PARCELS TO THE FRONT & LETTERS HOME is dedicated to World Peace, in Honour of my Father, The Revd Arthur Hubert Hibbett (Bertie), his brothers, Harold & Basil – all three wounded in WW1 – and in Memory of my Uncle Sydney Hibbett, Killed in Action 1st July 1916. Also of my Aunt Ida Hibbett, Red Cross Nurse, who died of cancer following work in an ammunition factory.
NB: This Website is under-way again after a rather longer break than expected when my husband, Kester Webb, died suddenly in December, 2016. I hope to be up to date, 100 years on, by the time my father was discharged from the Army in July 1917. Grateful thanks to all my viewers – daily numbers of which have actually increased during the past four months.
In August 1914, Bertie Hibbett, a Mining Surveyor Apprentice, was on holiday in Abergele, Wales, with his Family, when the Headmaster of Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, sent a Recruitment Post Card to his brother Sydney Hibbett.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS ON, THIS FATEFUL CARD WAS POSTED AGAIN: 11th AUGUST 2014: the first post in a remarkable collection of Letters, Drawings and Sketches Pte Bertie Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, sent Home from the Trenches in France & Flanders. Some 200 Letters have been posted on the day they were written between August 1914 and July 1916.
NEW VIEWERS might like to go back to the beginning of my father’s Letters in August 1914, after reading this Welcome Page. See Archive July/August 2014.
HIBBETT LETTERS: JULY 1916 – ARMISTICE DAY NOVEMBER 1918.
The First Day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, saw the end of my Father’s Letters from the Trenches. From 9th July until May 1917, Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Letters Home are from the Red Cross Hospital, The Cenacle, New Brighton, Birkenhead. He had sustained a serious wound to his arm but spent his time drawing & writing with his left hand and entering fully into the social life of the Hospital.
The Hibbett Collection now includes Letters from his Family & Friends & those still at the Front. They are full of the search for his brother Sydney, reported Missing, presumed Killed in Action on 1st July 1916. They reflect the Family’s anxiety over the call up papers for Harold & Basil, the oldest & youngest in the Hibbett Family & the illness of their sister, Ida. Armistice Day, 11th Nov.1918 saw my Father at Lichfield Theological College. He was ordained as a Priest in the Anglican Church in 1924 & spent his ministry mainly in the Diocese of Lincoln. NB. In Commemoration of the Battle of the Somme I am leaving the Summary of the Hibbett Letters: May – June 1916 & the Build up to the Battle, on this Welcome Page.
HIBBETT LETTERS: MAY – JUNE 1916.
The Hibbett Letters of May & June 1916 are dominated by Pte Bertie’s desperate longing for Home Leave. He had been in France since March 1915 & had spent several months in Hospitals suffering from Trench Foot and Blood Disorder. Time and again his hopes were raised: he was ‘in the next six’, would ‘be Home next week’, would ‘follow tomorrow’. Time & again he & his family were disappointed.
The news in mid-June that Home Leave was ‘restricted to one soldier a Battalion’ must have been devastating to him. With the mounting tension he tried ‘to take one day at a time’ and count his ‘blessings’. The readings & prayers of Easter & Whitsuntide, which he shared with his Mother, gave him strength and he took comfort from their exchange of pressed flowers, lilies, ferns and a white carnation on Whit Sunday. ‘At last I have found some June roses’ he wrote in his last Letter before ‘The Somme’.
THE BUILD UP TO THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME.
MAY 1916: On 3rd May the 1/5th South Staffords (as part of the 46th Midland Division under the command of Sir Stuart Wortley) were once again on the march to the Front at FONQUEVILLERS, opposite the German Front Line at GOMMECOURT. This salient was to be the furthest most point of the Somme Offensive planned for 29th June ‘Z Day’. They arrived on 6th May to relieve the 1/6th Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment in what was regarded as ‘about the quietest section on the whole of the Western Front’. It was a welcome relief after the trauma of Neuville St Vaast & Vimy Ridge. Apart from heavy bombardment, with trench mortars & ‘canister bombs’ in mid-May, the War Diary reported many ‘Quiet’ & ‘Very Quiet’ days and Casualties for May were few.
On the 19th May the South Staffords were relieved by 1/5th Sherwood Foresters and spent the rest of the month at Lucheux in relentless & exhausting fatigues. When they were not marching & battalion training they were kept hard at work in Lucheux Woods cutting saplings for hurdles to repair water-logged & collapsed trenches. The Chief Medical Officer arrived to assess the alarming rise of trench foot & fever amongst the men and reported severely on the poor, lice-infested accommodation they had to endure.
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s drawing, as well as his shooting skill, was now officially recognised. He was detailed off to a Sniper’s Post, this time to make sketches of No Man’s Land and the German Front Line. Every tree or bush, every rise or fall of ground, and the notorious ‘sunken road’, had to be drawn accurately so that all officers & serjeants might know the lie of the land they must lead their men across at Zero hour. (A copy my father kept until the 1960s was sadly lost at a Toc H Exhibition in Skegness). When not on duty (usually 2 hours on & two hours off) Pte Bertie remained at his dangerous Sniper’s Post writing his comic ‘Sniper Atkins’ and illustrating it with drawings of his pals and his enemies at work. It was received favourably by the officers and included a verse of sympathy for the enemy, ordinary chaps, like himself & his pals. ‘Tommy does not always care to sting poor ‘Old Fritz’ with leaden pill’.
JUNE 1916 was spent in much the same way at Lucheux & Souastre Divisional Reserve, furnishing ‘working parties’ and practicing charge attacks in a model of the German lines, until 17th, when the Staffords marched to Le Souich. Here on the 20th June they were inspected in ‘attack practice’ by Earl Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief B.E.F. (Kitchener’s Army) – something which Pte Bertie dared only to hint at in his letters. On 21st June the Staffords relieved the 1/5th Leicester Regiment in the ‘Right’ Sector at FONQUEVILLERS.
1/5th South Staffords’ covering parties (protecting ‘working fatigues’ in the trenches during 22nd – 24th June) came under heavy shell & machine gun fire, and suffered many casualties. Pte Bertie’s ‘A’ Company, No 2 Platoon, on 24th June, is recorded as one of these parties protecting the digging of a new sap trench out into No Man’s Land; the aim was to get troops closer to the German Front Line, before they ‘Went over the Top’. On 25th -26th June the Staffords suffered even heavier casualties in German bombardment on their support lines. At last, on 27th ‘X Day’, they were relieved by 1/4th Leicester Regt. and marched to Rest Camps at Humbercamp, 3 miles from the Front Line. On 28th June, ‘Y Day’ Pte Bertie & his pals were advised to write letters home (posted only in the event of their death) and ordered to destroy all other correspondence which might be useful to the enemy if captured.
But ‘Z Day’ for the Somme Offensive came & went without action. 29th June was renamed ‘Y1 Day’ when Earl Haig decided the weather was just too wet. It was not until 11.30 on 30th June ‘Y2 Day’ that the Battalion paraded at Humbercamp ‘to proceed to the trenches, to carry out operations against hostile positions in GOMMECOURT WOOD, VILLAGE and PARK’.
BERTIE HIBBETT’S STORY for the most part is told in his own words: with extracts from his 1967 Memories of the First World War, his own War Diary; also South Staffords Regiment War Diary and The History of the South Staffordshire Regiment, woven in where appropriate.
EDUCATIONAL AIM: My Grandfather was Chief Education Officer for the Borough of Walsall and it will be a great satisfaction to me, as a teacher myself, to know that this 1st World War Primary Source material is in a convenient form for Study in Schools and Colleges, as well as by the general public.
READING THE LETTERS: Today, as I gently open out the flimsy sheets, I wonder at their history and the journey they have made from the trenches, through the years, into my hands. I think about those who first opened and read them and of the brave young man, much younger than my own son now, who wrote them. Reading the letters, one after another, I feel I am in the same position as those who first received them, entering into my father’s life at the Front, seeing it unfold day by day and week by long week, waiting in expectation of what will happen next, caught up in the immediacy of it all. I want all who read them to be in that position too.
The Letters will appear under the following Headings:-
1. Recruitment & Training in Bedfordshire & Essex: Aug.1914 – Feb. 1915.
2. Embarkation to the Front, Armentiers & Wulverghem Trenches, Listening Post, opposite Messines. March – June 1915.
3. Ypres Salient: Armagh Wood, Zilibek; Yves Canal; Railway Embankment; Hill 60, Trench 32. June – August 1915.
4. No 12. & No 9. General Hospital, Rouen. Aug. – Sept. 1915.
5. Battle of Loos. Battle of Hohenzollern Redoubt. Sept. – Nov. 1915.
6. Neuve Chappelle Trenches & Listening Post. Nov.- Dec. 1915.
7. Mnerville Hospital, Boulogne. Transport to Marseille to join Battalion in Egypt. Return to Western Front . 14th Dec.-14th Feb..
8. Battalion at Bellancourt. 15th Feb. – 18th March 1916.
9. Neuville St Vaast, holding the Labyrinth. 19th March – 3rd May.1916.
10. Preparation for Battle of Somme. Fonquevillers, L Sector Trenches, overlooking Gommecourt Wood. 3rd May – 1st July 1916.
11. Hospital in France 1st July 1916; Red Cross Hospital, new Brighton, Birkenhead. 9th July – May 1917. Discharge from Army, July 1917.
12. Lichfield Theological College, Armistice Day, 11th Nov. 1918. Ordination as an Anglican Priest,1924.
NOTE: I look forward to your Comments – especially from members of Walsall Families mentioned in the Letters, and from Staffordshire Regiment historians.
I have been researching these Letters since the 1970s. For their helpful interest, grateful thanks must go to the late Vernon Evans; the Penning Family; Arthur Venables’ Family; Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall; The Record Office, Essex Street, Walsall; Members of The Western Front Association; The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The Imperial War Museum. I am especially indebted to The Staffordshire Regiment Museum, Lichfield, for sight of their Roll Book , precious and rare, and for copies of the Staffs Official War Diary, through which I was able to discover the exact location of my father when he wrote Home.
That this website has been built, in time for the 100th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Great War, is due to the wonderful care I have received from the National Health Service. My most grateful thanks go especially to my GP, Dr B. Kalsi, and Health Workers at Queens Medical Centre, Barnstaple; Cardiac Consultant, Dr. C.Gibbs, Nurses and Rehabilitation Team at North Devon District Hospital; Cardiac Surgeon, Dr Fazil Azeem and Intensive Care Nurses at The Royal Brompton Hospital, London – and lastly, for good measure, my most grateful thanks to Breast Cancer Surgeon, MrJ. Groome, Anaesthetist , Dr. Hibbard, and Nurses at NDDH.
Heading Illustration: Poppies on the Battlefield. Watercolour. 4″x4″. AHH.1917.
Website Copyright. EFW 2014.