LIEUTENANT BASIL HIBBETT, youngest son of Arthur & Marie Neal Hibbett, enlisted in the Manchester Regt. 9th Bn Territorials. It would appear he sailed from Holyhead on HMT Arcadian (3) on 4th March, arriving in Marseilles 11th March 1917.
The Manchester Territorials may have been intended for Alexandria & the Eastern Front but on arrival in Marseille they were entrained for Pont Remy (4) and the Western Front, arriving 14th March to become part of the 42nd Division, 10 miles east of Amiens.
These troops, the last of 42nd Division to arrive in France in WW1, were issued with rifles & steel helmets and began training in trench warfare, trench digging and route marches.
On 18th April the 9th Bn Manchester Territorials moved to Haquaix (5) and, on 22nd April, Basil Hibbett went into the trenches for the first time at Épehy (6) to take part in the Battle of Arras.
The Battle of Arras began on 9th April 1917 and would last until 16th May1917. It intended to ‘redress the failure of the Battle of the Somme’ 1st July 1916, force the Germans back 5 miles on a 4 mile front, capture Vimy Ridge and advance towards Cambrai. The aim was to support the French Nivelle Offensive on the Aisne (50 miles south) which had planned ‘to break through within 48 hours.’. Wikipedia.
My father’s first thought on 22nd Feb 1917 was for his Mother – and what she must be going through the day her youngest son, 18, left Home for Holyhead en route for France.
He would learn later that Basil entered the trenches just a few miles from where he & Sydney had been fighting the year before. I remember my father often spoke of his youngest brother as ‘taking the place’ of Sydney, Killed in Action, 1st July 1916.
(1) M.Os: Money Orders.
(2) Holyhead: Anglesey, Wales. Major specialist training centre for departures to France in WW1.
(3) RMSP Arcadian: Armed Troop Ship WW1. Originally the SS Ortano, (British transport passenger ship/cruise liner, built by Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness). Renamed RMSP Arcadian, 21st Sept 1910. In WW1 named HMT Arcadian (His Majesty’s Troop Ship) it transported troops to the Eastern Front. Torpedoed 15th April 1917, 26 miles NE of Milo on route for Salonika, Alexandria. Sank in 6 minutes: 1058 rescued. 279 drowned.
(4) Pont Remy: Commune in Somme Department, Hauts-de-France, where St Remigius (Remy) was born: with the help of St Vedast (Vaast) he baptised Clovis, King of the Franks into the Christian Faith, 25th Dec. AD 496. (See Hibbett profile/connexion).
(5) Haquaix: Reserve Camp for troops at Épehy Front Line?
(6) Épehy: Commune in Picardie, Somme, Hauts-de-France(13 miles from Cambrai / 14 miles from St Quentin).Parish Church of St Nicholas.
NOTE to HIBBETT FAMILY: if Lieutenant Basil Hibbett’s details are inaccurate in any way please contact me.
NEXT POST: 3rd March 1917. Wounded Pal’s Letter to Pte Bertie from ‘my own Little Home’.
BASIL HIBBETT,Foden Road, Walsall: LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire.
Dear Old Chap,
Am very sorry I have not written lately but it wasn’t because I never thought of my dear wounded brother& I have often wished that you were at Home, for there is nothing much for me to do here.
Thank you ever so much for the cigs & the cash:but you must not waste your money on me; you know I have got my bit to do yet.No I don’t smoke much & I never buy cigs myself yet. Nevertheless I like ‘Players No 3‘ (better than the Embassy) but of course I shall get through them all!
Well, here I am still waiting& my patience (never a great quantity!) is nearly exhausted.One thing,the weather is ripping& I should think the Arboretum (1) is frozen to the bottom!Of course they are skating on it. Sister & Iwent on last night in the moonlight to see what it was like.There was 25° of frost here yesterday & at Market Harborough there was 40°! (2).
I generally go for long walks in the afternoons & occupy my time in judging distances, at which I am getting expert.
Yesterday I got on the car (3) to the Bell Inn (4) & walked round Great Bar (5) & right along theBeaconto‘Bosty’ Lane (6). It was a grand afternoon &if only my papers would come I should be happy as possible.I saw 3 lambs on the Beacon, all in the snow & about as big as one’s hand!
Mr Machin* (7) lent me 2 military books& asthis part of the country is good for manoeuvres, I imagine that I am in command of a section or ½ platoon:as I walk along&judge whether I am within artillery or rifle fire from different positions & if so what formation to adopt.Of course that sort of warfare is not much used now as in former wars, but it is interesting & occupies one’s mind.
We have heard rumours of an offensive in March,but mind you, only rumours (8).
So U.S. has come in at last.Wilsonthe gas-bag, the note-writer, the peace without victory chump (9).
“When he hears of a liner blown up on the sea he gets as mad as a hornet, he does, yes sur-ree! An’ he cables across – ‘Wuz thar Yankees aboard? By jiminy! if so gimme Bunker Hill’s Sword! (10) But ur course, if thar warn’t, it’s nawthin’ tu me, I’m a jestice of peace, an fer nootralitee; I’m too proud fer tu fight fer ole papers an’ scraps. Tho’ I mebbe hev signed ’em – gold data ’em – perhaps!” (11).
Well, he’s only 2 years 6 months too late!
I am glad you had a nice time with Mother & Ida.We shall have to leave the Picture until you come home & then you & Ida can go to B’ham to choose one.(Ed: a frame for one of Bertie’s sketches?)
Well hoping you won’t be frozen to the marrow when you get into bed tonight: you would think there was an elephant in my bed with all the clothes & overcoats, waistcoats & trousers & then myself underneath it all trying to get warm!!!
With much love from Dodger.
The Winter of 1916-1917 was especially harsh throughout Europe. The Meteriological Office Monthly Weather Report for February 1917 records the most severe frost in England since February 1895; many rivers & canals were frozen over for weeks. One can only imagine the conditions for the men in the trenches and be glad that my father was not one of them.
Pte Bertie’s youngest brother Basil, 19, was still waiting impatiently for his call-up papers. His letter gives a good idea of his character, his intelligence & youthful courage. He was in Queen Mary’s School O.T.C. (as Sydney & Bertie had been) and was hoping for a commission in the Manchester Regiment. The Hibbett Family was anxious that Basil should avoid something of the menial work & harsh conditions that his brothers had undergone in the ranks. He had gained his Senior Oxford School Certificate and his father was probably better able to afford a commission for his youngest son, than in 1914, when his brothers volunteered and the War was expected to be ‘over by Christmas’.
Basil Hibbettwrites as if the U.S.A. was already in the War by 7th Feb. but it was not until 6th April 1917 that President Woodrow Wilson signed a Declaration of War on Germany– in order to make ‘the world safe for democracy’. Since 1914, he had fought to keep Americaneutral but his hand was forced when Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all shipping (whether neutral or not) with the sinking of the American liner,Housatonic, 31st January 1917. (British intelligence also reported that Germany was pushing Mexico to declare war on America).
Even so, it was not until May 1918 that a full-scale American Army arrived in France: by then Lieut. Basil Hibbett was already at the Front doing ‘his bit’.
(1) Arboretum Lake, Walsall: E. A. Foden,(gave his name to Foden Road, now Broadway), decided to turn his estate into aPeople’s Park.It was officially opened in 1874 with two lakes, two lodges, and a boathouse. The lakes were created by flooding the deep disused limestone mines. Hatherton Lake is 40ft deep in places. In WW1 the playing fields were used for growing potatoes and the Women’s Volunteer Reserve helped maintain the Park. (‘The Story of Walsall’, Bev Parker, Black Country Historian).
(2) Market Harborough (Leicestershire) 40 ° frost. The Met. Office Monthly Weather Report for Feb. 1917 records 91 days of frost onDartmoor, the severest frost lasting 5 weeks, the longest since 1855: ‘nearly all the furze (gorse) is killed’. Birds & evergreen trees ‘severely affected’. See also Scott Richards’ Weather Videos from 1871 (YouTube 13th Jan 2016).
(3) Car: i.e. Tramcar.
(4) The Bell Inn: Birmingham Road, Bloxwich, Walsall.
(5) The Beacon, Great Barr, parish of Aldridge, one of Pte Bertie’s favourite cycle rides.
The Beacon Way runs from Sandwell, West Bromwich, to Barr Beacon (now a local nature reserve) taking in canalsand woodlands around Walsall. The Hibbett Family would have joined the walk at Rushall Church a mile or so from 95, Foden Road.
(6) ‘Bosty Lane’: (the B4754 between Rushall & the Beacon). ‘Bosty‘: slang for ‘filthy’ – here a muddy lane frequented by cattle?
(7) Mr Machin*: Hibbett Family friend, one of Pte Bertie’s mentors, father of Alan Machin, QMS pal. See Hibbett Letters, also Menu: My Memories.
(8) Rumours: The ‘March Offensive’ became The Battle of Arras, 9th April – 16th May 1917.French intended to breakthrough German lines ‘within 24 hours’, 50 miles south on the Aisne, whilst British were to divert German reserves by attacking their defences at Arras, re-capturing Vimy Ridge dominating the plain of Douai and advancing towards Cambrai.
(9) President Thomas WoodrowWilson, 1856 -1924.28th U.S.A. President 1913-1921. Democrat.
Woodrow Wilson: generally considered one of the best of U.S.A. Presidents, with a reputation as a progressive reformer. Signed Treaty of Versailles at Paris Peace Conference (28th June -21st Jan 1920). Championed a new League of Nations but unable to win Senate approval.AmericanWW1casualties made USA want to keep out of European affairs.
(10) Bunker Hill’s Sword: 24″ carbon steel blade with brass handguard & pommelused in Seige of Boston, Massachusets, known as theBattle of Bunker’s Hill,17th June 1775; American Revolution’s first major battle, (British pyrrhic victory/ 2,200 killed or wounded).
(11) Basil Hibbett’s doggerel?I am unable to discover the authorship of this witty piece on typical British attitudes towards America in 1917 -it might well be Basil’s own. ‘Ole papers & scraps . . . gold data’em‘: ref. to Congress’ Declaration of War or earlier declarations signed in gold?
NEXT POST: 22nd FEB 1917: Basil Hibbett leaves Home for War.
Dr N.C.SCLATER, Darna, 1 Earlston Road, Liscard, Cheshire: LETTER to ARTHUR HIBBETT Esq., Education Office, Walsall Borough Council.
AT HOME 9-10 a.m. 6-7-11 p.m. Darna, Earlston Road, Liscard, Cheshire. (1)
TELEPHONE: 245 Liscard.
7th Feby. 1917.
I saw & examined your son this morning.His arm continues to improve, there being good union at the place where the bone was shattered (2).There is avery narrow & deep sinus(a kind of tunnel-way)in the site of the wound (3). This I have no doubt will take some weeks (possibly months) in healing. Your son’s health & spirits are good.
I do not know whether it will be a source of satisfaction or regretto you,but in my opinionI do not believe he will ever again be a soldier ‘at the front’. He will however have a first class arm with which to perform his work in life.
N. C. Sclater.
This news must have been welcomed with joy by the Hibbett Family. The operation was successful and their son’s future was secure. The ‘gunshot wound’ was serious enough to prevent his return to the Front but his hand was not worthless, he would be able to write & draw and have the career he chose. But Dr Sclater does not mention the ‘shell shock’ that Pte Bertie was to suffer all his life.
The 10 million military deaths in WW1 have been remembered ever since on War Memorials world-wide. It has taken the WW1 Centenary to focus attention on the 20 million soldiers who suffered life-changing wounds and to honour the extraordinary work of medics & nurses.
Officially my father’s wound is recorded as a ‘gunshot wound’ but I have not been able to determine whether this referred to ‘shrapnel’ (ball bearings, nails & other metal pieces packed into shells) or to ‘shell fragment’ (shell casing exploded into a myriad pieces). In 2016,the iron pieces I picked up in No Man’s Land between Foncquevillers & Gommecourt, are 3-4 inches average and similar to those illustrated below.
From very early childhood I was fascinated by the hole in my father’s wrist. He called it a ‘shrapnel’ wound. He was often in pain but never grumbled. To him it must have been an ever-present reminder of his Walsall pal, Arthur Venables, who stopped to give him first aid and was later killed that day. See Menu: My Memories of the First World War.
(1) Dr N.C.Sclater. See Hibbett Letter 25th Nov. 1916. His home & surgery in Liscard is still a busy Medical Centre today.
(2) Forearm Bones/ Radius & Ulna:Hibbett Letter:13th Dec.1916. Muscles of the arm & forearm are attached to the radius& ulnato provide movement for everyday tasks and allow the hand to pivot at the wrist.
(3) Sinus (tunnel-way): deep & slow to heal, serious cause for concern if infected & unable to drain. The possibility of amputation of Pte Bertie’s hand or forearm is not mentioned in the Hibbett Lettersbut the threat must have been there since he was wounded on 1st July1916.
NEXT POST: 7th FEB. 1917: The U.S.A. has come in at Last – only Two years 6 Months Too Late!
CECIL JACKSON,1/6 R.W.F.; E.E.F. (1) c/o G.P.O. London: POSTCARD to Pte BERTIE HIBBETTc/o The Cenacle Hospital, New Brighton , Cheshire, England.
On Active Service.Posted 2nd Jan, 1917
Just a line to wish you the very best for the New Year. Please give my address to all.
Yours sincerely, Cecil Jackson. (3)
Pte Bertie’s pal Cecil Jackson is an example of how once recovered, a wounded soldier was often sent to other regiments to make up numbers lost in battle, rather than returned to his Unit.
Service in Egypt: ‘the land where the British forces were active in 1914-1918 lies in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudia Arabia and Syria. … Later, operations were necessary in the Hejaz and in Aden, before in 1917 an offensive was launched which took British troops into the Holy Land and Syria.’ Wikipedia.
Alexandria: ‘after the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915, Alexandria remained an important hospital centre during later operations in Egypt and Palestine and the port was much used by hospital ships and troop transports bringing reinforcements and carrying the sick and wounded out of the theatres of war.’ https://www.cwgc.org/
(2) Livadas & Coutsicos: postcard publishers in Cairo.
(3) Cecil Jackson. Former pupil QMS (Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall). Bank Clerk United Counties Bank, Wolverhampton. Volunteered No 8834 with 5th South Staffords until wounded July 1915. Patient Llandudno Hospital. When recovered joined 1/6 Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF) & with Egyptian Expeditionary Force. See Hibbett Letters:28th March 1915, 30th May 1915, 9th July 1915, 29th Aug.1915.
NEXT POST: 28th JAN 1917: Pte Bertie’s ‘Beautiful Painting’.
CENACLE NURSE’S POSTCARD to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT at Fazerkeley Red Cross Hospital, Liverpool, where he was recovering from an operation to his arm & hand.
NB This Postcard was redirected back to The Cenacle Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton some time in January 1917. The message is temporarily missing . From memory it said the nurse was unable to visit Pte Bertie in Liverpool as she was very busy at The Cenacle.
NEXT POST: 2nd Jan. 1917: Pal’s Postcard ‘On Active Service’ Egypt.
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 padand 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.
I went a walk on the sands, the weather was foggy but just before dinner – & for the rest of the day – the weather has been lovely & bright & a bite of cold.
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’sChristmas 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 onLuke 2.8-14 byNahum 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.
MARIE NEAL HIBBETT in Liverpool: POSTCARD to BASIL HIBBETT, Foden Rd., Walsall, Staffs. 20th Dec 1916.
At the seaside covered with snow. Not so cold, would do you all good to be here. Bertie does not look at all well. Was delighted to see me. Got here very nicely by car. Going sometime tomorrow.
Postcard: British Infantry on the March (in France) : ‘Published by PHOTOCHROME CO LTD, London & Tunbridge Wells “On ACTIVE SERVICE” BY AIR AND SEA. From Copyright Photo taken at the front’.
NEXT POST: 25th Dec. 1916. Christmas Day.
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.