Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, No 9 GENERAL HOSPITAL ROUEN: LETTER to MOTHER, Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
Another Sunny Sunday Afternoon. ‘In the easy chair’. Sept 19th / 15
‘O prosper thou our handywork’ (sic). Psalm 90.
My Dear Mother,
Beginnings. I’ve missed out the ‘very’ & was thinking of beginning afresh, but then it would be waste so you will forgive me won’t you Mum. Now I have got a lot to say and didn’t know which end to begin so I’ve adopted little headings. I do like to make a good start to a letter.
A Striking Coincidence. Oh Mum you have begun your letters of late capitally. Your last two did thrill me, especially the long one enclosed in the last parcel. What a queer thrill went through me when I read that you were thinking about us both in the garden in the sunshine. Now it is natural that both sides should be thinking of one another, but after me writing last Sunday afternoon just when you were thinking about us & me writing about the fact too & then to hear from you in writing. It was indeed a striking coincidence.
I’ve just sharpened my pencil & popped the last of your Nestle’s chocs: in me mooth (1) – no more details now, you’ll understand I guess. I have your letter in my hand.
Well Mum I should like to say I’m TOP HOLE – but will put it that I am happy & grateful at present.
A Victory. I was going to begin my letter dramatically & shout Hurrah! – for I managed to coax round the cook & get three apples roasted on the day I got your last parcel. ( Oh! I say to me sen, I’ve let the cat out of the bag. I wrote to Mr Darling* yesterday & had to start twice, the first attempt was on this sheet and I haven’t a rubber to let the cat in the bag again (2).
Parcels. Yes Mum I’ve had both parcels all right, the one addressed to the Base came up without fail. I don’t think there is any harm in hard boiled eggs, I think they have done me good, having had no signs of further illness through eating them. I guess they are dear in Blighty now.
Lissie’s* Toy Gun. I had a parcel from Okoo when I got yours as well. How the patients eyed me with envy carrying the parcel post away again. I opened your parcel 1st & found the treasure Dodger told me to look out for, Lissie’s gun. I sent her a card & she will get it today & you will have got my F.P.C. It was too bad of you to send another bit of cash. I tried to get some of the apples roasted, but I was late at the cookhouse. The cook hadn’t got the ovens going then. Then I opened Harold’s parcel after reading your letter.
Mummy’s Photo. . . Oh! Mummy! Let me see you again. How lovely you look, your light hair in contrast with Miss Bore’s and the pretty frill.
I see you are busy with your ‘fissies’ as usual – (tissies) as Basil called them (1). Yes! I have looked closely & well I never! its a pair of socks you are knitting & very likely the ones I’ve been wearing. Oh! you are nearer to me now Mummy – & you felt so near to me all day Thursday that I almost saw you by my side. I know you are thinking of Sydney & me again, but I trust you are thinking happily.
Sister’s Address. A very nice letter indeed & I was in raptures when I read near the conclusion & went to read that little bit to the Irish Sister & showed her your photo Harold sent. When she heard of such a generous exclamation as ‘Bless all those who are kind’ to Sydney & me, and that you would send a little present, – guess what she said – she said it quite naturally, not as if she was posing & aware that I should write down her words – ‘What a nice kind Mother she must be’.
She was delighted with the photos; she knew Whitby & had a sister who had been there & seen the old bridge, underneath which you were taken, & the old houses on the cliff. She gave me her name so that if you wish to keep to your generous promise, dear Mum, you can send a little present to Miss M.E. Boyd*, No 9 General Hospital B.E.F. – that is enough to find her. All the Sisters are right for their work & take things lightheartedly, amusing the patients & asking them how they are getting on. But this Irish Sister, who I have said reminds me of Winnie Overend*, often gives us cigs & sweets, which I believe she buys out of her own pocket.
The other dark-haired Irish Sister is always prodding into me when she sees me writing. (She is going to give me some cigs; she interfered with my writing again jokingly & I showed her your photo which she greatly admired – & then promised me some cigs this afternoon).
Miss Foster. I wrote to Miss Foster on Thursday, in time for the letter to reach her on her birthday yesterday. This sister picked up my letter when I showed her my drawing of a patient in Hospital Dress & she just glanced at the introduction. How she larfed. ‘No it isn’t’, I said as she expressed the idea that it was my fiancee.
I thought I would draw something for Miss Foster, not being able to give her anything more than a letter, but as I was half way through a newsboy came to the Ward door & instead of buying a paper I bought a Souvenir Card he tempted me with. I put some of Ida’s W.H. scent on it & enclosed it in Miss Foster’s Birthday letter.
Dr Hibbert (3). Now here’s another funny coincidence – during yesterday I came across a patient who had been to Nottingham Goose fair every year & never missed up till the War. He was a Lincolnshire lad who knew all about Uffington (4) too – the conversation started with reference to mushrooms. Another patient I came across was in the Royal Scots Greys & came from York. By the by, these acquaintances remind me of Ida at Leicester Hospital. The Head Sister of the two Wards said once when she was giving me medicine, ‘Call for your medicine Hibbett – let’s see – I know a Hibbert, I have a friend related to a Dr Hibbert’. That’s the limit – now on to something more serious.
Besides the photos of you all at Whitby there was one of Harold. Who took it? I must congratulate the photographer for it is very artistically arranged, but Oh dear Okoo, why isn’t there a smile, eh.
The Marriage. I say Mummy, & all of you at home, wouldn’t it sound nice to read & hear of a Lieut. Harold Victor Hibbett R.A.M.C. will be married shortly to Miss H.B. eh. what oh! & to hear that his brother, Mr. A. Hibbett’s second son, who is fighting at the Front will act as best man.
Best Man. Oh Sydney! how can we buck up & ‘singe his whiskers’ (5). How can we bring such a colossal state of upheaval to a close – & get Home to witness a fine bust up at Home, Sweet Home.
Boils. Now, Mum, that leads me to tell you the answer to your anxious enquiry. Yes, I will let you know all in this my (next) letter. I daresay you were disappointed in all the letters you’ve had since the 12th thinking I should answer your queries in them. I don’t think for a moment now that I could get Home through my complaint for I am quite better now; the ‘excavation’ into my neck has been finished with & the ‘cavity’ is practically closed up now.
Home Sweet Home. I was expecting to be marked out (6) today, but the Doctor said I should be in tomorrow, Monday. The Doctor was very amiable & knows his business, but I do not think he could do anything to send me Home & I know it is of no use whatever to try & put the matter to the Colonel. You see there are many more cases & some are worse than mine & too there have been many cases such as mine & they have been able to put them right enough for Active Service.
Blighty, My Little Grey Home in the West. No, I don’t think Dad could do anything; it is all very well for Sydney to say what he has said to you & I’m grateful to him at the same time. I believe the great majority of patients want to go to Home Sweet Home – Blighty as we call it.
Dining Hall Talk. It is ‘Dining Hall talk’ on how chaps are favoured & work their ticket marvellously & that it is one in 1000 who want to go up the line again.
The Three Calls. But oh Mum I have told Mr Darling* that I feel I am on the balance in Hospital here. I can hear three calls. I can hear Sydney calling me (seems funny, although he doesn’t wish me to join him). I can hear the call of Duty. ‘Rise! fellow-men, our country yet remains, By that dread name we wave the sword on high & swear for Her to live, for Her to die’ (7).
At Duty’s Call. My New Calling. Ready Aye ready. The third call comes indirectly through Hopes of living through the campaign & taking up a new career. His calling, that came to me through Bishop’s Stafford’s text for the confirmation candidates of 1911. ‘Blessed is the man whom thou choosest & receivest unto thee. Here am I – send me.’ (8).
My Little Khaki Case. Another look at you dear Mum. I have scented you with Ida’s White Heather Scent. Mother it reminds me of the lovely scent you had on you. I have scented the case. And there’s ‘Crippen’ Mummy – oh don’t say that of dear Dad, but it’s a joke eh Mum, ‘Hoo Hic! ain’t he strict.’ (9).
Thinking. Another look at Mum. Yes you are thinking of me & I of you. I wonder if you are peeping at Sydney too & my photo.
Today’s Post. I had a letter from Cousin Stanley* this morning. My word what a change in style and manner, – of course he is 17. He seems to have grown out of his shyness by the way he writes. And I have had a nice, delightful, little letter from Miss Jones* & Miss Humphries*. . . There was to be a box of cigs with the letter but I have not had it yet, perhaps it will turn up tomorrow. Miss Humphries says rightly, ‘The Lord is the same yesterday, today & forever’ (10).
Keep Looking Up. There is a happy thought to conclude with. Keep looking up, it is a bright blue sky & the sun is ‘nearing’ the West where you are. Let your two sons push forward to the East & singe his whiskers, as Harold said, & do our Dooty, as England expected in Nelson’s day, & ought to now, & does now (11).
God bless you dear Mother, my very dear Mother & the same to my Father. I do love him whom Ida once said is ‘kindness itself’ – she knows.
Best love to all, from Bertie.
Post Script. Another Victory. Of course you must always expect a Post Script.
I have been unable to obtain any milk or eggs, but I should think I shall be at the Base before this week is out & then I shall be able to get some eggs. But you must understand that we have not the conveniences like at Home. Men won’t be troubled with boiling milk & eggs for me or anyone else. But I managed by coaxing the chap at the Soldier’s Institute Canteen to make a bowl of coffee with the coffee you sent me in the parcel & it was ripping with those digestive biscuits & I enjoyed a good little supper that night (last night). I wondered whatever to do with that coffee. The shirt will come in useful when I am out of Hospital but you need not send me another as I have lately been given a new outfit & Sydney could do with them.
Hoping I have satisfied your queries. I have not said all yet. I wonder if I was thinking of you before you were thinking of me today when I went to Holy Communion in the same lovely little tent.
It is a lovely evening again & I am going to Church, are you?
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s longest letter yet in which his little headings help him to sort out his own confusion between Three Calls: Duty to his Brother, Duty to his Country and Duty to God.
(1) Hibbett Family Jargon/ Slang: mooth–mouth; sen–self; ‘cat out of the bag‘ –let out a secret by accident; fissies (Yiddish for ‘feet‘) – hence knitted socks; Hoo Hic– nonsense words; dooty-duty. NB. ‘Okoo’ & ‘Dodger’: nicknames for Basil Hibbett, Bertie’s youngest brother.
(2) Bertie has written ‘Saturday Sep 18/15 ‘Dear Sir’ along the side of paper).
(3) The Hibbett Family was proud to differentiate itself from the ‘Hibbert‘ descendants of the Ibbot Family. Spelling: from my (6 x great) grandfather John Ibbot b. 1690; William Hibbett/or William Ibbot b. 1735; Luke Hibbitt b. 1765; William Hibbett b. circa 1790; Henry Hibbett b. 1824 (my great grandfather of Rutland & York); Arthur Hibbett b.1860 (my grandfather); Arthur Hubert Hibbett. b.1895 (my father). Sydney Martin Hibbett b. 1931 (my brother). NB Observant folk will notice the number of years between father & eldest son is mostly 35 years.
(4) Uffington: Lincolnshire home of Hibbett cousins. (5) ‘Singe his (Kaiser Wilhelm II’s) whiskers‘: get close enough to defeat him. Found in WW1 soldier’s story.
(6) ‘Marked Out’ (by R.A.M.C.): to be sent back to the Front Line. (7)’Rise fellow men. . . ‘Wanderings of Childe Harold’: John Harman Bedford, Lieut. R.N. ‘A Romance of Real Life’ (Lord Byron). 3 vols. 1825. London. (8) Bertie has conflated two biblical sayings on God’s calling: ‘Blessed is the man…’ Psalm 65.4. ‘Here am I send me‘: First Isaiah 6.8.
(9) Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen: American homeopath murdered his wife/ first criminal to be caught by wireless telegraph. Executed Pentonville Prison, 1910. Family nickname for Dad (Arthur Hibbett) when strict. (10) ‘The Lord is the same. . .’ Hebrews 13.8.
(11) ‘England expects that everyman will do his duty. . .’ Signal sent by Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson from flagship H.M.S. Victory 21st Oct 1805, Battle of Trafalgar. Napoleonic Wars.
CANADA HUTS NR DICKEBUSCH.
18th Sept Sat: Divisional Reserve. Relieved the 6th North Staff in the trenches.
19th Sept. Sun: S.W. SLOPE HILL 60. Very quiet day. Aeroplanes active on both sides, our machines appeared to have the upper hand.
NEXT POST: 24th SEPT. 1915.