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September 1st 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

1st September 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

Sept 1st 1917

My own dear Cyril

I sent you a pc on Thursday, written at Selfridge’s – just to let you know I am fixed up with an appointment in the Women’s Army. I came up to Marlow on Tuesday and stayed here until Thursday morning catching the 8.32 am train to town. I went direct to Devonshire House, and was interviewed by a Mrs Andrews, who, I believe ranks as a General, only that we are not allowed to use the same terms as the men’s Army, so she is called a Chief Controller.

After about quarter of an hours cross examination, during which time she did her best to prove me a German spy! She told me that I was accepted as a candidate for a post as an Assist: Controller (I believe my rank is equivalent to yours – ahem!), subject to appearing before and passing the Medical Board that afternoon at 2.30. I was then given some instructions in a sealed envelope, which I was to open and read if passed by the medical board, and to tear it up if I failed to pass!

My next step was to meet Irene at her office in Northumberland Street. I found her there and we fixed up to meet for dinner in the evening at the Berner’s Street Hotel, where she and Uncle were staying. After lunch I made my way to an address in Hyde Park, which I will not mention, as we are told to be very discreet about such things. Dr Turnbull, a lady doctor examined the candidates - and a thorough overhauling she gave us too – just the same as soldiers! She did her best to find a weak spot somewhere and by the time she’d finished pummelling me about, we were reduced to helpless laughter.

We began with:

Height – 5 ft 5½ in
Weight - 9 st 12¾ (I think she must have made a mistake – surely it must 8 st 12¾ as I was without clothes, but this is what she put on my papers!)
Eyesight – Normal
Chest expansion – Exceptionally good
Organs – Sound (even the appendix region examined!)
Limbs – perfect!!! Varicose veins practically non-existent now.
Passed as very fit.

I next went and did some shopping for Mother, after first of all reading my instructions in the sealed envelope. These were that I am to report myself at Connaught Club, Ferguson St, Edgeware Rd, for preliminary training as an Assist: Controller. This training is equivalent to being in an officer’s training corps – but here again we may not use the term.

There are two kinds of Assistant Controllers – one who is put in charge of the household with a Quarter Mistress, Matron, Cook and 25 servants under her. The other is responsible for the Health, Welfare and Discipline of the girls – drilling them etc. I shall probably be chosen for the latter job, though one learns both sets of duties during one’s training. I am uncertain what you will say about the length of time I have to sign on for. I have to sign for 12 months or the duration of the war. I am sorry, dear, if you feel I am selfish to do this, but every job which goes now-a-days one has to sign for the duration of the war. It is necessary I should get well paid work as I want to help Mother for a bit as our expenses have been very heavy moving into our new house.

I am going to pay the servant’s wages, a matter of 24/- to 30/- a month. The former is her actual money wage, but I shall make it up to the latter to help cover her washing etc.

My salary is to be £120 a year with quarters. 15/6 a week deducted for food – that leaves me £80 a year, deducting from this £18 towards home expenses, I have £62 for myself.

One can rise in the Service to £170 and one gets the chance of promotion fairly soon.

On completing the short course of training I have to don the King’s Uniform! Viz – a khaki coat and skirt, khaki blouse, shoes and puttees, khaki felt hat, with overcoat etc. At night we have to wear pyjamas because they are more suitable abroad in case of air raids, or being submarined.

I may have to go to France but will at any rate be stationed in England for a bit first. Abroad we are housed in hostels generally “summer season” houses converted into hostels and we are not likely to be in tents except in hot summer months. Now I think I’ve given you all particulars.

Continue to address letters to Seward House and they will forward to me. I think your Father feels I am running away. They always expect me to vanish into thin air if I leave the nest!

Mother was expecting May to come today on a week’s visit, but as letters had come to say she cannot leave Marion, who is only recovering slowly. May will try and come during the Xmas holidays.

No mail from you this week. I expect this is the mail which was reported to have been torpedoed.

By the way we are not allowed to wear jewellery, except quite plain rings in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps – so I am going to wear the plain ring your Mother left you instead of my engagement ring, which is too noticeable for me to be allowed to wear it. I hope you won’t mind, dear, but I think you’d rather I did this, that that I wore no ring at all on my 3rd finger. The ring your Mother left you is plain gold like a strap, with 2 small rubies deeply set into the gold and a small diamond in the middle; the stones hardly show. My jewel case I am leaving in Barbara’s care. She is a very trusty person and looks after things well.

I am fixed up now for the duration of the war unless I do not pass the preliminary training. So we will both be serving in “Ye King’s Armie” and shall feel fully entitled to our reward when the war is over. May that be soon.

With all my heart’s love dear man of mine, God bless you and bring you back safe to me.

Yours as ever

Can you remember if you initial my letter to put A B Constable not M. I have to use my proper names in the Army and not Mela.

Letter Images
Cyril received the letter on 21st October 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 3 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference