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September 15th 1917 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

15th September 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Woodcote Park Camp, Epsom
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

At Woodcote Park

Sept 15th 1917

My own dear Cyril

The night before I left Connaught Club I received another mail letter from you, dated July 22nd and enclosing a small snapshot. Kath was with me at the time so I gave any odd items of news.

I was rather surprised at your having slipped into the exceedingly mistaken point of view of the usual Army officers viz that civilians panic and squeal at the slightest provocation. I should have thought you would have avoided what to me is simply “swank”, and it is a point of view which is not founded on fact. I’ll quote from your letter first and then continue the argument. “Your rotten newspapers at home are in the habit of getting the wind up badly, and are presumably having the inevitable bad influence on everybody. Just about the early part of May it was submarines, but that is only an example. The moment anything happens that they don’t like they begin to squeal with one accord, and generally set about searching for some unfortunate scapegoat. We got the figures out here in Reuters, without all the rubbishy nervous comment you suffered from; I had little doubt that it was designed to create a panic, and so it turned out.”

First of all even if the newspapers do exaggerate, civilians at home the usual run of them are far too busy to read all the accounts and sometimes hardly glance at a paper. The “infantry officer”, whom you quote as being so brave that the submarine menace held no terrors for him, does not realize what civilians are doing to help win the war, neither does he know their contempt for danger. The submarine menace created no panic. The Foreign Office was pestered and is being pestered for passports but they will not grant them, except in a few very special cases even now.

It is the same with air raids – our East coast towns are raided every day and London 2 and 3 times a week but the majority of people “carry on” just the same.

In the case of an infantry officer – he is prepared and equipped for danger but the civilian, has other work to do besides and is also unequipped and not prepared for sudden enemy attacks. He does not see little children being blown to bits before his eyes, with no warning of danger near beyond the noise of the aeroplanes. I suppose in France it occurs and he sees it then but even there he would expect it more than in England.

As for my remark “1000 chances to one I might never have reached India” – that is nothing for you to argue upon for your own statement that there was not “one chance in 500” that I would lose my life is just as far from the point. The point of view really is that any one person may be the one in the 500, at least that is what I should feel if anyone I cared for was willing to undertake the risk for me - and I should very much appreciate their willingness to do the same.

As regards “Reuter’s”, you may get figures of “sinkings” in this way, but even the official lists of boats lost are not correct, so do not feel so superior about your information on the subject! The public at home have not panicked about it, but they would have more reason to do so were the real figures made known. One is constantly meeting people who have lost relatives and the news of the lost vessel has not been published.

From the calculating tone in which you write this mail about my own share in the submarine menace had I been able to join you, makes me realize that my original point of view about men in general was a pretty sound one, viz that they don’t count the cost for the woman, so long as they themselves get what they want, or if they count it at all, it is dressed up in as nice colours as possible.

You must keep your calculations and reasonings of this nature for your men friends, it will never answer with me. I prefer a man to err on the side of looking after me too much instead of leaving things to chance or calculating the risks so exactly.

I know you will consider yourself ill-used and misunderstood – or else in the same calculating way you’ll say, “Mela was a little out of sorts when she wrote in this strain – the best thing is to take no notice.”

What I hope you will eventually do is to see that I love you well enough to trust you to take from me what you would not stand from anyone else.

I have been nearly driven frantic by this same sort of thing at Badsey, since the dear little Mother’s death. And the odd part was the reasoning always worked out to suit themselves. “Oh, Mela won’t mind sleeping in a different room every night – she’s always happy to fit in anywhere” (literally a true case of facts.) As a matter of fact Mela was horrid enough to mind very much, for she hardly got a proper night’s rest the whole of her visit, and I was there by invitation this time. Ethel had a room to herself, Betty had her room with Freda Cameron, May and Kath shared a room, and I sometimes slept with May when Kath wasn’t there, or with Mary when was there, or in your room when neither George nor Jack were there.

I know things were at sixes and sevens – but I’d not have minded half so much had they not calculated (quite incorrectly) this that and the other and taken so much for granted.

I’ll leave this subject alone now, except that I feel very hurt to think you should have written as you have done after I strove so hard to get out to you.

I am so sorry the hot weather has made you feel seedy and trust that ere now the weather will have improved. It is marvellous how you’ve stuck it so well - 127° must be “some” heat for an Englishman to become accustomed to.

This is a Canadian Convalescent Camp. A certain number of women work here and all the cooking is of course done by women. I have been sent here to learn how to run the mess, men and women’s in camp. This is a very well equipped camp and the huts are well built and comfortably furnished. I don’t know how long I shall be here – but my next move will be to a billet of my own or else to Connaught Club to await orders.

My name has been sent up for promotion – I don’t suppose I shall get the promoted rank straightaway, but I shall be doing the work of a Unit Administrator, that is equivalent to Commanding Officer of a regiment. My rank will be “gazetted” so perhaps you will see it before this letter reaches you. When I am gazetted a full Unit Administrator I believe I shall be entitled to £150 rising to £175 a year – but the Army loves getting work done for which they do not pay at the proper rate, so I shall not be surprised if the Women’s Corp suffers in the same way!

Thank you very much for the little snap-shot enclosed in your letter. You look very busy. It would be quite a useful idea to have me with you, as I know all about indenting for stores etc.

One of the women officers in this camp knows Mr Kendall and the Japps! I wonder how many more people I’m going to meet who have mutual friends.

Epsom is a lovely spot and this camp is in a lovely situation. There are about 8000 convalescent Canadians here – so it seems like a small town. I must try and find out where Epsom College is. Your Father used to go to school there, didn’t he?

I don’t expect I find camp life as strange as I might have done had I never lived in cantonments as we did in India. There is a great difference though between the Canadian Army and the Imperial Army. They have different methods and are not so rigid.

I’ll write further about my experiences in my next letter. You would be surprised if at this moment 8.30 pm Sept 16th you could see me writing at an office table in an Army hut – all dressed up in khaki!
God bless you my own Man.

All my love is yours and with a long, long kiss we’ll “make it up”.

Ever your devoted

Cyril received the letter on 31st October 1917.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 4 double sheets of notepaper
Record Office Reference