25th AUG.1916:’MANY A TIME HAVE I THOUGHT OF YOU & THOSE OLD BOYS OF MINE MARCHING AWAY TO DO YOUR DUTY’.

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.

Pte Bertie Hibbett is marching behind his brother Sydney (in mufti, front row far left). Bridge Street, Walsall. Sept. 1914.
Pte Bertie Hibbett marching behind his brother Sydney (in mufti, front row far left). Bridge Street, Walsall. 4th Sept. 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. 

Park Street with St Matthews' Church on the hill. Christine 7 John Ashmore. Old PC.
Park Street, Walsall, looking towards the Bridge with St Matthews’ Parish Church on the hill. Courtesy Christine & John Ashmore. 1950s PC. <http://www.historywebsite.co.uk&gt;

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. 

Blue Coats School Walsall. c 1914.
Blue Coats School, 1859 Building, St Paul’s Close. Closed 1933 to become Bus Station.

 

You know better than I do what it has meant to you allHow 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.

*****************************

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

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.

Lord Derby 1865-
Lord Derby 1865-1948.

(2Lord Derby: Secretary of State for War 1916-1918. ‘Lord Derby’s Scheme’: The National Registration Act for Military Service was initiated by Lord Derby, & passed on 15th July 1915. It required all men, between the age of 18 and 65 years, to register their residential location on 15th Aug.1915. See: <http://http://www.1914-1918.net/derbyscheme&gt; and <http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/derbyscheme.htm&gt;.

(3The National Registration Act resulted from the huge number of trench warfare casualties 1915. See Hibbett Letter, 21st Oct. 1915. Ida Hibbett volunteered at Walsall Town Hall, helping to create a Card Index of Men Available for Military Service. 29 million forms were issued: Granite Blue forms for Men and White 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 canvassing but 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’.

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