8TH DEC. 1915: HOSPITAL SHIP ST DAVID CARRIES SYDNEY ‘BSU’ TO BLIGHTY.

Centre: Sgt S. HIBBETT when training as a Sergeant.
Serjeant SYDNEY HIBBETT. 21yrs.

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.

Rouen. 1915. PC to Ida Oct . 1915. from Bertie Hibbett.
Rouen.  ‘The Way to Blighty’. PC to Ida  from Bertie Hibbett Oct.1915. 

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.

HMHSStDavid
Hospital Ship HMS St David.1915. (Renamed Rosslare in 1932).

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.

HospitalShipLeHavreWOundedBoarding
WW1 Wounded soldiers boarding Hospital Ship at Le Havre.

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.

ILN08Jan1916
Sinking of Hospital Ship HMS Anglia by mine laid by German U Boat UC-5. Off Le Havre,17th Nov. 1915.
nurses britannic.unnamed
HMS Britannic Nurses.

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.

Spitshimgres
Solent/ Spithead: <http://www.open.edu&gt;

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 trainyou 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).

Bingham Hall.
The Bingham Hall, Cirencester. UK.

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.

******************************

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

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 withviral 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&gt;

(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&gt;

(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&gt;

(6) Cirencester, Cotswolds: where Sydney’s youngest brother, Basil Hibbett, later became Manager of Cooperative Dairy Factory.

(7) Bingham Hall & Rifle Range 1908built 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&gt;

NEXT POST: 10th Dec. 1915.

7TH DEC. 1915: A COMMISSION? – OR DHQ ORDERLY ROOM CLERK?

South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.

BATTALION TRAINING: RUE DES VACHES.

6th Dec. Mon: Platoon and Company Training. 7th Dec. Tue -18th Dec. Sat: Ditto.

***************************

Bertie in UniformPte 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 parcel came 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 nowAs for Serg. Sanger* I believe he goes too about now (1). He will be glad to see you he said to me in the trenches, some weeks ago, & wishes to be remembered to you both.

With regard to that vacancy at DHQ’s orderly room clerk, nothing yet has been said (2).

waterlogged trench images
Deluged. Pals Battalion. Neuve Chapelle. <https://www.dailymail.co.uk&gt;

I did enjoy Ida’s scones & the cheese.  Vernon too said they were very niceHis voice has improved a little, but unfortunately he 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.

Holding the Line at neuve Chapelle.
A rather staged photograph of British soldiers holding the line at Neuve Chapelle.1915, but it shows how shallow  and unproteced  the trenches were in places.

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.

Church Street N Chapimages
Church Street, Neuve Chapelle.1915. <https://www.histoiredunard3blogspot.com&gt;
Neuve Chapelle after Battle, March 1915.
Neuve Chapelle after British capture, March 1915. Pte Bertie would have known these views. <http://www.beeston-nots.co.uk&gt;

I shall not need any more Porridge in future parcels as I told you before. I thought we should be in the trenches by now for we 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 parcels came with the tag attached, good idea.

Best love,  Bertie.

****************************

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

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 life of 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’ feet were worse after 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.

5TH DEC. 1915: SERJEANT SYDNEY ‘NOT AT BASE – TRY LINE’. PTE BERTIE ON THE MOVE.

South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DAIRY

NEUVE CHAPELLE TRENCHES       

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.Brit planesimgres

3rd Dec. Fri:  Very quiet.  At Stand To tested enemy with 5 rounds rapid.  Very little reply. CASUALTY: KILLED: 9465 Pte J. Hodson.

4th Dec. Sat: Battalion was Relieved in Trenches.

5th Dec. Sun: LORETTO ROAD.  In Brigade Reserve.  Marched to Billets at RUE DES VACHES (2).

Rue des Vaches from Loretto Rd
Route March from Loretto Road Billets to Rue des Vaches Billets. (6 miles approx.) Red Line (right) marks approx Front Line.  Dec. 1915.

Bertie in UniformPte 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 Neuve Chapelle. He was then on Staff over Base. ‘How awfully unfortunate’, he said to Vernon, in Neuve Chapelle trenchesVernon had 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 4 this afternoonCame 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 epistlesI read the letter in a ‘rat-hole’ of a dugout, taking some of my hour’s rest as I was on sentry duty all night – 2 (hours) on, 1 off.

‘For rough work only and no marks given for work done on this page’ (4) quite amused meI 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 onConvalescent Camp Rouenwhich 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).

K Own R Reg Mus. Ouderdomko0860-026
Kings Own Regiment at Ouderdom, Ypres. 1915. Courtesy Regt. Museum Collection.

I think Ida is keeping a pace (6) parallel to the strain of the men at the frontcongratulationsNow 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 lettersI 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.

Train 1914-1918.c6e0ac50fdb9f3812d94052949b9c4be
WW1 Open TruckTransport. & standing, 1916. NB helmets instead of hats.

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.

**************************

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

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)).

WW1 battlefield N Chapelle.nc_crossNeuve 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.).  

Cross Neuve Chap. lead_largeSee 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>

(1) Crump: Soldier’s Slang for German 5.9″ shell (or sound of it bursting/onomatopoeic). http://www.wakefieldfhs.org.uk/warslang.

(2) Rue de La Planches des Vaches: ‘Cattle Drove‘, broad country 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&gt; 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 for Examination paper: cf Sydney Hibbett’s first Letter Home, asking permission to join up. 19th August 1914.

(5Bates* (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 Line Junior 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.