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.
NEXT POST: 4th Oct. 1916. Soldier’s Concert at the Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton.