RUE DES VACHES.
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, but poor 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 to Vernon.
Again to your jolly letters, I shan’t forget your dream of Dad, Mr Boothroyd* & 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 – Dodger dreams 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 room Mum 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 Letters Pte 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 Bertie must have been judged unfit for this march of 11 miles from Rue des Vaches and sent straight to the Brigade’s Casualty Clearing Station.
(2) Trench Waders Imperial War Museum. Ghosts of 1914. <https://www.ghostsof1914.blogspot.com>
(3) 5th Dec. 1915: 6 hour waterlogged March from Neuve Chapelle to Rues Des Vaches. (4) ‘Tosh’: ‘nonsense/ rubbish’.
(5) Sydney’s ‘Yeller’ (yellow) skin caused by Jaundice/ infection of the liver (Catarrhal Jaundice). (6) Abergele Holiday Photo. August 1914.
(7) ‘The Trio’: Sydney Hibbett, Vernon Evans & Bertie Hibbett. cf. Letters from Sept 1914 to end of Feb. 1915/ Training in Bedfordshire & Essex.
(8) Gas Mantle. Gas Lamps had fragile mantles, lit by matches. (9) Masked Phantom: possible ref. to gas masks just issued. See Drawing 20th Dec. 1915.
NEXT POST: 19th Dec. 1915: No 2. Letter to Ida Hibbett.