Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: DRAWING in a tiny envelope tucked in a Letter written between 19th – 24th Dec. 1915, from Merville Casualty Clearing Station, where he had time & space to draw:
‘To Mum. My very Dear Mother.All Good Wishesfor a HAPPY CHRISTMASfrom her very affec: son,Bertie.‘
Front Page: Drawing of ‘Bertie in his Smoke Helmet’with little goblin-like figures and the words: ‘They rose suddenly from the earth, wearing smoke helmets over their faces, and looking not like soldiers but like devils.’
Back Page: A Christmas Joke. Yes or No.
A Familiar of the Spanish Inquisition(1).Sinister eye pieces. A Modern Hamlet’s Ghost (2). A Saturated Conglomeration of Chemical Affinity. A Hooded Phantom(3)issuing forth from itsGoblin tubal volcanic mouth. A Hissing warm breath.
Vegetable– no. Mineral– no. Animal– no. Phantominical-like Like?(4).Yes (of its like). Bertie in his Smoke Helmet. The Ghost of Christmas yet to come 19 – ? (5).
The first use of Poison Gas was on 22nd April 1915, by the Germans at 2nd Battle of Ypres against Canadian & French troops. The British used chlorine gas first at Battle of Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt, 24th September – 15th October, 1915.
First attempts at protection were crude: cotton pads in the mouth, then came The Black Veil Respirator – chemical soaked mouth pads attached to a long cloth hanging over the face. In June 1915 came the Hypo Helmet – a mask made of chemical absorbing fabric to fit over the entire head. The Canister Gas Mask was issued in 1916, with a hose connected to a tin can containing absorbent material. Many soldiers were overcome by gas, released by either side, because the masks were notoriously difficult to fit and warnings often came too late or not at all, when winds changed direction. <www.firstworldwar.com>
Pte Bertie’s drawingis onfragile see-through paper, which gives an added ghostly effect. His Questionsreflect a popular Christmas Guessing Game: ‘Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? His Answers provide references to a variety of allusions to Mediaeval & Gothic terrors, apparitions and ghosts in literature & history.
(1) Spanish Inquisition. 1478 -1834. Often brutal persecution of Jews, Muslims and Protestants as well as of Catholic heretics, in an attempt to establish a Catholic Kingdom in Spain.
(2) Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet‘,1600 -1601.King Hamlet(father of Hamlet) appears as ‘Ghost‘ three times. (3) Hooded Phantom.Most likely ref. to ahooded phantom ‘like a snow hill in the air’ in ‘Moby Dick’ or The WhalebyHerman Melville. 1851.
(4) Phantominical: not in Chamber’s Dictionary but in use today in<https://m.flikr.com/photos >. Similar meaning as ‘phantasmagoria‘ /phantasmagorical: ‘fantastic series of illusive images or of real forms’/ optical illusions/ of ‘deceptive appearance/ nightmare/ dream state. cf. Chambers Dictionary. A literary device to heighten drama, used frequently by Charles Dickens.
(5) Ghost of Christmas yet to Come: A Ghost Story for Christmas. Charles Dickens. 1843.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to his Father, Arthur Hibbett, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall. On the back he has written: ‘To Dad. Poor Dad has no Christmas Card.’
Sunday Dec 19/ 15.
My Dear Sir,
By next Sunday I guess you will have read my Christmas letters which I am writing today.
Last Sunday Mother & Basil wrote& were wondering what I was doing. I am today in the Casualty Clearing Station, a Hospital, with sore feet, (suppose I left the commaout –Sydneysais my letters to him are void of full stops, commas & all those things) – but I have the advantage of writing & eating up the pages of a writing pad, one of the dry gifts I told Ida about.
Of course I was only joking, but I could do witha‘snice smince spie’ now, because its ‘snice, snice, so snice’, especially one fromHome. (1)
I s’pose I shall get another slice of jam & bread for tea. I could do with a little plum cake for Sunday’s tea at any rate. But then I am taking things as a ‘matter of course’ as you often advised me to do & I have the consolation that your parcels,if not already, will be appreciated by those in my section. Poor Vernon had no less than half a dozen while he was away until I left the Batt. too.
All three of us are in Hospital now, & it seems that my wish I mentioned in your birthday letter will not be fulfilled.
I shall be very likely here for Xmas. I am comfy, we havestretchersto sleep on & books to read & meals found us. I am dressed in blues again (2).
Well I could write till the New Year comes so will get on to other letters to other people.
Perhaps Dad thinks my letters, if he reads them, all of them, to eachone, Mum, Ida & Basil – that they are whimsical & all bosh(3), well if so it’s my wish that by the time they have gone through the Hands of the Post & travelled so far they will give some enjoyment to you all,and my good wishes to Dad & all of you will be none the worse.
With fondest love from
PS I’m sending Harold’sLetter separate as those I have already written will make the envelope fat enoughfor the censor.
Again Pte Bertie’s Letter to his Father shows a relationship of both respect & affectionate playfulness. He is doing his best ‘to take things as a matter of course’ but those stretchers for beds could not have been too ‘comfy’.
(1) ‘Snice smince spies – snice, snice so snice’:I can hear my Dad’svoice, as he must have heard his father’s every Christmas.
(2) Army Base, Rouen.No 12 & No 9 General Hospital.August to October 1915, where he was full of joy at the clean bright wards and comfortable beds. (3) Bosh.Slang for nonsense/ empty of meaning. Wide etymology but most likely fr.Turkish.
NEXT POST:20th Dec. 1915: Gas Mask & The Ghost of Christmas.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Mother, Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.
4th Sunday in Advent. The Coming of Our Lord. Dec 19/ 15
‘Be careful for nothing. Rejoice in the Lord alway; The Lord is at hand.’ (1)
My Very Dear Mother,
I received your very welcome lettersdated Dec 11th & 12th (Sat & Sun) on Dec 14th & 15th (Tue & Wed) respectively& indeed did receive them with respect.But on Thursday night your two Christmas parcels had not yet come & on Friday morning I was sent to the Field Ambulance with ‘Pyoremia’ (sic) (2) – don’t be frightened at that word ’tis not half as bad as ‘catarrhal j———- oh! I don’t like to write it even.Tis only sore feet and a few other breakings out.
And so this Sunday finds me at the Casualty Clearing Station, a kind of Hospital (3). Do not be sorry for me, I am sorry for you,but then again the contents of your ripping parcels will be highly appreciated among my chums & especially the other chaps in my section who have rarely had such luxuries as figs, dates & a rich plum cake.I have told the Corporal* (4) over the section to divide the parcels among them; no parcel s have been forwarded to me.
We moved to this C.C.S. this morning. I advise you not to trouble writing to me until I get back to the Battalion again. The doctor said I should take more than a week to get better,but then my address is not certain. I cannot tell you anything more definite.
I am very comfy here, there is a gramophone on and we have just had ‘Eternal father strong to save’ (5 ). That reminds me, I wonder how Sydney is now. I pray that he is having a quiet & happy Sunday, – & you too, with Harold at Home, as he was last Sunday.
Your letter of last Sunday was a nice one& I knew as much that you & I would be thinking of Sydney & one another. By the time you get this, & the other of my Christmas letters to you all, it will be very much nearer the season.
I have just had a look at you Mum – & all of you in my little Khaki Case. I am sorry I cannot send you a smilelike I did last Christmasat Saffron Walden & a Card, so I send you Auntie’s (6) & it will partly be mine to you won’t it? now I have parted with it.
And, as Dodgersaid he would like to see me I have cut myself out & sent you a smile.
What do you think of my ghost story in his letter?
As luck would have it Vernon, Sydney and I look far from spending Christmas together & the Trio is away from the Batt. too & we are all in Hospital – how funny.Vernon went to the Field Ambulancea week last Sat & left the morning I arrived, only a few hours before, so that I could not wish him the best of luck and a Merry Xmas. I do hope dear Sydney will enjoy some Christmas fare. Have you sent him a parcel? I do hope he gets his, but he will sure to of course.
You had better write to Miss Foster*as well as I don’t want another muddle in correspondence. A. O. Jones*will very likely acknowledge my parcels.He has got a stripe to enable him to get a Commission. Every applicant must have had two months as an N.C.O. to get a Com: I put the matter to my platoon Commander the other day before I left the Batt. but did not see him again to hear his answer.
Yes, as you say, it will be Christ’s Birthday on the 25th & everyone can rejoice in the right way. See Thessalonians4th Chapt. from verse 13 to end ‘Wherefore comfort ye one another with these words’.
I am writing to Mrs Penning* (7) for Christmas.God bless you dear Mother & He will let you see me in His good time. I do like your conclusions to your letters, but don’t trouble staying up late to write. I pray that you may have happy goodnight sleeps.
May you have a Happy Home all together this Xmas.
Your very affec. son, Bertie.
PSS on sides of pages: Tell me when you can if you plucked the Turkey. I think I shall be able to attend a nice service at Xmas as I shall be in Hospital a week, according to what I heard. Have only been able to attend one service since I came from the Base. (8)
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s movements are clarified here. On 17th Dec, he was due to march from Rue des Vaches to Isqberque but because of the state of his feet he was sent instead to the Field Ambulance Advanced Dressing Station ADS (where he just missed his pal Vernon who had gone on to Hospital in Bologne with a similar complaint).By 19th Dec. Bertie was at Merville Casualty Clearing Station (the next stage of the Divisional Casualty Evacuation Chain, organised by the RAMC. This Letter is typical of those he sent his Mother, a determined attempt to alley her anxiety for him with comforting words of the Christian Faith & the true meaning of Christmas.
(1)Philippians 4. 4-8. (2) Pyaemia: Blood poisoning (septicaemia) characterised by pus-forming micro organisms (usually Staphylococcus) in the blood /leading to widespread abscesses/ boils (fr Latin puon -pus /haima-blood. A very serious condition in the absence of antibiotics.
(3) Merville C.C.S. Casualty Clearing Station(approx 8 miles West of Estaires. (4) A.O.Jones*recently made Corporalin preparation for Commission? (5) Eternal Father Strong to Save. The Seafarer’s Hymn. William Whiting. 1860.
(6) Auntie Pattie* of York’s Xmas Card. (7) Mrs Alice Penning*: Bertie’s billet Landlady, Gold Street, Saffron Walden, 1914. Lost her son, Arthur Penning, K. in A. August 1915. (6) Base: the Brigades’ ADS Advanced Dressing Station. cf Letter: 14th Dec. 1915.
NEXT POST: 19th Dec. 1915. No4. Letter to Father. ‘Taking Things as a Matter of Course as You Advised.’
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to IDA HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall.
Sunday Dec 19/ 15
My Dear Sister Ida,
My sincerest apologies for inability of sending you a proper Christmas Card.Yet I know happily enough that Champion will be chivalrous enough to accept my very best wishes, which are not any the worse than mine of last Christmas, rather better this year. I did so much want to send you something in the way of a card & being therefore on the ‘que vive’ I sendthisrather than ‘leaving it behind me’ anywhere (1).
Putting all joking aside I do feel sorry for you, Mum & all of you that such good Christmas luxuries have not arrived for the boy who would appreciate them best. I can picture you all packing those two parcels & imagining all sorts of happy results. My shining face onseeing the cake, almonds & raisins, choc. figs & dates.Yes, I remember all the things Dodger told me in his letter, how ‘wicked’ of him to mention them, it has had a somewhat Tantalising effect upon poor I.
Oh not so much that I care – I’m thinking of you all & of course – – – ha hem I’ve forgotten what I’m going to say (pons assiniorum (sic) – just bin’ to be ‘dressed’. (2)
So I’ve missed my eatable part of the Christmas gifts.Everyone who has sent me gifts so far must have thought I should get quite enough to eat & so they have sent suchDRY stuff, a Stationary & Cigarette case & cigs.Of course – I’ve got it now – I can eat the pages of writing paperby writing longChristmas letters,as for the cigarettesif I can’t eatthem I can heat ’em can’t I? & smoke everyone’s healthat Home, sending warmfumes from each cig I smoke & too I can verily heat up the pages of writing paper withWarmest Wishes for a Merry Christmas.
I am away from my Batt. of course now I’m in here& shall very likely miss another little Sing Song. I guess you will enjoy your sens (3) with fireside sing songs in the Study & Basil will of course lay aside all swat for the evening – the Eve of Christmas I mean. I can hear that usual party of voices singing on Venables’ lawn(4).
– – – ‘Ben Battle was a soldier bold And used to war’s alarms But a cannon ball took off his legs So he laid down his arms.(5)
(Yes, I, with my septic feet, have laid down my arms, but I shall have to wash my limbs all the same)
And now I cannot wear my shoes Upon my feet of arms. (I’m wearing big white woollen socks, something like bed socks.)
So round his melancholic neck A bandage did entwine. (Sores on my neck again). So they buried Ben at the four cross roads With a stake in his inside.’ – – –
I wonder if I shall get pontoon for Christmas dinner.
I shall finis now with my congratulations to you for your good work at Munitions (6), hoping you will get your full reward by having a really good time at Christmas.
Your vewwy affwec bwuvver, BerTRUM.
In his letter to his sister Ida, Pte Bertie gives a delightful picture of how the Hibbett Family & Friends enjoyed Christmas. He hides his misery and serious condition with classical references & humourous poetry but I think Champion Ida, VAD Nurse, would not be fooled.
(1) A Paper Cross/ Bookmarkgiven him by Merville Hospital Chaplain? (mislaid at present).
(2) Pons asinorum. Latin lit. ‘Bridge of Asses’.Name given to Euclid’s mathematical theorum – (5th proposition, 1st Book of Elements) -‘that the base angles in an isosceles triangle are equal’. ‘Asses’ Tag applied to ‘Medieval schoolboys who . . . had difficulty understanding the proof – or even of the need for the proof’. An alternative name (which better suits Pte Bertie’s painful situation in Hospital) is Elefuga ‘escape from misery‘ which Roger Bacon in c. AD 1250 derived from the Greek. < http://www.britannica.com/topic/The Bridge -of-Asses >.
(3) ‘Sens‘ – selves. Black/ North Country dialect.
(4) Venables’lawn. Next door neighbours innext streetoff Foden Rd/ parallel to Rowley Street, Walsall. Arthur Venables was to save Bertie’s life. 1st July 1916. Battle of Somme.
(5) A Pathetic Ballad.Faithless Nellie Greyby Thomas Hood. 1799-1845. English Port & humourist. Adapted by Bertie to fit his trench foot misery. cf Letter: 29th Nov. 1915/Father’s Birthday.
(6) Munitions: Ida Hibbett’sbomb-making was most likely in a small converted workshop in Walsall.
NEXT POST: 19th Dec. 1915: No 3. Letter to Mother. ‘God will let you see me in His good time’
15th -18th Dec 1915. Platoon & Company Training continued.
19th Dec. Sun: Marched to billets at ISBERQUES sic (1).
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to BASIL, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.
Sunday Dec. 19/ 15
My Dear Basil,
How dare such a reflection of trench life reach as far as you on the muddy footer field, larst Saterdi. Had you waders (2) on any of you? For us there were not enough to go round so some had to ‘grin & bear it’. I was one on ’em & so in conseq: but chiefly through the march that Sunday (3), the day after we left the trenches, this Sunday finds me in Hospital with sore feet & other sores.So that answers your first request in your jolly delightful letter of last Sunday.
I wonder where you are at this very minute.I am sitting in a sunshiny room at a table in the centre & trying to scribble you some enjoyable Tosh (4).
All your letters have been delightfully interesting and full of jollity. My word, Basil, you write as good & as bad as I do, so Q.E.D.I can read them delightfully well, butpoor Sydney – don’t joke about him being ‘yeller’ (5), yet of course I quite see you took it in all good humour. Your other request was a smile – so I cut myself out of the photo of us three taken in the tent at Abergele (6).
Yes, the Trio (7) that kept so long together at Luton, & out here, are parted for Christmas& I am sorry I could not convey your kind thoughts toVernon.
Again to your jolly letters, I shan’t forget your dream of Dad, MrBoothroyd* & the Gas mantle (8).
One of my good wishes to you this Christmas is that you have happy dreams without disappointing awakenings.Don’t grind your teeth – Dodgerdreams a dream on New Year’s Eve, he walks down stairs & when he gets half way he sees a masked phantom (9) within the porch. In the dining roomMum is writing one of her usual long letters (at the late hours of the night) to one of her boys at the front. She has written . . . (end of Letter is missing)
This is the first of Four Christmas LettersPte Bertie wrote to members of his Family whilst in Merville Casualty Clearing Station. The trench foot & boils that had kept him in Rouen from August to October had returned (probably had never gone away). All three of the Trio, Sydney, Vernon & Bertie were now in Hospital and separated for Christmas. The disappointment must have been intense, with not even the hope of a Christmas Parcel or Letter from Home to cheer him. In his Letter to Basil he hides his misery and his serious condition with banter, dreams and a ghost story.
(1) Isbergues. Isberques:10 miles(19 km)NW of Bethune.Connected to the English Channel & North Sea by Canal d’Aire.Pte Bertiemust have been judged unfit for this march of 11 miles from Rue des Vaches and sent straight to the Brigade’s Casualty Clearing Station.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
Tuesday Dec. 14/ 15 – am
My Very Dear Mother – 5 pm
I wrote the date this morning& was about to continue when I thought I should in all probability receive a letterfrom you tonight. I went to the post myself this afternoon on my way back from the bootmakers (1).
Yes, poor Sydney, you will get my letter of Sunday(2) saying I had his long letter telling me how he got to dear old England.Sydney told me I need not send it Home but I am, as Mum wants me to.
I daresay I shall get your parcels tomorrow night (Wed). I also got anotherparcelfor Vernon, which makes the fourthsince he left us on Saturday 11th for the Field Ambulance(3).
Poor old Verny, how very unfortunate he has been for parcels. Last night (Monday) he had his Xmas parcels from Home oh dear – & I was away when they came to our billet & when I came back the Platoon Serg. had opened them & was about to distribute them among the Platoon. The contents would not keep until Vernon came back as they were, so I put a sample of everything in one of the tins & am keeping themin high hopes that Vernon will return verysoon & enjoy some of the Xmas fare.There was his Christmas cake above all too!
I wrote a letter to Mrs Evans & from the beginning to nearly the end it was a very unpleasant undertaking.I said nearlybecause I had toFINIShappilyto wish Vernon’s people a Merry Xmas.
I hope you have enclosed some candles; excuse me saying so, thiscandle is nearly ‘na pou’ finis, so I shall have to close soon (4).This morning I took the opportunity of acknowledging a handsomeChristmas giftfrom Miss K. Brookes* , a Cigarette Case. I suppose she thought I shall receiveenough eatables to satisfy my appetite, well quite right too.
I heard from Hackett* (5) . . . (censored but ‘Capt. Lister’s orderly’ can be discerned) . . . that no person can obtain a Commission without having been an N.C.O. for two months. I shall put my case forward tomorrow or in a day or two.
Forgive me, dear Mum, but I shall relish the mince pies – if there are any coming & I am wondering if Champion has made an attempt at a cake.
Lights out – I mean the candle – ’tis not 6 yet. Let’s see. I shall wantabout four dozen Xmas cardsfromBoots Park St – I shall leave the billet & go my shopping down Walsall Town.
I was puzzled on reading what Vernon’s brother told Basil about him not hearing for 3 weeks.I felt it my duty as a friend to be faithful to Vernon & take care of his parcels, but I do not at all like it. He said he thought he would be back in three days. I will wait either till tomorrow night (Wed) or keep patient till we move. I might try to carry some of his parcel from Home in my valise. I should like you to converse with his people about it.
I said my next letter would be to Basil & Ida, but dear Mummy has had to have first attention lately.I shall write myChristmas letterto you alleither next Sunday or Monday the 20th,or I might write it when I get the parcels.
Dost thee remember my Christmas letter last year at Saffron Walden?Drawing to the end of Novemberwe shook handswith our old Colonel, who came to give us a surprise visit (7): when at Saffron Walden he hoped we would spend next – i.e.this Xmas at Home, which I am hoping to see about.
Best love to all hoping & trusting you will all keep in the best of health & good spirits to enjoy a Happy & real Christmas.
Your very affec. son
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s feet & those of his pal Vernon Evans suffer the consequences of the waterlogged march from Neuve Chapelle trenches to Rue des Vaches Billets, 5th Dec.1915. Bertie appears to be about to visit a local Frenchbootmaker to repair or replace his boots and Vernon has gone to The Field Ambulance to be passed up the Casualty Evacuation Chain see (3) below.
(1)Bootmakers: British B5 Boots. Soldiers of WW1 & WW2 marched in Northampton boots as did Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army (Roundheads) in the Civil War, 1642-1651. 70 million pairs of boots & shoes were made in WW1 (50 million in Northampton). Crocket & Jones Factory made 3,493956 pairs for officers in WW1. https://www.crocketand jones.com>. Interesting blog photos re history of bootmaking at Stony Middleton. <https://www.loomstate.blogspot.com/…/william-lennon-factory- >
(2) Not extant.
(3) The Field Ambulance (not a transport vehicle as today but) a RAMC organised Casualty Evacuation Chain attached to each Division: consisting of Bearer Relay Posts immediately behind Regimental Aid Posts in the Front Line, further back the Brigade’s Advanced Dressing Stations (ADS) & further back still the Divisions Main Dressing Station (MDS). There were also Walking Wounded Collection Stations, Rest Areas and Sick Rooms. (Regimental Aid Posts could be in a dugout, communication trench, ruined house or deep shell hole).
See The RAMC in the Great War. https://www.ramc-ww1> Also The Long Long Trail.<https://www.1914-1918.net/fieldambulances>. Each Field Ambulance had 10 Officers & 224 men (no weapons or ammunition). Each Division had 23 wagons & 3 water carts and 10 ambulance wagons for transport/ mostly pulled by horses but some motorised ambulances.
(4) ‘na pou’/slang for ‘finished’, ‘no good’.
(5) William? Hackett’s* application for Commission was successful, he eventually became a Captain. (Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, 1900-1905). Interestingly his training as Captain Lister’s* Orderly involved attendance at Army Servant School. (He died in 1918 in Scotland, reason as yet unknown ).
(6) N.C.O:A private must have had some experience as a Non-Commissioned officer (Lance Corporal/Corporal/Serjeant) before acceptance for Officer training & Commission.
(7) Colonel Crawley*. See A Little Book of Words & Doings.Letter: 5th Dec. 1915.
NEXT POSTS: 19th Dec. 1915. Letters to all Four Hibbetts: Basil. Ida, Mother & Father, to arrive for Christmas.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
This Letter was begun on Thursday 9th Dec. but the next day Pte Bertie found he had lost the first half so he pieced it again with the note: ‘Lost 1st half . . . Brewin*has gone for hisCom. (1) – went Thursday 9th. (Brewin* and A.O. Jones*).’
. . . . . . . . . . . A work of a magician was the scarf. I shall be delighted to show you it,such a long & thick & broad one; absolutely puzzled me however it was made in the time & do you know – I don’t know whether you have told Miss Foster* or no, but she had puta bag of lavenderin (2). The other articles were a small bottle ofHorlicks& some Macintosh’s Mint Toffee de Lux & three apples & a pad of writing material; so I shall be set up for some time with letter writing.
The scarf can go round the neck, cross the chest & round the waist – but ’spose we go to India! – never mind there will be many cold days for us before we set sail for hot climates (3).
Yes – tis rather a pity now we are out of the trenches& will. . . (censored) . . . the toffee & milk, porridge & woollenswould be more serviceable in the trenches. The toffeeto munch while on sentry, the scarf & mittens (Miss Foster*also senttwo pairs of mittensfor fear one pair gets lost I guess) to wear & keep out the biting wind, the porridgefor ahot tasty ‘brekker’ etc.
A. O. Jones* is with us again & appeared in new clothes,but muddythroughmarching. Our Captain* inquired after Sydney this morning. I wish he was with me for one reason i.e. to give me advice on the Com. (4).
How is it that I do not hear from Harold often?You said now he is in Wolverhampton I should hear from him more often.
I shall have to close now as no one seems to have a sharp enough knife to sharpen this pencil.Hoping you are all keeping happy & well & may Those Heavenly Hands keep my dear Mother & Father in cheerful patience & bring Peace shortly, – a lasting & abiding Peace to the advancement of His Kingdom & for His Glory.
Best love to Ida to whom I will write next & to Basil,
. . . . . . . Continued Friday Dec. 10/ 15.
My Very Dear Mother,
I wrote to you yesterday but lost the first half of my letter so I will have to piece it up as best as I can.
Your welcome parcel came as a surprise on Wednesday night(you will have got my Field Postcard by now). I was picked for ration party & told off to carry the parcels. The bag was heavy,but I trudged happily along the lanes for within the bag was a parcel from Home and another I found out to be from Miss Foster* – the largest parcel she has ever sent. I should love to show you the scarfwhich made the parcel so large. The other things – I see I mentioned that in my last half of yesterday.
Yes I read your nice letter of Saturday. We came out of the trenches that day & we had the weather wet too, but it managed to keep off raining until we arrived in billets, then it poured. I opened my parcels in a little group of chums in this loft. I did enjoy a slice of brown bread & butter & I gave some toffeeto Vernon who said it was very good. It is jolly good too. I love it – so lasting too.I’m sure Vernon’s voicehas improved wonderfully & put it down to the toffee& last night(Thurs) I made some porridgefor supper, it came out a treat & I put some Horlick’s Milk with it & offered Vernon some, he always liked porridge and when at Saffron Walden bought some for Mrs Penning(5) to make.He did enjoy the porridge & said it was excellent. I have made some for breakfast one morning I was on guard here.
We don’t think we shall see any trenches this duty . . . censored . . .I trust we shall see you before we go elsewhere.
Lieut. Robinson* who said he knewDad, is onLeave& his orderly. I may go to him re Com.
Yes the parcel came as a surprise because you said the next would be theXmas parcel. I must send this letter off now else I shall miss the post, he is shouting for the letter.
Ta Ta. Bertie.
Pte Bertie Hibbett plays Postman, happily trudging down the lanes with his heavy bag of parcels & letters. For answer as to how 12 million letters reached WW1 soldiers each week see informative article by Alan Johnson, MP & former postman (in association with the British Postal Museum & Archive) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine > Also https://www.youtube.com > 31st Jan.2014.
(1) A.O.Jones* (and Arthur Brown/ Brewin*) must have gone for a Commission interview at Divisional Headquarters before being accepted & sent to Sandhurst, UK.
(2) Godmother Mary Fosterhad heard that Bertie would love something sweet-smelling to mask the smell of the trenches.
(3) Rumour that 1/5th Staffords were preparing for the Eastern Front. (4) Sydney’swhereabouts not yet known to Bertie.(5) Mrs A. Penning:Landlady, Pte Bertie’s Billet Gold Street, Saffron Walden. Letters: Dec.1914 – Feb. 1915.
Serjeant SYDNEY HIBBETT: LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT at the Front.
‘D’ Ward. The Red Cross Hospital, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England. Wed. Dec 8th.
Dear Old Bert,
How about getting round the authorities now – hey? Here I am in dear old England once again, a fact at which you will no doubt be surprised. It happened like this and I have written home so there is no need to go forwarding this letter on home.
Well on Friday last, Dec 3, I went to Communion in the Convalescent Camp.I had been feeling rotten & sick all week and so I asked the doctor to examine me which he did & as I had had a week in the special treatment room & was still no better he sent me to No 6 Gen. Hospital (1) that same afternoon. Compris?
Well the Major,who was theM.O. there, confirmed the fact that I had got catarrhal jaundice (2) & so I went on till Saturday night came when he visited me again in the night & said that as I had not got any better during the last fortnight I should be sent to England.So he marked me BSU or ‘Boat Sitting Up’ but I never thought it would come off for some time yet.
Next day was Sunday Dec 5th. At 11 am a sudden ordercame for me,& a few more, to get ready for the boat & our tickets or labelscame in & werefastened on our coats & we were carried to the ambulance car. In this fashion we were taken swiftly down toRouen docks and straight on board the Hospital Ship, St David(3) a large 2 funnelled steamer of the G.W.R. painted white & green with a big red cross in the middle.
A large crowd of people watched us & I could see all the river and shipping from my bed near a porthole.There were about 70 patients. We werejust near that tall transporter bridge. At2 pm Sunday we sailed down the river& after a fast passage of 65 miles of the most picturesque and the most stupendous scenery we arrived at Le Havre and anchored at 8 pm.
We passed a German prisoners’ camp& I saw them all crowd the barbed wire fencing to look at us (4). We had40 more patients brought on board at Havre but wedid not sail till 7 am. Monday morning 6th.It wasjust daybreak and a regular fierce winter morning too with a driving gale and a very rough sea, worse than at Whitby & the wind rose head on from the NW.
As soon as we got clear of the harbour, my! she didn’t half toss & roll. We were allstrapped in our cots and the ship rolled from side to side and up and down and very soon I was as sea sick as it was possible to be andI wished I was dead, aye, & that the ship would strike a mine & go down to something firm! I was ill all the way & poor me with jaundice & I soon was as empty as a barrel & still I kept on trying to get my stomach up.
At first I enjoyed seeing all the novel strange sights of the limitless sea, the heaving waves & the destroyer far away on one side & a tramp steamer (5) nearer & one could imagine the British fleet keeping watch day & night over such a waste of waters.
It took us from 7 am till 2.30 pm to reach Southampton& it poured with rain as we arrived in the Spithead, but I did not mind.The boat was docked by two tugs, close to an Italian Red Cross boat just in from the Dardanelles (6). Then we were carried across into the train – you remember the docks when we came over to France lastMarch?It was the same place.Well we left the station in this beautiful Midland Red Cross trainand we did not know our destination though.
I went to sleep and woke to find the train was stopped at this place, Cirencester (7).
Outside the station was astring of private motorcarsand into one of these I and two more were put while a crowd of folks cheered us. It was a fine new car with the owner’s chauffeur to drive.We arr. here at the Hosp. at 8.30 pm. It is in a place called The Bingham Hall (8) & we’re very comfortable indeed in this quiet country town in dear old England.
I do hope you will get your leave soon, Bertie, old boy. Perhaps Father & Mother will be down here to see me. I want you to let every one know where I am; those I know in the Batt. I mean.I think I shall be here for Xmas.
Don’t fail to remember me to Vernon; I hope he too will get his leave soon.I will stop now hoping to hear from you as soon as you have time.
Best love, from Sydney.
Serjeant Sydney Hibbett’s rough crossing took nearly 8 hours from Le Havre to Southampton; the total journey to Cirencester Red Cross Hospital from Rouen took over 2 days, but of course he ‘did not mind’.And so it was Sydney not Bertie who was on his way to Blighty for Christmas 1915.
(1) No 6 Gen. Hospital B.E.F. Base, Rouen.
(2) Catarrhal Jaundice:‘Campaign Jaundice‘/ ‘Infectious Jaundice (familiar in military campaigns since medieval times). Infection of the liver. Common illness in Gallipoli & Egypt. Today I expect Sydney would be diagnosed with ‘viral hepatitis‘.
(3) Hospital Ship HMS St David: built in Clyde, Scotland. One of 3 sister ships called after Patron Saints of Wales, Scotland & Ireland. Adapted to carry 180 patients/ made 9 trips across English Channel and brought 3,787 wounded back to Southampton/ running the gauntlet of German U boats /torpedoes & mines. Renamed HMS Rosslare in 1932. cf website Roll of Honour, Martin Edmund.<https://www.boothancestry.wordpress.com>
(4) German Prisoners: used on docks/ helping wounded soldiers onto Hospital Ships. See Rouen -The Heart of the World. Patrick Essart’s excellent collection of WW1 photographs of Rouen/BaseHospitals/nurses/ship bunks & beds/docks/prisoners.<https://w.flikr.com/photos>
(5)Tramp Steamer: unscheduled merchant vessel. (6) Italian Ship name unknown. British Hospital Ship HMS Rewabrought 20,000 wounded soldiers home from Dardanelles/ torpedoed off Hartland, Devon, Bristol Channel, 4th Jan 1918 ( all patients saved/4 crew lost). ‘Deep Sea Wreck Mysteries/Red Cross Outrage.‘: story of modern diving to HMS Rewa by Keith Denby.TV/DVD . <https://www.mspty.co.uk>
(6) Cirencester, Cotswolds: where Sydney’s youngest brother, Basil Hibbett, later became Manager of Cooperative Dairy Factory.
(7) Bingham Hall & Rifle Range 1908: built for Cirencester by Daniel George Bingham ( b.1830/ employed by Great Western Railway/ Cirencester & Paddington stations ). Became a Red Cross Hospital WW1 & 2. <https://www.binghamhall.org.uk/about>
6th Dec. Mon: Platoon and Company Training. 7th Dec. Tue -18th Dec. Sat: Ditto.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
Tuesday.Dec 7/ 15
My Dear Mother & Father,
Since Saturday, we have been very busy & on the move. Your welcome parcelcame last night when we were all busy cleaning our equipment for the Gen. Inspection which was this morning. Just returned & this is the first opportunity I have had for answering all you want to know.
You have jumped down my throat with regard to the Com: I don’t feel at all eligible for one.Today is Brewin’s* Day; he is supposed to go for a month’s training & is tidying himself up now. As forSerg. Sanger*I believe he goes too about now (1). He will beglad to see youhe said to me in the trenches, some weeks ago, & wishes to be remembered to you both.
With regard to that vacancy atDHQ’s orderly room clerk,nothing yet has been said (2).
I did enjoy Ida’s scones & the cheese. Vernontoo said they werevery nice. His voice has improved a little,butunfortunatelyhe has now got a sore and swollen foot (3).
The general idea in the Batt. is that we shall not see these trenches in this part of the country again.
I have your letter enclosed in the parcel for reference & am answering each question as I read on. I am hoping to see you,by the way matters are shaping out, I hope to be Home by the end of Jan/16. (4).
I do not see Allen*much because the billets are so far between (5) .I do not know Sydney’s address for certain at present.His last letter was Z Company, 5th South Staffs Con. Camp Rouen. I sent him an FPC & had it returned.I wish he was with me as far as advice with regard to the Com.
I shall not need any more Porridge in future parcelsas I told you before. I thought we should be in the trenches by now forwe all understood we were in that part of the line till Dec. 27. I have arranged with the cooks to make me some porridge for tonight – so twill be all very well.
I meant to tell you before that the parcelscame with the tag attached, good idea.
Best love, Bertie.
Pte Bertie has reservations about applying for a Commission as a ‘Temporary Officer’. He was ‘eligible’ in that he had attended QMS, a minor public school and had been four years in its O.T.C. but it was not in my father’s nature to push himself forward. That he did not feel ‘at all eligible‘ may indicate his lack of confidence in his health & physical strength at this time.He would have appreciated the privileges & better accommodation enjoyed by officers – and he knew that was what his parents wanted for him. On the other hand he must have been aware, as perhaps his parents were not, that the average lifeof a Junior Officer at the Front was very short, a matter of a few weeks.
(1) Officer Training for A.E. Brown* (Brewin, QMS)and Sanger*: one month at Sandhurst would mean a chance of Home Leave. cf Letter 5th Dec.
(2) Divisional Head Quarters Orderly Room Clerk would involve administration of divisional orders & discipline/ more of a desk job with lots of paper work. More suitable for Pte Bertie with his poor feet, than a commission?
(3) Pte Vernon Evans’ feetwereworseafter a gruelling 6 hours trudge over 6 miles of rough waterlogged ground to Rue des Vaches.(Thankfully neither he nor Pte Bertie had feet quite as bad as they might have been according to some on-line images!). See previous Letter 5th Dec.1915.
(4) Eastern Front Rumours? Pte Bertie hints that 1/5th Staffords could be on their way to warmer climes where Home gifts of porridge & warm clothes might not be needed.
(5) Serjeant Herbert Allen* QMS friend of Sydneys?(2nd Lieut H. Allen. Killed in Action, Gommecourt/ Fonquevillers: 1st July 1916. Battle of Somme).
NEXT POST: 8th Dec. 1915. Serjeant Sydney’s whereabouts revealed.
1st Dec. Wed: In Brigade Reserve. Relieved 1/5th North Staffordshire Regt in Trenches at 6.3 pm.
2nd Dec. Thur: NEUVE CHAPELLE. Quiet. Midday enemy crumped (1) rear of our right – no damage.
3.0 pm 20 British aeroplanes flew over, returning 3.15 pm. Rain all night.
3rd Dec. Fri:Very quiet. At Stand Totested enemy with 5 rounds rapid. Very little reply.CASUALTY: KILLED: 9465 Pte J. Hodson.
4th Dec. Sat: BattalionwasRelieved in Trenches.
5th Dec. Sun: LORETTO ROAD. In Brigade Reserve. Marched toBillets atRUE DES VACHES (2).
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT:A Little Book of Words & Doings. ‘Nov 11th-Dec 4th. Our old Colonel Crawley*(3) came & shook hands all round at Lastrem nr NeuveChapelle. He was then on Staff over Base.‘How awfully unfortunate’, he said to Vernon, in Neuve Chapelle trenches. Vernonhad old complaint of losing his voice & had a trench foot.’
LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.
2nd Sunday in Advent. Dec 5/ 15.
My Dear Mother & Father,
We have been marching from 10 this morning till 4this afternoon. Came out of the trenches yesterday, Saturday, slept a rough night.Was paid & issued with deficiencies last night also.
Very pleased to get Dad’s long letter on Friday night, the length of it surprised me as he generally sends short epistles. I read the letter in a ‘rat-hole’ of a dugout,taking some of my hour’s rest as I was on sentryduty all night – 2 (hours) on, 1 off.
‘For rough work only and no marks given for work done on this page’ (4) quite amused me. I think Dad’s letter deserves full marks. Am looking forward to the promised parcel.
I heard from Sydney the same day, but in the morning, correspondence with him seems to be very queer, the Con. Camp which he is in cannot be at the Base. I sent him a Field PC on Nov 23rd – & in his letter of 29th he said he received a FPC of mine on 28th (most likely the one I sent on the 23rd). Well I got the FPC back on the night I got Dad’s letter & I (had) addressed it to Z Coy. Conval: Camp – marked on it was ‘Line’.I should like to write to him & send him some of his letters from friends, but cannot rely on ‘Convalescent Camp Rouen’ which he has written at the top of his letter.
I was very interested to hear about some of the Walsall people. Bates* (5) was probably on Home Leave; he joined the Inns of Court OTC & was at Berkhampstead last time I heard from him (at Hospital).
I think Ida is keeping a pace (6) parallel to the strain of the men at the front – congratulations! Now I must draw my tea rather late to day, because of the march. I then shall look out for the post as the rations & blankets will have to be drawn at the same time. We have had sheepskin coats (7) given us again, but have given them in again now, owing to our moving.
I think I will leave off now & let this be another Sunday, Monday letter.I wonder if you got my letters from Stir Up Sunday & the one I wrote on Dad’s Birthday enclosed in a green?
I thought of you all in Church on the march. Basil’s chatty letters – I treasure his description of the commotion in Church caused by a cat(was it?) – did amuse I. I have not yet had Miss Foster’s scarf. She would be indeed a lightening knitter if she had knitted the scarf by now, very good of her isn’t it?
Yes, Coms: are rather com: everyone seems to be going in for one out here (8). You did surprise I, when I saw Basil’s writing on the outside of the envelope. I thought you were going to leave it until I came on Home Leave, & then again I have not said I particularly wanted one.
I shall have to be concluding now, poor Mum, I thought, writing at such a late hour.
Well we are now in barns & move again tomorrow,very likely entrain (9).
I am sleeping in the loft & the orficers sleep, dine & enjoy ’emselves in rooms set apart in the farm house.
I hope you have not been anxious not hearing from me & answering Dad’s letter, I have not had an opportunity of writing.
Many thanks for the pencil & paper.I shall be able to send greetings now to all friends at Christmas,but I have an idea I shall be at Home to see them then.
Best love, Bertie.
Serjeant Sydney Hibbett’s exact whereabout begin to raise anxious thoughts in Pte Bertie when his Field Postcard is returned from Rouen Base and he is on the move from Neuve Chapelle. He needed to consult his brother about applying for a Commission as his parents wished him to do (probably in the mistaken belief that he would have a more comfortable time as an orficer (sic)).
Neuve Chapelle’s shattered Crucifix would be a lasting influence on my father and his Good Friday Posters:‘Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?’ (Hebrew Bible Lamentations 1.12. Date trad. after Fall of Jerusalem 586 B.C.).
See The Cross at Neuve Chapelle, the story of how the Germans used the Cross as a marker for shelling & how the British dealt with the problem <https://www.the atlantic.com>
(2) Rue de La Planches des Vaches: ‘Cattle Drove‘, broadcountry road, 6 miles north of Bethune, off D945 to Estaires. This route ‘march’ from Loretto Road (8 miles approx.) took 1/5th Staffs 6 hours, a trial indeed for Pte Bertie & his ‘awfully unfortunate’ pal Vernon Evans, with fever & trench foot. Compare Welsh soldier’s description of march to trenches ‘impossible without going through 4-5 feet of water‘. No Man’s Land littered with’bloated bodies’. Carmarthan Pals <https://www.books.google>Steven John. page 44: 19th Dec. 1915.
(3)Colonel Archer Parry Crawley*:came out of retirement at 60 to command South Staffords Territorial training in Bedfordshire & Essex,1914. In Feb 1915, became Officer Commanding No 2 Base Depot at Rouen; also temporary Brigadier General for 1-5 Entrenchment Battalions. Wore ‘swanky pattees’, Letter 5th Feb. 1915.
(4) Heading forExamination paper: cfSydney Hibbett’s first Letter Home, asking permission to join up. 19th August 1914.
(5) Bates* (Alan?). Family lived at Aldridge, nr Walsall. Father grew roses.(6) Ida’s Voluntary War Service filled all her time; included Borough Council Office/admin. Derby Scheme Recruitment; VAD Red Cross Nursing; Bomb-making – as well as teaching Church Sunday School.
(7) Sheepskin/ Goatskin Coats: evidence of extreme cold of a Flanders’ winter 1915. cf Letter from Havre 3rd March.1915.
(8) Kitchener’s New Army (as distinct from 1st Army of 400,000 soldiers which serviced the British Empire i.e Old Contemptibles) was led by temporary officers, recruited from public schools/ often university graduates with some military training in the O.T.C. A portion of officers were from the ranks (‘temporary gentlemen’). Royal Sandhurst gave just one month’s intensive training, so desperate was the need to replace horrendous losses of 1914-1915.
WW1 Life expectancy of Front LineJunior Officer: 6 weeks. Source: Dr Anthony Morton, Curator Sandhurst Regimental Museum. <http://army.mod.uk/documents >
(9) Entrain: possibly in uncovered wagons as illustrated or in cattle trucks.
NEXT POST: 7th Dec. 1915.
The WW1 Letters and Drawings of Private Bertie Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, to his family in Walsall, will be posted again, one hundred years on, from August 1914 to November 1918, by his daughter Elizabeth Hibbett Webb. The first posting will be the Recruitment Postcard sent by Queen Mary's Grammar School Headmaster to the Hibbett family on holiday in Abergele, Wales.