NEUVE CHAPELLE TRENCHES
19th Nov. Fri: Relieved 1/6th Batt North Staffordshire Regt in the ‘B’ SECTOR trenches at 6.45 pm. 20th Nov. Sat: Enemy working parties heard knocking in stakes and revetting sic (1). Enemy shrapnelled right of SECTOR 55. CASUALTY: Pte S.W. Clarke wounded.
21st Nov. Sun: Quiet day. Enemy shrapnelled Fire and Support Trenches, slight damage. Officers Patrol commanded by 2nd Lieutenant S.P. Smith penetrated enemy’s work opposite the NEB and found it unoccupied. It had evidently not been occupied recently as it was waterlogged and in bad repair. The G.O.C. commended the officer in charge for the good work of his patrol. CASUALTIES: 8827 Sgt S .J. Hattin slightly wounded; 8741 Cpl S. Gee slightly wounded.
Stir Up Sunday (2). Nov 21st/ 15.
My Dear People,
I guess you have thought my letters a long time in reaching you. It is because we are in the trenches & I have been ‘on the go’ all day long. You will have heard by now how I got that large parcel with the towel & hankies in. (The hankies I scented with the White Heather Scent).
Vernon has been most generous with his parcels & to think he has been without for such a long time. Vernon said that A. O. Jones* went to see his people – & Father went when he was there.
Could you send me another indelible lead and also some more notepaper & envelopes. You see I do not mean to stop writing my Sunday letters. I know Mum is thinking of us especially today & wishing that this War would STIR UP & get finished, instead of sticking in old Mother Earth & wasting valuable time.
I have sent Sydney some of Miss Foster’s* Player’s Cigs & the rest I filled the tin with the Chief Whip. Miss Foster sent a small tin of bivouac cocoa (3), three packets of biscuits, Cadbury’s Choc, toffee & apples.
I am enquiring after more definite news of Serg. Tim Fenton – so far I am very sorry I have heard nothing of him (4).
I am just puzzling my brains on what to send Dad for his birthday which I believe is the 29th.
Guess what I had for second course today? – Tapioca Pudding made with the milk from a little of Vernon’s cookery. His people seemed to have, by some mysterious means, got to know all I have previously told you. Another thing which would come in beautifully for breakfast this winter is a packet of Quaker Oats (5).
That reminds me, on sentry last night & this morning we had brought round to each sentry, some Oxo (6) at 12 & some Rum & coffee at 5 – & we needed it too (7).
Well I will close.
Sorry Sydney ’s letter got muddy like this one is getting, there’s mud everywhere. Hoping & trusting you are enjoying a Happy Sunday. I guess you have Harold & Miss Bore* with you.
Ta Ta, Bertie.
PS Monday Breakfast: Toasted cheese, bacon, & cafe au lait (Vernon’s).
I was on sentry last night again. I only wished I had had a lump of your home-made toffee in my mouth. I can’t say where Sydney is now. I was only wondering whether he was on his way to England the other night.
Many thanks for the Parish Magazine. I read that article which you marked in ink, very good advice, but dearies, such references to ailments such as LUMBAGO, RHEUMATISM, BRONCHITIS, INFLUENZA, ELEPHANTITIS – & coughs in heads, coughs in ya toes & coughs everywhere tend us to dread them.
We have lately had our feet greased & fresh socks issued (8). I am afraid I shall be asking you to do too much (in the way of knitting) if I ask for another pair of socks. Perhaps Auntie or Mrs Barrans* could send a pair. At any rate I am looking forward to the parcel you told me to look out for in your letter of the 12th & also am picturing you knitting busily away at the Helmet.
I think Harold could send the Horlick’s Malted Milk Powder & the St Ivel Cheese, if you send the Quaker Oats, sugar etc.
Vernon & I, in fact all of us, are so indebted to those who send us good things that we find it pretty difficult to express ourselves. Vernon cannot find anything else to say but ‘Many Thanks’, he is always saying that. Now don’t go & tell his people because I happened to have a chance glance at his letters. Ho Ho!
Well ’tis cold for writing so will stop now. This is another Sun: Monday letter.
Best love to all, Bertram.
PS I have received all your letters since Oct 31st – so many there are that I missed reading the one on the 3rd & found it after I had written my rig-ma-role of a letter of Nov 14th Sunday. I will be more direct & to the point in future dearies. B.
(1) Rivetting: fixing a metal pin to hold two pieces together i.e. when building /repairing a trench or fixing wire stakes (the kind of noise my father would be listening for on Listening Post duty – and no doubt trying to differentiate it from sounds of underground mine-laying).
(2) Stir Up Sunday: Sunday before Advent, (the beginning of the Christian Calendar) – Collect for 25th Sunday after Trinity, Book of Common Prayer, 1662 :- Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people: that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Traditional time to stir Christmas puddings & fruit cakes and make a wish).
(3) Bivouac Cocoa: compressed cocoa.
(4) Serj. Thomas Fenton. At 19 yrs of age he was one of the Army’s youngest NCOs. Killed in action Battle of Loos-Hohenzollern, 13th Oct 1915. Andrew Thornton <https://hellfirecorner.com>. No record on Commonwealth War Grave website.
(5) Quaker Oats: registered as ‘Figure of a man in Quaker garb’ at US Patent Office, 1877. (‘Symbol of good quality & honest value’ /at a time of adulteration of cereals). First trademark for a breakfast cereal.<https://www.quakeroats.com >
(6) OXO: Meat extract (liquid) created by Justin von Liebig, 1840, /a solid cube in 1910. Original 1915 OXO Tower at Riverside Wharf, London; now design studios. <https://www.oxotower.co.uk>
(7) Army Rum Ration: Tot of rum issued from gallon stoneware jars to troops in trenches each morning at ‘Stand To‘/time when enemy most likely to attack. First mention of rum in Hibbett Letters/ issued to sentries. Evidence differs: cf The Role of Rum. Great Forum The Long Long Trail ‘Old Sweats’: General 23rd Jan. 2009. <https://www.worldwar1postcards.com> and <https://pointsadhblog.wordpress.com>.
(8) Trench Foot/ feet greased: 20,000 British soldiers (including my father & his pal Vernon Evans) were treated for trench foot between 1914 -1915. Cause: ‘cold, wet & insanitary conditions’, ‘standing in water-logged trenches for hours on end’, ill-fitting boots/ distinct risk of gangrene & amputation. Army ordered each soldier to have 3 pairs of socks a day/ boots dried every 4 days in Rest Camp and to grease their feet with whale-oil. Each Battalion used an average of ten gallons of whale-oil a day. Situation improved with better drainage of trenches. <https://www.spaticus-education.com>.
NB. Forty years on, my father had an operation in Boston Hospital to try to undo WW1 damage to his feet. It was painful & unsuccessful but true to character he made a joke of his ‘pins’.
NEXT POST: 23rd Nov. 1915.