17th Apr. Mon: In Brigade Reserve. Very quiet day. 18th Apr. Tue: Ditto. Enemy artillery active at 4.20 pm and 5.30 pm. Otherwise quiet. 19th Apr. Wed: Ditto. Very quiet day.
20th Apr. Thur: Ditto. Battalion relieved by 11th CHESHIRES, relief complete 11.40 pm.
21st Apr. Fri: ECOIVRES Battalion in Huts by 2.0. am. Marched to new billets at CHELERS (1) starting 10.0 am arriving 2.15 pm.
Good Friday. Ap 21st 1916.
‘Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves’. (2)
‘Forgive them for they know not what they do’. (3)
My Very Dear Mother,
I do hope you too are having sunny Spring weather like we are having today:
I think the time must be about 11 o’clock so I am picturing you all attending St. Paul’s – the light of the sun is beaming through the windows & giving the interior a bright appearance. It lights up the pew that Mum & Dad, Basil & Ida are in.
As I listen to a thrush singing its lovely song in these budding trees it reminds me of you all singing together with the choirboys’ treble voices ‘There is a green hill far away’ (4) and ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ (5). All the bushes & trees are showing new life & the fields look beautiful in their fresh green coat. I send you some white flowers with a tinge of purple on the back of the petals; they remind me of the Passion Flower (6).
I received your welcome letter of Friday 14th & Palm Sunday, yesterday (Thursday 20th). How funny that I too wrote to you on the Friday following Harold’s Birthday & again on Palm Sunday & you, like me & Mr W.H. Cozens*, headed our Sunday letters by that familiar name. The Batt. came back to huts last night; I saw Sydney & gave him your letters to read as well as Harold’s, Basil’s & Miss Foster’s; he handed to me the shirt & the handsome three bladed sharp knife, for which I thank you very much dear Mum.
Sydney was inclined to be cross with me (and rightly too, I think too now) for telling you that I should be Home soon. Well I did hear I was included in the next six, but where ‘the STING’ of it all was I forgot at the moment Leave has the ‘knack’ of stopping anytime.
You will be thinking of Our Lord’s Heavy burden of the Cross and his long walk with it to Calvary (7).
The Batt: too are most likely on their long march in full pack of about 15 kilometres this morning. Grateful to say I came by Motor Ambulance – lucky beggar eh? So I am waiting here for them.
I will wait till Easter Sunday and enclose this in with that. Harold told me he, Miss Bore & a few friends were going to Stourport today (8); well I hope they will enjoy themselves, but it seems a pity Harold does not have more holiday to enable them to go on another day than Good Friday, eh Mum?
Having been behind them and away from the Batt. I have had some difficulty in getting off letters to Harold, Miss Foster etc.
I have heard that Leave starts again soon, lets hope so. Oh! I shall see you – so ‘bide a wee an’ dinna fret’ (9). I think of Our Lord’s saying on His Way to the Cross ‘Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves’ (2).
They said the enemy shook hands with us at Xmas (10); I think they should do so today & more so being Good Friday don’t you? & ‘Let us forgive one another’ for man doesn’t know what he is doing when he is at War.
* * * * * * * Continued on Easter Day.
My father’s Good Friday Letter is full of the language & imagery of the Passion of Christ – seen as an ever-present reality in his experience of War & the pity of War – with Nature the only sign of Life and hope of Easter.
(1) Chelers: village near Tincques, approx.10 miles (15 km) from Neuville St Vaast & 13 miles (22 km) from Arras. That Pte Bertie went by Motor Ambulance shows he was not fit enough to carry a full pack – 50-58 Ibs in 1914 increased to 70-90 Ibs by 1916 (included steel helmets, wire cutters, respirators & extra ammo).
(2) ‘Weep not for me. . .’ Luke 23.28. Jesus‘ words to women of Jerusalem on road to Calvary. (3) ‘Forgive them . . . ‘ Word of Jesus from the Cross/ central to the Gospel message. Luke 23.34. Both sayings (in Luke only) proclaim a universal Gospel of Good News/ show Jesus’ unprecedented concern for women, poor, sick & all outcasts of society.
(4) ‘There is a green hill’. Hymn. Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander. 1818-1895. Inspired by grassy hill outside Derry, Ireland & serious illness of her daughter. Published in Hymns for Little Children, 1848.
(5) ‘When I survey . . . ‘ Hymn. Isaac Watts 1674 -1748. Tune: Rockingham. Edward Miller. 1790. (Charles Wesley said he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one).
(6) Passion Flower: I think he sent home a helebore, as illustrated above.
(7) Calvary. Hill outside Jerusalem city walls. Also called Golgotha ‘Place of a Skull’. (Greek transcription of Aramaic, Gol Goatha ‘Place of execution’. King James Bible translates Latin ‘Calvariae’ in Vulgate Bible as ‘Calvary‘).
(8) Stourport on Severn. Rapid industrial rise when Staffordshire & Worcester to Birmingham Canal built in 1768. Plenty of history & industrial architecture to interest Harold Hibbett & his friends.
(9) ‘Bide a wee an’ dinna fret. . .’ Leisure Hours. 1878. cf Hibbett Letter 27th March 1916.
(10) Christmas Truce 1914 & 15. See Menu Page.
NB I took a copy of this letter to Embrace the Base at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp/ Cruise Missile Base. October 13th 1983. Hung at the Violet Gate celebrating world-wide religious/spiritual messages of peace. e.f.w.
NEXT POST: 23rd Apr. 1916. Easter Day.