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.
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 Review took 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 right with 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 kitchens with their smoke issuing from their tall funnels, and smell the savoury 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 Stortford Station 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 clapped when the 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 very inspiring & 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 present every 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 HOPE to 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, & so stately 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, and I 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 the Kaiser 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 ever I 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 our Heavenly Father, to whom I pray that He will bless you.
I remain your affectionate son,
PS Matters 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 much Pte Bertie understood the significance of the event and 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’s first Inspection of 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt. in Luton 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) Yoxhall cousins (Marie Neal Hibbett’s nephews? (9) Bertie’s hopes are still high that something 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.