NEUVILLE ST VAAST / LABYRINTH
10th Apr. Mon: Artillery active both sides.
11th Apr. Tue: V. Quiet Day. 12th Apr. Wed: Enemy shelled Support/ Communication Trench. Trench 063 Grenade and Aerial Torpedoed (1).
14th Apr. Fri: Snipers claim to have hit man looking over parapet behind B 4. Otherwise all quiet.
April 13th. ‘First Birthday (2), Harold’s, Thursday at Mont S Eloi ruined Monastery looked very picturesque with Spring plumage. On MP duty Arras Rd. Wrote home Sunday previous & hoped Harold would be at home for his Birthday & so it turned out’.
LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & BASIL HIBBETT. Censor H. Chorlany.
Friday April 14/ 16
‘Protect & preserve the soul of Thy servant amidst so many dangers of the corruptible life, and, by Thy grace accompanying, direct him in the path of peace, to the land of everlasting brightness. Amen’. Thomas a Kempis (3).
My Dearest Mother & Basil,
And of course all of you really. Although I intended this, my next letter, to be for Basil I have changed my mind owing to Harold’s Birthday. I meant to write yesterday, so sorry, but time seemed to have gone short after doing duty. I wrote to Harold though, but could not find much to say. Alas! another 13th of April finds us in the land of the lily (4). Leave also has stopped for an indefinite period.
I have a notebook (5) in which I wrote the above prayer in Rouen. I thought of Harold when I read it yesterday. I hope he had a nice birthday & being Thursday I wonder if he went over to see you? Next Friday (6) you will be ‘manging’ Hot Cross Buns eh! We are having typical April weather with perhaps a little above the average rainfall & wind.
I am on duty behind the line while the Batt. is in the trenches (7).
I met Sydney with the Coy. last Sunday night carrying a parcel from Harold. I also had one from Miss Foster* containing Pear’s Soap, Cigs and a Boots Heater (8).
How queer! – I dreamt a vivid dream of Miss Foster* last night & in that dream the memory of my ill manners & behaviour I had, while she came to visit us last time, came back to me. I dreamt I was very ill mannered, but in spite of it my Godmother seemed to overlook my behaviour & she was most sympathetic.
Let us hope that if she comes to Walsall when I have Leave I am more of a gentleman (9). After 13 months of this life here it frequently comes across me, very suddenly, that I am very low off the mark of good manners.
Ah! now I see there was more than I thought in Vernon, although he went about it in a strict way of correcting me. I ought to have reaped out the good parts in his correction.
I have been looking out for your parcel, the transport passes our place, but I shan’t be disappointed if Sydney gets hold of it, he has been a long time without a parcel from Home, although he has had something from Miss Thacker*often of late, & Mrs Hurst*. His photos are tres bon & I like the carbon.
I will close now & try to get this off today; enclosed you will find some more silk cig. cards (10). I was thinking of making a wax taper holder by stitching them together, it would make a unique ‘Easter Egg’, but I am short of cotton & needles.
Oh! by the by, that reminds me – could you please send me a Housewife (11) & some brown wool to mend your woollen gloves dark brown. Yes, I have them still & needed them these last two or three mornings, the wind was so cold.
Best love & wishes to all.
Basil – you mustn’t attest on May 1st. I shall have to talk the matter over if I see you before then.
Ta ra Bertie.
Pte Bertie Hibbett wants his brother Basil to wait until he is conscripted rather than attesting as soon as he is eligible (i.e. on his 18th birthday). He wants to ‘protect & preserve’ his brothers from all the dangers of War. He cannot do this in a letter which his Mother might read and the censor might destroy but he can warn about War’s corrupting effect on character. War has made Pte Bertie feel ‘very low off the mark of good manners’.
(1) Aerial Torpedo: a ground to air missile as illustrated above, rather than one dropped by plane over water. See <http://www.flikr.com>
(2) First Hibbett Birthday of year: Harold, 13th April. Basil,1st May 1916 when he would be 18 and could attest as a volunteer in the Army.
(3) Thomas a Kempis: 1380-1471. Dutch writer, (named after Kempera his home-town in Germany) – copyist (of Bible 4 times). Known for popular devotional work: ‘The Imitation of Christ’. ‘I have sought peace & found it not save ‘in a little corner with a little book’ (Latin/Dutch mix: in angelio cum libello).
(4) ‘Land of the Lily’ – fleur de lys – stylised lily /iris: national flower of France.
(5) ‘Notebook’ i.e. A Little Book of Words & Doings begun when Pte Bertie was in Hospital in Rouen, Aug – Oct 1915. (His original War Diary ‘lost in the straw of a barn 1915’ cf Hibbett Letters 17th March 1915. (6) Good Friday homemade Hot Cross Buns.
(7) Mont St Eloi: a ruined monastery near Neuville S.Vaast. Tower used as observation post over-looking Vimy Ridge. German shelling reduced its height nearly 30 feet from 173 -144 ft. (53m – 44m). (8) Boots Heater: cf Hibbett Letter 18th Nov.1915. <http://www.frontlinecrates.com>
(9) Good manners. Dictionary of Etiquette. Compiled by Marjory Luxmore. 1914. Pte Bertie’s Quotations front & back: ‘Manners maketh man’ William Horman, Headmaster of Eton & Winchester. 1440 -1535; ‘None as great as gentleman soldier’: origin unknown; ‘Endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ’. 2 Timothy 2. 3-5. ‘Follow the examples of General Gordon & Earl Roberts, Wellington & Nelson.’ Pte Bertie’s advice to himself before embarkation to France? Inscription names Colonel Crawley & Capt C. Lister and gives details not found elsewhere e.g. Pte Bertie Hibbett ‘No 1. Section. ‘D’ Platoon’ in 1914-1915.
(10) Silk Cigarette Card: ‘small piece of printed/woven ‘satin’ (rarely silk) given away free in cigarette packets, sometimes on a backing card’ cf ebay: Military & Regimental Cigarette Silks of WW1.
(11) ‘Housewife’ /’Husif‘: Sewing Kit. My Dad was good at sewing and once made me a pencil case out of a date-box which he covered with material carefully stitched together & labelled with my name. A holder for spills/ wax-tapers (for lighting candles) would not have been beyond him.
NEXT POST: 16th Apr. 1916.