Capt. Lister announced the day we embark is unknown, & so I guessed it would be kept secret after all. (1)
Read Mother & Basil’s letter with great interest & enjoyed the Queencakes – ah – they do remind me of ode days.
I’m sorry I gave Mother a poor impression of my health. Yes – just a bit excited–I never expected such a good thing – too good to be true when I recognised the telegram that Sat. morning, & then again another goodbye.I’ll try & be calm in future.
Best Love, Bertie. If you can manage it Sid can bring that French book with him.
NBThis Post got lost & is late. (1) Army Training: ‘be prepared to move at a moment’s notice‘. (2) Soldiers Eng- French Conversation Book for the Man at the Front. W. M. Gallichan, writer/reporter.
NEXT POSTS: 28th Feb. 1915. Off at Last?Final Farewell Messages.
20th Feb.Kit inspection& general preparation to move. Major R.R. Raymeris appointed to Command in place of Col. Crawley, appointed to Command Div. Base Depot. (1)
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: Undated NOTE scribbled to his father, Arthur Hibbett – likely to be 22nd Feb. 1915. (2)
You will send that Soldiers’ English – French Conversation Book for the Man at the Front (3) to ‘Mrs Penning 29, Gold Street, Saffron Walden’, who will send it off to Corp. A. Penning at the Front. Sanger* does not quite understand the situation so would you write in the next letter Mother you send us?
NB Just received a tele saying ‘All’s Well’. Fancy that, no its reality – it was from Corp. A. Penning*, who missed the train & motoredto catch the express at Bishop’s Stortfordfor London. Bert.
(1) Divisional Base, Rouen. (Major Raymer* & Col. Crawley* – See Menu Page: S.Staffs Soldiers). (2)Corp. A. Penning left for the Front at midnight, 21st Feb.1915. (3) Early version of book by Walter M. Gallichan.1917.
NEXT POSTS: 28th Feb.1915. Final Farewell Messages.
PTE BERTIE HIBBETT: POSTCARD to MissI.N. HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd Walsall – after Farewell Visit of Parents.
21st Feb. 1915
Although the stay was short how jolly good of them to come & what a happy meeting it was. Surely the prayers on both sides have been answered & they have seen both of us too. I have been thinking of you all during this beautiful sunny day.
Mrs. Evans* etc had tea in the front room with us. Thank you again and again for your letter – striving to fulfil your advice.Bert.
PIPER FINDLATER POSTCARD to MrBASILHIBBETT at same address (1).
Jolly good of Mac O’Leary eh what! (2). My word, wait till Sid & I get out there.
Dodger – I hope you will soon be in the pink.Yes it would have been nice if you had come down, but you will be with us in our movements in France if we go there, I bet.
Corp. A. Penning* returns at about 12 tonight for the Front – reach Chatham tomorrow. Good Luck.I never expected such a jolly happy thing to occur – re father & mother here.Bert.
(1) Piper George Findlater (British Army 1888 -1898, 1914-1915) won Victoria Cross: 20th Oct.1897. North West Frontier, Tirah Campaign, India. Citation: “At the storming of the Heights of Dargai by the Gordon Highlanders, Piper Findlater, although shot through both ankles, continued playing the ‘Cock of the North‘ during the advance of his comrades”.
(2)Michael O’Leary (Irish Guards) won Victoria Cross for single-handed charge of two German barricades defended by machine gun positions near Cuinchy, La Bassee Canal, 1st Feb. 1915. O’Leary survived to serve in 2nd WW as Major (died 1961). Also received a Russian decoration.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Mrs. A. HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Photograph of St Mary’s Church from Windmill Hill, SaffronWalden. We have often been up and down this road & went up trench digging that night when you went home. I thought of a lot of things I should like to have told you and shown you.
I trust you had a safe journey, all dark I guess, but what a lot in a carriage compartment& I hope the early hour of arrival at home was not uncomfortable (2).
Has Harold been home for the weekend ? The weather has been simply glorious, bright blue sky all day. If it wasn’t for Sunday how happy it would have been if Dr Utting* (3) could have motored down to take you back.
We, Sid and I went to Holy Communion this morning, so pleasant & sunny. The Church was almost full of soldiers and our Chaplain had to say the Prayer of Consecration a good many times.
Mrs Evans* invited us to dinner, but could not get tables, we walked from place to place. So Sid & I had dinner at No 29 – very good too & had the sweets Mrs Penning had got ready for fear Mrs Evans would dine at her house. They all went into the country, – I think to Bishop’s Stortford for their dinner.
Well, I won’t rob Sid of the chance of writing to you, but will close now. But not without thanking Ida again for her very, very ‘nice’ letter. I think she tried her best, as I did, to make the farewell letters real good ’uns.
Sydney had a flint lighter for cigarettes & I had a handsome little wooden mirror from Mrs Evans. I think I will leave the rest for after evening service tonight.
8.30 pmI went to hear our Chaplain tonight at the Parish Church. I saw our Major Raimes* on coming out. He was about to put his hat on while in 3 or 4 yards of the Church door & suddenly bethought himself.
I took Nell, the dog, a walk this lovely afternoon & on coming back through the churchyard I met Mr & Mrs & Mr. Machin*.
I should have liked Sid to have gone tonight, but he was talking with the Evans in the front room. Vernon’s people go back Monday morning I did not go right through to the front door, but just appeared at the kitchen door & went out at the back.
As I was going down the street I suddenly remembered my Prayer Book was in the front room, but I would not turn in & so for some long time I have missed my fond prayer book. I took it to Holy Communion this morning & saw your writing on the front page:– “Be thou faithful unto death & I will give you a crown of life”. I noticed ‘Feb. 1911’ particularly in the bottom left hand corner and now it is Feb. 1915. I used it at Confirmation Classes, so the book has made a little history of its own.
Hymns: ‘O Jesus I hear thee speaking in accents clear and still‘. Eternal Father & 277 A & M. (4). I will wait for Sid to write a line.
God bless you Mother,
I remain Bert.
NBYou see I have tried hard to keep this letter short – alas! alack! alack!
PS Hoping Basil poor chap is better.
(1) S(unda)Y. (2) Bertie’s parents had come down by train for the day only.Vernon Evans’ parents stayed until Mon 22nd Feb. Alan Machin‘s parents, and no doubt a good many others from Walsall, also came to say goodbye to their sons. (3) Family Doctor & Friend, whose Church Warden duties kept him in Walsall on Sundays.
(4) Hymns Ancient & Modern. 1915 version. First a line from the Hymn ‘O Jesus I have promised’. J.E.Bode. 1816-1874; then ‘Eternal Father strong to save‘. W. Whiting. 1860; and 277 ‘Nearer my God to thee’. Sarah Flower Adams. 1841.
NAMES * Info. pending on Major A.L. Raimes.
NEXT POST: 21ST FEB.1915. FAREWELL POSTCARDS to Ida & Basil Hibbett.
18 Feb. Practice March Past Audley End Park: H. M. the King’s Inspection, trenches filled -in in afternoon. 19th Feb. Inspection by His Majesty the King at Great Hallingbury Park.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LONG FAREWELL LETTER beautifully written in ink with painting of South Staffords Regt Badge. ‘Hope & Perseverance’to Mrs A. HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
My Very Dear Mother,
Three cheers for His Majesty the King – with hats raised on high – upon fixed bayonets; stretching our arms to their fullest length, each one of us trying to get his hat the highest. Hip! Hip! Hurrah! Such was the climax of the day. We went to ‘wish His Sovereign Majesty goodbye, and on the other hand the King came to bid his soldiers farewell and victorious success.
The Reviewtook place in fine grounds of some aristocratic residence (1). The ceremony brought back to mind of those in the past, but with almost original freshness. The combined bands played such inspiring music, that during the ‘stand at ease’, our Major& several officers could not help but perform antics keeping in time. One officer would stamp his foot on the ground; the Major would move his sword up and down with both hands. Then came the ‘shoulder arms with fixed bayonets’ and move off in double platoons to march passed our noble King. ‘Eyes left’ was given out sharply by our Capt. Lister* and every head and eye turned at once towards the King as each platoon passed.
There stood His Majesty, perfectly still and erect facing each line of platoon; with stern and earnest countenance.
‘Goodbye’ everything seemed to suggest, and on we marched, left right, left rightwith the swing of the magnificent and kingly band (for the atmosphere did have a kingly effect). But everything was not over for we could see the field kitchenswith their smoke issuing from their tall funnels, and smell thesavoury smell wafting towards us.
As we were eating our meal the King scorched passed in a motor, and my word you can’t imagine the shouting and cheering & everyone running towards the drive. Cheer upon cheer went ringing through the air; everyone left their grub to set eyes on the motor in which was the cynosure (2); then away it disappeared through the park gates.
We were soon on our way back to Bishop’s StortfordStation to entrain back to Saffron Walden. Rifles carried at the ease and the band striking up a lively air. So ended the first half and chief item of the day.
During the afternoon we paraded to show our new tunics and get new ’ats.
The next Parade was somewhat mysterious, but when we got to see the result it was just what I guessed after I had been to peep in the place during the afternoon. We marched in belts, most having bayonets, to the new Y.M.C.A. hut that has been been built, and witnessed the opening ceremony by one of the rich Quakers who inhabit the town. Within this comfortable hut (which Dad sub(sidised) -2/6) we had a fine time.
The room was accommodated with chairs & tables & provisions & platform for the use of soldiers. The opening ceremony began with the usual addresses.How we clappedwhenthe Gen.Secretary (3) spoke and louder still when Colonel Waterhouse of the 6th North referred to our going abroad ‘to lick Kaiser Bill’ he said.
The short service was veryinspiring & stimulating. I sang as I had never sung before. “Faint not nor fear, His arms are near. he changeth not and thou (dear Mother) art dear.”(4) Yes I sang with greater emphasis behind the words when I thought of you. The last hymn you will like very much. Take courage dear Mother and “Toil on, and in thy toil rejoice. Thy will to do the Father’s will” (5).
Although there were many soldiers presentevery man prayed Our Lord’s Prayer earnestly & feelingly and responded the ‘Amen’ to the Vicar’s prayers. Then with the same untiring smartness we sang the National Anthem with loud voice, standing to attention. Sid & I did not stay to see the Concert (6) but with all sincerity we enjoyed (at least I did) the first part.
The diary of late has been so good that I determined to write to you a better letter than I have ever done before. After all that has happened, and will happen, the fact that we shall soon be ‘nearer licking Kaiser Bill’ is taken for granted. For the Bishop’s visit was a farewell, the King’s Review was a farewell, and in the addresses from the Mayor of Saffron Walden (7), Colonel Waterhouse & others, they have referred to our short stay and early moving.
Farewell, yes rather sad that word, but it is said with a patriotic wish and above all with a trust, a firm trust in our Best Friend who is with us all, at all times.Then that word brings cheer and comfort and HOPEto the heart, hoping that we shall see one another again – on earth – yes, in heaven – yes, and the meeting there will be for the better, for we shall meet in the presence of the King of Kings. Ah! what a happy and joyful meeting that will be – if I can see King George’s face as I saw it today there too in heaven and with the best face which is yours dear Mother & conversing with your two sons.
During Lent let our motto be ‘Heaven is our Home’. I will try to lay all my treasures in heaven, and all you at home, then ‘our hearts will be also there’.
Keep on smiling and while you smile other mothers will smile, and soon there will be miles and miles of smiles, reaching to the mothers in Belgium and France & to the hearts of the soldiers in the trenches – and life’s worth while, because you smile.
I imagined the King had a smile, especially when the ladies bowed to the ground. I saw the pleasant group, & sostately it was, just behind the Royal Standard and saluting base where the King had stood as a saluting base – the first time I had seen the Standard flown properly – and the Union Jack was flying on the country mansion. But the King looked stern and serious. Yes we must go & fight till we crush the brutal Prussian dominance, that hateful German militarism.
I enclose a cutting showing the 5th & 6th Lancashires. Are our cousins (8) in the 6th? At any rate they are helping to wipe the Turk from the Continent of Europe. X X X X X X X
Show Ida the poetry. I am glad you enjoyed reading the ‘Sermon in the Hospital’.
I am sorry for Sydney – I guess it goes without saying that you are, – and I am equally sorry for you Mother and Father & all of you at Home and Harold too, – but I have prayed about it – & you too I’m sure, andI have an inkling that our prayers will be answered before we get to real business with the Germans (9).
Isn’t it good of Sid’s distinction? Suppose he has a pop at theKaiser or Count Hindenburg eh? Well there’s a Regular from the R.G.A. at Armentiers at home on leave. He looks as though he has been on a gymnastic course of training – not a scratch. He has been at the Front almost since mobilisation came into force.Think of his Mother, Mrs Penning, our landlady.
By – the – by she will be sorry she sais when we go for it will be impossible – ‘ Yes’ – as Vernon repeated – impossible to have the same luck again at getting such a fine quartet. For the Reserves are coming to take our place.
‘The forces stationed in Saffron Walden have behaved themselves most creditably‘ said the speakers at the Y.M.C.A. Hut.
On Sunday, when this letter will arrive at home, we will be thinking of each other more than everI daresay. I shall remember you all at the special voluntary Parade for Holy Communion at 9.15 a.m. and at that service we can be together in spirit, and when that service is over to ‘set our hearts and minds towards our goal, casting aside all sentiment & shameful cowardice, selfish pride & excess of worldliness, to march forward & accomplish victory over principalities and powers & rulers of the darkness of this world’ – (the Troops of Midian) (10) and ‘Peace shall follow battle, night shall end in day.’
So dear Mother, Sidney & I hope that you will bear your little cross with cheerfulness and ‘Delight thou in the Lord & He shall give thee thy heart’s desire. Commit thy way unto the Lord and He shall bring it to pass’.
Hoping that my letter will be of some good and success, not inclining to sentiment, but to unite us closer to ourHeavenly Father, to whom I pray that He will bless you.
I remain your affectionate son,
PSMatters are not absolutely certain but ‘they say’ we shall embark either Tues. or Wednesday of next week.
King George Vth reviewed 33,000 troops in Kitchener’s New Army on 19th Feb. 1915; including men from Lincoln, Northampton & Stafford Regiments.
The formal language and serious tone of this 19 yr old’s letter shows how muchPte Bertieunderstood the significance of the eventand the enormity of what is about to happen to him and his family.
In My Memories of the First World War, 1967, my father writes of the King’sfirst Inspection of 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt. inLuton Hoo Park, Sept.1914:
We bivouacked in Luton Hoo Park and were inspected by Lord Kitchener and King George . We marched so close to the King that I could have shaken hands with him. Sir S. Wortley our Divisional General, praised us as a ‘fine lot of men’.
(1) Great Hallingbury Park, near Bishop’s Stortford. (2) ‘centre of admiration/ attention‘. (3) J.J. Virgo Esq. (Gen. Secretary, London Central YMCA) (4) Hymn: Fight the Good Fight. (1Tim 6.2.). Words: J. S. B. Monsell. 1861. Music: Pentecost. William Boyd.1861.
(5) Hymn: Go labour on: spend and be spent. Words: Horatias Boner.1843. Tune: Pentecost. William Boyd (6). The 5th South Staffs Pierrott Troupe.
(7) Dr. Atkinson. (8) Yoxhallcousins (Marie Neal Hibbett’s nephews? (9) Bertie’s hopes are still high thatsomething will prevent their having to fight. (10) Ref. to Lenten Hymn. ‘Christian dost thou see them on the holy ground, How the troops of Midian prowl and prowl around’. The Midianites (nomadic enemies of the Israelites) were defeated by Gideon with a small army of 300 specially chosen men.Judges 7. (‘Gideon ‘means ‘Mighty Warrior’: example in New Testament of a man of faith). (11) It is hard to believe these are the words of a 19 yr old – so strong is his urge to comfort
NEXT POST: 20th Feb. 1915. Saffron Walden.Y.M.C.A. Recreation Hut Opening Ceremony Programme.
14th EntrainingPractice of Transport fully loaded & all horses & mules.
15th Shortgrove Park (1) Attack Practice by Coys. I Coy Night Trench Digging: instructions received to send indents for Equipment & Stores by 9.0 pm & to be prepared to move at short notice.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to IDA HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
Mon. aft(ernoon) Feb 15 / 15
My Dear Sister,
I really must tell you. You know you wanted to know what would become of Sydgetting such high scores at the Range. No he is not going to be a sergeant – he doesn’t like stripes. I heard the result this morning at Dismiss. I heard thatthree men out of 2 Platoonwereneeded for theMachine Gun Section (2). Sidvolunteered but was soon ‘put down’ by Lieut Wright, our Commander.
‘What Hibbett is it?S? Yes, well we can’t spare you. You are going to be trained as a Sharp Shooter’ & up came our friend Lieut Parr& said with a good smile: ‘You’re picked for a sniper, you’re the best shot!’ – the latter remark I hardly remember but still. My word the Germans will not half shout. “For goodness sake halt a Stafford is comin’!’
Tell Dodgerthat bit in Mother’s letter was superb. We are crack sougers (sic) now.Sid, my word isn’t half smart &tell Motherhe does look after his rifle. Cleaned it after that night out (3). Sunday 7th Feb. was one of the few exceptions & it was unfortunate that the Brigade Major did not pick out Sid’s rifle & then he would not have blowed us up about it. We have had to parade 3/4 hr earlier in consequence for rifle inspection.
Mrs Pennings’s son (4), who has been at the Front since mobilisation, is coming home tonight. Mrs Penning is in raptures and nearly fainted.
Ta Ta! Bert.
Postscripts on side of letter: ‘Mrs Penning got a tele(gram). We’ll show him when he comes that we are not playing at soldiers. Many thanks for letters Mother. Don’t waist (sic) your note on me, it is for you to send to your friends etc’.
Postscripts on top of letter.‘I guess Sid is too modest to tell you. But he did want to join the Machine Gun Section. No he must be a sniper‘. Parade 6 for a lecture on trench digging – so that PC is more true than ever.
(1) Home of Carl & Adele Meyer*. (2) Sydney Hibbett was an Engineer Apprentice. (3) 9th Feb. Night Trench Digging. (4) CorporalArthur Penning*, (Regular Soldier. Royal Garrison Artillery later Killed in Action).
NBS.Staffords War Diary: photocopied by Major Beedle, Staffordshire Regt. Museum, in 2002, to whom grateful thanks.
NEXT POST: 19th Feb. 1915. King George Vth Review & Farewell For France
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: POSTCARD to Mr. Dodger Hibbett, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
Feb. 14th 1915.
What do you think of our air raid, a fine sight to see those 34 air birds flying over the seato accomplish their task (1).
This view showsOstend Stationwhich you know wasdestroyed for fear of becoming a Naval Base (2).
Thanks for your letter. Bert.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: POSTCARD to Mrs A. HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
Feb. 14th 1915.
Although the town is what you might call a villageit has not, as most villages have, a small ‘kirk’ but a noble edifice which greatly improves the appearance of the village.Within its walls have worshipped, it can proudly say now, the Staffordshire Brigade & North Midland Division & it possesses the old flags of the Essex Volunteers in the Boer War.
(1) Feb. 12th 1915: British NavalWing attacked German-occupied Zeebrugge&Ostend, targetting Railways & Stations. No Allied lives lost in one of the biggest WW1 raids. (On same day Kaiser ordered bombing of London Docks). (2) GermanBase for Submarines).
NEXT POST: 15thFeb. 1915: ‘Crack Sougers’ & ‘ A Sharp Shooter’.
We are all very busy, excepting the “sick” people & even they are looking slippy, Vernonat least, for there is an Inspection of the equipment & general appearance of the soldiers in uniform tomorrow at 9.30 a.m. (2)
Talk about taking the ‘cake’. I took some ‘toffee’ at any rate for the occasion. Had porridge on the march – yes on our feet.
“Mud, mud, mud, mud, never mind your muddy feet, step out smart & always mind you keep in file”.
Cleaned our buttons & hat badges for the occasion. Teaprovided in the Trenches at 11.30 pm – delicious flavour – somewhat resembled that of camomile & senna. Dismissed at 12.20 a.m. to Parade at 9.30next morning, equipment generally clean & rifles as well.
No 29 Locked – barred – at the tap of the knocker Landlord appeared in pantaloons – half asleep?Landladyup to give us a little supper. Fell through the floor when saw our general “muddied up” appearance – besmeared with clay & white marl so to speak.
I’m not half ‘picking’ up since I joined the army. Parade – voluntaryparade – at 5.30 – belt & bayonet, on the occasion of Bishop of Lichfield’s visit to the South Staffords Brigade (3).
Will write soon. With fond love.
Bertie I was, Bertrus I will be, Bertram I am
(1) Undated Letter: 10th Feb. fits timing in Letter with S. Staffs. War Diary re 4 Hours Night Trench Digging on 9th Feb. dismissed 12.20hrs on 10th.
(2) i.e.11th Feb. Coy Drill Shortgrove Park.1 Coy Quarterly Test J.D. one Coy Night Trench Digging 6 hours, officers revolver practice. NB J.D. means Joint (North Midland) Division.
(3) Bishop of Lichfield’s Visit (info. pending).
NEXT POST: 14th FEB. Two Postcards: Saffron Walden ‘Kirk’ & Soldiers Marching in Ostend.
The WW1 Letters and Drawings of Private Bertie Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, to his family in Walsall, will be posted again, one hundred years on, from August 1914 to November 1918, by his daughter Elizabeth Hibbett Webb. The first posting will be the Recruitment Postcard sent by Queen Mary's Grammar School Headmaster to the Hibbett family on holiday in Abergele, Wales.