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 Wishes for a HAPPY CHRISTMAS from 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 its Goblin 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>
‘Rare Historic Photos’ provide the poignant image above of the suffering endured by both men and animals in WW1.<https://rarehistoricphotos.com > See also detailed history of gas warfare in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_mask >
Pte Bertie’s drawing is on fragile see-through paper, which gives an added ghostly effect. His Questions reflect 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 a hooded phantom ‘like a snow hill in the air’ in ‘Moby Dick’ or The Whale by Herman 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.
NEXT POST: 24th Dec. 1915. Christmas Eve.