12th May,1915, Wed. Proceeded to Trenches in relief of 6th Souths. 13th May, Thur. Saxons reported opposite our Sector. They got on the parapet and attempted friendly overtures. ‘A’ Coy opened fire on them hitting two.
CASUALTIES: KILLED 9168 Pte G. A. Slates, WOUNDED: 8781 Pte S. Mold and 8219 Pte J. Pearce. 14th May, Fri: Abnormally quiet day. KILLED No. 1050 Pte W. B. Share.
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s ‘Little Book of Words & Doings’: 12th May 1915: Ember Day. ‘Blessed is the man whom thou choosest & receivest unto thee’. (1)
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to BASIL, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.The Listeners’ Lounge (2). May 14 / 15
My Dear Brother Dodger,
I am one of the six Volunteers who ‘go out a’noit a list’nun for un ’un’ (3). My word and I shan’t half have something to say of our fine experience on this dooty when I get home.
The Wolverhampton lot had half rigged up a dugout for the exclusive use of the Listeners. So Iky, the Observer Man, and ‘all on us’ have improved the place & Iky, after ‘all on us’ had racked our brains for a ‘door plate’, began in ‘block type’ with a pencil & deftly printed the name of the hut above. We are sometimes called the Hearkeners & one suggestion for a name was The Hearkeners’ Hut, but Iky said no, some of the men will be calling it the ‘Arknerzut’.
Unfortunately it rained practically all day the 1st day, but luckily there was very little rain as we lay down by the corn ‘a listen of’.
Another handsome parcel arrived for Syd & me from Miss K.E.B. (4). So I enjoyed a ripping cup of cocoa- au- lait, or cocoa made with milk. There was a lovely tablet of sweet-scented soap each. I had ‘cool cream & glycerine’, Syd had ”buttermilk’. Miss K.B. used a lot of mint toffees to pack the parcel & on the bottom was laid two packets of Cadbury Mexican.
Five of the Hearkeners are cracking jokes now. Arthur Brewin* as we call him, is one, Iky another, Norman Cope* another, Vic Shaw* (who gained honours at the Gram: school in Oxford Senior) & I make up the 5th. ‘After you with the marmalade’ – ‘Have a drink of cocoa au lait’. Syd was the N.C.O. who took us out last night (5) – they all like him tell Mother. (Mother, by the by, said she would like to hear more about the boys with us).
This smear is just a little of the cocoa. We are quite used to what-you-might-call difficult circumstances with regard to dining; we manage fairly well to partake of a slice of bread & jam seated in The Lounge.
I was so interested in yours and Mother’s account of the poor little thrush. Nature goes on as usual. We can hear the cuckoo amidst the burst of shot & shell during Stand To (6).
Iky knows I’m writing, he has just asked me if I am mentioning him & if I have yet told you about eating a Marconocy (sic) (7) out of the same mess tin like the Eastern people do. There you have again a good example of adapting ourselves to odd circumstances.
If you want to know what a Marconocy hot is, it is a preserved mixture containing: 12 ozs of beef, 5 ozs potatoes, 1 oz carrots, 1 oz haricot beans, 1 oz onions, 2 ozs thick gravy & salt. Iky & I improved the above by boiling in a soup of Symington’s Pea Flour. (8)
This Iky is a ‘rare run’. I’ll conclude with one of his remarks when he caught Syd & me talking about his 21st birthday – ‘Th’arknery will have a fine time a Mundy’. Sid, by-the-way, had some cigs from Miss Bore. Tell Ida we are near that place.
Good luck & best love to all. Bertram.
PS. May 16th. Got Parcels. See PS in letter to Ida.
(1) Ember Day, (Days of Fasting & Prayer for the Ordination of Clergy & to thank God for the gifts of Nature in each season. From Latin Quatuor Tempora (four times). Hebrew Bible Psalm 65.4. Pte Bertie Hibbett was already thinking of a vocation to the priesthood.
(2) Naming of Listening Posts & Dugouts was a way of adapting to ‘difficult circumstances’ of Trench Life.
(3) My father loved accents & dialect. The transliteration in this letter is probably a mixture of Lancashire & Black Country accent. Translation in order of appearance:- ‘who go out at night listening for a Hun‘ (a German); ‘all of us’; ‘a rare one’; ‘The Hearkeners will have a fine time on Monday’.
NB My brother remembers our Grandmother’s voice had a ‘tinge of Lancashire’ and the following Cheer repeated in fun must have come down from her:- ‘ere’s t’us, all on us, may us nivver want nowt, n’ me neither, ‘nif y’do owt for nowt do it for thee sen’. Meaning: ‘Here’s to us, all of us. May we never want for anything, nor me either, and if you do something for nothing do it for yourself!’ The exact opposite of the Christian ethic!
(4) Kathleen Brookes* Sunday School Superintendant, Walsall. (5) i.e. out in No Man’s Land at least 30 yards towards the enemy front line. (6) Stand To ‘Stand-to-Arms’: An hour before dawn and dusk soldiers had to stand on the trench fire-step with rifle loaded & bayonets fixed in case of enemy attack. (7) Marconochie: See Post 17th April, 1915. <http://joyoffieldrations.blog.co.uk>
(8) Symington’s Pea Flour. William Symington, a Scot, founded a Company at Market Harborough, Leicestershire.in 1827 specialising in dried foods. Pea Flour was invented in 1852 & supplied to troops in Crimea & Scots Antarctic Expedition 1901.
NEXT POST: 16th May 1915. Postcript to Letter of May 14th.