Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE N. HIBBETT at 95 Foden Rd, Walsall.
Cromwell Road, Luton. Jan 24 / 15
My Dear Mother,
Another Sunday has come along & it finds me writing in another strange house. Never in my life before have I been in so many houses.
I went to the Parish Church this morning on the occasion of the Dedication of the Someries Chapel restored by Lady Werner (sic) in memory of Sir Julius Werner (1). The Bishop of St Albans preached and conducted the ceremony. Two lovely anthems- ‘I was glad when they said unto me’, (2) ‘Comes at times a stillness’(3). On the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany we had that lovely hymn ‘As pants the hart’ (4).
I am sending 3/- shillings home. I got a 4/- P.O. on Pay Day so that I should make certain of not yielding to spending all my pay. But when I got here I had to break into it & cash the PO. I better send it off at once & so prevent further temptations. I shall not be able to get to Church tonight for I am ordered to be On Guard to-night.
6.30 pm. Two jolly Privates and a Corporal. The Corporal is playing on a piano & one is about to sing. This is in the Guard Room – funny room ain’t it? My friend Cope (5) is on the first guard. I am on from 2 in the morning till 6, the finish. So I have all night to wait while Cope will finish altogether in 4 hours time. Of course he will have to wait in the Guard Room for fear the Guard has to turn out.
Ask Father if he knows of Sanger*, a teacher of his – well he is the Corporal in command (6). There is a bonny little boy watching us. He is very fond of us soldiers, sais he will be a soldier when he grows up, but he is very quiet and reserved, so good. Light hair just like Basil. By the way how is Dodger getting on now? I guess he felt it when I had gone. He wished he was coming in the London train with us.
Does Dad play the hymns we have here on Sundays – those I give you in my letters ? – 332 & 118 were two we had this morning (7). You should hear a whole church full of soldiers sing ‘The Church is one foundation’ – my word how thrilling!
When I heard of me having to be on Guard I was thinking I should not have time to send or write this letter – and I have forgotten something now. I remember what you said dear Mother about the present for Miss Foster* – well I could not get the exact pattern of flag I got for you, but will this one do for Miss Foster? The flag is in the centre & pictured as on a mast. I will save this letter until I put the kerchief in. Syd wanted to change guard with me, but I thought I had better do as I was told, – so here’s luck.
Tell Dodger Luton town is full of Kitchener’s Army now & officers do look queer in dark navy blue & khaki short great coats. When I went down town to get the tie for Miss Foster it was nothing but arm exercise up and down, down and up again with the left hand and the right (8).
Sergeant Hartley*, another of Dad’s teachers, is now an Officer. They have seen him in town. Sanger is a funny but sociable chap; he is sick of the long-winded business. I daresay the Education Committee thought that, when they offered so many teachers, the teachers would soon get to real business.
I had an egg for breakfast with my bacon & an egg for tea, both new laid. This was on Friday. Does Ida remember me having a letter from one of my scholars? – that one the Deaconess (9) gave her? & does Mother remember picking up another letter with note like hers with flags? Well another PC awaited me when I got back that Friday night. It was from another little chap. So you see the little beggars have not forgotten me.
I expect Syd will come out a crack shot after the course. Everyone knows he is THE SHOT, but he’ll have to control the cig. smoking.
Well the letters are getting long again. I try to keep ’em short, but my agile fingers will scribble.
I have something at the back of my mind & can’t just think of it. . . (‘Oh its nice to get up in the morning, and its nice to stay in bed’, so the song goes. . . Let’s see when is the Conversion of St Paul? . . . Has the Revd J.W. Dixon our
late [former] Vicar, been to see you lately? . . . . . . . . .) (10).
Now what can I say to fill this page?
Oh the people of my billet ARE just all right. They don’t interfere wiv we & we don’t interfere wiv them, except wash our crockery up. They are paid to provide us with the food – no more trolling out with the jug & coming back with arms full of provisions.
Today we had sausage & bacon cooked in butter, beef – brussels or Belgian sprouts & Yorkshire pudding for dinner & of course apple pie 2nd course; tea – jam, bread and butter & cake. We don’t expect any luxuries on weekdays & especially washing day tomorrow. ‘See’ sais the landlady ‘its Sunday today’ Ho! Ho! that’s why.
I think its best to send the money home, then it’s safer for it can’t keep even in a money belt. I sent a PC to Harold. You will larf when you see it. I was interested in Ida’s last letter. What a joke it was about that beggar and so Dad reads our letters aloud does he? I can see I shall have to be rather careful in what I say in my letters. I guess Dad was rather disgusted at the beggar (11).
Can you read my writing? I always am tempted to scribble when I write in pencil.
Best love to all,
Yours affectionately, Bert.
Kitchener’s New Army Firing Courses in Luton, were there to test the quality of its recruits and who was the ‘best shot’. Bertie’s mixed emotions about what he and his brother were soon to do ‘for real’ in France, are evident in this long letter.
(1)Sir Julius Wernher. 1869 -1948. German banker/ diamond magnate: art collector with his wife Lady Wernher (later Lady Ludlow). In 1902 he bought Luton Hoo (the de Hoo Family Manor since 1455, which passed through the Someries Family); setting for Steven Spielberg’s film War Horse.
(2) Coronation Anthem/Introit: Sir Hugh Parry, 1902, Psalm 122 v1-3, 6,7 (Psalter/ Book of Common Prayer. 1662. (3) The Revd Isaac Gregory Smith, parish priest & academic, author of books on ethics and philosophy; born 1826. Music Sir Herbert Oakley.
‘ Comes at times a stillness as of even, Steeping the soul in memories of love; As when the glow is sinking out of heaven, As when the twilight deepens in the grove. Comes at length a sound of many voices, As when the waves break lightly on the shore, As when the dawn the feathered choir rejoices, Singing aloud because the night is o’er.
Comes at times a voice of days departed On the dying breath of evening borne; Sinks then the traveller, faint and weary-hearted”, Long is the way” it whispers – ” and forlorn!”. Comes at last a voice of thrilling gladness Borne on the breezes of the rising day, Saying the Lord shall make an end of sadness; Saying the Lord shall wipe all earthly tears away.
1884. Written for the unveiling of the Albert Memorial, Edinburgh.
(4)Handel Anthem on Psalm 42, composed for Chapel Royal. (5)Norman Cope* one of the Four billeted at 29 Gold St. (lived same street as Hibbett family in Walsall. See Menu Page). (6) Corporal Sanger*.
(7)Hymns Ancient & Modern, early version? NB Bertie was to find great comfort in the fact that the Church of England at this time followed the Christian Calendar as set in the Book of Common Prayer, 1662; he knew that his family would be hearing the same readings, saying the same liturgical prayers – and mostly singing from the same Hymn Book (either A & M or the English Hymnal. 1906).
(8) Saluting with both hands? – must be Bertie’s joke! (9) Kathleen Brookes*or Mary Brookes*. (10) Typical habit of Dad when he couldn’t remember something – think of something else. (11) Possible ref. to his description of Sunday School children as ‘little beggars‘ or ref. to story of a real beggar?
NEXT POST: 26th Jan. 1915. Luton Musketry Course – Good Scores.