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.    

MARIE NEAL HIBBETT: 53 in 1914.
MARIE NEAL HIBBETT:
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.

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009

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.

A SPECIAL POST 28th Dec. 1914: CHRISTMAS TRUCE 1915.

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