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 the M.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 order came for me, & a few more, to get ready for the boat & our tickets or labels came in & were fastened on our coats & we were carried to the ambulance car. In this fashion we were taken swiftly down to Rouen 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 were just near that tall transporter bridge. At 2 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 had 40 more patients brought on board at Havre but we did not sail till 7 am. Monday morning 6th. It was just 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 all strapped 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 and I 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 last March? It was the same place. Well we left the station in this beautiful Midland Red Cross train and 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 a string of private motorcars and 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/Base Hospitals/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 Rewa brought 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>
NEXT POST: 10th Dec. 1915.