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.
Atkins with his glasses spies A Jerry working 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!
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 sandbag in 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.
NEXT POST: 23rd June 1916.