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August 4th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

4th August 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

Aug 4th 1917

My own dear Cyril

No mail this week from you but it is hardly to be expected because at the time you would have been writing the mails were running only fortnightly.

Poor Mary is very depressed as there has been an unavoidable pause in her everyday correspondence from Arthur. He has been transferred to a Mobile Lab at his own request and moved from Rouen at the beginning of this week and when he last wrote he could give no address as he did not know where he would be sent, and for five mornings Mary has had no letter. It is pitiful to see how dependent she is on daily news from him – she is so silent and nothing seems to interest her. It is sad to see her so wrapped up in him to the exclusion of everyone else. She feels a bit hurt too, I think, that he was not content to stay where he was. I can understand her point of view but I can see his too. He felt he was getting no “forwarder”, simply vegetating. I don’t think he will be in the danger zone, will he? I should hardly think much pathological work will be done on the field.

If this letter smells of iodine, it will be because I’ve just been rendering first aid to the wounded! One of the Wheatley children was chopping wood and nearly chopped off the top of the forefinger of his left hand, and he was brought round here to be doctored!

I forgot to tell you in my last letter that we went to the Speech day at Borlase School, Marlow. The Headmaster made a speech about the Boys who have fallen in the war. Fifty Borlasians have given their lives, and 300 are serving. Twenty have won distinctions. There was a Lieut Millsom MC present, an old Borlasian – he has been wounded four times. He had a false ear, but it could not be detected, except on very close examination. Isn’t it wonderful nowadays the heights which surgery has attained!

The Breconian came for you yesterday – you are entered as Major C E Sladden; I am not surprised because you were entered as Major in the casualty lists, the 3rd time you were wounded.

Mrs Jarvis, who used to befriend me in B’ham, a cousin of Marjory Slater’s, has written and asked me to spend a few days with her at her cottage at Strensham, near Bredon. It is the Mill House. I am going to spend Wed, Thurs and Friday with her. I believe it is delightful there, lovely scenery and bracing air.

Bernard Sladden writes to some members of the family about twice a week. He has made a good recovery from the gassing he got and is convalescent now.

Olwen Williams is great fun. Betty, she and I have great larks and surprise everyone by our levity. She has a great sense of humour and is always game for some fun.

Betty and I paid a formal call on Mrs Ashwin yesterday! The latter actually said I am looking well, and she shook her finger at me as I left house and said “no more hospitals, please”! The others are always so amused because as a rule she will never admit I look well. She thanks you for your message about the receipt of the socks.

Sunday – Aug 5th
Three years yesterday since the dread call of war rang through this country - and Kitchener’s forecast has come true. Three years ago tomorrow you and your Father cycled from Tunbridge Wells to Folkestone to Aunt Lottie’s, and I wended my way to Aunt Lizzie’s. Not long after we met at Mary’s flat in London and you saw Arthur off to the front. Two years ago on the 12th you were wounded for the first time – and also Mary and Arthur’s baby girl came to bless this world with her sunny smile.

Three years of anxiety for many hearts and bereavement to most families of one or other of its members. Three years of lessons in the school of adversity, lessons of courage and self-control – testing people beyond what they themselves would have said formerly was possible for them to bear.

One hopes that England will emerge a better country after the conflict. At present it is hard to judge whether the English people are better for all they have been through – individuals here and there are but one sees a great deal of evil all around. It may be that war only brings to the surface the evil which was hidden underneath formerly. I certainly can see it more prominently than before.

I wonder if I myself am any better for the anxiety caused by the war – whether it has taught me lessons which have improved me spiritually.

Mother and I are better friends than we were – but at what a sacrifice – Cecil’s death. It is this fact which has changed our relationship to one another – but what a price to pay.

You have become so accustomed to having us all for your own that I wonder if you’ll notice the difference when you come home – that is – unless of course we are married at once. We have been engaged so long that I find it difficult to realize sometimes that we shall not always remain just as we are!

Yesterday afternoon, Mary, Olwen, Betty and I cycled up to Abbey Manor to some Sports. It was quite a good show, boxing, fencing and other old-fashioned athletic sports. It poured with rain most of the time but we are getting quite used to living in our mackintoshes – it has rained for 6 days. Today has been fine but thundery and very close. Norah walked over to tea. She is much stronger now and finds open air and exercise does her good. She was telling me about her cousin Hammond Potter, who is now Acting Lieut-Colonel and is in command of something or other out in Nigeria. He was in the Buffs and has seen service in Egypt and France since war broke out.

Anna Gillio’s husband is also out in Nigeria – mining I think. Poor Anna doesn’t see much of him, does she? He came home from the Congo last year I believe.

Wilfred landed in Bombay on July 28th and is posted to the 149th Infantry. He is a full Lieutenant from the date he joined the Indian Army. If you don’t happen to have been able to look one another up in India, write to him to his regiment, will you? He started to India having your address but as all he possessed went to the bottom, and he has had so many adventures that he may forget your Regiment. Of course you may have heard from him by now.

Kath and Jack are very pleased with their new abode, 13 Bath Rd, Bedford Park, W4. I wonder if you know that the points of the Compass are now numbered in London – hence the W4. They have a new housekeeper, Mrs Whitefield, who has a small son aged two. She is a widow. Kath says she is just the kind of woman she wants, and she brings up the small son well.

We saw the Bowdens yesterday, flash past us in a car. They must be staying in this neighbourhood.

Ethel tells me Eva Gaukroger is very plucky about her husband’s death and tries not to let the children see her grieving. Women like she is deserve the VC.

I must awa’ to bed now – not to “sleep and forget” but to sleep and remember.

Aug 7th
Olwen and I did a lot of plum picking yesterday. I wasn’t really feeling in trim for hard work and am feeling the consequence today so have cried off picking today.

I am quite good at going up high ladders and do not feel swimmy as a rule, but when I am not the thing I find I do feel a bit heady and keep dropping my basket before emptying it and silly things like that!

George is expected home on leave any day now. In his letter to Mr Sladden today that his letter would not long precede him and that he would wire when he reaches England. So we are wondering whether Rosie will be able to take her holiday now and come down here with him. It will be rather trying seeing them together and you and I still separated, but of course I don’t begrudge them their happiness just because we are denied ours.

Mr & Mrs Bowden came in yesterday. They both asked to be remembered to you and asked all sorts of questions as to how you are getting on. Mr Bowden has only one man left to help him with his work as a chemist, and he is not qualified. The men, who would really be useful to him have been called up! It is odd how the useful men are selected to be sent to the front and the dunderheads left behind.

I have been told that the Germans don’t work their recruiting schemes like this at all. Men with brains of use to the country are left at their posts, until every other man has been taken. They don’t conscript them until they are obliged.

Mrs Bowden asked me to go and stay with her next time I am going to London.

I have been reading The Breconian. The saddest thing in their war news is the deaths of three sons of a Mr & Mrs Best. There is an account of the death of the youngest: “Stephen Wrothesley Best: Day Boy (1900-6); 3rd son of Mr & Mrs Charles Best, of Penbryn, Brecon. “Killed in Mesopotamia on April 30th, 1917; the third member of this gallant family to fall in that country within the short space of 3 months. Stephen was a quiet steady boy at school, but won general respect, and not a little affection, among those who came into close contact with him. He was a boy of ability, who mounted steadily up the school and soon after leaving secured a good Civil Service appointment in Edinburgh. He left this in the early days of the war to join the Brecknocks with his brother, Frank. They served together in Aden, India and Mesopotamia and were not long divided in death. Arthur, an older brother, fell in the same country almost simultaneously. Those who knew Stephen and recognised his real strength of character, can best gauge the deep sorrow upon sorrow that his untimely death has brought to his family.”

There are other biographies given – I’ll give you the names in case you know any of them.

Titho G Jones – Lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. School House 1897-1905. Son of the Rev E O Jones, formerly a master at Christ’s College and now Vicar of Llanidloes. Killed in action early part of present summer.

C Norman Green – School House 1911-12. Died of wounds in March.

Rowland Akrill Jones – School House 1909-10. Elder son of the Revnd D Akrill Jones, an old Breconian, now Vicar of Bolsover, nr Derby. Killed in the great Arras advance on Easter Monday last. He was in the KOYLI.

Lewis W Marle Thomas – School House 1888-1890. He was First Officer on an Admiralty Transport and on May 2nd the vessel was destroyed by a submarine in the Atlantic.

T F Ricketts – Day Boy 1887-90. Died of disease at end of 1916. (You are not likely to have known him!).

There is a list of honours but it will take too much room to give it here.

Tomorrow, I shall be up on Bredon Hill. How jolly it would be to be there together. You love hills and so do I.

I believe the Jarvis’ have a very quaint cottage, the old Mill House.

This latter part of July has been a trying time for me mentally – imagining you in India alone when we might so well have been together. I feel as old Mrs Ashwin said the other day “Why does God allow such things?” She said this in reference to the war, and it is a question many people are asking. “The ways of the Lord are past understanding.”

It is doubly hard on you because you are not in England amongst your own people. I expect you’ve made heaps of friends but it is not the same thing.

The roses are practically over now but the purple clematis, pink stocks, and pansies make a good show of colour. Dorothy Perkins, my rival, is dead, but the honeysuckle still blooms on the pergola.

I am looking forward with intense interest to your letters written on furlough. I do so wonder where you are spending it.

God bless you, man of mine, and bring you safe back to me.

All my love from
Your ever devoted

PS – The papers tell us that 4 divisions of Turkish and Austrian troops are marching on their way to try and recapture Baghdad.

Cyril received the letter on 24th September 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 8 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference