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

23rd December 1917
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Hostel WAAC, Manor Hill, Sutton Coldfield
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Hostel WAAC
Manor Hill
Sutton Coldfield

Dec 23rd 1917

My own dear Sweetheart

Your letter and cheque for Christmas reached me the day before yesterday. I am so glad the Xmas mail reached safely, for other people’s sakes as well as my own, to cheer the waiting folk at home.

Thank you very much dear for your present. I have not quite decided what I shall get with it yet – at present my mind leans towards something for our house – possibly, tea-table clothes, d’oyleys and things of that sort, which I might embroider myself - and some of the money might be spent on music or songs towards the collection you started me with. Until I am able to go shopping at leisure, the £5 you sent me reposes in the Bank.

I have opened an account with Lloyds, Sutton Coldfield branch. I’ve also got my first War Savings Certificate! Fancy me with a cheque Book!!

I could have gone to Badsey or Marlow for Xmas but instead have decided to spend my three days in my room quietly, going out of course, but still resting as much as possible. I’ve not told anyone I’ve got leave among the home folk because they would not understand why I am spending it here. There are several reasons – one, and the most important is that I want to spend it with you – writing to you – thinking about you – dwelling on past memories. It is such a joy to have the time and the solitude to meditate as it were on our love - and then too I can prepare for my Christmas Communion, when those whom we both love will be present with us in spirit, the little Mother and dear old Cecil. You too will be thinking of me and I of you - and we shall both be hoping and praying that this time next year we may be kneeling side by side at our Christmas Communion. How wonderfully good it will be if God spares us to one another.

Sweetheart, I had a little gift from Mrs Gaukroger – a little book of verses, from Byron, called “She Walks in Beauty”. Inside was her card and she wrote “with my special love to you – from Eva”. She has never written in answer to my letter after her husband’s death. I knew it was because she just couldn’t write - and her little message speaks for itself. She means to convey that she knows that I understand her sorrow and how bravely she has borne it. She has always been so brave. When he was alive she used to say that they at least had had happiness, even if the worst happened she had her memories, but we, she used to say, had never known life’s full meaning, and therefore she pitied us more than she did herself. It was noble and sweet of her to think of us like this. The address on her card is “Ten Oaks”, Third Avenue, Teignmouth.

I am spending this Xmas with you in spirit, dearest, and I feel you very near me. At night I try to imagine you with me – it is so restful. I always used to say to you, didn’t I, that you rested me – that when you were near me I wanted to go to sleep! I look back on those days and think how foolish I used to be – often denying you (and myself too!) such happiness as we could rightly claim, very often to tease you, and partly because I had not realized that life has its moods too and if we don’t value happiness as its full value, then the mood may change, and what was once easy to obtain, becomes difficult, and well-nigh impossible to obtain. Still, darling, when you do come home – what joy it will be – perhaps worth more for all the waiting.

Mrs MacSwiney, my assistant administrator, told me one day that I am the most extraordinary being – that I seem to have no conception of the heights and depths of love – or else she says I’d have married you before you left England. Her husband has been at sea over 2 years. I think they had a few weeks together when they were first married. She frets so because they’ve no child. She is nearly 36, and the years are slipping by. She has cheered up lately because her husband says there is a chance of his ship being home by the end of February. From all she says I really do begin to wonder whether I am lacking in my feelings on the subject of love between a man and a woman. It is only because I love you that I would marry you - and also I know you are solid worth. I would still love you if you proved to be a rotter but I don’t think I could marry you.

Mrs MacSwiney is so passionate that she would marry the man she cared for even if he were a bad man – she says. I simply couldn’t do this. I would still care for him, but I don’t believe I could marry him, unless it were to be a marriage in name only and not in deed. As I’ve told you before I long to be yours wholly, yet at the same time I am jealous for my girlhood. It will be well lost in marrying you, as I know you to be, but if I married a man whom I found out afterwards was not solid worth, I think it would break my heart. You do understand me, Sweetheart, don’t you? I know that marriage is a beautiful thing when it is a good marriage – but even when I know this – I have queer antagonistic feelings about it. Do you think it is because I don’t like the idea of “not belonging to myself” as it were? I can’t understand myself really. Perhaps when we really are married I shall get over all this sort of thing.

I have rather strayed from my point. I was giving you my reasons for spending Xmas alone.

I am feeling a bit off colour (nothing out of the ordinary) and felt travelling in this very cold weather would only be more tiring - and I should be expected to run round and see people when it is really necessary I should rest. The other day I slipped on a slide some child had made in the snow. I did not fall but in tightening the muscles to prevent myself overbalancing I seem to have strained myself a bit inwardly, causing myself a bit of discomfort these last two or three days. At first I wondered if I had injured myself but I don’t think I have. Am feeling glad of the rest of mind and body.

Another reason is the question of £ s d. WAAC officers are supposed to travel first class and pay first class fare - and as our pay is not as high as an officer’s in the men’s Army it comes a bit hard on us. Mother would have wanted me at Marlow if I had gone to Badsey – so taking it all round I thought it best to stay here.

I am getting some nice presents. One hardly expects them in war time.

  • From “all” at Badsey, a very nice kind of scent. I’ve never used it before – called Iris - and nine lovely Blenheim apples – with a bloom like peaches.
  • A box of chocolates from Aunt Martha and Eva.
  • Aunt Jessie, some pretty handkerchiefs, truly Wack-like!
  • Maud, a kalendar in a khaki frame, also truly Wack-like!
  • Mrs Gaukroger, a book of verses by Byron.

I’ve also heard there is a registered parcel from Liverpool locked up for me in the camp post office, waiting for me to sign for it. Mrs MacSwiney tried to get it for me by offering to sign for it, but the orderly said he couldn’t allow that “not even if it was the General, himself”!! So I’ve got to go up tomorrow to camp, after Mrs MacSwiney has sworn the orderly to secrecy - because I am supposed to be away on leave! I think this parcel must be a present of jewellery from Uncle Ben. I’ve got an advice postcard saying a registered parcel had been despatched, from Robert Jones & Sons, Goldsmiths, Liverpool.

Then last but not least I’ve had a cheque from Mesopotamia, from an old flame of mine. You don’t mind, do you? After all, he is in Mesopotamia, and I am in England, so that it is only a case of “hands across the seas” - and after all a cheque across the seas is more business like isn’t it?!

The following is information for our two selves, no one else. I’ve heard from Father once or twice lately. He is at Aberavon Vicarage, Port Talbot, Wales. The first time he wrote I thought he must be staying there, that was 2 months ago, but now I think he must have got a post as curate, perhaps temporary. It seems so strange to think he is in the same town as the Phillips and Arthur and Mary stayed with them when the former was home, a month ago - and no one seems to have discovered it. I’ve lain low and said nothing, as experience has taught me is the best course to pursue, when in doubt. It would only worry him if he knew I knew people in Port Talbot, because he’d think Mother might get to know his address. Of course he’d just love Baby Dorothy. Mary lives at Porthcawl, not so very far away from Port Talbot. However I think it is best to leave things as they are.

We are having girls sent to us here to train under me as WAAC officers. I wonder how many more odd jobs they are going to give me to do.

One came the day before yesterday – a Miss Lever. She is a nice girl but not very smart in her appearance. I do like women to put on their clothes well. Even shabby clothes don’t look shabby if they are worn with “an air”.

Fancy me training WAAC officers! Can you imagine people standing at attention when they address me and all that sort of thing. It is all I can do to live up to it sometimes!

Xmas Eve - I strolled up to the camp this morning to fetch my registered parcel and sign for it. The post orderly tried to look as if I wasn’t there really, but away on leave, almost as though I was the wraith of myself!

I do think Army men are funny. They take every trifling little thing so seriously and are always having Boards of Enquiry about such odd things. I was once mysteriously ushered away from a room, where I thought a murder, at the least, must have been committed, but was told in an awe-struck voice – “The GOC, ma-am, and the Board are sitting on the Hostel Crockery”. I simply gasped “sitting on the Hostel Crockery”?! “Yes, ma-am, there has been some muddle about it in the QM’s stores”!

Another time I was told there was a “Board sitting on the Butter”! I simply couldn’t help saying “It must be margarine, not butter, surely”! Mrs MacSwiney and I simply scream with laughter some evenings over the events of the day.

When the Women’s Army first came here the Men’s Army would hardly look at us, and if looks could have slain, when they did condescend to look at us, we should all have been dead by now!

Now, they are just the opposite. They are taking us very seriously – every action of ours is criticized. They simply eat, drink and sleep “Wacks” - and everyone buzzes round just when they are least wanted! Life nowadays is awfully funny.

Our WAAC club is giving a dance on the 29th. Men are coming, by invitation. There is terrible competition to be asked. Some days the men feel only the “nice” men are being asked, so the men that day all look as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths! If that scheme does not fetch an invitation then they think “only the dashing, well-groomed men are to be asked. Such oiling of hair, and polishing of buttons, and shining soaped faces. They are really too screaming for words.

Some of the officers are coming and some TU officers and I hear even amongst these there is a certain amount of “Been asked to the Wacks dance, old man?!” “No”. “Oh, I have, I quite like the Wacks, don’t you know” – and so on.

Betty is coming over for it. I am finding a corner for her. I’ve asked Barbara but she is a bit uncertain whether she can get away, as they’ve no maid at present and it means leaving Mother alone. I’ve sent her the money for her fare so I hope this will help her to come.

Well, dearest, so this is Xmas Eve – the children’s Festival. I heard from Mary today. One sentence points to what she and Arthur wish, does it not? She says “Baby is going on well, she is getting such a big girl and is hardly a baby any longer. I feel quite sad that she is growing up so quickly, especially as no other disputes the place of baby with her.”

Arthur had nearly a fortnight’s leave she said. They paid a round of visits but also managed to spend part of the time at their little cottage at Porthcawl. She sends her best wishes to both of us and hopes next Xmas we shall be together, happily married.

I never told you what was in my registered parcel. It was from Uncle Ben – a small silver dish for holding sweets for dessert – such a duckly little thing – towards our home.

In your letter of this mail you say I have been “naughty” in a recent letter of mine you had received. I have been through a period of rebellion for about 3 months now, but it is wearing off. I don’t know what came over me. I very nearly wanted to break off our engagement and do all sorts of violent things. I think the strain of my new work told on me. Perhaps you won’t believe I am shy. But one of the things I’ve felt most in being so much in the public eye. I am conspicuous whenever I go. I also hated having business dealings with men, who one moment treated you too much like a man and the next moment treated you like a very silly sort of woman. I’ve lived all this down now and am treated very well now, but it took some “living down”.

You’ve told me once or twice that in some respects my mind acts like a man’s. Well the men here naturally did not know this and I have been astonished that they expected me to do something silly, which I never contemplated doing, and they have been astonished that I didn’t do it and so on.

And when something unpleasant occurs – after it is all over I don’t refer to it again. This again seems to surprise them. I always meet them just as politely afterwards.

I’ve gained a lot – because they always come and apologize if things go wrong, owning to their fault and not mine. It has taken some doing, though, and I’m afraid my letters to you have suffered in consequence. Even when in training in London, I was labouring under the same kind of difficulties, only with women instead of men.

I shall be thinking of you, darling, oh so much tomorrow – just longing for you to come home.

Poor Miss Lever’s fiancé has been killed quite recently. She is so brave about it, but I can see her nerve has gone to pieces.

Dec 25th – A Happy Xmas, Well beloved. Some day, God willing, I will greet you thus on Xmas morning – we shall be alone – just you and I. I can hardly realize that it will ever come to pass – so many years are slipping by.

I went to the Early Celebration. Canon Barnard took it most beautifully. In imagination I pictured you at my side. We had Cecil’s favourite hymn sung very softly while people were communicating. 322 – “And now oh, Father, mindful of the love” – which brought back memories of him very forcibly, and then we had the one for absent friends “Holy Father in thy Mercy” - and all my heart went into that hymn. “Keep our loved ones, now far absent, neath thy care”.

I am dining with Captain & Mrs Collard, RAMC, tonight - and afterwards we are going to a Mrs Wilson Brown’s to play Xmas games etc.

Dec 26th – I enjoyed myself last evening very much. Am sorry to say I was caught under the mistletoe! The rest of the entertainment was quite nice, but I cannot say I relish being kissed even under the mistletoe. Still one can only smile and look pleasant on these occasions.

The Assistant Adjutant Mr Walpole Simmons was one of the guests. He knows your Father quite well and the rose garden. His brother was a pupil of your Father’s, and he, himself, worked in the Brewery Office for a bit. He says that Mr Collier Junior, knocked up completely and is out of the Army. He also knows some of the 9th Worcesters. He is in the 5th Worcesters himself. An officer called King, of the 9th Worcesters is among the TUs in this camp. I haven’t met him, though. Do you know him? I expect you must know him.

I feel I’ve neglected you badly lately – by sending you such scrappy letters. Now that my work is more organized I shall be able to piece out my days better and fit in my own correspondence. You are patient with me when I don’t always deserve it – be forgiving now when I do deserve it, at least I think if you saw the amount I’ve got through here of work and organization you’d say I deserve to be forgiven.

God bless you my own dear man - and bring you back safe to me, soon.

All my heart’s love as ever.

Your own devoted

Cyril received the letter on 2nd March 1918.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 6 sheets of notepaper
Record Office Reference