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September 9th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

9th September 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Connaught Club, 75 Seymour Street, Edgware Road, London
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Assistant Administrator, Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps
Connaught Club, Depot Draft Finding Hostel
Edgware Road
London W2

Sept 9th /17

My own dear Cyril

I have only been a week but it seems now as if I had never lived any life but this. The Women’s Army is run entirely on Army lines, and I, correspond to an officer in charge of a Company. I will give you a list of ranks and the equivalent Army rank:

Unit Administrator = Commanding Officer
Deputy Administrator = Adjutant Company Officer
Assistant Administrator = Company Officer and Messing Officer (This is what I am at present but I am told I’m intended for Adjutant at the end of the training period.)
Quarter Mistress = Quarter Master
1 senior Forewoman = Company Sergeant Major
2 senior Forewoman = Company Sergeant Major
10 NCOs to each Hostel

The above is a Hostel Staff.

At Headquarters, Devonshire House, there are Chief Controllers of different departments who rank as Generals.

The second night I was here there was a big air raid just overhead, and much damage has been done in neighbouring streets. The women were splendid and there was no panic whatever. We assembled on each floor in squads and marched to the ground floor – where the command to go to our rooms was given, we marched upstairs again – we were upstairs about half an hour and just settling off to sleep when a huge bomb crashed close by, and our warning rattle was heard, so out we had to turn again. This time we were all given blankets to wrap round us and told to sit down on the floor in squads until all was over. As a matter of fact there is an air raid going on now but not over this part of London. So we live in stirring times.
The officers in training are instructed in squad drills. We have got as far as giving the words of command to the troops now. I love it.

We have had 4 and 5 lectures a day on Discipline, Army Forms, Pay Sheets etc; this week and tomorrow we sit for our examination.

The night I arrived, sitting near to me at Mess was a pretty young girl, whom I heard talking of Gallipoli. Afterwards we gave our names to our Area Controller (Brigadier Major I think) and I heard her say “Mrs Hiscock”. I went up to her then and asked her if she knew anyone in the 9th, and my surmise that she is the widow of Captain Hiscock of your Regiment proved correct. She was not dressed as a widow, or else I should not have hesitated so much about her identity. She looks such a baby, and yet she has had such a lot of experiences. At the time of her husband’s death she was nursing in Serbia, and after the news she went out of her mind for a little time. She was ill when she received the news. She begs of me to ask you to write to her and tell her details of how her husband met his death – she knows nothing. She wrote to Major Gibbon but thinks he could not have received her letter as she received no reply. She keeps asking me if you ever spoke of “Mine” (her name for him) and wants me to ask you to write and tell her any little thing you may remember him to have said about her. Enclose your letter to her in one to me and I will forward it.
Poor little girl – it breaks my heart when I think of the lonely years. She is 27 and looks about 19. She promises to make a very efficient officer.

Do try dear and give her all the news you can of him and his life since he left England. So many of his letters never reached her in Serbia, and she wonders if he got hers.

If you are very busy write to her and not to me for if you can give her news of some kind – it will be like water to a parched soul. The saddest part of it all is, she does not believe in a future life after death. Everything must seem a blank to her. She tells me her husband did believe in a life after death, and that he told her she would come to believe in one some day. I think she will too and it will be his death which will open her eyes to the truth, because she tells me he appears to her sometimes, so that she could almost believe he is alive still. I think this fact is gradually making her believe that death is but the Gate of Life Eternal.

I am going to Woodcote Park, Convalescent Camp, Epsom on Friday – to be taught administrative duties under an officer there. I shall be billeted nearby and go to the camp for instruction. I believe it is a camp for Canadians. My uniform will be here in a day or two. It is very smart and made by a very good tailor.
Besides Mrs Hiscock, I’ve met a Mrs De Wilton, who knows all the BCs and knew them when she was a child. And a Welsh girl here, is a friend of the Phillips’ at Port Talbot so you can guess I feel quite at home.
I’ll finish this another time, Sweetheart.

Sept 11th – We sat for our examination yesterday. The examiner told us the results in the evening and added that all except three got over 65%. Another section of officers started the same lectures today and the instructor told them that we had all done wonderfully good papers especially as we only had a week to cram in. I passed with about ¾ marks I believe. Our papers were marked very strictly I am told.

Last Tuesday I was vaccinated and inoculated. We were told we could keep to our rooms for 48 hours if we liked but most of us felt well enough to go about our work the next day just as well.

The vaccinated arm is a bit swollen and irritable but it has taken well. I expect we shall be inoculated again tomorrow.

By the way, dear, I hear that although we sign for the duration of the war yet some girls have been allowed to resign to get married – but it is done quietly because it would not do for people to join up and then resign at any time but there are fair ways and means by which one can resign.

Two letters of yours reached me by tonight’s post. The first one most dry and uninteresting; in the second one you did rise to imagining what you would arrange for our first meeting!

Well, if I am still in the Women’s Army when you get home, and if you get home a day or two before I can get leave, you will be able to come and meet me and carry me off anywhere you like! If I am shy of you, the only way to cure me will be to stand no nonsense but make me respond. I know I feel like a dead fish now – no feeling – simply a machine. There are moments when our times together come back to me in a rush and I feel you with me – but during the ordinary routine of life I might just as well be a vegetable!

I’m so sorry you’ve been feeling the heat and hope the internal trouble (sounds something awfully bad to use that term but I really mean “tummy ache”!) was only temporary. It is marvellous to think you’ve stood the climate so well - you did not always like the heat in England, so that I should have thought that you’d have been bowled over by tropical heat.

Kath is coming to dine with me on Thursday. I think she will be very surprised to hear that I shall possibly, almost certainly, be sent to France in less than three weeks’ time. The “family” are beginning to think I am running away and that no one will ever see me again! I certainly have felt a bit desperate lately one way and another but so long as I’ve got you I’ll never go right away from everyone I know.

The thought of being your wife some day is what I live for and yet I must put it all behind me or else my character becomes weakened by giving way to longings which cannot be fulfilled. This war is causing untold misery to women. Young widows suffer more than anyone can guess. Dearly as they loved their husbands, yet that very fact makes them marry again – the loss of companionship is so keen.

Well - Sweetheart. I must end this now and go to bed. God bless you and bring you back safe to me.

Ever your affectionate and devoted

PS – Nothing but signet rings are allowed to be worn so I cannot even wear the plain one your Mother left you – which I mentioned I would do in place of our engagement ring. If you like to give me a signet ring I will wear it on the 3rd finger. I hate just any man to think I’m free. I don’t want to be bothered with them. Men seem crazy now-a-days and girls are kept busy keeping them at arm’s length! Sounds exaggeration but it’s true.

Note on back of photograph – Mrs Jarvis took this of me down at Strensham, sitting on the orchard wall, knitting socks for you!

Cyril received the letter on 31st October 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper plus 1 photo
Location of Document
Imperial War Museum
Record Office Reference