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.

11th Dec.1914: Saffron Walden: Trench Digging & Good Digs.

Bertie in Uniform
19 yrs in 1914

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: Long Letter Part 1: (Pages 1-13) to BASIL HIBBETT at 95, Foden Road, Walsall. 

29, Gold St. Saffron Walden. Essex.    Dec 11 / 14    Pay Night I don’t think (1)

 My Dear Dodger,


All though tired, I will keep my promise and write to you, I shall get interested myself, as I write on, so here’s luck! (2)

We have had the hardest day for some good many weeks.  After stepping over from Bishop’s Stortford (the place you know where Cecil Rhodes’ father (3) was Vicar) we had the following day off  but had to go to the Baths. I must say that this town, which is another regular farmer’s centre, is far better than Bishop’s Stortford. The Baths were fine, I did not mind having a dip, & a good rub down. Sid did not come down, he had a bad cold, which we’ve all gotOur friend, Eddy Hateley*, has had sick leave for the day & was in luck’s way, I can tell you – you’ll know later on in this letter.

After leaving the Baths we had to stay in billets for fear of further ordersThe Lieutenant (Parr is his name*) and such a lankey chap but very gentlemanly & got plenty of common sense, superior to most other officers – well Parr came in – we all jumped up – he caught us round the kitchen fire – said that we must stay in as Captain Lister *would be coming round to say something – Lister never came.

In the morning we broke the rule and went to have our “stickey backs” taken (4).  You’ll know what those are when we send them. Don’t try & guess & guess & let the cat out of the bag to the others will you? – we want it to be a Xmas surprise.

Did you read in the “Daily Mail” about Free Passage home for soldiers. I do hope its true don’t you?   On the same morning we went to the Museum they’ve got here – beats Tamworth’s  show –  Rhinoceros, Giraffe, Eventure (sic) (5) etc –  all stuffed though. Birds with most gorgeous & beautifully coloured plumage, & some humming birds, so small – from America. And I saw an umbrella bird – however it could see I don’t know; it had feathers over its head like a lady’s hat coming right over the eyes & I could only see its beak.  It also had a long feather, like a small ostrich plume, coming from its breast & hanging in front like a leg. It also stood on one leg.  There was also a stuffed boa constrictor killing a stag.  Wild cats (hideous creatures) badgers, foxes etc. etc.  I also saw the Kaiser (eagle), a good subject for my original cartoon which I enclose (6).

11th Dec 1914 Cartoon Eagle
CARTOON:  A.H.H. 11th Dec. 1914.  THE FLAGS above are of the Allies: Britain, France, Russia and Belgium respectively.

Saffron Walden has got a handsome Market Square, a much finer Corn Exchange (with a handsome little Tower) than that of B(ishops) S(tortford) –

–  and old fashioned Town Hall, with wooden beams (see Sid’s PC ) – a Market Drinking Fountain in the centre and other municipal things.  Yes! Saffron Walden is a swanky place; you know it’s where the Lord Howard de Walden lived once, at Audley End (7). By what I’ve seen of the PCs it’s a magnificent mansion extending over a large area; with such an extensive Estate that it forms a district of Saffron  Walden.

Another mansion is about 4 miles away where Sir Carl Myer lived (8). He has been in trouble or rather lost all his property, for he had all his investments in Germany & so has had to have all his property sold here.  Lord Braybrooke (9) now lives at Audley End, at least I mean Lady Braybrooke, for his Lordship has gone to Egypt.

I’ve not finished yet!

Saffron Walden also boasts of a fine College called the “Friends’ School”  founded by Quakers & you know how rich they are. And not very far, at a place we passed on our way from Bishop’s Stortford, there is a Grammar School founded in 1588.  It has been enlarged since, as can be seen by the new brickwork; the architecture of the facings is similar to Walsall Grammar School. There are some very,  very old places in this old farm Town.

In the Museum –  I forgot to tell you this – there is an old arrangement for roasting the Christmas Beef.  The meat is put between four strong wires which altogether revolves – the whole arrangement is driven by a chain round a thing like a coffee grinder.  I’ll send you a P.C. of it soon.  Very interesting to watch it.

Well you’ll think we’ve been having a jolly easy time of it, if  I don’t tell you of to-day’s doings.   We told the people of this billet to wake us at 7.00 like Thursday morning, but about 5.45 this morning, orders were given at the door, breakfast at 6.am.  A tap came at our bedroom door & I jumped out of bed (Sid thinks I’m a marvel) and lit the candle.  I like getting up in the candle light. (I guess you are looking surprised after writing so mysteriously as the above.  Yes the kind lady has got us two “comfy” beds).

Well we got down in plenty enough time for breakfast. Sid had got some choice bacon the night before; better than the scrubby little bits of fat & burnt rind we have had before.  Beg pardon, I must not really make remarks about food, but still.  Well we had a really bostin breakfast (10). I had some coffee which I have never tasted for breakfast since I left home. At the Drill Hall, Bishop’s Stortford Refreshment Stall I had a cup of coffee 1/2d nearly every night.

Soon after breakfast “Fall In” went, 7.20 aboutHow funny it seemed tramping down the street in the star light.  I nearly won a medal – it’s the proper thing when going on parade to slope arms every time & then come to the “at easy” when in the file –  well on passing a corporal, who was marching to the parade with arms at ease, I jokingly told him to slope arms & passed on.  I saw Capt. Lister –  of course I need not have saluted, because coming on parade is an every day occurrence.  Perhaps if I had had done, I should have been wearing that medal of honour, what oh! I don’t think.

Another occasion when the Coy. had marched to the Batt. parade ground, ‘A’ Coy  was standing at ease & had not got an NCO in command at the time – when up came the Colonel (11)*. The majority still kept at the easy, strolling and propping themselves up with their rifles, but I set the example, but rather sheepishly I came to the attention & our Colonel touched his hat as he saw me. Ah! I nearly touched for the medal again –  perhaps this time it was because I did not come up smart enough!

Part of ‘A’ Coy. were told off to ‘C’ Coy, that notable Coy. of which that notable personage Capt Billy Wistance* is in command, –  a jolly ‘nice’ chap though.

Captain William Wistance.

We marched on & on & on, till at last we recollected that we were going along the same road we had come from B.S. to here.  Some of the Ptes punned about returning to that old place;– ‘oh! we are just going to pay the old place of Bishop’s Stortford a visit to see how they are getting on and how they’ve fared since we soldiers left it’.  But we turned to the left after marching about 5 miles & went to a little village called Widdington.  Now I’ve not got a cold all this much. It is Widdington I tell you, not Wittington (12), there are no barracks there you know.Marching Map 1914

What a rough time we had there.  Eddie Hateley would have just died through it.  We stood in the shivering cold for a jolly long time & then were kindly presented with a pick  – – – AND a nice shovel as well mind you & were told to carry our chum the rifle on our back & sling over the left shoulder.  Thus we began to tramp & tramp & tramp through pools & pools & roads, I mean cart tracks, of mud, mud, mud & worst of all through a wood –  on & on we went, our shoulders crying out to be released of the burdens – for we had got the full pack & 150 rounds of  ball cartridge for fear we were leaving Saffron Walden  – but alas! we were on our way to Dig Trenches. 

We managed to balance ourselves on the cart tracks.  We halted in the wood & strict orders were given NOT to make a row of any sort, but some idiots could not control their poor selves from rattling the shovels & jabbering silly talk & grumbling about their unhappy condition.  We then had to crawl down a slippery, muddy bank & up again through a hedge & then we formed up in Coys: & had a little rest at LAST!

It was not long before we were on the last  move  to the field where the trenches were to be dug.  Billy Wistance spoke a cheery bit to us, that we must buck into it, for the trench, which was to be 3’.8” or so deep & 2’ wide, must be done most part to-day  –  for we should have to spend Saturday on it to get finished.  So away we went, hack! hack! hack! & shove! shove! shove! & chuck! chuck! chuck!  – for 1/2 hour off & 1/2 hour on.

Our Colonel,  who always enters into such things, got up a spade & did a good bit of digging – in fact he beat me.  (V.Evans* made a bit of a sarcastic remark & grinned about this). Well – the other officers saw the poor Colonel (who is said to be over 60 & was on the retired list) & followed his example.  Captain Lees* got his coat off & sleeves to work & Norman Smith*, who is now with us as a 2nd Lieut, also swanked a bit, while 1st Lieut Pearman Smith* was very busy giving instructions.

The shape of the trench was very peculiar, something like the sketch (13).  Well after much sweating away in the cold air we went to have dinner; another tramp through the wood (our rifles were not fit to be seen) & the mud.  We halted in a field – even the smell of pontoon was enough to make my mouth water.  I spied the officers with their hands full of ham sandwiches & a lump of cake on the top. Ah! I said before dinner, ‘I guess the officers wish they were having something hot like the soup of pontoon’.  I soon changed the idea though for the soup tasted sweet. Ah! how horrid, & the meat soon went cold & the spuds were steamed in jackets & no salt or bread.  You should, or rather can imagine, Sid carving away at a huge leg of mutton, with a knife, he did not stick it long. Knives were wanted &  Sid gave up his for some time.

It was not long after dinner before we were on the way back. How long it seemed in front of us, all the way back passed Widdington, turn on the main road, passed Newport & turn to right again up a jolly long hill, down & up again. Most of the time not one of us muttered a word, except at a halt under a bridge –  raining all the time – had our oil sheets on.  When we were entering the town we let ourselves go & sang all the comic songs.  ‘Here we are!  here we are! ringing wet’  – and so on.  

The Landlady of our billet was extremely considerate & kind – came to the door to meet us & Mr Penning* (14) took the oil sheets & hung them up to dry –  and cleaned our boots for us at night.  We had a bostin tea & have had porridge for supper (we bought this ourselves).  These last 2 nights I had something you like very much for my supper. Cold Rice Pudding.

Mr Penning is just like Father for keeping awake when things concerning other people are on the move.  He wakes us up at 7. 0 regularly, & is awake for any knock that may come before that time.

Continued on 12th Dec. 1914.

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009NB* Details of Soldiers are updated in  the Staffordshire Soldiers Page, as they appear in the Letters.

Continue reading 11th Dec.1914: Saffron Walden: Trench Digging & Good Digs.

8th Dec. 1914: Bishops Stortford Corn Exchange, Army Orders & Underwear.

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT  to Mrs Marie N. Hibbett at 95, Foden Road, Walsall.

Corn Exchange (1),                                                            Bishops Stortford.                                                                                Tuesday night. Dec. 8 / 14



My Dear Mother,

We are moving tomorrow to Saffron Walden, a provincial town about 12 miles north.  I daresay Syd has told you.  We had orders to pack ready and leave nothing behind, else we shall not see them again, for arrangements will be entirely different from what they have been with regards to communication from here to Luton.

I send home the two pairs of jypamas (sic) and the once pair of  Sunday boots.  I am bound to send these home now.  I have my valise, haversack etc stuffed already and there are still more things to go in.  If I need the army undervest I will write for it.  I found it too rough and not such a comfortable make as yours.  I have worn the trouser parts of the pyjamas while being here.  I do not think I will be able to wear such things again now we are on the move. I changed my underwear last Saturday night, after going to the Baths at a College in the morning  (they are not to be compared with those at Luton – of course these were free – all ‘A’ Company went by orders).

I read the Walsall paper you sent (3) (Evans* had one which I read the day before) and received the Parish Magazine this morning which I shall enjoy reading in my spare time.

We, the trio ( Syd, V. Evans and I ) will try to get together when we get to the new place, where I sincerely hope there will be comfortable house billets – ( of course we must get used to places more like the trenches or what shall we do when we have to sleep and dwell at the Front).  Of course things have been awkward somewhat here, and trying to comply with Army Orders.  I preferred sleeping at the proper place.

Have you received the blankets from Luton yet? (4)

I will pay the carriage forward for this and then I think it will get to Walsall all right & safe.  I am not only squeamish about sending parcels carriage forward, but I do not like the idea of you paying at your end when I can afford to pay at this end –  only when I’m really & excusably hard up.   Thank you for the letter (you said we could read one another’s ) and for the Yorkshire Herald cutting.  The Yorkshire Hussars are going to Harlow where Sir E. Wood (5) saw us on Friday.

I think we shall be in England by Christmas so there’s a chance of sharing the turkey & pudding with you.  I know you’d like us to.  Goodbye for the present.  I’m writing this in the Drill Hall – time’s up – ink bottles are going  – shd’v re-written this (6) – so sorry.



NB. On 5th Dec. 1914: King George V th visited the Front and on 7th Dec. Lloyd George became Prime Minister.

(1)The Corn Exchange appears to have been used as a Billet as well as a Drill Hall in 1914. (2LatinA Noble Pair of Brothers, ref. to stoicism in face of uncomfortable billets.  (3) Walsall Observer, Dec 1914: reports increasing number of photographs of local Casualties; requests for mittens & other comforts for the Front; Bishop of Lichfield called for  ‘Christmas as Usual‘ to help keep up soldiers’ ‘confidence’. (4) Blankets appear to have gone missing in transit home. (5Field Marshall Sir Evelyn Wood VC.  (6) Ref. to untidy writing and crossings out.

NEXT POST:11th Dec. 1914: Training in Saffron Walden: Trench Digging. Long Letter: Part 1, pages 1-13  to brother Basil.