposing you asked for a whole kiss at least once a day, I could easily say only half a one a day, or else a whole one every other day. Of course, perhaps you say, how does she know I’ll ask for even one? Well – it is only supposition of course!

Mary and Baby, Olwen and I went up to Greenhill School today and helped to weed the garden and incidentally to see the house now it is furnished. The bulk of the furniture was bought from Mr Fred Potter - and used to belong to your Uncle George at Petone. They are very lucky to have got such lovely things, so good too. In the halls they have Uncle George’s sea chest which helps to furnish it so well. You’ll be very surprised at the palatial appearance of the school, it is A1. The dormitories are so pretty too.

At present during the holidays they have 6 plum pickers as boarders - and the classrooms are let to a band of boy-scouts to camp in, and they have a permanent boarder as well. May says this will all be a great help. Marion is running the house this month and May will do so later on.

I really must end soon dear Heart. It is long past my usual bed-time and just about the time we used to say goodnight when you were at home. What long goodnights those were and we were very silly in those days – weren’t we? You Funny Old Thing – do you think we shall ever be such sillies again?! Perhaps we shall – who knows – one can never tell, can one?

With all my love – Sweetheart.

Ever your devoted

Cyril received the letter on 1st October 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference