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 & we have 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 Hibbett was 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’s landlady. 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.