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August 23rd 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

23rd 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 23rd 1917

My own dear Cyril

There is a short paragraph in the paper about an attack by British forces on the Turks at Shairoban, on the Hannikin Rd. It is stated that the Turks soon cleared off to their fastnesses in the Hamrin Hills. Not knowing exactly where you are I cannot reassure myself that you did not take part in the fray.

It is most difficult to write – everyone seems to be talking at once! I think I must be rather a silent person as far as small talk is concerned – although I hear myself described as “lively” very often! I cannot see that it matters whether a ladder was heavy for Brailsford to move on account of his nervousness in the high wind, hours after all is over. Then someone says it was not on account of nervousness, he really isn’t very strong - and then someone else suggests that he is better some days than others and so on interminably! As a matter of fact Brailsford is quite happy to see us moving our own ladders. Mary and I moved ours several times today. There is a little lull in the discussion at present so I must make hay while the sun shines.

The girls are absolutely slaving their lives away. Marion collapsed last week up at the school. Mary and she have been housing and feeding plum pickers. Then May had to go up there and take over command as well as doing lots of work this end. Now May has gone away, after Marion got better.

Yesterday Marion collapsed again and Ethel who was taking night duty at Abbey Manor, went to help her this morning when she came off duty. Ethel has gone on duty again tonight. In the meantime Kath has been cooking in the mornings, and plum picking in hard morning and evening, until it is time to get the evening meal. Betty goes up to the school tomorrow to help Marion.

Kath and your Father are off for the week end to join May and Jack at Birdlip, leaving Ethel in charge. Mary and I will plum pick.

I get awfully tired plum picking – yet Mary says it does not tire her at all. I feel so vexed with myself for getting fagged so easily. The others do much more than I do and think nothing of it. Still of course in the rush of things nothing gets done properly. The house hardly gets touched as far as dusting goes, except quite superficially! We pick from 9 until 1.15 and from 2.30 to 4.30 – generally. The others often pick again after tea but I do very seldom I’m afraid.

My heart sinks sometimes when I think of the time when I am your wife. You will find I cannot rush round doing things like your sisters do and I’m so afraid you’ll be disappointed. But you will be patient with me, darling, won’t you – I do try and do as much as the others but I cannot without getting a “done up” feeling. I think I should be better if we worked quietly and steadily – but we all talk and argue and suggest until at last we each go our own way, and it would have saved time if we had gone our own way in the beginning!
What an old grouser I am tonight. By the time this reaches you, too, the plum picking will have come to an end and my grievances a thing of the past.

Mary tells me that there was an air raid over the town where Arthur is – but that he and his friends missed it because they had gone out for a walk! He must have gone for a long walk or else the raid must have been a very small one! Poor old Mary – it is a shame to laugh – but she has been so lucky up to the present, that an air raid anywhere near Arthur seems frightfully heroic and dangerous.

You and I will hardly know what to be frightened of when the war is over, dear man of mine. You certainly will have sampled most kinds, and the risks you’ve seen have been and are mine too.

I do wish you could come home. I hate this life without you. It is so meaningless and unfinished. I have much to be thankful for and fully realize that in comparison to many others my lot is an enviable one. Yet now and again it does me good to have a good grouse to you. Now you’ve had time to shake down, as it were, after my cable – I can confess to you that I was simply heartbroken at not being able to join you.
It meant so much to me – and I cannot help feeling that the fact of my not being able to do so, is God’s way of showing me that my thoughts and love are all for an Earthly object, and not centred on Him. But if Love is God, and God is Love, my Love for you must partake of the Divine nature, and eventually must centre in Him.

The pathetic side of a woman’s life is that her Love is her whole existence – and she knows that to the man his Love for her “is a thing apart”. I know perfectly well you love me as much as any man can love – but I feel “it is a thing apart” nevertheless. Your Love needs me with you to rouse and keep the flame burning – although underneath it is the spark which will soon dwindle. But in your absence I feel just as strongly – although now and again I get rather like a cabbage but that is more my brain – than my heart.

Aug 27th – It poured with rain yesterday so no one came up to Greenhill. Marion had a better night and actually slept pretty well.

I would have stayed another night but that I had some letters which necessitate me returning to Marlow tomorrow. Your head must swim with the accounts of my “irons in the fire”!

Today I had a letter from the Chief Controller of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps asking me to arrange and be interviewed on Thurs the 30th at 11 o’clock, and to appear before a medical board. I think I told you some time back that Miss Macadam, Principal of the School of Social Science, Liverpool University, recommended me to the WAAC for a post as Administrator or Assist. Controller – the duties being that one is responsible for the discipline and welfare of the girls under one’s charge. These girls are doing the work of men behind the lines, thus releasing men for combative work. The only thing I dislike is that one is obliged to wear khaki uniform – (but not minus a skirt and dressed like a man I’m thankful to say.) If I pass the medical test, a thorough overhauling by a woman doctor, and also if the interview is satisfactory to both parties, I am to be ready to go direct to a Depot in London on Thurs: after the interview. Pretty smart work and quite military!

There are posts in England and one spends a certain length of time in England at first but one is expected to go abroad if required. Penalty for breaking faith in any way or disclosing state secrets – fine of £100 or 6 months’ imprisonment. Jack has suggested thrilling headlines for a Sunday paper. “Bagdad hero’s bride - Marriage in Prison”. My suggestion was “Hero of Evesham weds Female Prisoner – startling disclosures”. You would have to come home with a bag of gold from Bagdad and buy me out!

I also heard from Irene Wall with reference to two jobs. So I shall meet her on Wed: evening and talk things over and possibly spend the night wherever she is staying.

Dearie me! What a life.

I’m afraid you may possibly feel a bit hipped because I have consented to go abroad if required, which of course means there would be considerable difficulty in my getting home should you get leave to England. But as this is a very remote possibility, at any rate for another year, I am chancing things.

Our best plan seems to be to put our feelings well in the background until the war is over. I realize that I must conquer myself and not allow myself to dwell on our Love, spiritually, mentally or physically. It is too costly to keep going through in imagination what one most desires, and undermines one’s moral fibre. Our Love has been a wonderful experience, but I think it must be put away for the period of the war, like old maid’s put away beautiful linen, in a nice cool place with lavender – from where it will emerge just as fresh when we meet again. This is the only way I can stand living. Just doing what comes my way to the best of my ability, praying that the best will be ours and leaving the rest in God’s hands.

If the WAAC are sent abroad to the East I am not likely to be sent in your direction if it leaks out that I am engaged to a man in Bagdad! As for people who are married. If by chance a woman is sent to the same theatre of war as her husband and it is discovered, she is transferred to England for home service or to another theatre of war! Really one begins to feel husbands are not thought much of now-a-days! Certainly there is very little point in being married if one is forcibly removed from the neighbourhood of one’s husband on the off-chance of meeting each other! Any man but your husband seems to be tolerated, which is not at all the proper sort of thing!

Jack came back tonight. He left May at Greenhill School. He seems to have enjoyed his holiday jaunt very much. He tells me he wrote to you from Birdlip.

Maud Wall is going to India if she can possibly manage it, now that passports are being given. I’ll ask her to write to you from there and let you know her whereabouts, in case you ever find yourself in her neighbourhood.

All my heart’s love – dear man of mine. Keep well and strong – come back to me some day.

Ever your devoted

Cyril received the letter on 27th October 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference