THE PARCELS

PARCELS TO THE FRONT & LETTERS HOME  would appear to be a most appropriate title for this Post,  for most of the letters are joyful, often ecstatic thanks for parcels sent from home.

The sheer volume & variety of food & provisions, which Pte Bertie’s Family sent across the Channel, is extraordinary.  Bertie records each item carefully so that his Mother could check he had received everything.

Crawfords City Assorted packaging: used when paper was scarce.
Crawfords City Assorted packaging: used when paper was scarce.

‘Another 1/2 Ib & some of those round crisp assortment you sent as well.  & if you like next time you make anything for yourselves Ida can make me two tea cakes.  & of course the eggs but just as you please, you know. Forgive me.   Bertie.  See over’.

‘Like as you promise me another parcel I promise you another letter. But don’t you fall through the bottom of your chair Mum..  With regard to shirts & other important matters I will refer in my next letter. ‘  1915.

Nov. 23rd 1915
Nov. 23rd 1915

Transcription:   A Merry Party of Tommies.  

My Dearest Mum, Dad & All.  What really ripping parcels. And the best of it they have fortunately come at a very happy & convenient time. The one & the only one which was brought into the trenches that day. Indeed the towel came also very timely to cleanse my dirty black fuzzywig,  & the toffee too came also at an acceptable time, a rough time, a cold time, a time when my tummy felt cold & frozen a nightly time…

THE TOTAL NUMBER OF PARCELS  Bertie received in the Field, between embarkation on March 1st 1915 and July 1st 1916, appears to have been an average of one a week – from small parcels of cigarettes, chocolates and magazines to large food hampers of home-made cakes and bread.  The ‘tie with home’, as well as the promise of ‘home comforts on Listening Post’, gave my father the energy at times to carry not only his own parcels, on top of his full pack, but also those for his brother and his old school pal, Vernon Evans.

The Hibbett Family at Tea:  Mother, Bertie, Sydney and Ida.
The Hibbett Family at Tea: Mother, Bertie, Sydney and Ida.

MISSING PARCELS :  When parcels did go missing, Bertie’s grief was as much for his Family as for himself, that their Christmas gifts, so lovingly prepared and packed, could not be enjoyed by ‘the boy who would appreciate them best’. That the Army went to so much trouble to deliver these parcels  within just a few days , and that so few appear to have gone astray, is unwitting testimony to their importance to morale and as a necessary boost to the notoriously poor diet endured by the troops.

Mother at Tea.
Mother at Tea.

FOOD TO THE FRONT & LETTERS HOME  would also make a good title. Food was always on Bertie’s mind. He felt greedy but he wasn’t afraid to ask for more!

LISTS OF FOOD MENTIONED IN THE LETTERS mostly in thanks for parcels received and requests for more. ‘It’s only the Tie with Home I want really’.

ARMY FOOD: Beef; Bully Beef; Bacon; Marconochies (tinned meat & veg.); Pontoon; Rations; Vegetables.

Ale/ Stout; Almonds; Apples; Apple Pie; Apricots.

Bacon (Fa’bacon); Bananas; Beans/ haricot; Beef; Biscuits/ Crawfords; Bovril; Brazil Nuts; Bread/ Brown/Loaf; Bread & Milk; Bread & Buitter Pudding; Butter.

Cake: Cake with Sydney & Bertie’s initials; Caraway Seed; Cheese Tarts; Currant; Ginger; Queen’s Cakes; Wedding Cake.

Cheese; Chutney; Cocoa; Condensed milk; Coffee (Velma Coffee); Cold Food/ Meat; Corn; Crab; Cream/ tinned; Cucumber; Currant Bread/ Loaf; Custard.

Chocolate: Batchelor Buttons; Bournville; Cadbury’s; Cadbury’s Mexican; Chocolate Caramels; Nestles; King Edward Chocolate.

Dates; Eggs/ hard boiled/ duck.

Favourite Food: Ida/  nuts; Mother/apricots; Bertie/bread & butter pudding; Syd/ chocolates.

Figs; Fruit; Goose; Gravy; Ham; Herrings; Homemade Cakes/ Biscuits & Bread;

Horlick’s Malted Milk Tablets; Hot Cross Buns; Hot Food/ Drink; Hot Milk.

Jam: Gooseberry/ Damson; Jelly; Lemon Jelly; Lemonade Crystals (Symingtons & Birds); Lemon Curd.

Milk; Mince Pies; Mineral Water; Mixed Fruit; Mutton; Nuts/ Hazel; Oats/ Quaker; Oatmeal Cakes; Oranges/Jamaica; Oxo.

Pancakes; Parkin; Pea Flour /Symington’s; Pears; Pea Soup; Pickles/ Cross & Blackwell; Picallilie; Pippins; Pork Pie; Pleasant; Pineapple chunks; Plums; Porridge; Potatoes.

Pudding: Bread & Butter; Christmas; Milk; Plum; Rice; Tapioca; Yorkshire/ York.

Raisins; Sardines; Sausages; Sausage rolls; Scones; Shortcake; Shrimp & Salmon Pate; Soup; Stem Ginger; Sugar/ brown; sultanas; Syrup/ Golden; Strawberries.

Sweets: Acid Drops; Butterscotch; Bachelor Buttons; Barley Sugar; Bull’s eyes; Caramel Toffee; Cream walnuts; humbugs; Mackintosh’s de lux/ mint toffee; Pastilles/ lime juice; Rowntrees pastilles/ walnut cream; Terry’s Toffee; Turkish Delight; Walnut Cream; Whitby Rock.

Tinned Food: Butter/ Coffee/ Cream/ Crab/ Marchonochies/ Meat.

Turf Cake; Turkey; Tea; Tomatoes; Water; Water Cress; Welsh Rarebit; Wine.

 

 

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PROFILE: Pte Bertie Hibbett

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall, Cadet.
Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, Cadet.

This is me at 15, a Cadet at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall. Everyone called me Bertie: my full name is Arthur Hubert Hibbett.

At the outbreak of the Great War, I was 19 yrs old and a Mining Surveyor Apprentice in Walsall, to a Mr. Nightingale of Lichfield Street.  My father was Chief Inspector of Schools for the Borough. The whole family, my parents, three brothers and my sister, were on holiday in Abergele, Wales, when my old Headmaster, Mr. E.N. Marshall, sent my brother Sydney and me his fateful Recruiting Postcard, to raise volunteers in the 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS ON  my daughter, Elizabeth, will be posting this Card again, on the date it was sent, August 11th 1914. For the next four years, God willing, she will continue to post over 200 of my letters on the date I wrote them from the trenches,  with my  drawings and sketches. They are to the various members of my family but mostly to my Mother. They date from training in Luton and Saffron Walden and from the Front in Flanders & France, – until I went over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916. I was wounded and my brother Sydney was killed .

Further Letters, written in my left hand, will follow from the Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, until my discharge from the Army in July, 1917 . They will continue from Lichfield Theological College on Armistice Day, 1918, until I was ordained an Anglican Priest in 1924.

Grt Paxton

 

MY FIRST LIVING  was Great Paxton, Little Paxton and Toseland, in Huntingdonshire, but I served the rest of my ministry in Lincolnshire, mainly as Vicar of St. Vedast’s Church, Tathwell, with Haugham, near Louth. This Patron Saint was a constant reminder to me of Easter Day Dawn, 1916, when I stood sentry at Neuville St. Vaast, on the Somme.

Sapientia Urbs Conditur, The City is Founded on Wisdom
Bookplate: St Vedast unites Tathwell Church with Arras Cathedral under the University of Nottingham’s Latin Tag ‘Sapientia Urbs Conditur’ (The City is Founded on Wisdom) and above Psalm 99 ‘Thy Word is a Lantern unto my Feet & Light unto my Path’. AHH 1967.

 

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009

‘As a child I was made more aware of the 1st World War than of the 2nd, in which I grew up. My father never allowed me to forget that I was born on St Vedast’s Day, for it was an ever present reminder to him of his Sentry Duty at Neuville St. Vaast, Messines, Easter Day 1916.  I had a little seat on his rattley old bike and he would take me round the parishes selling Earl Haig poppies.

Every  Remembrance Day, and every 1st July, my father would bring out his 1914 Sketch Book and his 21st Birthday Autograph Album. His painting of ‘Poppies on the Battlefield’ made a very strong impression on me, together with his beautifully scripted text of ‘In Flanders’ Fields’, by  John McCrae.’

AHH Poppies Text

 

The Revd. A.H. Hibbett.
The Revd. A.H. Hibbett.1960s.

AHH Painting 2

THE LETTERS 1914 -1918

LETTER ILLUSTRATIONS

Private Bertie Hibbett illustrated many of his letters in the Field.

ADDRESSES. Censorship meant that he was not allowed to give a geographical address so he often used the names he & his pals gave to their dugouts:-

‘The Z -Urban District Trench Improvement Society. ‘Bully Beef Bungalow’; ‘ Whizbang Dugout’; ‘The Listener’s Lounge’; ‘Somewhere Else’; ‘All in Bandages’; ‘In Red White and Blue’ and once or twice he has ’20 Yards from The Enemy!’.

These ‘addresses’ were a great help when trying to place a letter in its chronological order.

Smiling Letter Flying Home from France. 1916
Smiling Letter Flying Home from France. 1916.

DECORATIVE LETTER HEADINGS : Most of his drawings were of necessity in pencil but , when he had time, Bertie provided illustrated headings in ink; e.g. before embarcation and when in Hospital in France.

Decorative Letter Heading. 1915.
Uphold the Knot. Decorative Letter Heading : S.Staffs Knot  Badge. Feb. 1915.
Decorative Heading for a Letter
Decorative Heading for a Letter

SKETCHES : Pte Bertie Hibbett was detailed as a Sniper in 1916. When, as a child, I asked him if he had killed anyone in the Great War, he said he thought he had  – ‘once’, when he fired at a helmet and heard a shout. He was also detailed by HQ, perhaps more successfully, to make sketches with a periscope of the German Front Line at Gommecourt.  He brought Home a copy but sadly he showed it at  a ‘Toc H’ exhibition in Lincolnshire in the 1960s and we never saw it again.

Sniper Atkins Doggerel. Fonquevillers, near Gommecourt. Before the Big Push. May 1916.
Sniper Atkins Doggerel. Fonquevillers, near Gommecourt. Before the Big Push. May 1916.

Bottom Left: Old German Soldiers “with long beards observed digging trenches”. Right : “A fellow soldier posed for me” .

 ENVELOPES :  WHITE envelopes were censored by the Regiment.  GREEN envelopes need not be censored by the Regiment but their contents  could  be examined at the Base.  Soldiers had to sign:- ‘I certify on my honour that the contents of this envelope refer to nothing but private and family matters.’  Pte Bertie tells how sorry he feels for the censors wading through the huge pile of letters before the Battle of the Somme.

Parcels to the Front & Letters Home. The Story of Private Bertie Hibbett 1914 -1918

DEDICATION:  These Letters are Dedicated to World Peace and are published in  Honour of all who Suffered in the First World War. 

Bertie in UniformINTRODUCTION & SIGNIFICANCE

This remarkable collection of letters, original drawings and sketches, sent Home to his Family at 95, Foden Road, Walsall, tells the First World War story, in his own words, of my father, Private Arthur Hubert Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment.  Most have no address but their exact geographical location along  the Western Front, was discovered with the help of the Regiment’s Official War Diary and Bertie’s own War Diary, A Little Book of Words and Doings.

Together with My Memories of the First World War, written in 1967, Bertie Hibbett’s Letters will be of value to historians, teachers and all interested in the history of the Great War and its Aftermath.

READING THE LETTERS TODAY:

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009

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.

A LETTER TO HIS SISTER IDA

Envelop. Ida

Aug. 1915

August Bank Holiday.  2/8/15 Anniversary of Decl. of War.

‘My Dear Sister Ida,  Just come off fatigue  – last journey through woods with big bag of coke. The trees are nothing but trunks now & last night the sun setting like a ball of fire looked mystic as it shone through the straight tall trunks, some broken half way down…’

A RICH COMBINATION OF FACTORS, both fascinating and informative, make the letters unique.

THEY ARE WRITTEN FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A PRIVATE rather than of an Officer; one who had volunteered as a Mining Surveyor Apprentice at the outbreak of War but who, by Armistice Day, 1918, had entered Lichfield Theological College to train for ordination as an Anglican Priest.

THEY ARE LETTERS TO A WHOLE FAMILY, not only to his Mother and Father, but to three Brothers and a Sister, as well as to a Godmother and a number of close friends –  the varying style in each reflects the different relationships. Readers will be able to follow not only the emotional & spiritual development of a sensitive, intelligent, young man but also to gain a picture of his ‘most painstaking and loving mother’, that quiet father ‘kindness itself’, that compassionate, wise sister and those ‘thoughtful’, kindly brothers at home, where my father longed to be.

THE LETTERS ARE ABOUT EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE TRENCHES; the horror of War is conveyed through understatement, rather than by graphic description of battles and charges.  With letters written every few days, they cover a period of two and a half years, almost without a break, from Bertie Hibbett’s enlistment, his training in Luton and Saffron Walden, through 16 months at the Front – to the loss of his brother and his own wounding at the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916. They continue through long months in the Red Cross Hospital at New Brighton (where he wrote and drew with his left hand), to his discharge from the Army in 1917 and his entry into Lichfield Theological College and the Anglican Church ministry. 

THEY ARE ILLUSTRATED WITH BERTIE’S OWN DRAWINGS & SKETCHES

Smiling Letter Flying Home from France. 1916
Smiling Letter Flying Home before the Battle of  the Somme. 1916.

THE LETTERS TELL OF WALSALL HISTORY 1900 – 1925

Greetings from Walsall

LOCAL AS WELL AS MILITARY HISTORIANS  will be interested in the light shed on the South Staffordshire Regiment and on Queen Mary’s Grammar School Walsall. Some 70 officers and men are mentioned by name (many of them Old Boys of QMS), together with those of  prominent members of Walsall Borough Council.  They tell the story of the impact of War on professional middle class families, of their War effort and support in the way of parcels as well as letters; they tell of middle class education and values pre-1914 in one town in the Midlands.  They also provide valuable information concerning contemporary Christian Faith & Church life at Home and at the Front.  With numerous sketches and drawings, they tell the story of one young soldier’s courage, humour and hope in the face of extremity, and of his journey from boy at war to man of peace.

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.
Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall.
St Paul's Walsall 1914. Now called St Paul's at the Crossing.
ST PAUL’S CHURCH WALSALL 1914. Now called The Crossing at St Paul’s.

SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL VALUE

IT IS THE UNWITTING, FIRST HAND EYE-WITNESS  quality that gives Bertie Hibbett’s letters their sociological and educational value.  Longing for letters and loving to write them, his words tumble onto the page, with postscript after postscript in an agony not to finish.  ‘It is only the tie of family love I want really’. 

Invariably cheerful, amusing, courageous, Bertie is almost overwhelmed at times by the mixed emotions of duty, loyalty, love and fear. He knew what it was to be utterly ‘HBD’, Heart Bowed Down.  Desperately home-sick, craving for the Home Leave that never came, he suffers the intense pain of boils ‘like toothache in the neck’, trench foot & shell shock that were to plague him for the rest of his life.  Watching over his elder brother with fierce love and pride, trying to keep up the courage of his pals in the worst of the shelling, Bertie is torn between gaining sympathy by telling his mother ‘all about me sen’ and trying to shield her from the unspeakable horrors of his life out there.

That his ‘humble scribblings’ should be studied seriously as part of a school or university curriculum, and be worthy of exhibition, would have filled my father with wondering astonishment.  Whilst he loved writing letters, to entertain himself and his family, his main thought, each Sunday, was to reassure his mother of the safe arrival of parcels and thereby of his own safety.

Certainly the faith of his family was a daily comfort, especially that of his Mother, whom he pictures in the familiar pew in St Paul’s, Walsall.  My father’s firm belief in the power of good over evil, that ‘everything works together for good’, is reflected not only in the biblical quotations heading most of his letters from the trenches, but also in his lyrical descriptions of Mother Nature, of sunlight and bright mornings, of animals and birds and also of flowers, picked to adorn the dugouts, to press and to send home.

‘At last I have found a few June roses’, he writes to his mother in his last letter Home before the Battle of the Somme, 1st  July 1916.

EDITING:      Allowed to tell their own story, the letters stand with just enough editing to make Bertie’s language, quaint spellings and abbreviations, intelligible  today. EFW. 2014.