Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Mrs Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
29 Gold Street, Saffron Walden. Jan 2 / 14 (sic).
My Dear Mother,
New Year’s Day I finished off the last of the mince pies and nuts. I did not go to the Watch Night service, but I thought I would have liked to have gone when I was getting into bed – it being a rather unique Watch Night service in time of War.
Epiphany today (1). The Colonel of the 6th South Staffs read the Gospel as the lesson. Hymns were again lovely and the chaps round me sang very well. I tried and I must say something like a mellow fog horn proceeded from the lower regions of my throat.
Our Chaplain gave us another good sermon telling us to keep a good resolution, following from the text from the Creed – ‘The resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting’. Soldiers, some of them, think that there is only one life – the earthly one – & they make the best of it by selfish pleasure etc & think that death will end it all & all will be just the same as ever. He mentioned about self-sacrifice & V.Cs etc to explain that there are worse things than death.
I believe it was on New Year’s Day that I turned back to days gone by. I mean that I re-read all the old familiar letters from home, for I have saved some just the same as you have, & even carried them from place to place on removing.
How very pleasant it seemed reading Mother’s writing about Oct & Nov. especially one telling me what each of you were doing one Sunday evening – Ida at the piano, Basil writing to us,and Dad reading the news of that old & famous soldier. I like to keep & read letters for another reason. I often find something in that needed answering & I neglected the answer.
Yes, I rummaged amongst the little pile, I could tell quite easily each of your hand writing, Mother’s large hand appearing through the thin paper, Ida’s “swanky” thick hand, & what appeared to be just a plain sheet of paper for Basil’s, because he writes generally in pencil & I can tell Harold’s small & sprawly yet neat hand.
Basil’s letter, by the by, still retains the smell of the handkerchief which was wrapped up in it. No, not one of your letters ever grow stale, all of them can stand reading again.
Now aint the arrrmy funny! I can hardly believe it that Leave IS FREE for 5 days, Mondays or Thursdays (2). We cannot tell you anything for certain. I am sure you can trust us to get every information about the matter as we possibly can. Yes, we’ve worried ‘Colours’ till he’s blue (3). I think the married and trained men are having the first chance. We might come home any day now – but you will receive a wire from us when we are about to leave.
At any rate I am of the opinion we ought to be doing something of a more advanced nature i.e. – at the front or where the fighting is going on. I shall take things now as a matter of course & – as Dad said – ‘Leave it all to the authorities’.
ON THE MATTER OF WRITING LETTERS – Am I downhearted – NO! We have received a ‘lot’ of presents & just when we think it’s all over first one and then another comes. Fancy Fred York sending us a patent lunch tin of chocolate , and some toffee – scrumptious & the very idea of Miss Bore (4) making a Cake & even putting our initials on top of it, & Mrs Bore enclosing HUMBUGS & acid drops, a great demand amongst the soldiers (not Territorials now (5).
We are just going to make a side advance & attack on the Cake with just a knife as bayonet and attempt to ate him for to-day’s (Sunday’s) tea (all these (gifts) will, have been, are, require a letter in exchange).
Some magazines, readdressed I guess by Dad, came just in time for a little quiet Sunday’s reading.
Goodbye for the present. I will leave the rest for when I see you face to face on Home Leave. But just before I say I am etc etc I thank Ida for the letter, but (I) expected she was getting up a record one to beat mine, the days I have not heard from Sister.
Going back to the old letters once more, I came across a few lines of poetry which I thought Ida had composed herself – all about you. I began exactly at the beginning & read until I came to the end – then I was disappointed to see it was from Punch. Yes, after all the socks & things you have knitted for us, a piece of poetry is worthy to be dedicated to you dear Mother. We got such an interesting letter which flabbergasted me when I knew who it was from – Ernest Lagden. I expect he is in the Navy now.
Your ever affec.
Bertie Hubert See over for latest news
P.S. STOP PRESS : I guess you got a letter somewhat like a business one with a firm’s name on the flap? It was from “Boss” (6) saying how mean he was not remembering me at Christmas, the typist has been a month in hospital & 3 months away & so he has to do what he calls a double shift & if anything is not put into its proper place he sais he get’s huffy. After relating adventures down the pit & promising Vernon E(vans) to take him down Walsall Wood (7), – isn’t it queer that that very night Evans read about the death of Lord Bradford, the very owner of the Pit. I suppose the village will not fear of having workers “out of work” now.
PS I have just been shown the latest (way of) addressing letters – the one enclosing my letter is an example. This will be the last letter of mine written in ink. I mean to write all my letters in pencil during 1915 and the War.
(1)Date confusion: Bertie talks of ‘today’s tea (Sunday’s)’ i.e. 3rd Jan 1915, (not 2nd Jan. 1914!). He also calls ‘today’ ‘Epiphany‘ because Saffron Walden Church was anticipating the Feast of the Epiphany or the ‘Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’ 6th Jan. The Gospel read by the Colonel would have been the Visit of the Three Wisemen Mtt. 2.1. (2) Home Leave (before embarcation to France) was for 5 days / to begin on either a Monday or Thursday. (3) Colour Sergeant; non-commissioned officer, rank above Sergeant & below Warrant Officer, carried the Regiments’ colours.(4) Harold’s fiancee.
(5)Territorial soldiers did not serve abroad. Bertie now counts himself ‘trained’ and ready for the Front. (6)Bertie’s ‘Boss‘ : Mr Nightingale, Mining Engineer, Walsall. (7) Walsall Wood Colliery and Lime Pits in region of Lichfield road. (Literally the ‘Wood of Walsall’, in 1200, AD, once part of Cannock Chase).
NEXT POST: 12th Jan. 1914.