9TH MAY 1915. WULVERGHEM ‘THROUGH THE MILL – SOMETHING LIKE WARFARE!’

South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

WULVERGHEM TRENCHES

7th May 1915, Fri:   2nd Howitzer Battery 46th Division shelled fortified house opposite Trench 8 with great effect about 10.am.  Enemy’s Artillery dropped 18 shells in & near Trench 10a making two breaches in parapet.  CASUALTY: 2 Lt F. Wilkinson wounded while repairing wire entanglements in front of 10 b trench.

8th May, Sat:   Enemy’s Artillery fired 40 shells at 10a trench and SPA and 4 shells at Trench 9 but without effect1/6th Souths  relieved trenches. Lt Lamond 2 Bn The Royal Scots joined as adjutant. 

9th May, Sun:  NEUVE EGLISE – In Hutments  ‘BULFORD CAMP

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to his FATHER & MOTHER, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall.

Rogation Sunday.(1)   May 9th/ 15

My dear Father & Mother,

What a dainty little parcel, so neatly packed.  The sweets are lovely, just what Sid & I like and want now the weather is getting warm and sunny.  Rather a cold wind blowing though this afternoon as I came out of the hut to write this letter in the field, so I took a seat in the corner of a trench which is in the precincts.

My word, Mother, what a long letter you wrote & I did enjoy reading it. In fact I did what you did with our letters, re-read it.  We came back to camp last night & on the 1st day after getting back we have 2 posts. On the 1st post I got the towel & sweets & on the 2nd post, which we got after dinner, Sid got Dad’s interesting letter.  That’s why I have again addressed this letter to both of you.

I was so glad to get another  ‘epistle’ from Dad, (as Miss Foster calls a long address.   I’m sorry for Capt. B. & for the Mayor but we OTC (2) could not help but feel amused on hearing of the kind of measles [they had]!

I guess Harold is with you today, by what Mother said in her letter.  It will  be a pleasure for Mother to go to Bedale, I’m sure.  When you see him next tell him that those Milk Tablets seem to have had a rather dramatic ‘life’ (if I can put it like that).  He had to keep the parcel waiting for them & when I got them they eventually got buried through the [action] of the enemy.  I found them safely afterwards though & now the bottle comes in handy for my share of the sweets, which will last a long time.  They are a change to chocolate which we have had so many times.

Mother, you will be greatly comforted to know that Vernon, Sid & myself are not scratched even.  We have been ‘through the mill’ this last time,something like warfare. 
And Dad you will also be very pleased to know Sid is getting rapidly in the favour of some of the men, especially the OTCOne chief example being with regard to Listening Post (3) on which I volunteered with A. Brown*, Iky the correspondant*,  & C. Jackson *of Counties Bank & another. It was on this post that we saw Ford E*. he has taken over a very responsible duty, let alone rather a daring job, he goes round corners with a revolver (4). I don’t think he or his Dad is frightened of a rifle.
Yes, Mother, I have an idea my scholars recognise you as my ‘mummy’.  When you see them in Church give them a smile from me.  God bless them & may I see them again in Wisemore schools. (5)
—–It seems to be coming true, what Harold’s friend said to him, that he had an idea Sid & I would get through it all & we should come back safely.——
Vernon showed me a PC of his sisters in uniform taken with several other Red Cross people (6) & he also mentioned that his mother had paid you a visit.  Ida was the only one in & as they were going home they happily met Mother & Dodger.

I’m afraid I was not such a brick as Sid was when I had my teeth out for it  was like ‘sitting in a rose bed’ compared with the ‘Tug of war on just a wooden chair’ with Sid’s teeth (7). At any rate I am grateful that Sid has no more pain now.

Talking about photos, both of us will be looking forward to seeing Dad’s –  & I am anxious to get a photo of Mother as well.  I have got one of you all round the tent. The one where I am standing up with my arms at the back of my head & Ida smiling up. 

Bertie, Hilda Bore (Harold's fiancee), Basil, Ida. Seated behind,: Mother and Father.  Photo taken by Harold..
Abergele, Wales. 1914. Bertie, Hilda Bore (Harold’s fiancee), Basil, Ida. Seated behind:  Mother and Father. (Photo taken by Harold).

You all seem to have a kind of ‘prophetic countenance’.  I should very much like one of Mother close to

Could you send some strong gum to mend my prayer book which I have still got and still use often.  I read Mother’s writing in front – ‘Be thou faithful unto death etc’ –  which gives me great comfort. (8)
So that I can tell if you have got every letter I write to you just state the date when received, & one or two things I mentioned in the letter to certify what letter or PC it was – see like.  Well this letter is getting rather long & its not private enough to stick in a green envelope. Before closing, I really must say how very, very sorry I was on hearing what a lot of trouble Dad & Basil took over trying to see what was under the crossings out.  Now I am almost certain it was my fault, for I did cross out a line or two on re-reading it before enclosing it in the envelope. (9)
As for Sid’s forget- me- nots- he told me he had forgotten the forget-me-nots! Now ain’t that funny Mother, – however could he forget a forget-me-not !  I guess all his memory was concentrated on the real forget-me-not  i.e. you Mother.  I will try to get you a root & send it off to you sometime.
We have had no service so far today.  I expect we shall have it tomorrow.  Oh! – just like me leaving  it to the last minute – I had a lovely wash & wipe with your lovely white towel.  On coming back I saw we had got a real rig out for washing – enamel basin and stand.
Well Ta Ta for the present.        Best of love,    Bert.
 
PS  Sid’s birthday will be on Monday next (10)  We shall in all probability be out of the trenches on Sunday. night 16th.  Parcels take 3 days about so if you send one, send it on Friday 14th & it will be likely to arrive in time.

PS Alan Machin* specially told me that he wished to be remembered to you both, Father & Mother.  He is still keeping well.

Monday:  Just got a letter from Ida which I expected & now thank her – will get another reply bomb ready soon.

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

Through the Mill -something like Warfare‘ Typically Pte Bertie Hibbett makes sure he reassures & thanks his parents for their parcels &letters before he mentions his ‘exciting times‘.

(1) Rogation Sunday: ‘Beating the Bounds‘ is still practiced before Ascension Day, when priest & congregation process around the parish, stopping at boundary stones, trees and farms to ask God’s blessing on fields and crops & for ‘God’s mercy on all creation’ (from Latin rogare -‘to ask’).  (2) ‘We OTC’ : Pte Bertie differentiates  himself  & his QMS pals from other volunteers. His parents expect their sons to take commissions in due course..

(3) Listening Post: a very dangerous duty out in No Man’s Land, for which my father & his QMS pals volunteered from their first day in the trenches at ArmentiersSee Posts for March 1915.

Description of Duty: ‘Running out at right-angles from the frontline trenches were saps (narrow, shallow, trenches). These saps were about 30 yards long. Small groups of soldiers were sent to the sap-head (listening post) and were given the task of . . . finding discovering information about enemypatrolswiring parties, or sniper positions. After a heavy bombardment soldiers would be ordered to seize any new craters in No Man’s Land which could then be used as listening posts. From August 1916 all British Army units were under orders to occupy any shell-hole within 60 yards of their forward trench. John Simpkins@sparticus-educational.com  See also Listening Post <www.firstworldwar.com>

In My Memory of the First World War  1967, my father, writes: I shall never forget my experience at Neuville St Vaast, for it was there that I went with a party underground to listen for the enemy tapping their way in underground passages towards our Front Line.  It happened one dark night which made it all the more ‘exciting’.  Whose mine would go up first, theirs or ours?  Our feelings were indeed tense. “Pass the word down for Bomber Ford”, came the command from the officer in front of our column, as we lined up to throw hand grenades over the parapet. “Pass the word back I aint,” retorted Bomber Ford from the rear.  The German mine went up first – and we tried to occupy the crater before the enemy advanced to take possession of it.   The Revd A. H. Hibbett, 1967.

(4) Training in Underground fighting for Tunnellers/ Sappers/bomb layers.  (5Wisemore Schools were erected in 1883 in poor districts of Walsall/ St Matthew’s Ward, once the location of Ragged Schools early 19th C. Average attendance: 328 boys, 305 girls and 316 infants. See Town End Bank at the Wisemore, John Griffiths. The Local History Centre, Essex Street, Walsall has the registers. See also The Story of Walsall Education – Wolverhampton History & Heritage – useful photographs of school buildings. <www.historywebsite.co.ukarticles/walsallschool.htm>  See also Menu Page: 1925 Walsall Observer article on my Grandfather, Arthur Hibbett’s Retirement as Education Officer. 

(6Red Cross photos pending. (7) Army Dentists: no dentists at the Front at beginning of war. Both Pte Bertie Hibbett & L Corp. Sydney Hibbett had to endure ‘rapid extraction‘ with crude instruments (as found in dental practice in some African countries today). 12 dentists were attached to Casualty Clearing Stations (after Sir Douglas Haig got toothache in France!) Ambulance Cars began to be used in 1915 & in May 1916 a Mobile Dental Laboratory was given to the Army in by the Civil Service Ambulance Fund through the British Red Cross. 

(8)

PS You remember the blankets you sent us & when we got to Luton after Home Leave we found new ones for us – well we have  just been issued with towels.  We go to the baths the day after we leave the trenches.  I am keeping the new paper you sent for a letter to Mrs Jones. I think I ought to write a combined letter.  I sent  Field PC but Mrs Jones seems to treasure a letter from the Front.  Did you, Mother have a pleasant hour that Monday afternoon?  Oh Sid & I would be delighted with a small pot of Mother’s brawn, the parcel only takes four days at the most to come so the brawn will keep fresh & Ida could send some pineapple chunks for tea.

 

With best of good wishes to harold & Miss Bore & fopndest love to you both dear Mother & Dad.

Your affectionate son,  Bertram.

 

PS Keep this letter & when I come home I will tell you what a time I had in writing it.  God save Our King.

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