Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, Wallesley, New Brighton, Cheshire: ‘BACK from the FRONT’.
This Poem, possibly begun in the trenches, was finished in the Red Cross Hospital ready for the October Concert Programme. It indicates that my father was allowed Home to Walsall about this time in 1916. This is supported by a photograph of him in uniform with his arm in a sling & my Dad’s caption:’Possibly taken at 95 Foden Rd Walsall’, added in 1960s.
Dedicated to my Home
Cheer O! Cheer O! Here I fly!
Dodging shells which burst so high;
Daring not to stop and sigh;
I picture Home Sweet Home so dear
Ma and Pa are thinking of me
At Home beyond that strip o’sea,
Where I so long, and wish to be.
Where I can banish all my fear.
Back Home! Back Home! There’s ma Mere
Et ma Soeur, et Frere, et Pere
I kiss them all (both) here and there
Then with our faces all aglow
We gather round the fire-side
Putting war news on one side
We talk until we’re satisfied,
And very soon forget the foe.
Back Home! Back Home!, Oh what it is
To feel the thrilling Heavenly Bliss
To give my Mother a loving kiss
In my Home where I behold
And see my father’s face again
After my life of toil and pain
Which I had not born in vain,
But for Freedom to uphold.
A.H.Hibbett Oct. 1916.
I published this poem too soon by mistake hence the quick update!
NBMy father’s French has not improved!
NEXT POST: 4th Oct 1916: The Cenacle Red Cross Hospital Concert.
YOUR OLD PAL BEN, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment at the Front: LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire.
Field Post Office 152 Censor L. J. Taylor.
Sep. 19th 1916.
Dear Pal Bert,
I was very pleased indeed to get a letter from you so quick and it gave me such a surprise when I opened it and saw your photo (1) a straw would have knocked me down in the trench. Reg Taylor * fainted when he saw it. He said to me ‘Ben, he has got some swank on him now, with his ring on and a cigar in the same hand’.
Bert we are having a very pleasant time where we are. I think we have frightened them just where we are holding. We have had the pleasure of catching a few of them since we have been at that part.
I hope by the time you get this letter you are better in health and look better.
Bert I was so proud of the five fags as I was smoked straight out and they made me a very comfortable night.
What do you mean Bert that you like my style of writing. What is it like – a young lady’s style? (2).
Yes Bert, I think myself that you had had enough – and also myself, don’t you think so, Bert. I am A.1. myself and ready for them any time they have got the mind to come over.
I was very sorry indeed when I read your letter and you said that you had wrote (about Sydney) to the N.M. Div. Base (3) and had it returned back to you, but you may get some news, I say Bert, better late than never.
There is one above who knows where he lies at rest.
I say Bert it was a very hot 1st of July. I shall never forget Derby Dyke(4).
Bert what makes you think about barbed wire now you have got a contented mind and you are so far away from the Boss (i.e. ‘Bosche’).(5)
Venables* is a prisoner in Germany (6). J. Maley* is with us now and in the pink. Yes I have heard about A. O. Jones* being in Blighty (7). I say it is luck.
I may see some of the old faces shortly as they say we have got a big draft at the Base (8) waiting to join us. It is very seldom I see Pte Gurley* (9) now as he stops at Head Qrs. I shall see him when I get out of the line and I will show him your photo and letter.
D. Ball* (10) has left the Batt. some time now, he has gone back under age.
I now close and more next time.
I remain your Old Pal, Ben.
Write back Bert.
Bert – let me know if you move and send your address.
More evidence of the many letters my father wrote in the search for his brother and the whereabouts of his friends. I would love to know more about his ‘old pal Ben’, he sounds such a cheerful lad but without a surname to go on this will be very difficult. He was probably in my father’s ‘A’ Coy if he was in Derby Dyke trenches facing Gommecourt Wood, on 1st July 1916.
Well might Pte Bertie Hibbett be haunted by barbed wire. Not only did he have to face the possibility of being caught on the German wire if he managed to cross No Man’s Land but he also had to carry his own chevaux de frise along the flooded Derby Dyke to the Front Line(700 yrds or more). In his Memories of the First World War my father describes how impossible this was under the relentless shelling. A detailed description of Derby Dyke on 1st July 1916 is given by Alan MacDonald in A Lack of Offensive Spirit? p 348.
(1) Pte Bertie’s Photo: probably one taken by Harold on the beach at New Brighton, Aug/Sept. 1916. (2) Writing Style: perhaps Bertie had teased Ben about his conversational repetition of ‘Bert‘ in a previous letter. (3) 46th N.Midland Division Base: Rouen.
(4) Derby Dyke: 1/5th S. Staffords Assembly Trenches, Foncquevillers, Battle for Gommecourt, 1st July 1916. One of the principal communication trenches named after the Division ( Staffords Avenue, Lincoln Lane, Leicester Street, Nottingham Street, Derby Dyke, Roberts Avenue, Rotten Row, Regent Street, Raymond Avenue & Crawlboys Lane). Derby Dyke ran through orchards at the edge of the village parallel to Nottingham Street & the modern road into Foncquevillers. These trenches had been deepened from 2 ft to 7 ft in the lead up to the Battle and on the day were full of water. Derby Dyke held the ‘Advanced Battalion HQ of the right attacking Bn in the right brigade’.
(5) Barbed Wire: See My Memories of the First World War ref to chevaux de friezes/ barbed wire contraption my father was desperately trying to carry through the trenches on 1st July 1916. (6) Arthur Venables*: Missing on 1st July 1916 after he had dressed Pte Bertie’s wound and saved his life. It was possible but I think an unlikely hope that Venables was captured that day. Commemorated on Thiepal Memorial to the Missing & Walsall War Memorial.
(7) Corp. A.O. Jones: the Hibbett family was anxious to trace Sydney’s pack & belongings, which in his last letter he said he was entrusting to his friend Jones ‘in case’. If Corp Jones was wounded & back in Blighty that would account for the lack of news, especially as the Battalion had moved to a different part of the Line on 2nd July.
(8) Base: Rouen. (9) Gurley*:my father had also written to Sergt Price about Gurley. See Hibbett Letter: 17th Aug. 1916. (10) D.Ball*: younger brother of Sydney & Bertie’s pal Ball. He appears to have been with the S Staffords in 1914, so very much under age if he was still under 18 when the Military Act 1916 caught up with him.
NEXTPOST: 4th Oct. 1916. Soldier’s Concert at the Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton.
BASIL HIBBETT, Earl Soham, Suffolk: LETTER to BERTIE, The Cenacle Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire.
Earl Soham (1).
Sunday (3rd September? 1916) (2).
My dear old Bertie,
Many thanks for the letter received last week: am sorry I have not written before but you know how we stand in a tiny village with an orange-box for a Post- Office!
I rushed off down the village on Thursday just after dinner to buy a few Post cards and Stamps and found every place closed including the Orange Box, otherwise known as P. Office.
I was very sorry that the photo was spoilt; it has been fingered such a lot you see!Never mind I want it if you don’t: I haven’t one of either of you now and I don’t like it – not ’arf! Hope H(arold) has sent you some by this time.
Where did you get the photos of S. taken with the Reserves at Derby? (3).
I guess you will be glad to hear that H. is going to see you for a few days.
I am glad also for your sake as I expect you do get fed up now and again. How long do you think you will be there?
Yes, we are busy as you say, especially as the harvest is late (more than a month) and as we are so short handed.
We have started to cart the wheat & oats. I am the carter! I find it quite exciting at times with a big load on. There is a ditch between two fields which has to be crossed thru. a gap in the hedge. We filled in the ditch with hedgings & straw, but it did not seem very firm as I came across with a great towering load of wheat! I thought the bally show was coming on top of me as it sank into the bed of straw and then bumped onto the other side.
And of course there is the nag to look after & shout & yell at. There is one horse, a grey mare, that doesn’t require any of that & it doesn’t look at the ditch, but simply charges off over, and I have to charge along-side it with the load bumping & rolling at the back! O them ’osses!
It is very exciting when we have been cutting some wheat or oats and there is a small piece left to be cut.
We all arm ourselves with thick sticks & get ready for the fray.
Out come the rabbits, or rather they don’t come out this year somehow, but anyway when they do there’s plenty of fun. There have not been so many this year & wehave only caught 12 all the time I have been here: the men generally take a few. If we have got a lot, say a dozen at once, I will try to send a few to your Hospital. I should like to send something. The apples are hardly ripe yet. Would you like some when they are?
I went round this afternoon finding eggs, the hens stray all over and lay just where they like. I found three eggs in a nest by the roadside and also 2 guinea fowl eggs. Mrs. Adams (4) has forty hens, about thirty chickens and a flock of geese, about 35 in number. Unfortunately all the hens aren’t laying and we don’t get many eggs.
All the milk from the 3 cows goes to butter making, of which we get 30 lbs a week. Mrs. Adams sells it to the people at Ipswich, except that which we use ourselves. There are some very nice calves and a pair in particular. This particular pair is quite swanky & look at me, as I get over the style, just as though they were in the Stalls and I was in the Pit.
I am feeding enormously! – fat ‘bearcon’ in particular, plenty of cheese, butter, beans, potatoes, onions & meat!
Now with regard to Sydney, that is quite a good idea of Miss Foster’s which we are adopting (5). I think we are getting a little ‘nearer’ to him, don’t you? We must keep pegging away at making enquiries & keep on smiling.
Must close now dear old boy & I hope you will have a good time with Harold. I am sure you will.
With best love from
PS Mr & Mrs Adams* send their best wishes & hope you make a good recovery.
A Good Harvest in 1916 was critical. It was reported that the country’s wheat supply was down to six weeks owing to German attacks on shipping in the North Sea & Atlantic. Farmers were given a guaranteed price for wheat & oats and Food Rationing became compulsory.
It is no wonder that Basil Hibbett, with his interest in farming, was not called up immediately he attested – but it is not clear whether he was now complying with government requests for help with the harvest in Suffolk. It is possible there were family connexions on the East Coast. Grandfather Henry Hibbett, was born in Empringham, Rutland, 1824, into a farming family going back generations, before he became a master plumber & glazier in York. The Hibbett Family frequently holidayed at Uffington in Rutland.
(1) Earl Soham, Suffolk (two miles west of North Framlingham): An Ancient Roman Settlement, so called after the Earls of Norfolk (Bigod family). 15 miles from Ipswich on the River Orwell & Estuary.
(2) No Date given: it could be a Sunday in August but 3rd Sept. best fits details in the letter re Bertie’s request for Harold’s photos &mention of ‘a late harvest’. (Spring wheat harvest was usually late summer/early autumn).
(3) Sydney Hibbettwas sent Home from the Front with catarrhal jaundice in early 1916. From Hospital in Cirencester he was transferred to Staffordshire Regiment Reserves in Derby, where it appears he began Serjeant training. See Hibbett Letters: 10th Jan.1916.
(4) Mrs Adams:Basil’slandlady. According to Genes Re-united there was a B.F.Adams living at Cheshunt? Farm, Earl Soham in 1914 – advertising his cabbage plants for cattle, cooking potatoes and marrowfat peas in the local paper that year. The Adams’Farm appears to have been mainly arable with just a few cows & the usual poultry.
(5) Mary Foster: another example of the help Bertie’s Godmother was giving the family – letter writing all-round in the search for Sydney.
NEXT POST:19th Sept. 1916. ‘What makes you think about barbed wire now?’ Your Old Pal Ben.
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.