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January 13th 1918 - Letter from Mela Brown Constable to her fiancé, Captain Cyril E Sladden

13th January 1918
Correspondence From
Mela Brown Constable, Attached Southern Command Depot Camp, Sutton Coldfield
Correspondence To
Captain Cyril E Sladden, 9th Worcesters, 13th Division, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force D
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

Attached S Command Depôt
Sutton Coldfield
Nr Birmingham


My own dear Cyril

I went down to breakfast yesterday and my first words to Mrs MacSwiney were, “I quite expected the mail would be in this morning, how disappointing there are no letters”! However the afternoon post was kinder and brought me a letter from you, dated Nov 12th 1917.

In it you say you almost wish that a submarine might sink your letter of a previous date. I have not received it yet, but if you addressed it to Badsey it may come in the morning. You had received a letter from me by a previous mail to the one you received just before writing, which you say was a horrid shock to you. You say I imputed to you a perfectly loathesome nature.

Sweetheart, don’t you think you took what I said too much to heart. Did I not rather write in the strain that I hoped you were not imbibing sentiments expressed by a type of army man, also now prevalent. The curious thing, dear, is that both Arthur and George speak in the same slighting way of the civilian population in England. I still think the civilian population as a whole have stood the strain of the war well.

You ask me not “to prolong a hateful and unprojectable subject”. So dear Man of Mine, I will leave the whole question alone – only saying that out of evil good may come, because the fact you took what I said so much to heart, makes me realize how very much you value my good opinion, which goes to prove that you would not knowingly say or do anything which might tend to lower that opinion.

It is difficult for you to grasp my mental attitude after a life of difficulty and having been deceived in many people. I do love and trust you absolutely, but just sometimes a kind of demon possesses me and the whole world seems against me - I very seldom give way to this feeling.

When we are married you will understand me much better in many ways. You will be with me so constantly that you will realize how much I fight against inherited tendencies. This explanation is not offered as an excuse for being horrid, but to help you to understand a nature curiously complex.

Mrs MacSwiney often tells me she has never met as highly strung or sensitive a woman as I am, or one so well controlled, that unless you lived with her day by day as she does, you would never guess she had any feelings at all.

It is good dear that you should know my worst side as well as my best. You say that your “real and proper Mela” had come back to you – in your letter. So she had in a sense – but the horridness is also a part of her nature which crops out now and again and which if I were married to the wrong man, might come uppermost in time. It is years of self-control and hard experience which have made me the woman you love – and even then I have not attained the character you think I possess. At any rate, Sweetheart, I don’t deceive you. If I feel horrid I don’t pretend to be nice, and therefore you are the one person in the world with whom I am natural. For goodness sake, hurry up and come home and let us be married – this separation is becoming more than either of us can reasonably stand. Years are creeping on too which is so maddening when one dwells on the thought of our future together.

As I told you, in a recent letter, I am buying things to embroider and work for our home, out of part of the £5 you sent me at Xmas. At present I am working a linen set for the toilet table in our room – sprays of white lilac – quite simple but good linen.

There have been a good many expenses one way and another over Xmas, having Bar and Betty here etc. My uniform allowance did not run to an overcoat, only a Burberry, so there is that bill too. I’ve just got the overcoat now. It is a very nice one and so warm and comfy. But soon I shall have some spare cash handy to invest in a few things towards our home. For one thing I need a fender and fire irons in my bedroom. You see now that I have to have two administrators here to train, year in and year out, I have to let them use my sitting room, owing to lack of accommodation, and so I’ve taken to making my bedroom into a bed sitting room and sitting there in the evenings.

Another thing I might invest in is an eiderdown, and I might also get a butler’s tray – one which stands on folding legs and can easily be packed. I would like to buy a proper tea set but it would only get smashed.

Of course if I knew I was to be here permanently I could furnish rooms, but I am liable to be called up for foreign service at any time.

Mrs MacSwiney is expecting her husband home in February. We wonder if she will have to resign or what. She is a very nice second in command to have and we get on very well. Just here and there I find her a bit stubborn – but perhaps I expect too much of her.

She was away on leave last week – staying with her husband’s people in Cheltenham. Old General MacSwiney told her that 3 generations back the BCs were renowned for their wildness! He could not believe I could be a capable, steady going Unit Administrator! Perhaps I’m not!

One gets some rather horrid “knock-outs” in this work. For instance one girl here, who has reason to be grateful, wrote to the Chief Controller, AG xi, WAAC Headquarters, London, and said that I made life here a “perfect hell” for the girls. Although I found it was not really believed at Headquarters, yet I had to go and see the Area Controller, Southern Command, who was passing through B’ham, and give an explanation. The letter was a lie – that was the only explanation of it, and why the girl wrote it is a mystery to herself now! She has harmed herself more than she has me, and the last I heard from Headquarters is that it is under consideration to transfer the girl!

These are not pleasant experiences but are quite usual ones when dealing with large bodies of mixed girls. They seem to get jealous or go mad sometimes. I hated the whole affair while it lasted and it was horrid tackling the girl about it.

Another thing which is so difficult in the Army, is, that no one will take the blame, and each person hides behind the one next to him. I am getting more used to the game myself now! but at first I got landed high and dry, there being no people left to hide behind!

Another thing I cannot understand is – AF 01810 is sent up regularly to various people who require them, but they never seem to refer to them, and are always writing to know what “authority” one has for this or that!

A sense of humour must be brought to bear on these points, or else one’s hair would turn grey! Talking of hair. My hair is getting quite a red tinge in it! It must be reflected from my khaki clothes or something like that!

So glad you and Wilfred write to each other. I have not heard from him for ages. Perhaps he and you may yet meet or may have met, as he expected to go to Mesopotamia or Palestine before Christmas.

I am happy to think you are pleased with the post I’ve got. How I got so high up I cannot imagine. The next step is to be Area Controller of a Command and then on to the Headquarters Staff – but I am not suited for any of these posts so am likely to remain an Unit Administrator.

I like the “local effort” – the medal Xmas card from Mesopotamia, and have proudly nailed it over my mantelpiece over your photo in my bedroom – my holy of holies as it were. I don’t have all my little sacred things in my sitting room for any chance visitor to gaze at.

I hope when the war is over that we may have a spell of quiet and rest, you and I. This work makes one long for quiet, away, away, away …..

If your letter of a previous mail turns up tomorrow – I will reply to it separately and also give you any further news which may crop up, of a later date than this. The papers still think the Turks will have shot for Baghdad and Jerusalem – I wonder if they will.

You are having it very cold, aren’t you, out your way, just at present? I often think of you when I am tucked away warm in bed, and wonder whether if it is so cold out your way, that you cannot get warm.

With all my love, dear, as ever - and a great big kiss.

Ever your devoted

Letter Images
Cyril received the letter on 18th March 1918.
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 4 sheets of notepaper
Record Office Reference