HUMBERCAMP. 27th June Tue: In Rest Billets. Y Day.
SYDNEY HIBBETT’S LAST LETTER HOME to MARIE NEAL & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Wed. June 28th 1916.
My Own Dear Mother & Father,
This is to say that if I am knocked over for good in this charge we are making tomorrow I want to say how glad I am I have such good, loving parents.
If I have ever caused you grief I hope you will forgive me as I am a forgetful chap all right.
I am leaving my watch and cigarette case to you, and Sgt. Marden* ‘A’ Coy, has my instructions to send them to you in case.
May God bless and keep you safely, my dear parents, and remember I tried to do my duty. The war will soon be over now.
Ever your own loving & dutiful son.
Soldiers were encouraged to write a Letter Home before the Battle of the Somme, to be delivered in the event of their death. The ‘Big Push’ to end the War was planned for Thursday 29th June ‘Z Day’. Serjeant Sydney Hibbett was preparing to lead his platoon in the ‘first wave’. Poor weather postponed the Charge until Saturday 1st July.
Compare Sydney Hibbett’s Last Letter with that of his First to his Parents on Holiday at Abergele, Wales. 19th August, 1914.
NEXT POST:1st July 1916. (delayed until 5th July as I do not return from Fonquevillers & Gommecourt until 4th July).
26th June, Mon:Enemy heavily shelled our front line and supports between 8.30 and 9.15am. Calibre of gunswere 77 m.m. 4.1 and 5.9. Enemy barraged our support line during the 9.45 a.m. bombardment. W Day.
CASUALTIES: OFFICERS KILLED: Lt H. W. Devereux. WOUNDED: 2/ Lt C. P. Powell. 2/Lt A.G.A. Barton.
OTHER RANKS: KILLED: 9399Cpl R.Ford; 9861 M. Cpl Baker; 444 L/Cpl T.Grundy. ; 8840Pte J.F. Price ; 8817Pte R.W. Hemsall ; 8621Pte J.R. Somerfield: 730Pte J. Hopson; 814 Pte A. Bradley.
WOUNDED: 1111Pte A. Workman; 770Pte J.J. Jones; 9651 Pte E. Gordon; 9087 Pte H. Smith; 9056 Pte J. Hunt; 9148 Pte T. Athersmith; 9159 Pte E.H. Cartwright; 8872 Pte P. Whatley; 1163Pte G. Hill; 831 Pte J. Ferguson; 714Pte F. Griffiths; 7800Sgt S. Moore; 1307 Pte T. Bissell; 7 (?) Pte J.H. Davis (returned to duty). SHELL SHOCK: 9430Pte D. Morgan; Shell Shock returned to duty; 9744 Pte H.B. Bailey; 8665L/ Cpl S. Cogger; 977Pte F. Henry; 1277Pte H. Coulthard.
Battalion relieved by 1/4th LEICESTER REGT. Proceeded to HUMBERCAMP (1). ‘C’ Company remained behind as working party under instructions received from Brigade. W Day.
27th June Tue:HUMBERCAMP. In Rest Billets. ‘C’ Company relieved by 1/4th LEICESTER REGT. Proceeded to HUMBERCAMP. X Day.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT’S LAST LETTER before the BATTLE OF THE SOMME to his ‘MOTHER & FATHER, BASIL, HAROLD & OTHERS’, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘A Rose in a Picture of Gold’.Kind Words.
At last I have found a few June Roses.
Tuesday June 27/ 16
My Very Dear Mother & Father and Basil and of course Harold & the others,
I send you Mum something to wear along with the Flag.
Our Batt. has been highly commended, our Colonel winning the DSO (2) & several officers & men medals.
You will be proud, I hope, to accept the brooch which I send as a knot of love, hoping it will tighten with every pull from both ends till both ends meet.
I have not much I can tell you.
Sydney is keeping well. I wrote on Sunday & could not send it till today; same with the letter previous, so you will have another kind of bundling-on-top-of-one-another-through-the-letter box.
Bestest love to Dad, Basil. Hoping to see you soon.
God’s will be done. Your ever affec. Bertie.
PS. Hoping that Sydney & I will go Home together soon.
This is Pte Bertie Hibbett’s last Letter Home from France. He has been directed to write to his Family in the event of his death. In the last week of June many men had been wounded or were suffering from shell shock. To cross No Man’s Land to reach Gommecourt Wood without injury must have appeared well-nigh impossible. They were exhausted, physically & emotionally.
At this point my father did not know the ‘Big Push’ would be postponed, he thought it would be on 29th June, in just two days. He sends his Mother some wild roses for her to wear with his present of a Staffords Knot brooch & flag.
My sister Rosamund & I are now on our way to France to stand, a hundred years to the day, where my father and his brother stood waiting to ‘go over the top’ at 7.30 am on 1st July, 1916.
(1) Humbercamps, Nord Pas-de-Calais.Small commune 3 miles from the Front Line at Fonquevillers.
(2) D.S.O.Distinguished Service Order awarded since 1886 for distinguished service during active operations against the enemy. (Officers of Major rank & above, very occasionally to junior officers).Awarded to Lt Colonel Robert Richmond Raymer. 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt. (Wounded 1st July 1916).
24th June. Sat: Seven covering parties (5 ‘C’ Company, 2 ‘A’ Company) were out covering the digging of a new front line trench, in front of the Centre Sector (1). About 12.15 am the enemy opened heavy shell and machine gun fire on the covering and working parties. Our covering parties had 3 killed. 13 wounded. On our own sector the enemy were quiet. We suffered 1 wounded.
CASUALTIES: KILLED: 824 Pte B. Smith; 9081Pte J.T. Gill; 89Pte T. Fereday. WOUNDED: 7050 Sgt W. Kinnair; 811Pte A. Anson; 883Pte J. Lawrence; 9240Pte J.J. Davies; 9865Pte W. Hingley; 8414Pte S.W.V. Kendall; 468Pte A. Spencer.; 1249Pte T.L. Sergent; 955 Pte D. Smith; 1377Pte A. Lyons; 695Pte B. Cain; 1252Pte H. Thorley; 1066Pte A.E. James; 117Pte T. Duckers; Self Inflicted Wound7922 J.H.Dmr Bonnell. U Day.(2)
25th June Sun: Very little retaliation from the enemy to our bombardment. 6-5.9s were fired at 39 – 40 trenches. CASUALTIES: WOUNDED: 8934L/ Cpl G.S. Walker; 818Pte G.T. Webb; 99 Pte H. Wassall (Shell Shock). V Day.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ARTHUR HIBBETT. Censor L.A. Wans?
‘Keep us, we beseech Thee, under the protection of Thy Good Providence’. Collect for:-
Second Sunday after Trinity, June 25/ 16
‘I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless, Ills have no weight & tears no bitterness’. I triumph still if Thou abide with me.’ Hymn sung at Earl Kitchener’s Memorial Service at St Paul’s Cathedral. (3).
My Very Dear Mother & Father,
I have not much to tell you this Sunday, but shall be able to tell you when I see you.
I have not felt to any extreme today, not so happy & not so unhappy.
Strange how I can bring my mind to all the good old Hymn tunes Dad plays on the piano, in the Drawing Room, so well. ‘Abide with me’ (4)so I heard was the favourite Hymn sung at the Memorial Service for Lord K—-& it has been my favourite since I came out. Another Hymn I happened to come across, in this my old prayer book, was one that takes me back to that sitting room & Miss Brookes’* Fern Leigh BibleClass – and you & I Mum! can adopt the verses to our especial purpose;
‘Thy way, not mine O Lord, However dark it be. Lead me by thine own Hand, Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be or rough, It will be still the best. Winding or straight it leads Right onward to Thy Rest.
I dare not choose my lot(now & in the future) Choose Thou for me my God So shall I walk aright.
Choose Thou my good & ill. Not mine, not mine the choice, In things or great or small,Be Thou my Guide, my Strength, My Wisdom & my All.’(5).
I could not find better words or advice & wisdom in the case of Leave.I was thinking of sending my little khaki photo case in this envelope but I decide now to keep the case till I have Leave.
I hope to hear from Ida & Harold shortly & I will write to Basil next.
Best love to all, Bertie.
Pte Bertie Hibbett was in 1/5th S Staffs ‘A’ Company. If he was one of the ‘covering parties’ watching over the ‘working parties’ (frantically digging sap trenches out into No Man’s Land) he would be well aware of the number of casualties, even before the Battle began.
This Letter has a sombre tone. My father must have known full well he was unlikely to get Home Leave now, four days before Zero Hour, hence his decision to keep with him the photos of loved ones in his little khaki case.Once again he finds strength and comfort from thoughts of Home with his father playing the hymn ‘Abide with me’. He writes out in full the hymn ‘Thy way not mine, O Lord’ to share with his Mum.
(1) New Front Line Trench.This was necessary to give protection and reduce the wide stretch of No Man’s Land the troops must cross to reach Gommecourt Wood & Village.
(2) ‘U Day’ / ‘V’Day’: The Battle of the Somme was set for 29th June. The count down has begun.
(3) Field Marshal Earl Kitchener,Secretary of State for War, in 1914, had organised the largest volunteer army in the world. Kitchener was on his way to Russia, to discuss the ‘Big Push’. Tragically he was drowned off the coast of Orkney when H.M.S. Hampshire hit a German mine. 600 killed. His death was a profound shock to the nation.
(4) ‘Abide with me’:Words: Henry Francis Lyte, 1793-1847 (dying from TB): ‘I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless…Where is death’s sting? Where grave thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me’. Based on Emmaus Resurrection story, Luke 24. 13-35 & I Cor 15.55.
(5) ‘Thy way not mine O Lord’. Words (1887): Horatio Bonar, 1808 -1889. Minister Free Church of Scotland.
A LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT from KATHLEEN E. BROOKES*, Fern Leigh, Walsall. (1)
‘In the Garden at Fern Leigh’. June 23rd 1916.
I have been hoping each day to hear that you were at Home and then I could have gone to see you & shake hands and thank you personally for ‘Sniper Atkins’.
I think it is ever so good & I am much obliged to you for sending it to me. I am afraid it must have taken up a lot of your time – the illustrations are capital & I never knew you were a poet before!
I daresay you will find this letter rather disjointed.
We are busy carrying the hay today and between times I take up this letter. I have taken up work at Gaunts Farm (2) (my sister has too) so we have very little spare time.
Of course we are not hard at it like Ida (3), we take alternate days & work all morning & then in the afternoons (not very regularly)we go across & milk the cows.
At least we feel we are doing something for our dear old country.
I had a most interesting letter from Sydney.He also wrote to Father – it was very good of him to bother.It is hard lines not to have had ‘leave’ I should think you are getting accustomed to being disappointed.
Perhaps you would like to know what some of the old Bible Class lads are doing (4). Harold Hackett* is in the 21st Lancers & is in India. Willie Hackett * has been in France – now has his commission in the 9th S. Staffs (or 10th), Eric Day* is in Ireland, Attwood* and Norman Smith* in France. Donald* in England still, Rupert Edwards* still in Salonica, Frank Ellis*has been in France, now inMesopotamia – the others I think you know – I cannot find out about Philip Day*.
Well I must stop – with all kind regards and best of luck.
Yours very sincerely,
Kathleen E. Brookes.
A Letter from the Walsall Home Front from one woman keeping busy bringing in the Harvest as the Country waited for news of the ‘Big Push’.
(1) Kathleen Brookes: Superintendant, St Paul’s Sunday School, Walsall. Her Father was prominent in the Church & one of Bertie Hibbett’s mentors.
(2) Gaunt’s Farm: near Sutton Coldfield? (connection John O’ Gaunt,1340-1399 1st Duke of Lancaster?). See Hibbett Letter: 2nd Oct. 1915.
(3) Ida Hibbett:now a Land Army Girl bringing in the harvest, having also served as a Red Cross VAD & an admin assistant at the Walsall Borough Council. Served also in an Amunitions factory, 1915. See My Memories. 1967.
(4) Bible Class Lads: Bertie Hibbett’s fellow pupils in her Sunday Class at Fern Leigh. I have yet to check CWWG website for these names.
Composed by a Sniper during a tour in the Trenches and Illustrated with original sketches from the pen of the same.
In the Field. May 1916.
These verses of “doggerel” (for I cannot claim to be a poet like Shakespeare of whom we are commemorating the Tercentenary) formed the outcome of that species of fever which generally comes over those people poetically inclined about this time of year, & that is how Tom, Dick, Harry & Harriet, the four typical names of the common majority in the Poetry World got their title of ‘Spring Poets’.
Every time the season of Spring comes along, it is not at all rare to find an increase in poetry. The bright Sunny weather, and the sight of everything in nature starting afresh seems to fill the whole atmosphere and sky with poetry. Everyone’s mind is fresh this time of year, & I believe inventors shine forth in Spring. One cannot keep idle for long during the Bright invigorating Season, & so the mind must work when the body is not at work.
How I came to write these verses was after hearing some rhyme written by a comrade. I thought I too would compose, & so while away my spare time in the trenches. My subject easily came to mind, and after much scribbling & correcting, which lasted for a week or so, the following verses came into being.
During the last days of the tour in the trenches, I started illustrating the poem from the comic pictures in the “ Bystander”, but I could not bear to be a copyist of Capt. Bairnsfather, & it was not long before I drew something original, but not without copying Bairnsfather’s features.The frontispiece was a life drawing, while the two on the back page were drawn having some of my comrades to pose for me.
The quaint slang the reader will find out is frequent amongst Tommies in my Regiment. The joke over loading the rifle: “Placing five rounds in tin can & then one up the chimney or spout” is often heard, & anyone serving in the Batt. will confirm the fact.
“Fritz” is the name Tommy calls the enemy, while the officers use the more swanky name of “Bosche”.
The “Old Fritz” is in fact exaggerated somewhat in the sketch. But as for seeing old men, with white hair & bent backs carrying their packs – & the remark an officer made that “ he wouldn’t shoot him for worlds” – is quite true.
The verse about the Kaiser was written while the fair copy was being made. Little children would think it funny not having something without the Kaiser in it. So I leave it to the reader to give his opinion if it is really “complete” yet.
Yours faithfully Sniper Hibbett.
Sniper Atkins Title Page: ‘Wait & See’. A.H.Hibbett. Yours Faithfully Sniper Atkins. ‘A few verses from my pencil written in the trenches during the Reign of Good King George V.’
Sniping Allemandes all day long, To the tune of British guns. Coolly sniping with a song, Sending ‘Greetings‘ to the Huns. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
Sniper Tommy pots a Bosche And gains a ripping goal. And he sees him dive – splosh ! Down his muddy hole. I shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
Placing 5 rounds in tin can. Then another up the spout; Tommy spies another man So gives the Bosche an awful clout. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
Tommy has a lucky ‘go’, His sharp eye spots the Kaiser. Tommy says -‘Just ‘arf a mo‘ Take this to make you wiser’. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
Atkins with his glasses spies A Jerryworking party. Keenly marks it with his eyes, ‘Just wait and see me hearty‘. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
Opponent snipers in some trees, Little knowing of their fate, When Tommy snipes at what he sees They’ll sing no more their hymn of hate‘. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
PILLS POUR LES ALLEMANDES
From early morning with the lark At his occupation, Tommy carries on till dark Giving Bosche inoculation. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
To serve His Majesty the King Tommy gives his heart & will But does not always care to sting Poor Old Fritz with leaden pill. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.
Three more rounds T. A. has got “Will he dare to waste them?” – no So at a periscope he’ll pot To “bust” the thing all up for show. Crash Bang CRASH!
‘MY MEMORIES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR’.
PREPARATION for the BATTLE of the SOMME: FONQUEVILLERS OPPOSITE GOMMECOURT.
‘During that time I was detailed off to do an official drawing of the German Front Line, showing Gommecourt Village and Wood with the Sunken Road beyond, the German enfilade trench and with all the trees as exact as I could. This was my small contribution in preparation for the ‘Big Push’.
I had the use of a periscope, and was disguised as a sandbagin case I had to look over the top of the trench to see the formation of the trees and the trenches more clearly. It was while I was making this sketch that I saw some very old German soldiers, with long white beards, using mechanical excavators in their front line, and making great loads of earth fly up in the air. I also spotted a dead cow’s head, which I presumed was used as a German sniper’s post. I feel pretty sure that it was from there that our parapet was peppered with German bullets whenever I attempted to put up my periscope.
“Keep away from Hibbett” was the general cry.
My father in ‘My Memories’ describes his official drawing of No Man’s Land & Gommecourt Wood as ‘my small contribution in preparation for the Big Push’. It was however a very important contribution. His drawing would have been sent to HQ and all officers & serjeants would have been made familiar with it and memorized it. Sadly a precious copy my Dad brought back from the War disappeared at a Toc H Exhibition in Skegness in 1967.
Tommy Hibbett’s ‘heart & will‘ was to serve his King but like the Officer in the Preface ‘he does not always care to fill ‘Poor Old Fritz with leaden pill’. He would rather draw or write a poem.
The work of a Sniper was a very dangerous one but, in ‘Sniper Atkins’, Pte Bertie Hibbett makes a joke of it to amuse his pals. He makes light of the danger he shares with his enemy sniper. It was ‘killed or be killed’. There is evidence that my father was a ‘good shot’ almost as good as his brother. When as a child I asked him how many people he had killed in the War he said, with look of awe on his face, that he thought he ‘might have killed one‘ – I saw a German helmet, took aim, heard a shout and the helmet disappeared’. My father must have caused many deaths when he was collectively throwing grenades in the crater warfare of Hill 60 & Vimy Ridge. But perhaps the only time he felt personally responsible for another man’s death was out in No Man’s Land, opposite Gommecourt Wood, in the days before the Battle of the Somme.
NB.My father made several illustrated copies of ‘Sniper Atkins‘ which he sent Home to his family & to special friends. He was glad to have it received favourably by the Officers.
18th June Sun: Marched to new billets at LE SOUICH, arrived 10.pm.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ARTHUR HIBBETT. Censor: T.R. Sanger.
Trinity Sunday. June 18/ 16
‘Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was and is and is to come’. (2)
‘Whosoever believeth on Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.’ (3)
My Very Dear Mother & Father,
No doubt you have been expecting me to turn up every day this last week.What can I say to make matters straight?Our Platoon Commander (L.S. (4)) said he would see the Serg. Major about Leave, he did so & told me Leave was about to commence and I was next on the list.I trust you are taking things coolly, as long as I know you are not put out I can rest my conscience.
I remember last Trinity I was in a field of rye doing picket duty& I found a fine nose of a shell (5). I kept that a very long time, but eventually lost it about August, just before I went to Hospital.
I have not much to tell you so I will close now.
I may add that I dreamt a dream three times over about Home & Ida & Basil.
I do hope I shall see Basil before he joins a unit. I guess he looks handsome-like in his O.T.C. tunic.More khaki. (6).
I will write to Ida today & Vernon Evans.
Best love to all. Hoping you will spend a Happy Trinity Sunday together & that the long Episcopal Season will bring Peace.
Yours affec. Bertie.
PS. After concluding this letter I went to Holy Communion in one of the Huts to pray for you.
Pte Bertie Hibbett would have found his Three Dreams of Home a highly significant ‘Trinity’. He goes to Holy Communion to pray for his Mother & Father who now had three of their family in khaki.
(1) Le Souich, Pas de Calais: small commune near border of Somme Department. Churchyard contains 2 Commonwealth War Graves.
(2)Holy Holy: Hymn.Reginald Heber 1783 -1826. Written for Trinity Sunday/based on Revelation 4.1-11. Tune: ‘Nicaea’ [after Council of Nicaea AD 325 which formulated the Doctrine of the Trinity (Christian experience of God as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit)]. John Bacchus Dykes.1823-1876.
7th -11th June Sun: Divisional Reserve. Furnishing working parties.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘Evermore to rejoice in His Holy Comfort’. (1)
‘I will come to you’. ‘My Peace I give unto you’(2) Collect & Gospel for :-
Whit Sunday. June 11/ 16.
My Very Dear Mother,
I cannot just lay my hand on your last letter with that most appropriate text you wrote at the top. Yes I am learning a lesson from that text today.It is not for us to know the times or the seasons. It is not for us to plan out the future but to take each day as it comes (3).
I am so sorry for not controlling myself that day. One of my comradessaid I should follow him for Leave.I committed again a great folly, but as Sydney said I may go any day now.
Since that day he went on leave Leave has been reduced to one man a Battalion a day,excepting Sun & Mon when two go.
We went digging today & I thought of you all at Church & at dinner time. I understand it is the Sunday School Festival today (4). I wonder if you all went? I am writing on a pad Mrs Hurst* sent me in a parcel with some fruit, coffee, sardines & some homemade Queen cakes(5). She sent the bananas green, thinking they would ripen on the way – good idea?
Sydney heard from Miss Foster* today. He is keeping quite well & smart & always finds a cheery word for me, like Basil does for Mummy.
I hope you are not making elaborate preparations & putting yourself unnecessarily out of the way.Rememberthat I am coming Home just fora quiet time withDad & Mum & brothers & sister.I shall not care for the bell to be kept ringing & Mum’s rooms & floors to be spoiled.
I just feel,after thisfatigue, that I could have a real rest at Home with Home people; to have friends would cause me to exert mental efforts in the way of manners & habits.
As for meals – just those good wholesome puddings & plain teaswill please me as well as anything.
I will close, hoping Our Lord, of whom we learn today is the Comforter, will give you strength & comfort to wait in hope. I trust He will send me Home in safety. Let us thank Him for all His mercies that He has bestowed upon us all these many months.
Vernon sends me the Observer(6) each week now apparently. I have had little time for writing.
Best love to all. Bertie.
PS This white carnationI picked from some growing by the trench. White for Whitsuntide.
Mentally & physically exhausted, Pte Bertie Hibbett longs for rest – & the quiet of Home. The news that Leave was restricted to one soldier a battalion must have been devastating. His digging ‘fatigue’ could well have been repairing the long & dangerous communication trenches, over the ridge from the Divisional Reserve at Souastre to the Front at Fonquevillers. Under close German observation these fatigues were conducted mainly at night.
Deprived of Church services, my father took strength from the Book of Common Prayer Readings & Prayers for the day – Whit Sunday, always a favourite festival for him. He took comfort from a white carnation picked by the trench and from the cheery word of his brother. His Mother’s advice ‘to take each day as it comes’, my Dad often passed on to me.
(1) Collect for Whit/ WhiteSunday/ Pentecost (50 days after Easter). Book of Common Prayer. 1662.‘God who as at this time didst teach to hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them of the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things: and ever more rejoice in his holy comfort. . .’
(2) Gospel for Whit Sunday/ Pentecost:John 14.15f.Jesus’ Discourse on Resurrection & Eternal Life.
(3) ‘It is not for us to know the times and seasons’: Acts 1.7.Jesus’ spiritual answer to his disciples’ political question ‘Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel’. i.e.Are you going to lead a rebellion against the Romans?
(4) St Paul’s Sunday School, Walsall. Bertie Hibbett had passed his Sunday School Teacher’s Examination in April 1914. Some of his class kept in touch with him during the War & sent him little gifts.
(5) Queen Cakes Patty Tinsc.1890; recipe older than reign of Queen Victoria? cf Historic Food Website.
6th June Tue: Marched to new billets at SOUASTRE , arrived at 10.pm.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Hand delivered in envelope addressed: ‘To Dearest Mummy from her loving Bertie’.
I had another volunteer to pose for me for this. Drew it in less than 10 mins.
Tuesday June 6/ 16.
WHEN SHALL I GO ON HOME LEAVE ?This year? Next year? Sometime? Never? Nearing the Top. (1)
My Very Dear Mother & Father & all of you,
Your ripping parcel came this dinner time. I have just read the letter. Am sending this letter with another comrade out of ‘A’ Company who is going today on leave.Remember me writing at Easter saying ‘Let us hope (D.V.) that I shall see you at Whitsuntide’ (2).
All my comrades & Sydney say I shall be going Home this week. The boy who is going today says I follow tomorrow. He lives near Home & said he will take it to my Home if he does not post it. He will most likely tell you I am following him on Leave tomorrow.
You had an idea we were about to go to the trenches! Well as a matter of fact we move from this Place of Rest towards the line today. Time was getting rather anxious about Leave.I have washed a shirt, that comfortable shirt you sent last, so that I can wear it for when I go.
I might go to have tea with Sydney this evening, but on these ‘moving’ days we are busy packing up etc.
I will conclude now. I think I have said too much with regard to Leave. Sydney’s Leave came suddenlybut as you seem to be anxious for news of my Leave I have told you as much as is wise to.
We all know of the Naval activities & I am pleased we won (3).
Goodbye for the present. Thanking you all again for your kind wishes.
I see Dodger had a go at printing the label this time.
Your affec. Bertie.
PS Send Ida this month’s Pickwickian Leaflet (4).
The tension & anxiety for Pte Bertie Hibbett must have been almost impossible to bear a hundred years ago – on the move but not knowing where – to ‘Leave Parade’ & Home – to the Front & Battle with always the thought that he might never see his Home again. He plays a childhood game, does a sketch & washes a shirt; homely comforting activities.
(1) Nursery Counting Game: Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief. Fortune-telling Song counting plum stones, daisy petals or grasses etc. to answer questions: What will I be when I grow up? or When will I marry? ‘This year, Next Year Sometime, Never‘. Rould Folk Song Index No 802.
‘Nearing the Top‘ double meaning here for Bertie – ref to nearing the top of the grass and ‘Going over the Top‘ into No Man’s Land and to Battle.
(2) D.V. Deus Vult Latin ‘God wills it’/ ‘God willing’ Whitsuntide:50 days after Easter (Pentecost/ ‘pente’ Greek for fifty). Major Christian Festival. Celebrates the Gift of Holy Spirit on disciples of Christ. Acts 2.1-31.
(3) Battle of Jutland: North Sea off the coast of Denmark. 31st May -1st June, 1916. Largest Naval Battle of WW1, Both sides claimed Victory, with great loss of life.
Royal Navy, under Admiral John Jellicoe, lost 14 out of 28 battleships and twice as many lives as Germany (which lost 7 out of 16 dreadnought battleships) but British achieved long-term aim to prevent Germany gaining access to Britain & the Atlantic.
(4) Pickwickian Leaflet for June 1916has not survived.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER TO BASIL HIBBETT (enclosed with one to parents)95, Foden Rd Walsall.
PS: My Dear Dodger,
I have just re-readPenning’s* letter (1). It is now raining miserably & into the tent & I am smoking a pipe of Miss Bore’s bacca to cheer meself up – somewhat like once – (well on the 18th of May I look in my diary, & see we were in camp. We returned from the trenches on previous Sunday night & it was Sydney’s birthday on the Monday we were in camp.As for the 29th of June we had a Route March & saw the pipers & spent most time in camp drilling in full pack).
Sir Stuart Wortley* (2) came to see the Reserves – (in which isCharlie Harrison*, who’s foot seems quite all right now).
We will keep a sharp lookout & it will be a hearty hand shake.You will picture us looking up at him on his horse & us squeezing his hand –so if the palm of your hand itches you’ll know that I have nearly rung his hand off see(3).
PS Looking forward to Ida’s Champion chatty letter.
We are alwaysmarching, marching – went diggingall day againon Thursday& sawHarold Hinde*who is in theCycle Corps(sic). (4)
His brotherCyril*,who has been with us all day,has gone to a Rest Camp.
I will stop now – got a lot more correspondence.
I now think that this Postscript to Basil Hibbett(posted by me on 16th July 1915) better fits a Postscript to a Letter of 4th June 1916. The dates & places Pte Bertie mentions (when looking back in his diary) do not fit 1916. e.g. his brother’s Birthday in 1916 was on a Wednesday (not on a Monday as in 1915) – at Bulford Camp, Neuve Eglise. He is also looking back to a 29th June which is very unlikely in 1916!
Battalion Training at Lucheux at this time (as we have already seen) included marching, rapid digging, bayonet practice, and sniping – as well as wood cutting for trench hurdles. The 1/5th Staffords would also have practiced the coming Battle in a Model of the German Front Lines at Gommecourt Village & Park, which Pte Bertie’s sketches may have helped to create.
(1) Penning’s Letter: i.e. that of Arthur Penning’s father, Pte Bertie’s billet landlord at Saffron Walden (Dec 1914 – Feb 1915).Arthur Penning*was killed in action in Aug.1915.
(2) Sir Edward James Montague Stuart-Wortley. 1857 -1934. Kings Rifle Corps. Distinguished colonial service. WW1: General Officer Commanding (G.O.C.) 46th Midland Division. T.A. Kept King George Vth informed re activities of the Division. Controversially dismissed for ‘lack of offensive spirit’ 1st July 1916, Battle of the Somme. See ‘A Lack of Offensive Spirit’: Alan MacDonald. Iona Books. 2008.
(3) Horseback/ Handshake: i.e. Sir Stuart Wortley on horseback and his unlikely handshake rather than that of Charlie Harrison’s! Pte Bertie is joking.
(4) Charlie Harrison*: before War,one of Arthur Hibbett’s clerks in Education Office, Walsall.
(5) Cyclist Corps: chief role – armed reconnaissance & communication. See Website Old Sweats Centurion. Often used as manual labour & in Front Line.
NEXT POST: 6th June 1916. ‘When shall I go on Home leave – this year, next year, sometime – never!
1st – 4th June. In Rest Billets. Battalion training.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘The end of all things is at hand’. (1)
‘. . . ye remember that I told you of them’.(2) Epistle and Gospel for:-
Sunday after Ascension Day. June 4/ 16
My Very Dear Mother & Father & Basil,
I picture you three this time;I fancy Harold does not go Home and spend tea with you every Sunday.I went to see Sydney this afternoon at his billet; he was however in a field opposite, writing in answer to a long letter. I asked him my usual, i.e. if he had had anything in the post, & he gave me Dodger’s most jolly letter of 28th May (last Sunday).
Dodger, you did make I larf & Sydney too smiledwhen I repeated what you said about that incident at Abergele(3). Sydney also showed me several PCs,one was a photo with Vernon, oh how his old face came back so.By the by Norman* is not at all a bad letter writer & he too can send long epistles.
I had a very kindly & most lengthy, extraordinarily lengthy letter from Miss Foster*, with some toffees& a Tin of Three Nuns Tobacco (4). Alas! I have not a decent pipe,but you need not send me a pipe as I m-m-mi-ight be Home next week at this time.
I wrote to Miss Foster yesterday but forgot to mention the Colwick Cheese (3). Miss Foster was told that the Colwick Cheese would turn very ‘high’ & she did not wish the Regiment to be wiped out just by a Colwick Cheese. She wanted to know if I knew of anybody receiving a cheese that smelt; just write & tell her in your next that I have not & I will give up the expectation; Miss Foster can cancel the idea & tell her we shall not need a Colwick Cheese to make us run. Tell her that the jokes about the cheese made me nearly split with laughing.
Sydney, knowing that I had ‘petit d’argent’ & my unexpected Home Leave coming any day now,generously presented me with a handsome note, five francs;which is, in English money, 3/7d.(5)
What a lot of fuss & talk etc in the papers & by people at Home over this Daylight Bill (6).
Punch (7) has a great deal to say about it and chapsfrom Leavehave said how puzzling it was, the clocks had not been altered & they were all giving different times.
Latest news of Leave is that I am leaving the Batt. on Tuesday –if all goes well & Leave is not stopped.
I will close now with Best love to all.
Always your affec. Bertie.
PS:Should I have the luck to go Home next week, I wish to have just a quiet time with you at Home. I shall not put myself about to speak to friends, only keep my promise of invitation. I feel that I couldn’t bear to have the bell ringing everyday with people to see me, a Private. Buy in no extras. Take things as a M of C. (8).
Please,thank you,dear Mum, I had rather wait till I see you before you give me a prayer-book (9). I am trying to make this one last the record.Nice letters of the Evans aren’t they?
The apocalyptic language used in this letter indicates how well an ordinary soldier like Pte Bertie Hibbettunderstood that a Major Battle was about to take place on the Western Front and that great loss of life was inevitable. For him there was no way out. Even if he got Home Leave it would be very short and he would have to return to the Front. His longing is for a quiet time and the comfortable commonplace of Home.
(1)‘The end of all things is at hand’ 1 Peter 4.7:. .be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves’.Possible date: Roman Emperor Domitian’s persecution of Christian Church. AD 81 -96.
(2) Sunday after Ascension: Gospel:John 15.26. ‘Ye remember that I told you’. ‘When the comforter is come, he will testify of me. . . the time cometh that whoso killeth you will think they do God service . . . When the time shall come ye may remember. . . ‘
(3) Abergele HolidayAug 1914 when someone sent the family a very ripe cheese? Colwick Cheese: a soft curdy cheese bowl-shaped for sweet or savoury fillings/ 17th Cent).Colwick: a village south of Nottingham.
(4) Three Nuns Tobacco: Advert reads: ‘Philosophy, under the most trying conditions, is to be found by distracting the mind from the contemplation of immediate disaster. Give a man a pipeful of Three Nuns – the familiar fragrance woos back the mind to the comfortable commonplace . . . puts fresh heart into a man and gives him assurance that there’s a good time coming’. NB. It took my father until the 1950s to give up smoking.
(5) Five France Noteworth 3/7d (i.e. 43p today). Selling now on ebay for $159/£109.
(6) The Daylight Bill 1916: pioneered by William Willett1856-1915. (Property developer Sloane Street, London 1880s).An attempt to aid economy/farming by increasing daylight hours. Greenwich Meantime was advanced one hour in Spring & put back one hour in autumn.(i.e. 21st May & 1st Oct 1916).
(7) Punch 1916: ‘So simple and successful has been the progress of the Daylight-Saving Scheme, under which the clock is to be put forward an hour during the summer months, that a movement is on foot to help the War Office prophets by putting the War back a couple of years’. NB 1914 prophets had said ‘The War will be over by Christmas‘.
(8)The Book of Common Prayer. 1662: from which Pte Bertie appears to have taken most of his biblical quotations. He knew & took comfort from the fact that his family would be reading the same passages designated for the day.
NEXT POST:4th June 1916. Enclosed Letter to Basil/ Dodger.
The WW1 Letters and Drawings of Private Bertie Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, to his family in Walsall, will be posted again, one hundred years on, from August 1914 to November 1918, by his daughter Elizabeth Hibbett Webb. The first posting will be the Recruitment Postcard sent by Queen Mary's Grammar School Headmaster to the Hibbett family on holiday in Abergele, Wales.