17TH MAY 1915: COMING OF AGE IN THE TRENCHES.

South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

NEUVE EGLISE   Bulford Camp. 

17th May, Mon: ‘C’Coy remained behind in support of 6th South.

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: ‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.  Bulford Camp.  Parcels from May Overend*, York & Mrs Machin*. Cakes handed round, toffee & smokes. Sang ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’.  I smoked Syd’s health, lying down beside him, went out to speak to Jones’ brother, felt giddy & had to walk round rock!  Dick Houghton –  a jolly humorous chap.’  

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MOTHER & FATHER.  (13 pages). Message on outsideOpen with care  – pressed flowers‘. (NB Flowers cut out by his Mother 1915, ‘replaced’ by EFW 2015).17th May 1915 Forget me not.

May 17th/ 15.  Mafeking Relieved. (1)

My Dear Mother & Father,

Sydney’s Coming of age – to think of it –  there seems to be a beautiful atmospheric effect.  Although far apart Mother & Son are joined heart to heart.

Mercy and Truth are met together,  Righteousness & Peace have kissed each other, Truth shall flourish in all the earth. (2)

I pictured you all singing that on SundayI read the Psalms, both for Matins & Evensong (3). Sunday seemed more like Syd’s birthday, for we received your extremely welcome parcels – guess what time? -why after ‘Stand Toabout 4. in the morning – when Mother and all of you are fast asleep.

The day too turned out lovely, bright & sunny.  My generous brother shared his birthday parcel at tea-time & the Listening Party had a most enjoyable tea in the evening sunSydney, the very name of strength, courage & gentlemanliness. 

Mother dear, you will be all the more delighted to know that Syd is favoured by the Listeners above any other NCO for duty with the party.  Norman Cope* was quite anxious to know if Syd was the NCO to take us out one night.  The Lance Corporals take it in turn to go with the ListenersSyd came with us twice.  How unique it would have been if Syd had been with us on Listening post & seen the dawn of his 21st birthday, but such was not to be.  Syd was never taken to drama & sentiment of that kind; an ordinary ‘common or garden day’ is his choice.    

I sometimes have the idea that Syd was made for a soldier – tall & broad of stature. 

Centre: Sgt S. HIBBETT when training as a Sergeant.
Sgt S. HIBBETT 1916.

I shall not forget the day he went Home for 24 hour leave. That day we were on guard at the Post Office in Saffron Walden – the time came when it was my turn to take my beat in front of the Post Office during the day when there were many people, both civilians and soldiers passingThe Sergeant of the Guard (a very kind & genuine man, who had the faith & pluck to say prayers in the hearing of 2 or 3 Companies of the Battalion billeted for the night) – the Sergeant requested that, for the improvement of the reputation of the Battalion Syd should take my place

Although it had snowed the night before, Syd’s bayonet was as bright as ever, his pack was as neat as neat could be & in fact his general appearance was smartAway he went & began his beat. My tall & broadly built brother, pacing up & down, was an honour to the Guard.  

I have an idea that the next morning, at rifle inspection, our Platoon Commander lifted Syd’s bayonet on high & showed it to the Platoon as an example.  I may add that Vernon at tea  on Sunday showed me his bayonet & said his effort at keeping it clean was through Sydney’s example.  Vernon was not a Listener.  Sid had a little tea with the Listeners, then we invited Vernon to Sid’s hut & had a quiet & enjoyable tea togetherVernon brought some whipped cream & we had it with the apricotsHe did enjoy the whole of the tea, especially the lemon curdSyd cut a slice of cake for him & he relished the whole lot & he could not resist one of Ida’s chocolate biscuits, which Sid & I think are lovely.  All the Listeners who ‘partook’ of dear Mother’s homemade lemon curd absolutely relished it.  We fortunately had a ration of butter & Norman Cope had a lovely loaf sent him. 

As for the tea, or rather drinkables, Sid & I enjoyed a mess tin full of tea made with the tea you sent.  Arthur Brown* or Brewin as we call him (who is also very generous) made coffee & cocoa.  Vernon jokingly suggested that I ought to smoke Syd’s health & he offered me a cigarette

Oh Mother, I have tried hard to tell you in the best & most fluent way I can, but I conclude it is a failure We spent a really happy Sunday – till up to night time when Norman & one or two Listeners expressed their disappointment at Syd not coming out with us on Listening Post.  

 – – Just got a parcel (the postmark looks like Redditch & the writing like one of the Overends*). Syd got Auntie’s parcel containing two pocket handkerchiefs & a couple of bananas in a card board box Marvellous – absolute marvel! – the cake was not all brokenGenerally all that’s left of a cake sent in a cardboard box is a bag of crumbs, squashed completely.  We shall enjoy Auntie’s cake for they are always nice & fruity. We have not yet finished the birthday gifts from home.  There are the Pineapple chunks which we shall share with Vernon & his cream.

Here goes Sydney tall & broad of stature, Of NCOs a favoured watcher. Sydney too is good at sniping. Pops off Huns just like he’s typing.‘    

–  – Another parcel & a letter for me & a parcel for Syd.  So that makes 3 parcels & a letter come since I started this letter – coming like the – no I won’t say – those horrible things that never stop coming – only the opposite kind. 

Let me finish my blank verse Syd, I conclude could not have had a happier time than spending  his 21st  serving his King & Country & helping to do his little bit to guard his dear home to which he said sincerely he would like to be there now. 

NB  I have just read the letter from you, dated May 15th.  Now I am certain I wrote to you acknowledging the ripping parcel of fruit, chocolate, Velma coffee au lait & Ida’s tea cakes were lovely.  I wrote to Harold & Fred York I cannot very well repeat the letter but it was one I especially wanted you to keep for it was written when the trench was being shelledI did not say anything closely referring to the incident. 

Is that the 1st letter you have missed receiving?  I have often thought of telling you to state the date my letters were sent to you & just refer to something I said so that I can tell what & everything about the letter sent.  Yes I’m certain I wrote & am awfully sorry dear, dear Mother, but you mustn’t expect that everything runs smoothly always. 

I do not feel like writing many letters, but I trust that if Harold does not hear from me you will say that I wrote & will write him as soon as possible.  I’m sorry Syd did not write.  Didn’t you even get a field PC?  The letter might have got buried like the Malted Milk tablets.Malted Milk Tablets.

I say just carefully read through all my letters written after May 6th  –  the day we had the excitement.  I have had an idea there has been one or two or more letters you have not received – do write a PC straight away.  I also wrote, by the by, a letter to Mrs Jones* the same day.

Twilight in the hut.  Vernon especially told me to mention in this letter how very much he enjoyed the things we gave him for tea todaySyd cut into May Overend’s handmade cake & handed a piece all round the hut.  Vernon had a slice of Auntie’s cake & some pears from Mrs Machin*.  He also told me to be sure to thank you for the box of Rowntrees chocolate.

This letter is getting long for the censor but I must tell of THE thing for Syd’s 21st.  I smoked his health.  I want Dad to know of the ceremony. You remember me mentioning in a past letter that Brewin had a spare army issue pipe, he had smoked it a little so he gave it to me.  I have had it in my haversack for quite a long time & brought it out this evening.  Well – Vernon supplied the bacca, a good bacca – Boardman’s – & filled it for me. Then Syd lit the pipe for me while I drew; after some awkwardness I managed to smoke it fluently.  There I lay stretched out in the hut by Syd & wished him Many Happy Returns & Good Luck.

Everyone was humorously surprised.  Some suggested that I should have had a cig to start with, but I thought Dad would rather have me smoke a pipe to begin with – Dad having not smoked a cig in his life.

Hurrah! I got through it & smoked it all!   Vernon, Syd and I, henceforth called the Trio, spent Sunday & today together as happy as can be – with one or two exceptions.(4)

I will now close, but I must say that generally we have Church Parade on Monday & it would have been still happier if Syd & I could have attended Holy Communion.  I have just read a verse out of Psalm 89 for the 17th evening, verse 25:- My truth also and my mercy shall be with him, And in my name shall he be exalted.   May Syd spend his next birthday in England & be there before his 22nd year is out!

For King & Country.

Six Parcels for Syd;  2 from Home; I from Harold, (which he was anxious about Syd getting on the 17th & Syd did – a lovely cig. case);  I from Overlands, absolutely ripping;   2 tins of coffee au lait;  I packet Russian cigs;  I tin of sardines;  2 packets of BlackCat ? with Dict –(unreadable);  2 tablets of soap;  2 packets of Peters Choc.;  1 packet of Bournville choc. ;  2 pencils, one in case;  A large slab of May’s homemade caramel toffee;  I large handmade cake;  I parcel from Mrs Machin* containing tin of pears I tin of toffee. I tin of Gold Flake;  4 apples etc. ; 2 boxes of State Express from Miss Bore*.  letter from Miss Foster* & Parcel following.

See Over . . .  anything else to say? – the censor is my dread.

Again IT IS WORTH REPEATING the lemon curd is lovely & Syd is enjoying it, send some more Choc biscuits next time Ida. & Dad I should like your opinion on my smoking.

What a ripping lot of letters. Vernon did enjoy the tea in the dugout this afternoon.  Plenty of little  souvenirs for you, make fine brooches.  I could have captured a man one night.

Now to SydFor he’s a Jolly Good Fellow.  God save the King.

Brother clasps the hand of brother, marching fearless through the night. (5)

*************************

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

Typically, Bertie’s thoughts are all of his Mother & of Sydney, as he tries to reassure his parents that Sydney’s 21st Birthday was a happy one, and their food  parcels and gifts were a resounding success.  His proud description of his brother tells a great deal about the difference in their character & physique.  Apart from the smoking ‘ceremony’ Bertie says hardly a word about himself except cryptically – out of the blue – ‘I could have captured a man one night‘.

As a child, I once asked my father how many people he had killed in the War and he answered, surprisingly to me & with a strange look on his face, that he might have killed one man. However the shell-shock, that must have begun during this 2nd Battle for Ypres, lasted all his life.

(1) Seige & Relief of Mafeking, South Africa. Boer War.  Lord Baden Powell with 1,100 troops & Cadet Force of Boys,(12-15 yrs old) defended Mafeking for 217 days, Oct.1899 – May 1900.  Baden-Powell became the nation’s hero & my father helped the Boy’s Scouts when a curate at Alford, Lincolnshire. (2) Psalm 85.10. (3)  Psalms 78-85 Book of Common Prayer.1662. (4) ref. no doubt to the constant noise of shelling & the death of Lt H. Parr. (5) Hymn: Through the night of doubt & sorrow’. Bernhardt, 1826. (trans.from Danish by S. Baring Gould).

NEXT POST:  21st May 1915: All About Smoking.

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