Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: No 6 GENERAL BASE CONVALESCENT CAMP ROUEN: LETTER to Marie Neal Hibbett & Ida Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.
Saturday Oct 2/ 15
My Very Dear Mother and Sister Ida,
It is getting dark. I am squatting in the tent_________ I feel I ought to write at once to you___________ I was going to dinner when a chap out of my tent told me to turn back, there was an urgent letter waiting for me in a pile of rifles in the tent. When I saw it I suddenly thought of dear Sydney. I thought the letter was to say he had either been k_____d or wounded. I had heard that our Batt. must have been in the General Advance & I thought he had been in the Charge (1).
But I have been praying for him, remembering him in my prayers & have also thought more often of him likely being on the journey Home to see Mummy & Dad & all of you. I prayed that he may have a Happy & Safe Journey.
Do you know Mummy here’s another queer coincidence, I’m sorry I left it out in my last letter. When I went to Church in the S.C.A. Hut (2) in the Con. Camp we sang ‘Eternal Father strong to save’ (3) & my didn’t I let my voice go thinking of Sydney, & in mind of him going across the Channel, either that night or someday in the coming week & ain’t it funny, it was so (4).
I did laugh, I couldn’t help myself laughing after I read Ida’s lovely letter – especially as I read of Sydney & pictured him sitting with Mummy by the cheery fireside, in the sound of the guns no, no, but in the sound of Sister’s lovely touch on the pianoforte. Ha Ha! I am as blythe & gay as can be & only hope that Sydney, deary me, is making the best of his Leave. And too I am sorry for him for it will be another wrench for him to leave Home.
So you got those lovely apples from Gaunt’s Farm (5) & the eggs were so creamy and nice again.
Oh Ida you did hurt my feelings – I mean to say I am really ashamed of the complaints in my past letters which put you all so anxious, why I was even bemoaning myself on coming away on the march from the drilling field this morning. All the T.B. men (6) went to a large field for training & as we came back we passed No 9 General Hospital where I had been for such a long time. I saw the men in blue & thought of the long letters I wrote home from there & those horrible complaints which made you so upset. Yes there’s no denying I have grumbled, but dearest Mummy, it will teach & has taught me a lesson. I shall be able to bear greater pain should it come in the future.
I have had some pay today & there are several Canteens here. I hope to be able to take something for Sydney when I go up the line again for I am sure he will feel the reaction greatly & will want something in the way of luxuries to help to graduate the sudden fall from Home comforts. I’m glad Mum will find a spare minute to scratch a line to Miss Foster*; it will help to make things clearer as I don’t care much to explain things myself.
It is too dark to write now & besides the post goes soon & I want to get this off. Perhaps it is likely that this letter will be in time to wish dear Sydney the Best of Luck & a Hearty Send Off, hoping he will cross in safety Mother dear.
Ought not we to be indeed grateful & thankful to those Higher Hands. I’m sure you are & do not worry an iota about me coming Home. I am grateful to say I am taking things as Dad wished me to take them – ‘as a matter of course’. ‘I will sing of the Lord because he has dealt so lovingly with me’ applies to both, eh Mum. (Psalm for this evening 2/10/15 (7).
Best love to all, Bertie Arfer.
(1) Major Offensive: 25th Sept. 1915. (2) Soldiers’ Christian Association Hut.
(3) Hymn: ‘Eternal Father‘. Words: William Whiting. 1825-1878 (Anglican, Head of Winchester College Choristers’ School).
The Navy Hymn/ Seafarer’s Hymn: 1st edition Hymn Ancient & Modern. 1861. Based on Ps 107 the hymn expresses a three-fold experience of the divine as Father, Son & Holy Spirit. References to Genesis 1.2: The Spirit of God (Hebrew: Rûach רוּחַ Elohim אֱלֹהִים/ wind/breath/spirit (feminine/ plural) hovered/ brooded over the waters of chaos like a Mother bird; Mark 4.35f: Christ Stilling the Storm & Walking on Water; also Acts 27-28: Luke’s eyewitness account of Paul’s shipwreck off the island of Malta. Tune: Melita (Malta). John Bacchus Dykes, 1823-1876. Precentor Durham Cathedral 1849-1862.
(4) WW1 Home Leave varied in length (travel time included). Corp. Sydney Hibbett is logged as ‘Rtd‘ (Returned) on 5th Oct., so a ‘10 Day’s Leave’ (if Bertie is correct & his brother sailed Home on Sun. 26th Sept.)
(5) Gaunt’s Farm. Sutton? (connection John O’ Gaunt,1340-1399 1st Duke of Lancaster?).
6) T.B. Tuberculosis. Pte Bertie includes himself here. The family did not know of this until 1960s when my father went into Boston Hospital for operations on his war-worn feet and was found to have T.B. scars on his lungs. His brother Harold was invalided out of the Army and died of T.B. in 1940.
(7) Psalm 13.6. (8) Ouderdom 5 mile march. (9) Abeele, Poperingue, West Flanders: (Site of WW1 Military Airfield).
(10) Fouquereuil, village one mile SW of Bethune, Nord Pas de Calais: 40 mile train journey. (11) L’Ecleme near Lillers, 15 miles SW of Bethune. (12) Brigade Operation Orders (Staffordshire Regiment Museum, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield).
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY
RAILWAY EMBANKMENT DUG-OUTS NEAR ZILLEBEKE
1st Oct. Fri: In Brigade Reserve. Brigade relieved by 17th Division. The Battalion vacated the dug-outs about 8.30 pm and bivouaced at Transport Lines near OUDERDOM (8).
2nd Oct. Sat: At about 11 am Battalion paraded and marched to ABEELE (9).
Entrained for FOUQUEREUIL (10) 4.30 pm arrived 6.15 pm. Marched to billets at L’CLEME near LILLERS (11) arrived at 12.30 am 3rd inst. Ouderdom. (See B.O.O’s d/1.10.15 attached) (12)
NEXT POST: 3rd OCT. 1915.