Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton: LETTER to FATHER, MOTHER, IDA, HAROLD & BASIL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall, Staffs.
Christmas Day /16
My Dear Father, Mother, Ida, Harold & Basil,
The Programme of the Day started with trying to undo my pair of stockings and extricate their contents (6.15 am). The contents I found out were first – a handsome little cigarette case, nickel silver – then a small parcel containing Gold Flake cigs, Cad. (bury) Milk chocolates, some other chocolates & a bag of toffee. There was also this writing pad and the letter which was going to be sent to Fazakerly (1) from the Matron, having on the top a pretty Christmas design.
Having got ready for Church, I thought of singing ‘Christians Awake’ (2) to Nurse Wilcox* . It was rather jolly going there in the dark & singing by candlelight. I have rarely sung here & I wondered if they heard me. You will learn later in my letter. The Holy Communion Service was plain (the Choral was later) & the organist not being there, the Hymn ‘While Shepherds watched’ (3) was played by the Vicar on the harmonium, which I had noticed some long time ago near the vestry.
It was very pleasant for all the soldiers to go up to the altar with a sister (Sister Clive* wears glasses). On coming out of Church I saw the two Wilcox sisters who wished their compliments & remarked upon me getting up early. Later they came round the Wards with their father who wished to know for certain who sang, they all thought it very nice. (They are a little like the Brookes* (4) ).
I intended going to the morning service but did not know it started at 10.30 am.
The Dinner was very good, turkey, stuffing, sausages & bread sauce etc. & plum pudding, deserts, fruit & nuts, including a few Brazils & almonds in shells.
After dinner I got a box of chocolates from Molly Evans* (5) & I lay down in my old bed & tried to sleep, at any rate I rested. Then about 4 o’clock I went to see Sister Jones* ( but I had to visit the other branch Hospital at Penkell Rd. (6). Well Mother, when Sister Jones saw me she smiled all over & half ran to me & then embraced me. What do you think of that. She persisted in me staying there & so I entered a room to find the nurses & patients having a Sing Song – & a Santa Claus was giving presents to the audience, conveyed by someone dressed as a Teddy Bear. How they laughed.
So far so good – but I forgot to mention that I got a fit of tidyness this morning & I tidied the Ward & made it look so nice that when the Medical Officer in Charge of the Cenacle (7) came round with the Commandant, he remarked upon it, saying of all the wards this was the best. I put Miss K. Brookes* black dog Calendar in the centre of the mantelpiece which attracted everyone’s admiration.
I also forgot to tell you I have had four eggs given to me. Two for breakfast (I was about to have three (one a bantams)).
I showed many nurses the Q.M.S. Magazine (8) with Our Dear Sydney’s photo in, which I consider the best, although we must reverently consider the others. I thought more than ever of Sydney when I was resting after dinner.
I showed the poem (9) I sent you to a clergyman who thought it would be very nice for Mother, but I have an idea that Sydney is too good (or the loss of our dear Sydney is such a delicate matter) for me to write poetry about, not being able to compose so correctly as genii – but the clergyman thought it well, excepting some of the metre here & there. I leave it entirely to your candid opinion Mother & all of you, for I only thought of the idea to try and make amends for the loss of the poem on the paper cutting.
On Christmas Eve by the Matron’s request I embossed a letter of Good Wishes to the M.O. I/C (Dr Barry) (7). I was chosen to write the letter because I was one of the two oldest patients at the Cenacle. Dr Barry* thanked me so kindly this morning, he is a very pleasant gentleman & the Commandant was also rather pleasant.
I also did (copied) the King’s Message to the sailors & soldier saying how the ‘Queen & I at this time think especially of the sick & wounded’ (10).
Well dears, I thought of the Xmas three years ago (11 ) when we were altogether & I hope & pray I may be with you at Home next. I liked Harold’s Christmas Card very much, especially the words:-
‘A little fun to Match the sorrow Of each day’s growing, And so Good Morrow’ (12).
I liked Basil’s letter & thank him for the one I got when at Fazakerly. I described his account of York Minster to several nurses – & to the Bach. of Music, who was talking at breakfast how the Holy Communion Service was taken at Peterborough. (They have services at 6, 7, 8 & 11.30 –all Choral. The Dean takes the first & the Canon the next & the Bishop at 8 – & the Canon in Residence at 11.30). How I wished I had been with Basil in the Minster.
Well, I remembered Basil to the nurses & those who knew him well. Nurse Danger, Nurses Hay*, Cockeram* & Wilcox* (Helen) send you all the Compliments of the Season.
I remain, Yours affectionately ever,
PS I was going to write to Mary Overend & Mr & Mrs * (13 ) but can you convey my wishes please. The bottom Ward, consisting of two front rooms in one, has been cleared of the beds & they are all dancing to the violin & some music on the piano by the B Musc. I am in the Ward busy writing this letter. I can feel that Sydney is present.
Sister Jones* sends her best wishes to Mother.
My father always made Christmas a special time for us all. His love of the Festival is clear in this WW1 letter as he remembers his lost brother & the Hibbett Family’s last Christmas all together in 1913. Cf his Christmas Letters of 1914 & 1915.
(1) Fazakerly Military Hospital, Liverpool, where Pte Bertie had recently returned after an operation to save his right arm. No doubt his bandages made it difficult to open his Christmas stockings one-handed.
(2) Hymn: Christians Awake salute the happy morn, whereon the Saviour of the world was born. Text John Byrom 1691-1763; Tune John Wainwright 1723 -1768. [See Hibbett Letters 25th Dec. 1915]
(3) Hymn: While Shepherds watched. Text based on Luke 2.8-14 by Nahum Tate 1652-1715 (Irish Hymnist/Poet Laureate to Queen Anne.).Published by Tate & Nicholas Brady in ‘Supplement of New Version of Psalms of David.1696’ . Music: Old Winchester. (The only Christian hymn authorised to be sung in Anglican Churches. Before 1700 only Psalms could be sung). [See Hibbett Letters 27th Dec 1914; 24th Dec. 1915]
(4) Kathleen Brookes*: Deacon/ Sunday School Teacher/ Superintendent. St Paul’s Church, Walsall. Supported the Prisoner of War Relief Fund, Walsall Ladies’ Health Society and Walsall Poor Children’s Holiday Society. Lived at Fern Leigh, Mellish Road, Walsall (with her father, William Henry Brookes, (JP, 1906) a former Superintendant & Pte Bertie’s friend & life-long mentor).
(5) Molly Evans*: young sister of Pte Bertie’s best pal, Vernon Evans, who joined his father’s Solicitor Firm in Walsall estab. 1884. Enoch Evans became Lord Mayor of Walsall in 1921. (See Enoch Evans LLP <www.enochevans.co.uk>)
(6) Penkell Rd, New Brighton: neither road nor hospital found on list of WW1 Auxiliary Hospitals <www.redcross.org.uk> so perhaps spelling is incorrect or the name refers to a house taken over for increasing numbers of Battle of Somme wounded.
(7) M.O I/C: Medical Officer in Charge. Dr Barry.
(8) QMS Magazine 1916. In Memoriam. 2016/17. A plaque dedicated to Serjeant Sydney Hibbett and one to Lieut Allen, both QMS Old Boys, KIA, has been erected at Lochnagar Crater by the present QMS Head Boy & senior pupils. (See photographs PRH191418@QMS191418/ Twitter). The crater was created by an enormous explosion underground, ten minutes before the official time of 7.30 am that marked the opening of the Battle of the Somme. It would have been heard at Fonquevillers as the 1/5th S. Staffords waited to go over the top to take Gommecourt Park & Wood, 1st July 1916.
(9) Poem: temporarily mislaid.
(10) King’s Message Christmas 1916 (he did not broadcast his Christmas message until 1932).
(11) See Hibbett Letters Dec 1914.
(12) Poem: A Little Work. George Louis Palmella Du Maurier 1834-1896. A little work, a little play To keep us going – and so Good Day! A little fun to match the sorrow of each day’s growing and so Good Morrow.
(13) May/ Mary Overend (Red Cross Nurse /friend of Ida Hibbett), long-standing family friends in Walsall.
NEXT POST: 2nd Jan. 1917: Pal’s Postcard on Active Service, Egypt.