28th Dec.1914: Audley End: A Christmas Walk & Ghost Story.

Bertie in Uniform
BERTIE HIBBETT 19 in 1914.

Pte BERTIE  HIBBETT: Letter to Ida  on her Birthday, Mon. 28th Dec. 1914 (on back of letter to Mother Dec 27th.)

IDA HIBBETT. 27 in 1914.
27 in 1914.

My Dear Sister,

Your Christmas Card too was very appropriate and neat as well.  

I can’t help feeling sorry that I did not send you a real Birthday Letter, but I will try now.

I went a walk yesterday, Sunday afternoon, and it was just like a Christmas Walk, in spite of the mud and dullness of the weather for I felt peculiarly at Home.  I think it was because my thoughts were at that dear old place.  Yes the walk will just provide plenty of data for a ‘Better Late than Never’ letter.

I wanted to get my appetite up for tea, so I braced my belt round me and trotted out to see this Park that the landlady wished me to see.

I passed the Alms Houses & espied the misty tower of  St Mary the Virgin peeping over the old buildings making the scene very much like York City (1).  I walked through the Park, which was not like Walsall Arboretum but more like a deer forest – as a matter of fact great numbers of deer did once inhabit this beautiful place.

On coming out of the Park I came onto a lovely road & could see most superb scenery, tall stately trees rising up in blackness in the distance & the sinking sun.  A farm with a few haystacks could clearly be discerned shading off among the misty background. I turned to the right and went down the middle of the even sandy road, a footpath rising above it on the right & a high wall surrounding the park with ivy growing over it.

I walked up to a white limestone bridge, beautifully carved & going up to it I passed the gate of the stately Country Mansion at Audley End.

Just before coming to the gate I heard the Mansion clock bells strike four, giving an introductory chimeThe effect was  –  I can only say that much used word – ‘lovely’.  Everything – the scenery, was most Christmassy. 

Audley End.
Audley End Saffron Walden.1915.

On looking through the gate I saw the old Country House, which was once a palace fit for Kings and Queens, so history tells us.  It just reminded me of Irving’sOld Christmas’ (2) to see the stately windows and porches with the spacious lawn in front.  The sight looked far better than the postcards depict.  I strongly wished that some of the caretakers would favour me by taking me into the place, for I read that there is a grand stately hall, 90ft in length ,with beautifully woven tapestry and pictures of Rembrandt & Holbein & large carved fireplaces.

A. H. Hibbett’s Pen & Ink Copies (6 x 9cm) of ‘Old Christmas’ Illustrations.

Oh! I must not miss The Thing which puts the final touch!  Certainly this old Christmassy Mansion has a mysterious tale of tradition.

Over the large entrance gateway, shadowed by tall poplars & weeping willows & the Lodge, but with the moon shining through & casting a ghostly glimmer upon the jutting carved stone work, especially upon a Lion  – which is the object of the legend  – supposed to be true  –  there stands, erect, a most exquisite, carved figure of the King of Beasts, with its tail straight out & its eyes peering earnestly towards the river which flows and winds in front of the lawn.

Lion Lodge Audley End, Saffron Walden.
Lion Lodge Audley End, Saffron Walden. 1915.

I remembered the old story in connection with this Lion as I looked up at it.

The story goes that when the Mansion bells chime 12 on New Year’s Eve the Lion, in dignified mien, crawls down the carved gate & ambles over the spacious lawn, making a most striking, ghostly appearance;  it keeps at the run as though it were ravenously hungry and thirsty after being on watch over the gate during the Old Year.

As soon as the kingly beast reaches the water’s brink it drinks the waters of the river & then peers in the darkness of the middle of the night for any tender deer that may be seeking to quench its thirst. But –  as if magic –  the lion seems to be persuaded by unseen forces to turn about & return to its watch upon the top of the old stone gate.

There the proud animal must needs stand and watch for another year, no matter how it so longed for a dainty  meal.

I could very well imagine the story as the clock struck four.

Perhaps sometimes the unseen forces would allow its august majesty to visit the Mansion  –  to see if any intruder had cunningly got over the high walls surrounding the grounds & made an attempt to steal the precious treasures in the spacious hall  –  or perhaps the Lion was allowed to guard the porches when the Lord of the Manor had as guest His Majesty the King and Queen.  Well now it has been turned to stone for refusing to return after five minutes’  drink on New Year’s Eve, when it once could not resist the temptation of killing a beautiful white doe that the Lord of the Manor hunted during that same season  – – –

After having a good look at the old edifice & the river, on which swam wild ducks and swans, & glancing at the stables belonging to the Manor, I walked back to billets through the pretty village of Audley End & through the farm I mentioned at first.  When I opened the door of the billet I saw Syd & the rest all round the fire & cozily seated. 

A  very becoming end to my afternoon walk  – – – 

Syd and I will have to write as many letters of thanks as parcels receivedMiss May* (3) sent us a box of chocolate caramels and Miss Foster* (4) kindly sent Syd & me a parcel containing a letter for each   – & 3 packets of Cadbury’s Mexican Choc. reached us on Sunday morning in time for me to eat a bit on my walk.

Syd and I liked the cake so much that Syd had 3 slices today at teatime & I had two.  We cut into it for the first time this teatime, as we saved it to eat on your Birthday today (Mon) – & also because we had shared in with V. Evansluxuries the day before.  We had some of his bird for dinner today.  He had a brace of pheasants sent him.

You can let Mother choose one of the enclosed photos.  You may think that I have been attending too much to home & personal matters  – but Ida, it only cost me a farthing a photo & the paper came to less than a ¼d for the mounts.  A poor present for you I’m sorry, but I will remember you later.  Rumours are about that  we might come Home soon.

NB    A strong rumour has been about & even on the lips of the officers, that we are going to Dunstable or Luton to fire a second course.  I do hope we shall not go to the old place No 52 Tavistock St. Luton!

A Happy New Year to all & I hope you have Syd and me with you next Birthday (5).

You affectionate brother,    


ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009Bertie’s  describes the Audley End landscape as if he intends to make a sketch or painting of it . 

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

(1) Grandparents’ Family Home: Henry & Anne Hibbett. (2) Washington Irving.19th Cent. description of Christmas traditions in Derbyshire & Yorkshire (Illustrated by Chas Penry). (3Mary Overend*, Walsall nurse who trained with Ida. (4Bertie’s Godmother, Mary Foster*, lived in Nottingham, his birthplace. (5) See NEXT POST: Christmas Truce 1915.

27th Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden: An Army Christmas.

Bertie in Uniform
Bertie Hibbett. 19 in 1914.

Pte BERTIE  HIBBETT ‘A’Coy :  Christmas Letter to Mrs Marie Neal Hibbett, 95 Foden Rd, Walsall.    

53 in 1914.

29,  Gold Street, Saffron Walden.                                      Sunday Night/ 14


My Dear Mother,

I can very well guess that  you would so much like to know how  we spent Christmas.  Well I could write a still longer letter but   – – –

To begin with Sydney, the 4th(1) and myself went to Holy Communion at 7. am on Christmas Day.  The Service was not Choral and we did not have even one Christmas Hymn I always like to start Christmas Day with a Carol  –  but at any rate the Church was decorated most beautifully, red, green and white flowers & leaves, large white chrysanths.

When we returned we were too late for Parade &  we wanted our breakfast, but we were told beforehand that we should be excused Parade.

I should think few of ‘A’ Coy.  went on Parade for they were nearly all at Communion.

ST MARY the VIRGIN, Saffron Walden, Essex. 1914

Nearly all of the communicants were soldiers too, and the sight of all the khaki going out of the Church really seemed peculiar after such a festivalYes – Christmas Eucharist – Wartime –  Soldiers  –  I can only explain it like the above  –   the thoughts that passed through my mind just at the time.

The Colour Sergeant wanted helpers at the Cookhouse to peel the potatoes for the dinnerAll four of us in No 29 went down and set to work and so we missed the ordinary civilian’s service we, at least I, had intended to go to.

The authorities did their little best to make the Christmas Dinner as jolly & as pleasant as possible.  The soldiers decorated the room & I saw the paper decorations I had made while ‘on sick’ as a fatigue duty.

The tables were set beautifully  with plenty of plates piled with fruit and nutsThe courses were turkey, goose, beef and plum pudding & crackers; mineral waters, ale, stout & wine were laid on the tables.

A short sing-song was given after dinner I must not forget to say that the Colonel came in to give us his good wishes & the Major hoped that we should all spend next Christmas at homeWe all bawled out for the Colonel And he’s a jolly good fellow’. The Captain waited upon us & his wife was present too.

A supper was given at 8 o’clock but we Four didn’t go.  I should have gone to hear Carols at the  Parish Church if I could have made certain there were any.

I must not by any means miss telling you about the Hamper, although I have mentioned it once before in Ida’s letter. Sydney wanted to open it before the Day but managed to keep patientWe were both eager to open it & did so just  after breakfast (the box arrived on Thursday).

Well, poor Ida,  –  we’ve robbed her of her favourite nuts and raisins & we’ve given you, dear Mother a lot of trouble I am certain in making that pork pie.  We broke into it on Boxing Day for dinner  –  very good, really it was, & will be for we have not eaten it all yet.  We  poked into the dates, the figs and cracked the nuts and cried Yule! 

Oh! THE JELLY!  I thought it was a pot of jam,  what a joke.  Boxing Day tea-time I turned the pot upside down & emptied the flobly-flobly on to a plate.  I offered some to Vernon and in so doing the jelly  –  what did it do?  but rolled the length of the table!  I managed to place it onto the plate once more.

The lemon jelly was very lovely.  Then the mince pies – well  – they too were and are & will be very tasty, either hot or cold & I am like you mother, I like them hot.

And what next was it that Basil couldn’t count and tell me what was coming?  I don’t believe he could have done so even if he were allowed to break the secret, but I must thank you for everyone (thing) and name them as I go along — next comes the ChocolateRowntrees, that’s good  –  poor Ida again   –  we’ve nearly eaten them all now – shall I send just one back home?

–  that reminds me of the little slice of turkey that you are going to send.  How laughable.  Shall we see it walking in to No 29?  I remember well the samples you sent to Ida last Christmas (2).

One thing we have not yet touched & that we mean to break into on Ida’s Birthday & to remember her while eating it – ‘remember our sister who was born on Holy Innocents Day’ –   I remember you saying something like that last Christmas.  It has really grieved me that I feared the letter I wrote on Boxing Day night will perhaps be too late to let Ida get my wishes.

I wish you Mother to understand that sometimes when writing my letters there is a musical instrument pegging away & sometimes a vocalist accompanying it & so please excuse any funny sentences you may come acrossEddy Hateley, the one who makes up the Four, obtains (?) that article of charming musical talent.

We have tried to make the billet as much like home as possible; all the cards adorn the mantelpiece.  The landlady has had a fire in the front room for three days now.

Sydney and I have been to the Parish Church tonight.  We had the same Carols as the Parade had this morning, excepting one –  ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’.  The Service started with a Processional, ‘Hark the Herald Angels ‘; the other two were ‘Once in Royal’  and ‘Nowell’,  my favourite.  These three we had this morning with  ‘As with gladness men of old’.  So I have heard some Carols after all.  I thought I should spend Christmas without hearing a Carol (sung well).

I am afraid this letter is getting as long as some before.  I will, if  you don’t mind, finish this to Ida.

I will just thank you, for it is worth doing so again, for the cards from both you and Father  –  very nice and appropriate words indeed.

Oh, by the by, that reminds me (3)– I forgot whether I wrote on the cards I sent you, in the fat letter with the parcel, who each of them was for.  The Christmas Snow view was for you Mother & the one with the Ship for Basil.

Best love,  Bertie.


My father loved Christmas and made it a very special time for us all at Home and at Church (St Vedast, Tathwell, Louth in Lincolnshire 1936 – 1954).

St Vedast Church, Tathwell, Louth, Lincolnshire
St Vedast Church, Tathwell, Louth, Lincolnshire.

Many of his favourite things are described  in these Christmas Letters of 1914: the way he wanted to celebrate Christmas; the Carols he liked best; the decorations and the Christmas food he most enjoyed.

1) Eddie Hateley was one of the Four at 29, Gold Street. Saffron Walden. (2) Christmas 1913: Ida was away training at Leicester Royal Infirmary (?).(3A characteristic little turn of phrase,  which brings my Dad so clearly to mind.

NEXT POSTS: 28th Dec. 1914. Letter to Ida on her Birthday.


24th Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden: Army Pay Present for Dad

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: NOTE (with cheque) to his FATHER, Arthur Hibbett, 95, Foden Road, Walsall.

29, Gold Street, Saffron Walden. Christmas Eve.  Dec. 24/ 14.

My Dear Father,

ARTHUR HIBBETT:   56 in 1914.
56 in 1914.

You were very kind indeed in offering to send us funds in case we need them any time; but enclosed you will find something that we are not short of by a long way & can afford most generously to send any amount to you (1).

I shall be very sorry if this letter and cheque gets too late for Christmas. I’m very much afraid already that it will.  Well never mind, the good wishes will still hold good.

Your affec. son  Bert.

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009(1) A Private’s Pay was Is. 1d (1 shilling & 1 penny) a day.  By Christmas Bertie & Sydney should have received £5. 19 shillings each, since enlisting on Sept 4th.  (Approx. £4 a day, £28 a week, in today’s money).


21st Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden: Stolen Blankets & Packing for France.

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: Pages 34 – 37 of Long Letter to FAMILY, of 95, Foden Road, Walsall. (1)

. . .    ‘nice’ long letter for us.

One thing I must not forget to tell you & its that Sid is as eager to write home as I am, but he thinks I won’t give him the chance.  Well it’s Christmas & I want to give you something to read over the bright evening fire, just before it goes dark you know,  just for you to read plainly, & then finish up by eating cake & jellies – eh! you’ll forgive me won’t you.

So Sid sent his belt home.  I fancied I missed seeing him with it on.  I miss mine if I leave it off, for I do feel cold & loose round the waist.  I meant to tell Mother to send the waistcoat & pants; did you read in one of my far off letters, that we could not possibly manage one more even tiny article, so stuffed were our haversacks & valises, & the weight you know. So forgive us sending them home (meaning to write for them in the future).

So you did get the blankets etc. after all,  – ah! the police service is good, if the inhabitants aren’t.  What was their excuse & apology?

Have you noticed that since Dad told us not to worry about rumours, we have not told you of them since (the latest ones you know).  Some say  we’ve got to do such a  horrid thing as wash up the dishes on Christmas morning.  No. 1 Section of ‘A’ Coy’s turn hits on that time.  Others say  we’ve got to go to Dunstable or Luton or Walsall??  to fire the course with our new rifles we had when at Bishop’s Stortford. I wish it  was the latter place  but no –  the Xmas dinners were ordered sometime ago so we’re settled for here.

A Lance Corporal, who always makes jokes without a twist of a smile, put my name down for leave to go home.  I said “Could my brother go too.”  “Yes,” he said quite willingly.  Ah! not to be trusted is that busy body.

Hush! – we are going to hang up our valises on Christmas Eve . . .


(1) Long Letter most likely sent a few days before Christmas, 1914.

NEXT POST: 24th Dec. 1914: Present for Dad.

20th Dec.1914: Saffron Walden: On Guard for Zeppelins & Church Parade

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: Some Loose Pages 6 -7 could belong to a Letter to Ida on 20th Dec. 1914

. . .   What is either side doing?

I pictured you in Church this morning – singing on & on the long Psalm (1).

St Paul’s, Walsall, where the Hibbett Family worshipped on Sunday mornings. Now called The Crossing at St Pauls.

I can hear Mummy talking about us, just for conversation’s sake at the dinner table, to break the solitude.  No, now I come to think of it, it is Miss Bore (2) dining with you & Harold.  Well then you are all larfing & joking about something that tickled your fancy.  Perhaps Miss Bore has not said “Mum” yet.  Sorry, but no bad intention in saying that, but still.

Never you mind, we are on guard (3) at Saffron Walden  so it sais on a p.c. and every fourth night we have to parade PROMPT when the whistle blows & go to a dark field –  it is at night. – To-night, Sunday, has hit upon the fourth night, so we have been told beforehand to parade at 9-15 p.m. for patrol duty, spying out Zeppelins with a 2d electric torch – I don’t think.

It is getting dark & I’m afraid I shall have to conclude.  I thought I would write Dad’s letter in ink & so I followed suit in writing yours also in ink.

Saffron Walden Parish Church

The service was again pleasant – back again to S.W. Parish Church to hear our Chaplain again (5).  A Corporal in ‘A’ Coy. played the organ (Corp. Page*, an O.T.C. chap. I wonder if he is any relation to the fishmongers?) & Charlie Harrison’s brother* was in the choir, in white surplis, together with half a dozen other Terriers.  We had a bostin band to take us & escort us back again.

I shall very likely go to Church with Eddie Hateley* tonight as he said he wouldn’t mind – in fact he asked me if I was going as per usual, he had not paraded this morning.  He too has got neuritis? (can’t spell it properly) – through eating 12 oranges, a doctor friend of his told him.

Well I can’t squeeze any more at present. Alas! we liked the cake so much that we’ve eaten it all & saved none for Sunday’s tea. I always cherish cake for tea on Sunday’s especially.

Love from both,


(1) Either the Te Deum or Benedicite in Book of Common Prayer. The longest  Psalm’ in the Psalter is 119 but that is set for the 26th Day of the Month, not the 13th. (2) Miss Hildagard Bore was engaged to Bertie’s eldest brother Harold. (3) Bertie jokes to allay family’s fear of Zeppelin bombs, especially after raid on Whitby, 16th Dec. 1914.  Zeppelins were rigid airships, named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. See  BBC News Aug. 4th 2014: http://www.bbc.co.uk/uk England-27517166. (4) Chaplain (info pending).

NEXT POST: Christmas Eve, 24th Dec. 1914. A Present for Dad.

20th Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden. Christmas Weather & Church Parade

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT to MOTHER at 95, Foden Rd. Walsall. 

29, Gold Street, Saffron Walden, Essex

How many days does a letter take to reach you from here ?

My Dear Mother,

A bright, cold, dry morning greeted me as I opened the little cottage door and stepped down the clean & spacious Gold Street.  “Breakfast ready?”, said I when I peeped into the ‘Cook Hus’ Yard & saw the dishes all in a row on the bricked up fire.  “Not ready yet”,  replied the cook & so up I trotted to billets again with jug in hand, from trot to run almost, even with my ‘feet’(1), for it really was a sharp air.  “Beginning to have Christmas weather”, I said on seeing the landlady.  “Parade 9  for Church”, I shouted to the others, for I was first this morning again.

Saffron Walden Church
St Mary the Virgin, Saffron Walden

The march up to the Church was bright and cheery and on entering the Parish Church again the sun was shining through the windows & the pillars, shining up the white stone & making the whole interior so lovely and clear.  The Church was soon full of soldiers & I saw that we had one of our men as organist.  The service was beautiful again, more so with having our own Brigade Major (2) read the lesson.  To see him in his khaki with scarlet shoulder badges mount up the lectern to read was very peculiar.  A very nicely spoken man is our Brig. Major.  He has a very fresh complexion and looked so handsome. What  oh!

I have just come back from evening service.  You would have loved to see the processional, the white line of choristers, with the Ministers at the back showing their red and black hoods.  Hymns for the evening were – processional  ‘Through the night of doubt and sorrow,  onward  goes the pilgrim band’,  2. ’Praise to the holiest in the height’  3. ‘How sweet the name ‘ 4. ‘Onward Christian soldiers’.  Morning we had ‘Through the night of doubt’  again,  ‘When I survey’  and ‘For all the saints who from their labours rest’ (3).

On  Saturday night I met our dear old friend – who do you believe it was ? – why our long-lost chum Ball* (4)  So what do you think were my last words to him ?  I told him to come in some time and have a chat with us.  I said Syd was in –  but Ball said he was very busy & would call another time.  He came in this Sunday afternoon while we were round the front room fire.  Syd was lying full length asleep one side of the fireplace, while Vernon E. was at the other and I was seated on a chair.  In came the robust gentleman soldier & we had a right good fireside chat.

We showed him the shells Mrs Penning’s son (5) had brought home at one time & he knew all about them & explained the way they are exploded.  They were just liked those fired at Whitby and Scarborough (6).

Whitby Damage

I shall have to get him to tea at Christmas –  although he’s in ‘C’ Coy & has arranged Christmas dinner with a few others of his Coy.  He is billeted in our street.  How funny that I did not see him till I bumped into him on Saturday.

Cresswell* (7), a United Counties Bank clerk,  who joined the O.T.C. with us & was 1st in the Gun Section, is now on Secret Service and wears mufti.  Well I will stop now, else I shall not be able to write one of my Christmas letters which will exceed ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? pages!

We are all keeping in good health and happiness.  Vernon sais I am much fatter than when I first joined and ‘Ike’ (8) the secretary, who puts all our doings in the Walsall Papers , sais I’ve grown somewhat, so I’m all very well, there’s no fear.

Fond love to all.  Remember me to Dodger. I expect a few lines from him at Christmas.

Yours ever affec.



(1) Bertie’s feet seems never to have had time to heal. (2)  Brigade Major (info. pending). (3) Hymns for Advent & Wartime. No  celebration of Christmas before 24th Dec. in 1914. (4) Pte Ball*.  (5Arthur Penning*. (6)German Raid:16th Dec. 1914: .  (7Cresswell*, (8) Pte Isaac Boulton*.

NB * Starred Names: See Updated S. Staffs Soldiers Page.

 NEXT POSTS: Loose Sheets 20th Dec. 1914; Letter to Dad Arthur Hibbett, 24th Dec. 1914.



17th Dec. 1914: ‘Pray for the wounded & sick of the enemy’.

Bertie in Uniform
19 yrs.

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: Letter to Mother, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall: Loose Sheets ( 5 & 6)  date uncertain. (1) 

Page 5.  

…  Oh! by-the-way – tell Sister it was so dark, & we were too tired to search out of the carriage window for the lights of the Royal Infirmary & so missed it (2).  You can tell her we are very sorry though.

The Landlady & everyone in this billet are so chummy to one another & I hope it will last.  All four of us soldiers are better chums than ever before, after having been home.

One thing I do regret & it’s not having had at least a shake of the hand with the Curate (3) especially, & the Vicar too (4), for we may never have the chance again of seeing them  – & to the atmosphere, when you come in contact with any clergy, seems to alter your life to better things & especially in the Army – never mind – invite the Curate to have tea or a short chat with you & all the rest, between now and Christmas.

Page 6. 

Sid and I will not forget to remember you to our dear friend Ballie (5).  His face will light up with smiles – what oh!  – not seen him yet though!

Hip! Hip! Hoorah for little Britain!

“        “         “          “        Belgium!

“        “         “          “       France!

“        “         “        ”         Big Brother Russia!

& DOWN with the GURMAN (sic) Sausage – what oh!  Don’t buy any more sausages, even if they’re English, for fear of reminding you of the horrible state of poor little Belgium & the horrid Germans –  some of themBut do pray for the wounded & sick of the enemy – for what does the Sermon on the Mount say? 

How it does touch me the mercy shown to us & a good Harvest too.  How grateful we ought to be.  So now best love, & heartiest wishes we can squeeze out of ourselves to you dear Mother (& all of you).


ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009(1) Difficult to Date: Ref. to train journey  through Leicester & to Harvest puts the Letter immediately after a Home Leave in October but ref. to the Landlady and friendship between the Four (Syd, Bertie, Vernon & Eddie Hateley) and Christmas puts the letter after the move to 29, Gold St. Saffron Walden in early Dec.  It is possible that Bertie & Syd did have a short Home Leave between 14th Dec and 17th but Christmas Letters make no reference.

(2) Leicester Royal Infirmary where Ida Neal Hibbett trained as VAD Nurse (Voluntary Aid Detachment). A WW1 Red Cross data-base will be completed in 2015 & should provide details of Ida’s training.

(3) Curate: possibly The Revd Key* of St Paul’s, Walsall. (4) Vicar of Walsall: Revd E. More Darling*. (See Menu: Friends in Walsall. (5Ball* (information pending).

NEXT POSTS: 20th Dec. 1914; 24th Dec & 29th Dec.1914.


16th Dec.1914: The German Raid on Whitby – ‘bang! – shriek! – bang!’

THE GERMAN RAID ON WHITBY, Scarborough and Hartlepool,  on 16th Dec. 1914, was a great shock to the whole country for it brought the terror of War right to the homeland in a way that had never happened before.

The German Fleet had attacked without warning and in a matter of  seven minutes had shelled the East Coast, causing 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, mainly civilians.  There was considerable anger at the Germans for attacking undefended coastal resorts but also anger at the Royal Navy for allowing it to happen.

The Hibbett Family alternated their summer holidays between Abergele, in Wales, and Whitby, in Yorkshire and were especially saddened by the damage done to the ancient Abbey of St Hilda of Whitby.

Whitby Abbey. 16th Dec.1914.

THE WHITBY URBAN DISTRICT COUNCIL produced  a Pamphlet of Photographs showing the damage to the town and giving a lyrical account of the event. Also included was a message from King George Vth.  No doubt the Hibbett Family duly bought a copy in the summer of 1915, to help raise funds for the bereaved and those who had lost their homes.

German Raid on whitby 16th Dec. 1914.
GERMAN RAID ON WHITBY 16th Dec. 1914. .

WHITBY.  December 16th, 1914.  Excerpts:    

‘ Another landmark in history to add to the long list of dates when Whitby and Whitby’s sons have played a conspicuous part in the fair pages of our island-story.

‘ The terrible conflict in the plains of Flanders and in Northern France has already taken a full toll of some of Whitby’s best and bravest; her sailor sons had faced the perils of war in the glorious victory in Heligoland Bight, as they had faced – and met, alas! – death in the disaster which overtook the cruisers. ‘Aboukir’, ‘Hogue’ and Cressy’ on the North Sea (1).

‘ Poignant was the grief into  which the town was plunged by these losses, but they were far away; war was a distant thing, and the vagueness a rigid censorship imposed, which permitted us to learn of things happening ‘somewhere in France’, tended but to exaggerate this idea of the conflict as being fought on distant fields and seas, and of the ruination following in  the wake of shrapnel and lyddite as incidental only to other lands – certainly not to our sea-girt Britain.

‘ Truly and in a direct way, Whitby people had been brought vividly to realise the awfulness of the dangers contingent upon the war by the wreck of the hospital ship ‘Rohilla’ (2) at Saltwick some seven weeks previously, with the loss of some 90 lives; but this again was accounted as one of those tragic happenings  which must be faced calmly by people so largely concerned with business in great waters. (… it was from near the scene of the wreck of the ‘Rohilla’ that the German warships shelled Whitby.)

‘ Whitby people on the morning of the bombardment, were commencing the day’s routine, and the children who had but for a few minutes before been thronging the streets, had assembled in the schools.

‘ A few who had leisure were taking their customary walk along the West Pier and the Extension, when from out the haze which overspread the sea there emerged the towering grey forms of two battle cruisers. The love of the sea, which is inherent in Whitby folk, found natural expression in a word of admiration for the vessels, in the belief they were part of the British North Sea Fleet, when bang! – shriek!- bang!– and in an instant it was revealed that they were enemy ships bent upon the work of destruction and death.

Whitby Damage

‘ German reports of the bombardment gave Whitby as a ‘fortified town’ but the best answer to such  preposterous statement is to be found in the fact that, as at Scarborough, not a single weapon was available to turn upon the Kaiser’s warships.

Whitby Raid DamageWhitby Shell







‘ For one moment, and one moment only, the townspeople were aghast at the wanton and cowardly attack, but these feelings quickly gave way to fierce indignation at the unwarrantable outrage. 

‘ Wonderful calmness, considering the circumstances, prevailed, though on the east side of the town the poorer folk were naturally very apprehensive of the dangers which threatened their homes.

‘ The Coastguard Station on the East Cliff was soon wrecked, and the telegraph operator stationed there had a narrow escape.  Less fortunate was Coastguard Randall, a typical product of the British Navy, who was decapitated whilst standing outside his house. . . whilst Roy Miller, one of the Whitby troop of Boy Scouts, was struck on the leg by a piece of shell, and so injured that on the following day the limb had to be amputated, the unfortunate sufferer having the honour of being the first Boy Scout to be wounded in his country’s cause.

‘ Directly in the line of fire behind the Coastguard Station stood Whitby’s venerable ruin, the beautiful Abbey of St Hilda, the pride of north-east Yorkshire, and a joy to the lover of the beautiful architecture of which it remains such a magnificent example.  The German ships could not have left a more lasting reminder of their visit than that caused by the shell which struck the ruined pile, and destroyed the arch of the beautiful west doorway and the masonry above it, leaving a gap in the west wall. The Abbey Lodge also suffered severely from the bursting shells . . .  ‘

‘ . . .   Windsor Terrace suffered badly, and it is remarkable that the St John’s Church of England School and the Roman Catholic School, immediately behind, were practically untouched.  The teachers had a nerve-racking experience in dealing with the frightened children, but they responded nobly to the calls made upon them.  . . .  ‘

‘ . . .  The fear of the British warships, rushing with frantic speed to exact vengeance for the destruction wrought also that morning at the Hartlepools and Scarborough, caused the raiders to turn with all haste for the shelter of the German Coast after seven minutes firing on an undefended Whitby, but it is remarkable to realise what a tremendous amount of damage was done in those few and fateful minutes . . . ‘

‘ Death overtook a highly respected townsman, Mr. W.E. Tunmore, a railway rulleyman (3), who was struck by a piece of shell as he was, with characteristic devotion to duty, endeavouring to secure the safety of his horse.  His bravery was brought to the notice of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and to his representatives, and to James Thomas Mitchell, a youth of sixteen, who exhibited great courage in controlling his frightened horse as it bolted from Wellington Road to Esk Terrace, the silver medalFor Bravery” was awarded by the Society.

The general demeanour of the people of Whitby was characteristically British. . .  ‘

The Pamphlet ended with the following Message from the King:-

The people of Scarborough and Whitby have been much in my thoughts during the past week, and I deeply sympathise with the bereaved families in their distress. Please let me know the condition of the wounded.  I trust they may have a speedy recovery – GEORGE, R.I.

To this gracious message Councillor J. Harmston of the Whitby Urban District Council, sent the following response :

May it please your Majesty. Lord Lieutenant Sir Hugh Bell (4) yesterday communicated to me your  Majesty’s gracious message of sympathy with the people of Whitby in the trying ordeal through which they passed during the bombardment pf the town by the enemy’s fleet. Your Majesty’s gracious considerations for the bereaved and injured is gratefully appreciated by my fellow townsmen.

I have the honour to remain your Majesty’s most humble and obedient servant, – J. EGAN HARMSTON, Chairman of the Whitby Urban District Council. ‘

Elizabeth Hibbett Webb 2009

(1) Cressy-cruisers sunk by German submarine U-9, on 22nd Sept. 1914: HMS Aboukir, with loss of 527 lives; HMS Hogue, with loss of 48 lives and HMS Cressy, with loss of 560 lives.

(2) SS Rohilla : Quotation: ‘ The World War One hospital ship carrying medical staff had left Scotland on 30 October 1914, bound for Dunkirk, in Belgium. But by the early hours, violent storms had thrown the passenger steamer off course . . .  she ran aground just a mile off the North Yorkshire coast with loss of 85 livesThe dramatic three-day rescue mission that ensued resulted in scores of lives being saved but spelled the end of the era of the rowing lifeboat.

It was a tremendous tragedy and one of the biggest rescues in RNLI history,” said Peter Thomson, RNLI volunteer museum curator. “The circumstances were just horrendous.”   Report by Lauren Path. BBC Yorkshire News , 30th Oct. 2014.

(3)’A ‘rulley‘:  flat-bed wagon/ rail or horse-drawn.

(4)  Sir Thomas Hugh Bell: 2nd Baronet 1844 – 1931; Mayor of Middlesborough (1874, 1883 &1911); High Sheriff of Durham (1895); J.P; Deputy Lieutenant of County of Durham;  Lord Lieutenant, North Riding of Yorkshire.  Director of Family Firm Bell Brothers/Steelworks at Middlesborough. Notes: Wikipedia.

NEXT DECEMBER POSTS by Pte Bertie Hibbett: 17th Dec. 1914: Undated loose sheets (5 -6) of Letter to Mother. Also20th Dec. 1914; 24th Dec & 27th Dec. 1914.

13th Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden: Church Parade &Home Leave for Christmas?

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER CARD of Saffron Walden (Oliver Cromwell’s Headquarters marked) to Mrs M. Hibbett at 95, Foden Road, Walsall. 

Sunday,  Dec. 13/ 14

My Dear Mother,

The Church Parade  went to Saffron Walden Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin – very old and resembles a cathedral inside – high pillars & the most beautiful stained glass windows;  had two very old flags, I guess from the Mutiny (1).13th Dec.Saffron Walden


Oliver Cromwell's Headquarters
Left: Oliver Cromwell’s Headquarters..

The organ is most peculiar; it was a long time before I got to know where the organist was – he was playing sitting almost in front of the Vicar’s place.

I tried to find the words of the hymns you had this morning but couldn’t.  Ours were ‘Holy Holy, Holy’  being the 1st.  While singing it I noticed the first line of the hymn painted high over the stained window over the Communion table!  The 2nd hymn -‘Lead Kindly Light” and 3rd ‘Rock of Ages’.   The sermon was another good one by our Chaplain on the lesson “When ye pray say… and applying to us.

Did you get last Saturday Observer & read about our move here ?

PC. Saffron Walden Church Interior.

I have just  been to the Parish Church again.  You would have been delighted to have seen the number of soldiers present.  The Church had more than all seats full, some had to stand.  The Chaplain sat with the congregation.  I stayed to hear the organ recital – organist Herbert Mahon Esq. Mus.D .  The Vicar is the Rev. J.J.Antrobux. M.A.

[End of Letter is Missing but the following Postscript Pages have the same writing style and may belong to this letter.]

PS  You got my red letter eh!  certainly keep all the money I send home, don’t send it to me back again.

PS  A novel idea struck me, got it on hearing the landlady –  make a brooch of the new sixpence.

PS I can’t write a short note for the life of me, isn’t it queer, an’ I nivver used to write often when in civvies.

Sid will write to you concerning Home Leave, he has bothered the N.C.O’s & officers enough to worry his head off let alone those whom he has bothered.  Poor Sid.  Don’t mention anything about me coming home with him.  He ought to have it all to himself & give him as much fuss as you like, he deserves it & don’t forget the fatted calf as well (2).

He is in his 21st year. Yes it came to me like a bolt from the blue He has got over those two nights when Vernon & all thought he was ill, which was all bluff (3).

How do you like the P.Cs? – they will do for adorning a mantlepiece.

Your affec.



(1) Indian Mutiny1857-58(2)  Parable of the Prodigal Son. Luke 15.11-32.(3) A cold caught  in Bishop’s Stortford?

NEXT POST: 16th Dec. 1914: German Raid on Whitby & Scarborough.


12th Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden – Bad Soup & Missing Blankets.

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE: Long Letter, Part 2  (Pages 14 – 26) to BASIL HIBBETT; in which he also answers a letter from his Mother.

Saturday Dec 12/ 14

12th Dec,1914. Part 2.

Have just read Mother’s lovely letter which was very homely & interesting.  I thought a great deal of it. How long it was /is too, 3 pages.  In fact I was so eager and delighted that I read it while waiting for my pay.  I hurriedly screwed it as carefully as I could in my pocket before going up to the Capt: Ha! Ha!

The 1st question in it – personally tired? Yes that’s all I’ll say to that!

As to why I could not eat the pontoon (1) was like this:-  We waited & waited & waited till the 50th time, of going down to the bottom of the Street to the Cuckhus, we met a Pte who said it had to be sent away  – the pontoon was so bad – the water was quite green – well all we could do was to wait for tea, in patience.  We made up for it by having a good tea.

Sydney got the letter & P O and will most likely write. The name of the people at 52, Tavistock St. Luton is Mrs HOAR (2). Perhaps she did not know if she was right in sending the parcel carriage forward by train or through the G.P.O.  I really must write a lot plainer.  So you got Ida’s letter then, I can tell from Mother’s letter.

So you are acting again this XmasAh! –  we (you & I) did not know last that this coming Christmas will be spent more preciously – & what would happen before it comes.  I remember well the last (school) plays, Henry Vth & ‘Thesbe’.

It must have been raining all over England this last 2 days or so.  I can picture Ida knitting away before the fire busily at my old mitt. Ah! if we are not at home by Christmas we shall treasure a welcome box of mince pies etc. but I hope we shall all spend a Real Christmas i.e. all the Family together again on Christmas Day.  But I am doubtful about Christmas Day – we might have to wait a few days later; if so I hope we hit on Ida’s Birthday(3).

If Mother chances to read this letter she will see queerly how I have followed her letter. I have got it close to me. I have learned from experience, for I know I have tried to think of things that you want answered but alas I’ve forgotten so I will keep the letters & pull them out when writing to you.  I have always kept a little pile of the most interesting letters in my pocket to read on a day off, or to refer to.

Time will soon come when our letters will be censored i.e. when we get nearer the coast, then we shall  not be able to say what we like, especially where we go & are staying at, etc etc. – but one thing  – we need not pay postage.

FIELD PC: 25th Aug.1915.

The PCs issued to us free are queer things, all printed, & the sender has to cross off what he isn’t & leave what he is –  like this:-  I am ill. I am well. Received your letter last & so on.

When I went to Luton my geography was so bad that I could not tell where we were, & all the time  – up till now  when I have just got 2 maps. I will send you one & then you will be able to follow our travels until that wicked censor comes along. (N.B. I will send you both & the one you don’t want send back).

Sid has gone with Vernon to Cambridge – what oh! swank.  Vernon knows, or rather at one time had an interview with the Head of Keys College, Cambridge.  I hope they’ll manage it all right – straight road from S.Walden.  I shall larf if an M.P. gets hold on ’em.  They hired two brand new cycles for the afternoon from 2 till 9 pm.

Sydney & I got the lovely handsome presents from Miss Kathie (4) –  it was really very kind of her, they will come in so handy & useful, just fit the haversack, so we shall be able to take them to the Front  if  we go.  They will last a long time & stand some of the rough handling which ‘they’ must make up their ‘ minds’ for, but shame!

(Page 21 -still strong!) –   I will take the greatest care of mine if Sid doesn’t – leather too by jinks! You will be sure to express to her my deepest thanks for her kindness.  Miss Kathie said in the interesting little letter she enclosed that I need not write to thank her.  I will tell you the exact words – wait a mo! while I get it out.  She sais ‘Please do not bother to write & thank – they are not worth it (ba! to this) & I know you will have no time for that kind of thing.’ I will enclose her letter for it’s worth reading –  show Mummy & then send it back don’t forget.

It’s a miracle Dear Ida got my letter.  I did not notice the address until Mrs Penning here pulled it out of a drawer & showed it me at tea-time today.  She is keeping the wrapper for a “keepsake”.

Ha! Ha! How dare the Reserves come up equal to us –  who should pop in the kitchen – come right through the front room & into the kitchen where I was writing this letter, but who do you guess it was?  – why Alan Machin*.  He did look well & we had a good little chat – told him about Sid etc & I heard the “Dads” are getting on well in the Volunteer Corps (5).

Been on ration service – just when about to have a comfy tea.  Had to carry 170 loaves in a blanket with 3 other Ptes along 2 streets. –  nearly  pulled my arms out – never mind, all in the day’s run.   Ha! Ha! again I say, but no!

Sorry Dad’s letter was too late, but no more bother at Bishop’s Stortford –  “ne’er more a the sight a the Corn Exchange fa me, nor thank you!” (6)

Well – I have really forgotten what I wrote first & have written since I started – in this short letter.  I hope I’m not repeating myself. Alas! I’m beginnin’ to see I’m backsliding into scribble.   I thought you would be interested in the district paper here & read about the Herts Terriers and the queer names of  Ware, Sawbridgeworth, Widdington (where we went to dig trenches) Thaxted(dy), Stansted(dy) etc. (7). Marching Map 1914

I better close now & reserve some news for the future.  I guess Sid will not help repeating news I’ve written, but I’ve stolen a march on him this time.  All success to the play & how goes de eggsham (7)?  Don’t forget about thanking Miss K Brookes. I feel strongly tempted to do now – to just write a line of thanks on her paper she sent, but I guess Sid will, or rather I give Sid the chance, be’in as I’ve written to K. before.

All good wishes to you & the rest.

With Fondest Love,


(Page 26 –  even more!)

PS  I will only  leave Sid to say what he’s done at Cambridge. I’ll  be determined to beat the  record. I’ve got the time & its a pleasure sure an’ enough ’tis.

The Captain (Lister) told us that all ‘A’ Coy. must parade tomorrow (Sun) as he would like all his Coy (‘A’ Coy) to have a photo taken of themMr Penning is very interested in reading the Walsall Observer sent to Evans.  He has just asked me if that was my Dad’s name as he pointed to the report on the Baths (8).  Well I don’t think Sid will have an easy job to beat me!

Goodbye for the pres.   Bert.


(1) Pontoon: School Boy/Army slang for Soup. (2Luton Landlady: blankets appear to have been lost in transit home to Walsall. (3) Ida’ Birthday: 28th Dec. Holy Innocents’ Day. (4Miss Kathleen Brookes, Sunday School Superintendant. Gift/ possibly a leather writing pad or wallet. (5) Volunteer Corps:  Town/ Home Guard – forerunner to WW2 ‘Dad’s Army’. (6) Ref. perhaps to Arthur Hibbett’s  letter of complaint regarding unsuitable Corn Exchange accommodation at Bishop’s Stortford, which appears to have caused so many colds.  (7) Bertie loved such play on words. (8Arthur Hibbett’s interest in Walsall’s Swimming Association. (See Menu: Walsall Education).

NEXT POSTS: 13th Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden: Church Parade. 16th Dec. 1914 : German Raid on Whitby.