Still in Luton Nov. 9th/ 14
My Dear Basil,
How are things? When does the exam (1) come off? I hope you’ll pass successfully.
I daresay by now you know how we spend Sundays. We don’t know what will happen or where we shall go or what time we shall parade. One Sunday you heard that we went to the Railway Goods Stores. A week last Sunday I was on guard. Yesterday Sunday 8th I was dismissed with Sid and others because we were too many (2).
We go to Church indoors now, weather being unfit for outdoor services. So Sid and I went to Caddington (3) – so pleasant & the sunshine in the Church made it look bright and cheerful. The Sunday before, the Parade went to the Church in the morning & you remember reading my letter to Mother mentioning the hymns. Well isn’t it a coincidence that on the day we sang ‘Eternal Father’ the ‘Good Hope’(4) (cruiser) went down. I should certainly think that if we knew that such a catastrophe was occurring we should have sung that sea hymn with much more earnestness & vigour.
On the Saturday before, we practised retiring & were told that on no account must we double on retiring, but retire on quick march. Capt. Lister (5) said he would shoot the first man who began to double at the front. Ha! Ha! On the march we caught sight of a roadside advert for Continental Tyres. Stuck on the plate was a huge strip of paper with ‘MADE IN GERMANY’ all the way across. How we laughed! further on we saw Dunlop Tyres with the Union Jack printed on it.
Today we got up at about 5. 00. Should have got up at 4.30, but the knockers-up overslept themselves I should think. We went to the Range, but after having breakfast there Syd, myself & some others were told off, there being too many markers & we were ordered to join the Route March which would shortly pass the butts. Eventually we did and my word, tramp, tramp, tramp, we did nothing but tramp & rest & have dinner and the same the way back, but with fewer rests. We covered about 21 miles not less & we again saw the ‘MADE IN GERMANY’ posted on Continental Tyres.
No smoking cigarettes, no buying off hawkers, no drinking allowed on marches in future. The Cadbury chocolate trade is therefore badly going down & it does look feeble now. Up comes the Colonel or other officer if you disobey the above orders.
Arthur Brown (6) stayed at the butts to act as a marker for the firers. We saw him alone at the Range on our return; he marched with us some of the way. Being a marker he needed no rifle & had got his great-coat on – up comes Elwell, the Aide Camp (7) – wants to know why he is marching with us and who’s rifle he was carrying (Arthur had offered to carry a rifle of a tired comrade). Brown replied he had come from the Range, and at that Elwell kicked up a shindy with the private who had given up his rifle to Brown – and Elwell told Brown to clear out of the ranks & go behind or walk on the path. So Arthur Brown chatted with Syd, who marched just behind me.
How’s the Home Defence lot going on in Walsall? I’m, and all of us in fact, are tired of waiting here after hearing from the General that we shall SHORTLY be going on Active Service. (8)
On Sunday we were given little Active Service Prayer Pamphlets (9) and a bag called an Emergency Ration Bag (10), used only on Active Service when in most urgent need (i.e. hungered to death) then & only then are we allowed to use them.
We have been doled out with little mugs too, to be used on Active Service. One Pte comicly (sic) remarked that it was to dip in the muddy river, and we were to get to be practised to squirt the sludge that lay on the top from between our teeth & be able to drink the water underneath!
Tell Ida that Sid and I had a pleasant little chat with Fowler Black (11) . You remember him don’t you? Ha Ha – he did not join the O.T.C. as he wished but is in the 6th South Staffs. He only joined the colours a fortnight ago; he’s got no kit or hat badge, but managed to put on a new tunic. Taff Davies’ brother (12) has had Government orders to make tunics at 3/- each & less I believe; that’s what Mrs.Evans(13) told me, losing 3d on each one.
Well Good Luck & best love to all. Bertie.
MY MEMORIES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR: I remember writing to my mother that I was in the service, not of George V, but of the King of Kings. I had been brought up a confirmed Christian, and gave my name to the recruiting officer as C. of E. My faith was certainly tested when we were first billeted in Luton. I had to sleep on the floor with other soldiers and when I attempted to kneel to say my prayers a boot came flying over towards me. It was the first time in my life that I had experienced what might be termed persecution for one’s Christian way of life. I was 19 years old. The Revd. Arthur Hubert Hibbett. 1967.
(1) Entrance Exam QMS Grammar or Junior Oxford Matriculation. (2) Volunteers were so numerous that the Army found difficulty in finding regulars to train or occupy them. (3) Caddington, Bedfordshire:12th Century Church. It has a Latin tag: MORS MORTIS MORTI MORTEM nisi MORTE dedisset Non cecidissent MORS pallida regna tua. (‘Unless the Death of Death (Christ) had by his Death given Death to Death, thy Kingdom, O Death would not have been overcome’.). This play on words would have appealed to my father if he had seen it. (4) 1st Nov. 1914, Battle of Coronel, flag-ship HMS Good Hope was sunk with all hands off coast of Chile (neutral country but with fairly large German population). (5) Capt C. Lister ‘A’ Coy 1/5th S.Staffs. became Major/ Acting Colonel in 1916. (6) Arthur E. Brown, nicknamed ‘Brewin’. Sydney’s age, one of 5 pals on Listening Post, 1915. ‘Considerate, generous, jovial’. (7) Aide de Camp (literally ‘assistant in the field’) used of an Adjutant, Senior Officer, administrator of military unit. (8)
Walsall Observer 14th Nov. 1914
The Correspondent was most probably IKY (Ikee) BOULTON, whom Bertie called ‘the Observer Man who puts all our doings in the Walsall papers’; one of his pals on Listening Post 1915. He writes about the very training described by Bertie in his letter to Basil on the Monday before – and finishes with an appeal for more volunteers from Walsall. Full Transcript to be posted on 12th Nov. 2014.
(9) Active Service Prayer Pamphlet. Bertie’s copy is lost, so also is his tiny Prayer Card, issued by the Chaplain General in Aug.1914 to ‘slip inside your cap’. The Pamphlet contains a wide selection of Christian Prayers for Morning & Evening and ‘In the Hour of Need’; and ends with Into Thy hands I commend my Spirit. Copies obtainable from http://www.tommyspack fillers.com.
(10) Emergency Ration Bag: according to Old Sweats Gordon & Joe, Iron Ration from 1914 – 29 Oct. 1915 consisted of:
12 ozs Biscuit (plain)
1lb Preserved Meat (Bully Beef)
1/2 oz salt
3 oz Cheese
2 Meat extract Cubes (1oz.Bovril/ Oxo style)
Tea, Sugar, and Salt were packed in a Tin which was open at one end.
(11) Fowler Black: born 1895 in Walsall, middle name ‘Middleton’. Same age as Bertie. Old QMS Boy? (12) ‘Taff Davies’s brother’ – could be same family as Mr W. Davies, Athletic Outfitter and Leather Goods Dealer, 22 and 23 Walsall Arcade, well-established in 1914.
(13) Mrs E. Evans, mother of Vernon (Bertie’s best pal), wife of future Lord Mayor of Walsall, Enoch Evans, Solicitor.
Second Post 9th Nov. 1914: To Pater. Still in Luton. (2).