In Red White & Blue No 6. Ward, No 9. General Hospital. Woden’s Day. 18th / 8/ 15.
My Dear Sister,
I think it time to write to Mum, but somewhat shirk letting her know 1st Hand lest she should think I’m wounded –
Well anyone would think so, if they saw the way my head was bandaged up & my almost second pair of puttees. An’ Oh! Larks – if I appeared in Whitby, just as I am now, they would take me for a Pierrot acting the giddy-goat (1).
I have a gorgeous Royal blue suit lined with soft white material, having a turned down front, like these fashionable summer suits, a white shirt and a vivid scarlet tie (2).
I am scribbling this on the table in the Ward, where the beds are so neatly lined & made; the tidiness, cleanliness & general smartness of the place, together with the flowers & the sunny beams shining through the windows, are a great help in making one better.
The Ward is in the form of a YMCA hut & is installed with electric light. Oh! all is so spick & span, the effect is marvellous after coming from the muddy, ‘smelly’ trenches & dugouts to sleep in a nice neat bed & have milk pudding & hot milk once again.
I had a nice chat with a nice boy in the ward. He told me all about a charge he had been in (mentioned recently in the papers) & his description of it was indeed vivid; to get genuine tales – & told naturally, hospitals out here are the only places (3).
The nurses are dressed in grey & white with short scarlet capes, so nice, but one sister is so fussy & treats us all like little b’hoys, you know – ‘Now laddie sit down – silly boy’ etc. she occasionally pops out. She once said I gave her more trouble than all the others put together – (there’s a reputation for you). But she said to a s’nice sister hardby – ‘He is a nice boy with always a smiling face’. Indeed I could not help but smoile the whoile & then she said, ‘Now sit down laddie, and let me put this fomentation on and smile’, she aptly added. So I did like – see.
The weather all the time I’ve been in hospital, ie Tuesday morning, has been delightfully sunny, but since we came down to the Camp there has been frequent heavy rains – thought the bell tent would come down one night when I slept under canvas, but not a drop came in (4).
Talking about smiling faces – you would also have a smiling face if you saw the poor chap (5) with facial paralysis (where goes the ‘y’?) smile when he hears he is going to ‘Blighty’ & the Doctor puts the Big Blue B on his head board, meaning ‘Medical Board’. Yes he is going, as you say to his little grey home in the west – going West where I hope this letter will safely arrive. (6).
Tell me if you have received all my letters – with their corresponding dates & of course headings.
Ta Ta. Best & kindest regards to Capt. and Mrs Overend* & fam:
Your very affec. Bertie.
PS Tell me too if you manage to read this epistle word after word. I leave it to your wisdom to forward this to Mum or not? I think if you put No 6 General Base, until further notice, letters will get to me. I mun move from this hospital shortly. I hope so & indeed I should be proud to get back to the trenches again & see this campaign to the ‘finis’.
This Letter is a good example of how Pte Bertie Hibbett relies on his sister for advice – and plays around with Black Country dialect – in an effort to protect his Mother from anxiety.
(1) Pierrot: pantomime character (from late 17th Cent.) a sad clown/ a fool – usually with white face & white long-sleeved clothes. Acting the giddy goat: ‘behaving foolishly’. [Giddy: ‘foolish’ ‘stupid’; ‘capricious/ changeable’ from Latin ‘capra’ goat].
(2) & (3) First-hand information on WW1 Hospitals/ Uniform etc see:The Project Gutenberg EBook Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914 -1915. <http://pgdp.net>
Poem: ‘Early Morning over Rouen’. May Wedderburn Cannon 1893 -1973. selected by Philip Larkin for Oxford Book of 20th Century English Verse. 1973.
(4) No 12 Gen. Hospital was mainly in tents. (5) ‘Facial paralysis’ could refer to another patient but I think my father is the ‘poor chap‘ (face stiff with boils and bandaging) who would ‘smoile‘ if he saw the official ‘Big Blue B‘ on his head board & got a ‘Blighty‘.
MEANWHILE Lance Corporal SYDNEY HIBBETT was still at the Front.
S.W, SLOPE OF HILL 60.
15th Aug. Sun: Old trench between 37 and German trench opposite reconnoitred by a patrol and found to be clear of enemy. Four rounds fired by our trench mortar, enemy replied with 5 trench mortar shells without doing damage. Enemy shrapneled 365 and the Strong point in the wood. Two enemy mortars located. CASUALTY WOUNDED: 7863 Pte A. Leaming.
16th Aug, Mon: Enemy opened rapid fire for about 10 minutes on 35 trench at 12.45 am. At about 5.pm enemy opened rapid fire on our aeroplane. Estimate from volume of fire that their numbers are about equal to our own in the trenches. 17th Aug. Tue: Grenaded and bombed enemy trench. Germans replied with trench mortars into (Railway) Cutting, compelling our working party to cease work. Enemy shrapnelled 35 and 35 support trench between 7 and 7.30 am. Our guns replied. Artillery of both sides damaged 35 trench parapet. CASUALTIES WOUNDED: 9985 Pte J. T. Rowley, 9293 Pte J. Hickinbottom. Relieved by 6th North Staffs about 11. pm.
18th Aug. Wed. OUDERDOM ‘F’ HUTMENTS DIVISIONAL RESERVE.
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