NEUVE CHAPELLE TRENCHES
12th Nov. Fri: Enemy very quiet. HILL STREET REDOUBT taken over from 1/6th Batt North Staffordshire Regt. and fire trench from HILL STREET to OXFORD STREET from 4th Batt Kings Liverpool Regiment. CASUALTY: KILLED: 9308 Pte E Stevens.
13th Nov. Sat: Enemy very quiet.
LETTER to Mr & Mrs ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
24th Sunday after Trinity. Nov 14/ 15
‘Unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness’. 1st Epistle. Col.13.1.
My Dearest Brave Mother, and Ida, as well as Daddie and Dodgy,
Mud, mud, muddy, muddy – MUD & clay too – now laugh! Up to my eyes in mud. There are two Tommies squatting in a muddy, muddy, mud-hole trying to write letters HOME with our hands all over mud & clay, just like gloves. Yes I am not going to be done in. I am not going to break the record of Sunday letters, and today especially. I received Ida’s letter & Basil’s enclosed yesterday & read them with jollification, they did make me feel happier afterwards.
Vernon & I – Vernon, I am fonder of him now – felt awfully fond of him last night when we had to do the work of impossibility – The Slough of Despond – clear some thick clay out of a trench (1).
A parcel, the only one in the post, came this morning – a sergeant brought it up – it was MINE – I saw with delight Dad’s writing. But I had to hurry & go on a working party from 9 – 12. 30 this morning so I opened it this dinner time.
Stop a minute while I just pop one of those lumps of toffee – Mummy’s homemade butterscotch made with butter, treacle & sugar – what nice sugar it is in the parcel. What lovely TOFFEE dears. I’ve just given Vernon a Chief of Whip Cig. I don’t smoke on Sundays. Aren’t I narrow minded eh!
Now I will answer & tell you about everything. I could write lots & fill heaps & piles of note paper but have got only three left like this. I read Mum’s & Ida’s letters in the parcel. Mum’s of Oct 31st. and Champion’s long, interesting letter. I vidided (sic) a lovely apple – they are nice & juicy – among two other muddy Tommies because, you see dear Mum, I’m like you, you said you would have liked to be with me looking round the shops in Rouen, to share with the pleasure, – so I cannot, I could not enjoy your parcels if I eat all myself. I want others to see & taste how good the things are I have from Home. I made some coffee out of the parcel you sent to Sydney & I did enjoy it. – – – –
Shall have to stop here, I have been called to the working party again to fill sand bags. When we come back I shall have a good tea out of the currant bread & fresh butter.
10.30 pm. Oh dearest Mummy I could say heaps & heaps. Post came while I was on fatigue tonight & I got your letter dated Nov 10th, also another letter but I read yours first & cannot wait until I have read the other but I must finish this first.
Well Verny & I had a ripping tea out of the currant bread & butter, which he said he quite enjoyed, he also wants me to convey thanks to you for an egg I gave him – he loves eggs. Also I gave him a hankie because we have been using an old rag this wet weather & poor boy he is longing to hear from home & get a parcel. Hospital has upset such a lot.
The toffee was lovely & I wished I had taken some out on fatigue as I thought of doing, but decided to save some for an emergency. The jujubes are good too. Oh of course I have not finished the tea, but I thought I would have a change & make some coffee. We have been working all day & had very little time to fetch & boil water.
Vernon was giving up the idea, but I made up my mind to have a hot drink of some sort, so I coaxed a chap for the use of a fire & some water & consequently, with the timely aid of Mrs Hurst’s* milk, I made some Homemade Cafe de Luxe, better far than the Cafe au lait tinned you know.
Dearest Mum, & all of you I’m afraid I shall have to conclude my Sunday letter, but must just have a word about rats.
. . . . . . Oh! rats, owls & cats. Lean rats, fat rats, scrabbling rats, squealing rats, biting rats & gormandizing rats. Muddy rats and – oh! mice, little mice, wee mice, muddy mice & sprinting stealing, thieving mice & oh my! can you just picture a bright moon & a frosty night, an owl is seen to fly over the trench & our heads & gives its weird ‘too hoot’ & a stealthy pussy cat, a black cat, comes crawling on the top of the trench of sand bags after vermin. . . . . . .
Such is the life, but very VERY HAPPY & Jolly at times because of news from Home Sweet Home.
Oh Mum, & all of you I pray that you will comfort one another, especially Ida. I think she is really splendid, her letters are so chatty & interesting, (of course I firmly believe she has no influence under or from Phyllis C* (2 ).
So Mr Henry Cozens* wanted my address. I think this other letter is from him, let’s see. Oh so it is & such a pleasant one too. Yes, Capt. Tim*(3) made himself like one of the Privates when talking to us. Sydney will be excused writing lengthy letters in Hospital, but I think I shall have to stop now.
Our late Capt L. (4) kindly asked after Sydney, but all I could say was that I had not heard from him yet, but read about him from a Sergeant who said he was having a ripping time, ‘I hope he will have a still better one at Christmas if he stays there till then’.
– – – I must not leave out the tinned cream. How funny Mummy it goes well with fruit but not so with tea. Vernon had cream because of the fruit – – –
You will not have had my letters so promptly & this one will be sometime for I am, as you will know by the nature of this letter, in the trenches. I count it ‘Happy to Endure’ (5) & have had speedy answers to my prayers when feeling or inclining to feel in the blues.
War can be turned to a blessing & makes several differences in one’s character. I am fonder of Vernon now.
Hoping you had a happy Thursday with H. & H. Bore* and a Happy Sunday.
Best love from Bertie.
PS Got FPC from Sydney tonight as well. He sais ‘I am quite well. Letter follows 1st opportunity.’
PPS I scented the lovely Khaki hankies with White Heather Scent (6). The towel is a nice one.
The Hibbett family is brought poignantly close together when Pte Bertie receives Basil’s letter & Sydney’s posted on from Home and returns them with his own & the mud of a Neuve Chapelle trench. My father’s blues – and his emotional dependence on his family at this time – can be seen in the family endearments & language of childhood – and his delight in Mother’s Guy Fawkes Toffee.
(1) ‘Slough of Despond’ – miry bog/swamp of despair into which Christian sinks under the weight of sin & guilt in Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan’s allegory of a Christian’s journey through life. Written in Bedford Jail. 1678. <http://www.chapellibrary.org >
The mud & heavy clay Ptes Bertie & Vernon had to clear would have been almost certainly contaminated with dead vermin, human waste and even parts of human bodies, missing on both sides since the offensive of March 1915.
(2) Phyllis Cozens? sister of (3) Tim Cozens* Killed in Action 13th Oct. 1915. Battle of Loos/Hohenzollern Redoubt (cf Letter: 10th Aug. 1915).
(4) ‘Late Captain‘ i.e. not ‘dead’ but promoted to Major Cecil Lister*.
(5) James 5.11. King James Bible. ‘Happy to endure’ (with the patience of Job). (cf Col. 13.1. quotation above).
(6) White Heather Scent from Whitby, sent by Ida to help cope with the stench of trench life. (See Letters: 29th Aug. & 6th Sept. 1915).
NEXT POST: 16th Nov. 1915. YMCA Postcard.