Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton. CARTOON POST CARD to Arthur HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
The Cenacle. 30/8/16.
Received Mother’s letter yesterday & PC this morning.
I will write to the Quartermaster today about Sydney’s things (1).
Could Basil develop some more photos that Harold took and bring some when Mother comes (2) also one or two white soft collars.
I am as usual. Best love, Bertie.
The optimistic tone of this French Cartoon suggests a date of publication during the long weary months of the Battle of the Somme when, with the enormous loss of young men in France, there was a felt need to raise the nation’s morale and hope of victory.
Drawn with his left-hand my father’s copy of The Le Journal Cartoon reads: ‘The Big Boy:Hi! Hi! I’m a German.The Small Child: That doesn’t frighten anyone now’. ‘Re-drawn by A.H.Hibbett.From Le Journal‘. (French daily newspaper founded & edited by Fernand Arthur Pierre Xau 1892-1899, then by Henri Letellier. Closed 1944).
(1) Quartermaster in1/5th Bn South Staffords: A Quartermaster was a senior NCO responsible for supervision & distribution of food, clothing & equipment. Sydney’s last letter before the 1st July Battle of Somme, entrusted his belongings to his pal Corp. A.O.Jones. Hibbett Letter. 28th June, 1916.
(2) Photographs of The CenacleNurses & Wounded Soldiers:Basil Hibbett no doubt developed extra copies of Harold’s photos in the Top Attic at 95, Foden Rd. Walsall. (NB A Names List of Cenacle Red Cross Nurses mentioned in my father’s Letters & Papers, as well as of fellow Patients, is pending).
NEXT POST: 3rd SEPT.1916. Basil Hibbett & the Harvest at Earl Soham, Suffolk, 1916.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire:LETTER toArthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
Aug. 28th/ 16.
‘Be thou faithful unto the end, and I will give thee a crown of life’. (1)
If I am not far wrong it is the eventful day of Basil being called up for Service. The picture and the words I got from the Calendar(2) for Sat. 26th are most appropriate.
May Our Heavenly Father bless, protect and prosper him, and strengthen the patience combined with love in my dear brave Mother;as forDaddie, Proverbsteaches us a beautiful saying, that the glory of children are their fathersic, ‘how venerable is a father in the sight of his son who has returned from the wars’ (3).
Well Miss Foster*, Mary, gets over me, I had another nice letter from her today, she takes away my sorrow. . .
The National Registration Act of July 1915 was intended to boost voluntary enlistment. It failed. The census (in which Ida Hibbett played her part in Walsall Town Hall)revealed that 5 million males of military age were not in the forces and 1.6 million were ‘starred’ (i.e. protected by high or scarce skilled jobs). See Hibbett Letter: 21st Oct.1915.
Since the South Staffords embarked for France in 1915, Basil Hibbett had been keen to join his brothers at the Front but they had done their best to dissuade him from attesting until he was compelled to do so. See Hibbett Letter: 28 April 1916.
The Military Service Act, 27th Jan 1916, of necessity, introduced conscription for men aged between 19 -41 years – so Basil had no choice but to attest after his 18th Birthday (1st May 1916). According to The Long Long Trail website these ‘Class A’ men were given a day’s pay, transferred to Section B Army Reserve & sent back home until they received their ‘call up’ papers.
Bertie states that Basil was to be ‘called-up’ on 28th Aug., but he must have meant ‘attest’ for in September Basil wrote to him about bringing in a ‘late harvest’ at East Soham, Suffolk.
Basil Hibbett was given a grey armband with a red crown as a sign that he had volunteered. The biblical significance of the crown on the arm band was not lost on Bertie.
(1) Revelation 2.10.Exact wording KJVBible: ‘Be thou faithful unto death & I will give thee a crown of life’.
(2) Painting: ‘Faithful unto Death’.Roman Sentry at Pompeii. Eruption of Vesuvius, AD 79.Edward John Poynter,Pre-Raphaelite Painter.1836-1919. Copy cut from Walsall Parish Church Calendar?). See ‘Pompeii Live from the British Museum’.<http://www.britishmuseum.org>
(3) Proverbs 17.6: Children’s children are the crown of old men; & the glory of children is their fathers’. Second half of quotation ‘how venerable is a father’ not found in Proverbs (possibly paraphrase of saying in Homer’s Iliad? Homer: 8th Cent BC. considered first & greatest of Greek epic poets, foundation of European Literature.
CHARLES LE BON, Headmaster, Blue Coat School Walsall (?): LETTER to BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire. 82, Charlotte St. Walsall (1)
Aug 25th 1916.
My Dear Bertie,
Many and many a time have I thought of you and the other gallant lads that I watched walk up Park St. one day in September 1914.
There you all were in mufti marching away to do your duty and to respond to your country’s call for men. Those were the days before Lord Derby’s Scheme (2) and prior to the Military Act(3) when all of the proper age are compelled to serve.
What England owes to those men who joined up in the first month of the war none can ever tell, and words fail me when I wish to express my admiration and feeling towards those numerous old boys of mine who responded so early.
You know better than I do what it has meant to you all. How you sacrificed your homes, your positions, your comfort and everything that one should hold dear in this world. I do not differentiate between any of you; all were noble, self-sacrificing gallant lads, and I am proud that you were amongst the number.
Don’t think that I ever doubted you. I know your noble nature too well, and if I wrote all I think of you I may be accused of being a fulsome flatterer and lacking in sincerity. I feel that you know me well enough to write what I mean.
Since you have been on Active Service I have made regular and frequent enquiries concerning your welfare, and when I heard that you had been wounded I was deeply grieved for yourself and the other members of your family. I have made numerous enquiries concerning your progress, but I forbore going to your parents because I felt that to talk about you would only increase their worry.
I am pleased to know that you are making fairly good progress, and I sincerely trust and pray that such may continue and that in the fullness of God’s blessings you may ultimately be restored to your parents safe and sound. I was highly delighted to learn of the great patience and fortitude you have shown in the hour of your great misfortune and I feel sure that such manly conduct will meet with its just reward.
We all take comfort in the worn out saying that things may have been much worse. It appears to me very cold comfort, but then we must try and be philosophic, and with brave hearts and cool courage fight against misfortunes and troubles, and with God’s help prove ourselves superior to the multitude of worries that surround us, and appear to be overwhelming us.
My Dear Bertie, I am writing with the hope that this expression of my sympathy towards you will in some small way help you to bear your great burden, and will also afford you some comfort in your illness, and perhaps the knowledge that what you have done is fully appreciated, by us who are left at home, will also assist you and comfort you.
Mrs Le Bon heartily joins with me and wishes to be remembered very kindly to you and I will close with our sincere best wishes for your welfare and fond remembrances of a brave and noble boy.
Believe me to remain,
Very Sincerely Yours, Charles Le Bon.
The overwhelming impact of the Battle of the Somme on those at Home, and the respect & affectionate regard shown towards all who had volunteered in 1914 is clear in this letter.
From the style of writing, as well as the reference to ‘those numerous old boys of mine’, the writer appears to be a teacher, possibly at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, but more likely Charles Le Bon was the Head Master of the Blue Coat Elementary School in Walsall. Sydney, Bertie & Basil Hibbett all attended this school before attending the Grammar School.
(1) Charlotte Street:the next street to the Hibbett Family Home, 95 Foden Road., a popular professional middle-class area in Walsall, close to the Arboretum.
(3) The National Registration Act resulted from the huge number of trench warfare casualties 1915. See Hibbett Letter, 21st Oct. 1915. Ida Hibbett volunteered at WalsallTown Hall, helping to create a Card Index of Men Availablefor Military Service. 29 million forms were issued: Granite Blue forms for Men andWhite forms for Women. A Pink Form was completed for each Granite Blue Form, if that man was between the age of 18 and 41 years.Local Recruiting Officers began canvassingbut the hoped-for recruits did not materialise. The Military Service Act, amounting to conscription, was then passed on 27th Jan. 1916.Basil Hibbett, just 18, the youngest of the family, had now no choice but to attest and await call up.
NEXT POST: 28th Aug. 1916. ‘Be thou faithful unto death’.
PLATOON SERJEANT W. PRICE: LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT at The Cenacle, New Brighton, Cheshire.
Same Address (1). 17/ 8/ 16.
Received your letter & parcel this afternoon & P.C. yesterday. Glad to hear your comfortably settled and hope your wound will make a good cure, but not too speedy a one.
It is very good of you to think of us here, it is usually the case for those who are fortunate enough to get back to Blighty to forget those left behind, but there is at least one who remembers and I thank you for it on behalf of the boys and myself. At present I am on a course away from the Batt. but expect to rejoin in a few days, probably Sunday, so will take the cigarettes, etc. with me.
I sincerely hope your brother is at the Base Hospital (2). I explained as well as I could in my letter to Miss Foster*, although I had no idea where he was until I had your letter. Please God all is well with him and that he will make a good recovery.
I didn’t have anyone killed, the day you were wounded, in the platoon, but one man is missing. I haven’t heard anything of him yet, that was the man who put his field dressing on you, A.V. (3).Yes Gurley* & the boys are all keeping well. I don’t know Ball* but will let you know soon. I don’t know how the other three instructors got on.
No wonder you say you are happy, what with your people being near you and the weather and the place – you could not well be otherwise. I hope the only shadow that is marring your happiness will soon be dispelled.
You know my home is not far from New Brighton. Widnes, the other [side] the Mersey from Runcorn, is where I live (4).
I know all around New Brighton, Seacombe, Wallasey etc. quite well.
I could envy you if you had not richly deserved your rest. As you say war seems far distant from such surroundings.
No we have not been in a charge since you left us.I will answer for it that correspondence is kept up between the platoon & yourself. I will write occasionally, if it is only a note it will act as a connecting file so we shall not lose touch.
Yes I wish the boys could be with you to enjoy the privileges of the hospitality shown to us all by those at home. You know I can speak from experience as I was in hospital five months. You made my mouth water speaking of chicken etc, but we are out here for a purpose, let us get this done then we will think of the luxuries of life.
Yes Randle* found his way alright. I cannot tell you anything about the roll call, you must guess that (5). I will tell Bird (6 ) what you asked me to.
Don’t think you were scoffed at for living as He would have us all live, far from it. We all admire you for the strength of will you exercised to do so, and I greatly admire you for the (card?) incident. I used to ‘say things’ myself at times, but you must remember I was a Platoon Sergeant. Still I always tried to live as I should live.
Before I close, Bertie, I should like to say that what I said in my two letters to Miss Foster* was quite true, and you must not underestimate your own qualities as a soldier. I am always candid in my opinion of everyone and I can honestly say you were always a good soldier and one of the best.
Please accept the kindest regards of all the platoon and myself.
Serg. W. Price.
PS. Your card enclosed.
The Hibbett Family was hoping against hope that the verbal report Pte Bertie had received of Sydney’s death was not true and that he might be lying injured somewhere in a Hospital in France.
This Letter indicates the lengths Bertie’s Platoon Serjeant W. Price went to help families & friends as they tried to discover the whereabouts of their loved ones. He had already written twice in reply to Mary Foster, Bertie’s Godmother, and here he promises to keep fully in touch with Bertie. His relationship with my father is yet further evidence of the respect and understanding which existed between officers, NCOs & men of 1/5th S. Staffords who volunteered in Walsall, August 1914.
WW1 Historian Peter Barton, in a recent authoritative & well documented TV series, suggests that the Battle of The Somme did not end on November 18th 1916 but continued until the following February 1917; when the Germans made a strategic retreat to the Seigfried/Hindenburg Line. <www.the guardian.com>19th July 2016, review of revised 2006 Somme Panorama.
This further length of time, before it was safe to search the Gommecourt Battlefield for those who fell in No Man’s Land, would account for Sydney’s loss of identity and his burial beneath a wooden cross inscribed ‘Unknown Serjeant, South Stafford’.
(1) Same Address: i.e. 1/5th South Staffordshire Battalion, B.E.F. the exact location can be found in the War Diary for 17th Aug. 1916.The battalion had moved on up the Line immediately after 1st July. (2) No 6, 9 and No 12 Base Hospital, Rouen. Pte Bertie was in all three from Aug – Oct 1915.
(3) A.V. Arthur Venables*, Walsallpal (put a field dressing on my father’s wound in the midst of battle, 1st July 1916). Commemorated on The Memorial to the Missing, Thiepval; in Walsall Town Hall & on Walsall War Memorial. <www.webmatters.net>
(4) Widnes, Cheshire, north bank of River Mersey.(5) Roll Call: i.e. of the Platoon after the 1st July 1916 Charge, Gommecourt.See Casualties 1/5th S. Staffords War Diary Post :1st July 2016.
(6) Padre H.E.Bird* (Chaplain QMS 1/5th S Staffords). See Letter to Pte Bertie, 19th July 1916.
GODMOTHER, Miss MARY FOSTER, Bankhead, 12, Drum Park, Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland (1):
LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire.
16/ 8/ 16.
My Dear Bertie,
At last the weather has broken & today is very stormy with heavy rain, but even as I write it is brightening as though to clear.
Just opposite our window, this morning, is the ship (2) which is the base for Hydro planes, of which we saw two yesterday (3).
I was very pleased to get your letter this morning,but is it not easier for you to write in pencil? You will be thinking she takes a lot of pleasing – it is either “too good” or “too tired”, I know. But really it is “too good” this morning.I am sure it required a great effort&you know you need not exert yourself to do all your level best writing for me.
I can quite understand your feeling of depression, in fact, I have been expecting it when you settled down by yourself. You see you have had a string of excitement up to now, & less time to brood.
I wonder if the time will come when you would like me to come up, & I wonder if it did whether you would say so.I wonder! Would you? And do you know it would give me great pleasure to do so in that case?
I can well understand that your thoughts go out to the ‘Boys of the Staffords’& that you feel very much drawn to them in the grand work they are carrying on. But my dear Boy you have nothing to regret – your part in this great task has been long & splendid. Have you ever thought how hard it would be to let you go again?
I do hope you will have a bit of good news from the Matronyou wrote to – yes we will keep on praying hard for dear Sydney–I always wake to wonder if we shall hear today.
Now, dear, you must not feel that you must answer when I write, but, as per usual, write just when you want to.If I write too often or too much you may tell me.You will tell me all you learn about your arm, won’t you? & “anything and everything”.
With best love from
PSMrs Gorrie (4)sends her love to you & says she is thinking about you & how you will miss all your people.
Almost as soon as he arrived at The Cenacle Hospital, Pte Bertie Hibbett began to write letters in search of his brother Sydney, missing since 1st July. He appears to have written to the Hospital Matrons he had met in France, at Le Treport & Rouen.
My father was very fortunate to have a Godmother, like Mary Foster. From the beginning her kindly character shines through in his Letters Home – now we are able to see first-hand how wise and understanding a friend she was. She recognised his need to confide his sorrow to someone, other than his immediate family,and to tell her ‘anything & everything’.
He also appears to have been experiencing what is now known as the ‘guilt of the survivor’ & the feeling he must get back to help his pals, ‘The Boys of the Staffords’.
(1) Lower Largo, Fife: village in Largo Bay, Firth of Forth, Scotland. Birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, marooned 4 years on Juan Fernandez Island (South Pacific Ocean, 416 miles off coast of Chili). Inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’.
(2) H.M.S.Ark Royalwas the first British sea-plane carrier. Launched 5th Sept 1914. Supported troops in Gallipoli 1915 & Macedonia 1916. Unlikely to have been in Largo Bay in 1916?
(3) Hydro planes:British Sopwith 1½ Strutter(named after long & short cabane struts supporting wings). Asquadron of biplanes was created in 1915-1916 to patrol Firth of Forth & North Sea against German Assault.First British aircraft to have synchronised machine gun to fire during battles without hitting the blades. In WW1 the French built twice as many Sopwith Strutters than the British.
(3) Mrs Gorrie (old Scottish name)possibly No 12 Drum Park Guest House Landlady. Mary Foster often spent her annual holiday in Scotland.
NEXT POST: 17th Aug. 1916. Message from 1/5th Staffords Platoon Serjeant.
THE CENACLE RED CROSS HOSPITAL, NEW BRIGHTON: Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, MATRON, NURSES & WOUNDED PALS. 1916 -1917.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT’S eldest brother, Harold,took most of these photographs during visits to The Cenacle between July 1916 -1917. As a Chemist he would have developed & also printed them.
As well as drawing the house & grounds, Pte Bertie Hibbett tried his hand at a poem dedicated to The Cenacle.
‘Where once the Nuns paced to and fro’, Now Wounded Soldiers come and go, They liken the Cenacle to a herbal cure For the Matron and Nurses are so good and pure.
Oh! to sleep in a cosy bed On pillow soft to rest my head And have my sore wounds dressed by a kind nurse, Whose virtue is mercy and nothing worse.’ Oct 1916.
It is clear from these photographs of smiling faces that the Matron Sisters & Red Cross Nurses at the Cenacle were indeed kindness itself. I hope that readers researching their Mothers, Grandmothers & Aunts who were Red Cross Nurses in WW1 may find their relatives & their signatures here.
Patients appear to have been allowed to wear mufti when they had visitors. See photo below (most probably taken at the same time as the one of my father abovewith his arm in a sling). N.B. I think the names given refer to theRed Cross Nurses, N. Cockeram and N. Higson.A note under the photo states the man on the left was an Irishman – in which case he could be Pte Kelly, S. Irish Horse, who sang & played a Song entitled ‘Goo Goo Eyes!‘ at a Cenacle Concert. Oct. 1916.
NEXT POST: 16th AUG. 1916.
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.