In Search of the Missing: Battlefield Visits 1919 –

Centre: Sgt S. HIBBETT when training as a Sergeant.

SERGEANT SYDNEY HIBBETT was officially reported  ‘Missing presumed Killed in Action, 1st. July 1916’, in the Battle for Gommecourt Wood, the first  day of the Battle of the Somme. He was 22 yrs old.

Members of the Hibbett Family also received messages, by word of mouth, that Sydney was missing and had been seen wounded in No Man’s Land. Their search for him began immediately but it was four years before they received news of his possible grave.

1919 Hibbett Grave Stone IMGP9762

In 1919, Bertie Hibbett designed a Grave  Stone for his brother.  It has a number of features that were eventually to appear on the official CWGC Grave Stone:  Rank, Name & Number, a Cross, the Staffordshire Knot and a saying or biblical quotation at the base. Here Bertie has chosen HAVE MERCY. O LORD, UPON HIM AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON HIM.

In MY MEMORIES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, 1967Bertie writes movingly about first hearing his brother had died on the Battlefield.

‘The voyage across the Channel was memorable indeed for, while I was eating a late dinner on board, I heard that my elder brother, Sydney had been seen dead in No Man’s Land.  On his breast there had been a small piece of paper on which he had written, ‘Pour a drop of water between my lips, thank you’.  Now every Good Friday I am reminded of how the dying do thirst, when we sing (the hymn)‘ ‘His are the thousand sparkling rills … and yet he saith “I thirst”).  On hearing the news of my brother I could eat no more, but went straight to my cabin bunk. ‘Two shall be in the field of Battle, one shall be taken and the other left’.

FROM HOSPITAL IN NEW BRIGHTON, Bertie wrote to anyone he could think of for news of Sydney and Venables and other friends. It must have been a great effort  writing with his left hand, his right wrist badly wounded. He received sympathetic replies  but no further details from Officer H.E.Bird C. QMS; J.Jones R.A.M.C and ‘Your Old Pal Ben’ still holding the Line but some miles north of Fonquevillers & Gommecourt.

OFFICER H.E.BIRD Chaplain QMS to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT                                                                                                                                                     19/7/1916

Dear Bert,    I am pleased to hear you have got a Blighty and hope your wound will soon be healed.  With regard to your brother Sid, I am extremely sorry to say that I fear the worst has happened.  The last thing I can get to know of him, was that he was severely wounded, lying in No  Man’s land.  He was unable to speak but wrote on a piece of paper that he required a drink of water, which one of our chaps gave him, but could not stay with him.  That is the last we have heard of him.

I hope we may hear of him again for he was a brave man and one who did his duty, without fear or favour.  If, as I fear, the worst has happened I hope you will try and soften the blow for your parents as much as possible.  All papers, letters etc, I have found in pack belonging to you and your brother, I have handed over to Lance Corpl. Jones A.D. as Sid told him if anything happened he was to forward them.  Your chum Venables is also missing, we can get no news of him at all.

Kindest regards H.E.Bird, Chaplain QMS.                            Censor: J.A. Wilkinson?

ON 24th OCTOBER 1916, ARTHUR HIBBETT received the following:-

Red Cross Letter


Enquiry Department for Wounded & Missing.

To ARTHUR HIBBETT Esq. Education Offices, Walsall.

18, Carlton House Terrace, S.W.                                  23rd October 1916.                                                                                                                                                                                         Dear Sir,                                      Sgt. S. Hibbett  8830

We are extremely sorry to tell you that we have received a very sad report about your son from Pte W. Morris, 1107, of the same Company and Battalion, now in Spalding Hall V.A.D. Hospital, Hendon.  Our information states that Sgt Hibbett was wounded during the fighting at Gommecourt on 1st July and fell in No Man’s Land.  When the stretcher bearers reached him later in the day he was found to have died of his injuries.  Our informant was not an eye-witness of this event but was told of it by the other men in the Battalion.  He adds that he knew your son well and described him as being about 5’ 9 or 10” in height and of a light complexion.

We do not attach much importance to second-hand reports but we greatly fear that there can be very little hope of your son being alive, as had he been taken prisoner we think we should have received his name before now on one of the official lists from Germany.

With renewed assurance of our sincere sympathy,

Yours faithfully,                    K. Robson for Earl of Lucan.

***********************************************************************IDA HIBBETT, Walsall: POSTCARD to BERTIE HIBBETT in Hospital.                                                                                                                                        Nov.6th 1916.

The Grammar School Flag will be flying at half mast tomorrow (Tuesday) for dear Sydney.  We will send Mr. Marshall’s letter for you to read, when we send the parcel. I will write tomorrow.      Love  Ida.


AFTER THE ARMISTICE,  NOVEMBER 1919, the War Office  came under immense pressure from families for information about the fate of their loved ones, especially those reported ‘Missing’.  In 1919, emotions were running  high when it became generally known that the bodies of those who had ‘died for King and Country ‘ would not be returned Home .

IN MARCH 1919 an article  appeared in Walsall’s  Express & Star ‘NOTES OF A VISIT TO THE BATTLEFIELDS OF FRANCE’ by Major H.B. Lane, one-time Medical Officer with the 6th S. Staffordshire Regiment.   

This article would have been highly significant to the Hibbett Family as 5th & 6th S.Staffords alternated every five or six days between the Trenches & Rest/ Reserve  Camps.   Members of the Family would  have taken some comfort in Major Lane’s assurance that the graves of the fallen were being well cared for by the Graves Registration Unit (forerunner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).  But the y  would have been dismayed by his comment that ‘it was impossible, despite all efforts, to identify the remains and the graves’  of those who fell in the Battle for Gommecourt.’

BERTIE HIBBETT appears to have been so affected by this article that he copied it out by hand, as well as adding his ink design for Sydney’s eventual Grave  Stone:-

1919 Battlefields Visit  IMGP9766

PRESS  CUTTINGS  BOOK  – dating from March 1919.

NOTES OF A VISIT TO BATTLEFIELDS IN FRANCE  by H.B.Lane (Major RAMC) one time M.O. 6th S.Staffs.                                                                                                             British Expeditionary Force.   March 16.1919. 

Sir –   Last week I had the privilege of viewing most of the Battlefields upon which the 46th DIVISION (North Midland) has fought and I thought that perhaps a few comments which I could make would be of interest to many old  6th  S. Staffords men, as well as give some comfort and gratification to relatives who may be wondering what trace remains of graves sacred to them after the full tide of battle had crossed and recrossed these spots.

I first visited the old spot where the Division first had the honour to take their share in combating the enemy.


Bulford Camp (Cemetery) had long since been removed and had been re-erected at Aldershot Camp, the resting spot of the N. Staffords, when out of the trenches. This I believe was done before the Messines Battle in 1917.  

All the houses are totally destroyed, including the old Head Quarters of the 1/3 NM Field Ambulance, though oddly enough the main dressing station – the French Customs House – still stands.

NEUVE EGLISE is totally destroyed and indeed it is hard to recognise in that desolate spot the comparatively intact village we knew (the Church & the private house on the outskirts, with the statuette in the garden and the bath house).  I visited the British Cemetery, which was in a portion of the Churchyard & found it in very good order.

THE GRAVES REGISTRATION UNIT are doing magnificent work both here and everywhere I went, restoring the cemeteries after battles.  All the graves have been renovated, and, where needed, fresh crosses erected.

WULVERGHEM was a distinct shock. There does not remain one stone in the whole area to denote that there was ever a village there.   If it had not been for the cross-roads and the ruin I doubt that I should have known where the village had actually been.

Of SOUVENIR FARM, North Midland Farm, South Midland Farm and the two old estaminets (cafe/bars) which formed the BATTLE HEADQUARTERS  and the REGIMENT AID POST, there is not a trace.  Yet it is a freak or can it be put down to the hand of Providence? – the Old Cemetery standing immediately behind the dressing station – not only stands but the original crosses stand also.  There is Lance Corporal Norton’s grave, with his cap still hanging on the cross. I remember it being up away back in 1915 …

There are those who know, but let me assure them this or that grave stands well looked after and ready for their visit.

BAILLEUL is but a shell of its former self.  The only place that has any semblance to a building is the asylum,  best known to both officers & men for the most excellent bathing facilities offered.

From there I quickly got down to the HULLOCK area, passing slowly by the HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT, with its poignant memories of the most awful blow  that has ever been for both us comrades in arms and many homes of Walsall & Wolverhampton.

The Cemetery on the plain by VERMELLES is gradually being restored to order.  The other in the quarries has much to be done, having been in the hands of the Bosche for many a month,  but it will be restored.

Moving still further south I visited LA TARGETTE and NEUVILLE St VAAST – the scene of operation in March 1916Neuville St Vaast was noted then by its state of destruction, but La Targette was a village.  It now shares the same fate as Neuville St. Vaast.

Behind here, between MONT St ELIOTT & ECOUVRES,  is perhaps the biggest Cemetery in the Battle zone in France, at that time it held over 4.000 graves.  Now there are more than double that numbera terrible & yet wonderful tribute to the self-sacrifice which has made our victory possible.

At GOMMECOURT everything is as it was  when the Division left it in March 1917.  For Gommecourt did not come into the battle area again:  – but the distressing thing is that so much time elapsed between our fight there in 1916 and the time the Bosche retired, that it was impossible,  despite all efforts, to identify the remains and the graves.

All of those crosses standing in NO MAN’S LAND, almost in all instances ,To an Unknown South Stafford killed in action, July 1st 1916.

NO MAN’S LAND, CEMETERY FONQUEVILLERS:  WOODEN CROSS  inscribed: ” To an Unknown  Sergt. S. Stafford”. Photo: Basil Hibbett 1920.

There is a very nice Temporary Monument standing just in front of the old German Trenches on the side of the Gommecourt Road: To the Memory of the Officers, Warrant Officers, N.C.O.s and Men of the 46th Division who fell on July 1st 1916.  

A similar Monument with this inscription stands in FONQUEVILLERS CEMETERY where many more named Staffords lie buried.  The Monument is a plain oak cross, with a brass tablet standing about five feet high.  Our trenches are surrounded by barbed wire and are being preserved, I believe for all time, as  one of the sacred spots of the War.

At BELLINGLISE, the scene of our great triumphs, here is another similar monument. All these monuments are to be replaced by more substantial lasting tribute to the gallantry of those who so magnificently gave up their lives to the call of King and Country.

         H.B.Lane (Major RAMC ) one time M.O. C. 6th South Staffords.

On 18th APRIL, 1919, almost three years after his son’s death, ARTHUR HIBBETT wrote again to the War Office.  He received the following reply, dated 12th May.

War Oficce Reply 1919

                                                                                  War Office.  12th May , 1919.

Dear Sir,

In reply to you letter of 18th April, 1919   I regret to say that the grave of Sergeant S. Hibbett has not yet been located, but enquiries are being made, and I will write to you again as soon as I am able to obtain any information.

I am very sorry not to be able to send you a more satisfactory reply.

Typed addition:  Regarding visits to France, I regret very much I cannot give you any definite information on this subject.  This question is now under discussion and I hope to be able to send you a definite answer in the near future.

Yours faithfully.      H. Willis  – Major for Major General, Director General of Graves Registration and Enquiries.

On 16th MAY, ARTHUR HIBBETT wrote yet again to the War Office and received, by return,  the following acknowledgment regarding ‘this subject’.  It is evident by the change of address that the War Office was overwhelmed by enquiries.

War office Card

WarOffice Card 2

                                                            War Office, London, S.W.1.     16. 5. 1919.

SIR,             I am commanded by the Army Council to acknowledge the receipt of your letter received 16.5.1919 on the subject of Sgt. HIBBETT  S.Staffs.  A further communication will be addressed to you on this subject.

I am, SIR, Your obedient Servant,     R.N. Drades.

Any further communication on this subject should be addressed to The Secretary, War Office, Winchester House,  St, James Square, Pall Mall.


By AUGUST 1920 SYDNEY’s GRAVE was still not found and my Uncle, BASIL HIBBETT (Lieut. Manchester Rgt) set off for France in search of his brother.

BASIL HIBBETT: POSTCARD to his Mother, Mrs.A.Hibbett, Foden Road, Walsall, Angleterre.               Sunday 29th August 1920.     11 am.

Bethune Basil 1920
BETHUNE apres le guerre.                 

We cycled here from Ypres yesterday & found an English hostel, St Barnabas.  We are off for Loos and Arras today. Have got in touch with the graves people at Arras about Sydney & Alfred * & if the graves are there I shall find them alright. 

Good weather so far.  Much love, Basil.

NB * possibly a cousin.

Telegram Basil 19561st JULY 1916 Anniversary TELEGRAM from  BASIL HIBBETT:    Cricklade,     30. 6. 1956 to Reverend Arthur Hibbett, Gedney Hill Vicarage, Spalding, Lincs.

                   Forty years on, few words. Many thoughts.  Love Basil.



Between 1920 and 1925 the graves of the small Cemeteries, lying within No Man’s Land at Fonquevillers, were brought together in Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery, Fonquevillers.

Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery 2003 NO MAN'S LAND, CEMETERY FONQUEVILLERS:  WOODEN CROSS inscribed: It was then that the WAR GRAVES  REGISTRATION, by process of elimination, decided that the body of ‘An Unknown Sergt. South Stafford’ was most probably that of Sergt. Sydney. Hibbett 8830 1/5th.  thus confirming the story that Basil had brought Home in 1920.

The War Graves Registration Unit contacted families to discover what saying  they wished to have engraved on their loved one’s  stone and what flowers they wanted planted beside the grave.

SYDNEY HIBBETT was given a special CWGC GRAVE STONE with the inscription ‘BELIEVED TO BE BURIED IN THIS CEMETERY’ The biblical quotation at the base reads simply ‘Thy Will be done’.

Unknown WarriorTHE GRAVE  OF THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR.  Nov. 1920.

I remember as a child my father telling me that he imagined the Unknown Soldier could be that of his brother, Sydney.  Families of the Missing took great comfort from the idea that their lost son could be buried in Westminster Abbey with full military honours .This action by the War Office was inspired and met a very human need.

**********************************************************************BATTLE OF SOMME ANNIVERSARY VISIT, 1962:  BASIL & BETTY HIBBETT & their son TIMOTHY:  POSTCARD to The Revd A. Hibbett, South Kelsey Rectory, Lincoln, England.                Posted 5.7.1962.

Ypres before & After
ST MARTIN’S CATHEDRAL YPRES  before the bombardment and after

                                                                                                                           Wed, July 4th (1962)

Tim is bringing us back by car & we stopped here tonight. So I tramped the cobbled streets of Ypres once again after 45 years & heard the Last Post sounded at Menin Gate at  Very impressive and moving.  Will write more fully later.  We cross via Ostend tomorrow.                 Basil.

Liz  Grave 2003

I first visited Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery in 2003. I took with me a photo of Sydney’s  Grave taken by a kind member of the Western Front Association (South East).  It showed a rose bush beside the grave which pleased me as I knew from Bertie’s letters that roses were his Mother’s favourite flowers, he found her a wild June rose to send in his last letter Home; a rose is most probably what she asked for. All the Battlefield Cemeteries I have visited are  beautifully kept by the volunteer gardeners, who take a great pride in their work.

My third visit to Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery was on 1st July 2016, with my sister Rosamund Hibbett, when we were glad to share our father’s drawings of Fonquevillers Church  (& its famous signTo Berlin. Up Traffic only’) with many other visitors. Since creating this website I have been much moved by the knowledge that people, other than the Hibbett Family, have been visiting my Uncle Sydney’s Grave. My grateful thanks to Paul Hughes of QMS, Walsall who visits the grave ‘regularly’ and to John Vallance & other researchers in Staffordshire and Bedfordshire who have taken an interest in Sydney Hibbett’s story.   Elizabeth Webb.


5th September 1914: Training in Luton

Bertie in Uniform

PTE BERTIE  HIBBETT in LUTON, POSTCARD to his Father at 95, Foden Road, Walsall. 

ARTHUR HIBBETT:   56 in 1914.
56 in 1914.

Sep 5th Dad                                                                                                                                                                                           Sep. 5/  1914


We had a good reception when we arrived in Luton, the people handed us cups & jugs of real good tea when they knew we had travelled from Walsall.   I saw 2nd Lieut. Cozens this morning on parade.  He is not with us.  Like Hemming, he is more sociable with  his Company, talking with them at ease, with his hands folded like the Prince of Wales.  He looked at the Battalion I was in & I believe we both stared at each other for a minute or two, but being so far away I could not say whether he knew it was myself.

Syd and I both want knives & forks for they do not provide them  (not yet at any rate) so send two sets please.  (Crossed out with ‘They have now’ above ). We shall not be writing everyday.  I think we are moving our quarters today.  We will give the permanent address when we are settled.

                                                                                        Cock Robin.

Note to Mother on the back of Postcard:  Dear Mother, Syd is just writing to you and will send them on tomorrow night..

Bedford Road, Luton. 1914. [NB. Little changed in the 1960s when I walked across the park from my flat on Old Bedford Road to Luton High School, my first teaching post. EFW]
PTE BERTIE HIBBETT:  POSTCARD to his Sister IDA  nicknamed ‘Champion’.

IDA HIBBETT. 27 in 1914.

Sept 5th /1914           Afternoon.

Dear Ida,  

Syd & I are now sitting under an oak tree, which are common around here (lovely estate full of them just near). We have four or five little Cockney lads round us, they have been bird catching & have shown us the cage they catch them in.

Lovely afternoon. Capt. Lees has not had orders referring to the O.T.C. for this afternoon’s occupation.  The Terriers have gone off on rifle inspection. 1/2 mile of soldiers all in fours marched about 6 miles & back for entrenching. You should have seen the sight. Officers on H orseback. General Sir Stewart Whortley inspected us, ruddy war worn face he had. Asked Syd where we had come from. Guessed we were fine fellows of the O.T.C.

Songs for you to sing & play at home. Another version of John B’s napsack.  20,000 troops here. More soldiers than civilians. Oh its jolly so far.                                                          Ta-ra. Bert.

PTE BERTIE HIBBETT:  POSTCARD to his youngest Brother, BASIL, nicknamed ‘Dodger’ 16 in 1914.

BASIL HIBBETT: 16 in 1914.

Sept 5th/ 1914 about 5.45 pm.


It’s Tommy’s life to a T singing and talking all night. Four kind friends let us sleep in their bunks but I had to sleep on the floor with a great coat & blanket.  I slept in my trousers. ‘Reveille’ was grand., but unique sensation. That flash lamp would have been very useful & will be while we are in England – if you care to send it.

                                                                                        Ta-ra.  Your affec Bertie.

‘John Brown’s washing is hanging in the line. Ditto Ditto Ditto. And he’s only got one sock on. Glory Alleluia etc. etc.’

NEXT POST:  9th October 1914`: Training in Luton.

NEXT PAGE to be published:  Walsall Express & Star 3/4/ 1919.  Visit to Battlefields in France. H.B.Lane (Major RAMC) onetime M.O. 6th S.Staffords.




Sponsored walk from  Bertie's old Theological College, Burgh to Skegness, in aid of Christian Aid.
Still Marching : Sponsored Walk on his 74th Birthday. AHH. 1969.

MY MEMORIES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR. The Revd Arthur Hubert Hibbett. 1967.

‘ My elder brother, Sydney, and I decided to enlist with the Territorials, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, rather than wait to be conscripted into Kitchener’s Army.

On the morning of September 4th  1914 a column of young men, all in mufti, marching four abreast, passed the Town Hall in Walsall, en route for the Station and training in Luton, Bedfordshire. The tallest QMS boys, including my brother, Sydney, were in the front row; I was in the second row, behind my brother (1).

I shall never forget the Art Master going to each of the railway carriages in turn, giving the King’s Shilling to all the Old Boys, their heads out of the windows; or forget how we waved to friends and relatives as the train left Walsall. ‘

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009 NB. The QMS Old Boys Company are marching to the Station down Bridge Street, in this photograph. Sydney is marching next to the uniformed soldier (left), with Bertie just visible behind him. Does anyone know the name of the soldier and the other three boys in the front row? – perhaps even the name of the Art Master?

Sydney Hibbett was at QMS from 1908 -1911. He won the Blythe Shooting Prize  in 1911 and passed both Junior and Senior Oxford Examinations with Div. I. Pass .  He was apprenticed to the Old Park Works, Wednesbury.  Bertie Hibbett was at QMS  from 1910 – 1911, the last year of his schooling before being apprenticed as a Mining Surveyor in Walsall. He joined his brother in the School’s Cadet OTC. Both boys had been educated previously at the Blue Coat Elementary School in Walsall.



Bertie in UniformPte  BERTIE HIBBETT 8832 ‘ A’ Company 1/5th Bn. S. Staffordshire Regiment .

POSTCARD to his Mother at 95, Foden Rd, Walsall.

53 in 1914.
Market Hill, Luton Sept 4. 1914
MARKET HILL, LUTON. 1914.                                                                                                               

Dear Mother,                                                                                                            Sept. 4th

Arrived safe & sound  –  queer sensation but comfortable journey & good chums here.  Nothing but soldiers  –  soldiers  – soldiers!


Seen F. Hemming (1)–  came to our digs & also saw 3 ptes salute – and Sydney. Oh it’s grand so far, but I wish I had come in my best boots. These give me footsore, but I have stuck those pads in (2). We shall both look after ourselves carefully.  Syd will give you our address in a day or two, but cannot tell you yet for certain.

With love to Father &  the rest.  Bertie.

PS. Tell Dodger (3) to practice shooting. See Sheffreys (4) there’s a notice up by the shop. Tell Ida we sang ‘Glory Alleluia’ in Luton!


NB (1) F. Hemming was one of his father’s teachers in Walsall. (2) Bertie was plagued by ill-fitting boots and sore feet from the very beginning.  (3) ‘Dodger’ – a family nickname for Basil. (4) Was ‘Sheffreys’ a gun-shop?


QUEEN  MARY’S  GRAMMAR SCHOOL  MAGAZINE for DECEMBER 1914  lists some 170 Old Boys and Masters who Volunteered  for the War;  many of them would have arrived in Luton with Pte Bertie on 4th September,1914  –  little more than three weeks after the Headmaster had sent his Recruitment Postcard.

Q.M.S. Roll of Honour.

This England never did, nor never shall, Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror.

‘Surely this must have been the thought which animated so many of our Old Boys and Masters when they threw up everything in which they were engaged, so that they might respond to their country’s call.  We of Queen Mary’s are very proud of those whose names are given below, and, when this war is over, we intend to inscribe their names on an honours board in the Big Schoolroom as those of men whom the Old School is delighted to honour.

“Though the seas divide us, we will not forget”, rather shall we follow their movements with all possible interest, and pray always for their safe return.  We extend our sympathy to those Old Boys, who, although eager to serve, were unable to pass the doctor…’

Queen Mary's Club Life Membership  Shield. presented to AHH in March 1926. It shows the pink & white Tudor Rose of Mary 1st. 
QUEEN MARY’S CLUB SHIELD.  The Revd. A.H.Hibbett became a Life Member on 4th March 1926. The Shield. shows the red & white Tudor Rose, symbol of Henry VIII , impaled with a sheaf of arrows, symbol of Katherine of Aragon..The Certificate signed by E.N.Marshall, is on the back. Oil on wood.  AHH. 1926.

QMS  OLD  BOYS , OFFICERS  & MEN serving in 1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT listed in the QMS Magazine. (Names in bold are those frequently mentioned in Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Letters.).

OFFICERS: Capt. F.L.Overend;  Capt.W.Wistance; 2nd Lieut J.N.H. Smith.

NON-COMMSSIONED OFFICERS:  Colour Sergeant M. Somerfield; Sergt  H. Allen; Sergt H.W. Harriman; Sergt C. Wilkes; Corpl. H.C.L.Hartley; Corpl. W.Williams.

PRIVATES:  B.W.Bailey; F.J.Bailey; L.J.Bailey; R.W.Ball;  I.Boulton; A.E.Brown;  E.Beebee;  W.L.N.Cope; J.G.Allsopp; W.H.Cliffe; H.V.Crooke; R.Canby;  C.H.Denham;  B.B. Davis; G.E.Bradbury; E.V.Evans; J.Foster; T.E.Fenton;  S.Hattin; G.Hewitt;  S. Davis; C.Hacket;  A.C.Harrison; S.Hibbett;  A.H. Hibbett; C. Hinde;  H.Hinde; C.H.Harriman; H.W.Houghton;  A.O.Jones; C.H.B. Hammonds; E.Joberns;  A.E.Machin;  A.V.Shaw; J.F.Price;  W.Price; S.J.Parkes; W.A.Payne;  J.A Shipley; S.T. Richards; C.A.Thompson; C.V.Taylor; A.H.Wilkins; F.H. Wootton; A.C.W.Lyon; J.S.Smith; F.Lawton;  F.Cotterell;  H.Spencer.

5th S.Staffs Battery  RFA:  H.H.Lawley; W.E.C.Pullen; F.J.Gee; E.G.Birch; W.F.Hudson.

NEXT POST: 5th Sept 1914: Training in Luton.

26th August 1914: Recruitment in Walsall

 Bertie in UniformBERTIE HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall  to his Parents, Arthur & Marie Neal Hibbett, still on Holiday in Abergele, N. Wales. 

Aug 26th Bert

                            Wednesday Aug 26 / 14

My Dear Father & Mother,

Things are getting a bit serious here.  Sid went down to the Grammar School last Wednesday & Marshall (1) told him to “bring Arthur with you next week”.  Well I thought (of) waiting till Mr. Nightingale *(2) said something, but news getting rather serious, and nothing definite from Mr N.  I decided to go down to the Grammar &, should I be called upon definitely to join, I would tell Mr N. & see what he sais.

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.

Well I went down tonight and when Marshall had called out the list, he wanted the names of all the new chaps present.  When he caught sight of me he grinned all over his face as though as to say “his brother has brought him & I’m glad he’s come!”  He then commented upon the voluntary patriotism of his old boys not waiting to be forced to join. . .    (The rest of the letter is missing)

NB * (1) QMS Headmaster. (2) Mr. Nightingale, Mining Engineering Works, Lichfield Sreet; Bertie ‘s boss as a Mining  Surveyor Apprentice.

MY  MEMORIES  OF  THE  FIRST  WORLD  WAR: The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett. 1967 .                                    

My elder brother, Sydney, and I decided to enlist with the Territorials, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, rather than wait to be conscripted into Kitchener’s Army .  My eldest brother, Harold, had not been schooled at Queen Mary’s; he was to join the band later, but in the Inns of Court Company, so also my youngest brother, Basil, who joined the Manchester Regiment (after leaving QMS). My fair-haired sister, Ida, was among many who, by doing her War Service at home, making hand grenades and later becoming a Red Cross Nurse and V.A.D., influenced Parliament to give women the franchise.  She died not long after the war at the age of 32, from cancer contracted through exposure to phosphorous lead in the making of bombs.’       Extract AHH.

WHILST THESE FATEFUL DECISIONS WERE BEING MADE BERTIE  designed a Prayer Card ‘Watch and Pray‘ for the Sunday Church School at St Paul’s, Darwall Street.  He had passed his Teachers’  Examination  with Merit, in April  that year.

S. School Cert. 1914


Walsall Sun Sch.

St Paul's Walsall 1914. Now called St Paul's at the Crossing.

ST PAUL’S CHURCH, WALSALL is now called  THE CROSSING AT ST PAUL’S.  My father would have appreciated the symbolic depth of this new name . The thought of St Paul’s  and the support of its people was a daily comfort at this fateful crossroad in his life.

THE CHURCH was built in 1893 on the site of  the Chapel to Queen Mary’s Grammar School; to meet the needs of the growing industrial population of Walsall. ‘By the mid-1960s it was clear that  the original reason for the building had gone and either it must re-invent itself or close’.  With courage and imagination  St Paul’s has certainly re-invented itself.  In 1995 it became a Christian Social Enterprise and Place of Worship.

St Paul's at Crossing

St Paul's Interior WalsallThe Hibbett Family of 1914 would not recognise their Church as it is now, for this ’19th Century Gothic’ building has undergone a remarkable  reconstruction to make it fit for the Church’s purpose within the wider Community today. ‘The integrity of the  listed building has been maintained with an amazing feeling of grace and style.


Out of its lofty height three floors have been created. The ground floor is a Mal with small shops and a cafe, opening on to the street through the old West door. The Mezzanine floor has a restaurant & a variety of rooms  for offices and art exhibitions.

The crowning glory is the top floor, an architectural triumph in its inspiring use of space and light, of old and new.  Here the Church has its Upper Room for Sunday Worship.  A Glass Lantern in the roof allows sunlight to illuminate the building . Hanging the full height of the Light Well and linking all three floors, is a great green-glass Cross. It is a magnificent work of art, symbolic of the Church’s whole message and enterprise.

In his Letters from the Trenches my father often imagined his family at worship in St Paul’s, with the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows.  With them he could follow the Psalms & Bible Readings for the Day in the Christian Calendar and sing the familiar Hymns.  If he could visit today he would be as astonished as I was, but  I am sure he would be delighted with it all – especially as the outside of the Church remains largely as he knew it and the old Lady Chapel is unchanged and still in use for daily prayer. Above all, he would have loved walking right up close to the beautiful stained glass windows of the East End and  being beside  the tops of the pillars and arches, once so high above the Hibbett Family singing way down below.

This Church is worth a virtual visit,  but better still an actual visit on foot. Here is a Church Company with ‘a social conscience … an ethical trading policy … committed to Fairtrade and Make Poverty History movements …actively involved in the regeneration of our town.’

Notes & Quotations : St Paul’s at the Crossing website:

THE HIBBETT FAMILY also attended Walsall Parish Church of ST MATTHEW high on the hill overlooking the Market.

Market High Street, WalsallSt Matthew’s Parish Church on the hill and Market, High Street, Walsall.

NEXT POST: 4th Sept, 1914. QMS OLD BOYS MARCH OFF for Training in Luton.






19th August: Recruitment in Walsall

SYDNEY HIBBETT 20 in 1914.SYDNEY HIBBETT, 95, Foden Road, Walsall, *(1)  to His Parents, Arthur & Marie Neal Hibbett, still on Holiday in Abergele, N. Wales.

95 Foden Rd.

Written on old Examination Paper:FOR ROUGH WORK ONLY No marks will be given for answers on this page.’                                                                      Sydney's First Letter - Copy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Wednesday 8.30 pm                                                                                                                                   Aug. 19 . 1914

Dear Father and Mother,

Bert & I have just returned from parade at the school.  The facts of the case are these:-

1.  Col. Hickman is raising a platoon of men in Walsall for service at the front if required in  Kitchener’s new Army.

2.  He will form a separate company of old QMS boys in his platoon of  30 or so volunteers to serve in it.

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.
Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall.

3.  Major Griffiths who inspected us said that Kitchener wants 30 divs. at the fighting line which means that every able bodied man will have to go soon, willy-nilly.

4.  If we don’t join now we shall not be a company among ourselves, but have to live and sleep with an inferior crowd, fleas etc, when (3) comes off.

5.  Major Griffiths wants the names of those boys who will volunteer for above by tomorrow Thursday night.  28 have already promised, but not absolutely definite.

6.  I am one of these, to put it plainly.  Canby is another, (not Machin)     and other Old  Boys.

7.  I think that if we all  have to join the Army sooner or later,  I might as well join now.

8.  The platoon will be trained for 4 – 6 months & then packed off.

9.  Notice at the Works  *(2) says that all men who have been called up or volunteered for the war will have their jobs back again when they return.  No work on Mondays and Saturdays during the war. 4 days a week for all.

10. Expect to see Mr Hay *(2) on Friday to tell me about going in the Drawing Office.  I saw him on Tuesday but he was v. busy.

Will you advise me what to do;  am I right in joining this new Army?  We shall not be off just yet for a week or so.  Anyway, can I join?  The other boys, about 50, are being trained for Territorial Service, at home or abroad but not at the front.  It is very slow work it seems & they don’t seem to be very keen or serious about it.

Major Griffiths said that if you want to serve your country, the new Army is the place: he knew that he was wasn’t talking to “Ward Street riff-raff’ & so he cut out all the usual recruiting sergeant’s talk & spoke man to man.

Now do you see?  Please think about it & let me know as soon as you can.  I want to know this week.  It depends on you & mother of course.  Bert is in the Terr. Force but can back out, as I can if I like. He is asking Mr. Nightingale *(3) in the morning.

If the Ashton boys can volunteer for foreign service (not at the Front I know) I am sure mother won’t mind me doing my bit.  The Works’ Battery of Heavy Artillery now in South of England are expected to sail for Egypt soon.

I don’t think there is anything more till I see you on Friday.  A  lot of men have gone off for service:  Bridge Yard is quiet and empty – no job.  Switch Shop is nearly hung up for work & no S. Africa jobs can be sent off.

Hoping you are having a very good time – with much love

from  Syd.  

PS   Hal said on Sunday that he will still continue to go over to Sutton on Sats, have his pound of plums every afternoon & see ‘my chum’ Evans (3) every night & let other people go abroad, but you ought to see him smile.

PS  I quite see that my first duty is to you both & the country comes second.

Syd's First Letter 2nd half


ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB 2009Handling Primary Sources.  Readers will approach Sydney’s letter with their own individual knowledge  about  the  First World War.  In order to squeeze as much historical fact as possible out of this source  it is important to be objective and attempt to distinguish between what Sydney actually says  & intends to say  – and what can be ‘read between the lines ‘ about his attitude to the War, to Recruitment, to middle-class  values in 1914 regarding social position, duty to parents, to the Old School and to the Country.  Few of his letters still exist but those that do can be studied for any  change of attitude as the War proceeds.

Notes: *(1) In the year 2000, I went searching for No 95, Foden Road.  No 95 till exists but the road name  was  changed when Broadway  was built.  I wanted  a photograph of the house, the door & the letterbox through which all Bertie’s Letters arrived from the Front.  We were given a wonderful welcome by the Family living there  now , despite our unexpected appearance.  Not only did they invite us into that ‘bright kitchen’ where my father longed to be,  but they gave us a lovely lunch and we talked history.

*(2) Engineering Works,  Wednesbury.  * (3) Mining Engineering Works, Lichfield St. Walsall. *(4) ‘Evans’ is Enoch Evans,    For further information on Names mentioned see Menu: Walsall Friends & S.Staffs Soldiers.  These Pages are updated regularly.

NEXT POST : Bertie’s response.


11th AUGUST 1914: Recruitment Postcard


4th AUGUST  1914:     ‘Staffs Infantry Brigade withdrawn from Camp at Towyn in North Wales and immediately mobilised and on a War footing.  Strenuous training in Luton, Bishop’s Stortford and Saffron Walden.  2nd Battalion formed 137th Infantry Brigade of 46th North Midland Division, 1st complete Division of Territorials to take the field.  1/5th Battalion commanded by Colonel A.R.Crawley and 1/6th Battalion by Lt. Col. T.T.Waterhouse.’


Sent to Sydney whilst on Holiday at Abergele. Aug. 11th 1914.

QMS headmaster's Recruitment Message.

TRANSCRIPT:  Reserve Company of Territorials.  ‘We are extremely anxious to raise a Company of Men who have served in Queen Mary’s School Cadet Corps either when attached to 2nd V.B.S. Staffs Regiment or in the O.T.C.  Will you make this generally known?  If you will join, please communicate at once with Capt. Overend or with me.  E.N.Marshall.’

Personal note to Sydney:-  ‘Meet here on Satdy  (sic) next,11-30: but no need to cut short holiday, so long as you are ready to come at once if I send. ENM.’

Sponsored walk from  Bertie's old Theological College, Burgh to Skegness, in aid of Christian Aid.
The Revd A.H. Hibbett: Sponsored Walk from Burgh to Skegness, on his 74th Birthday.12th July 1969.

MY  MEMORIES  OF  THE  FIRST WORLD  WAR: The Revd Arthur Hubert Hibbett. 1967.

‘In the year 1914, my father, mother, three brothers, my only sister and I  were all together spending our summer holidays at Abergele, in North Wales.  We little knew that we should never have a Family Gathering like that again, for on the 4th August Britain declared War on Germany .

The schools started their holidays towards the end of July and from our bedroom windows at Abergele we saw some Regular soldiers in Camp in fields near our apartments; also some ‘lively’ Sea Cadets and Baden Powell Boy Scouts, moving about among their bell tents.

Scouts at Abergele. Watercolour. AHH.  Aug. 1914
SEA SCOUTS AT ABERGELE  Watercolour. AHH. Aug. 1914

There was great excitement when the Regulars  were mobilised.  The holiday-makers crowded into the streets of that seaside resort to see them form up.  Their band played the National Anthem and the people cheered & waved their hats & caps in the air.’

‘Our home was at Walsall and the Headmaster of Queen Mary 1st Grammar School gave word to all the Old Boys that they could join up on their return from holiday and form a Company of Old Grammar School Boys.’  Extract: Essay Competition, Lindsey Association for the Elderly. 1967.



Bertie, Hilda Bore (Harold's fiancee), Basil, Ida. Seated behind,: Mother and Father.  Photo taken by Harold..

Beach Bell Tent: Standing: Bertie. Seated Front: Basil, Hilda (Harold’s fiancee), Sydney, Ida.  Back: Mother & Father. H.H.

Sydney, Basil, Harold and Bertie.
Sydney, Bertie and Basil.
SYDNEY, BERTIE, BASIL.   Bertie sent Home for this photo of ‘Heads’ in 1916.










Harold's Camera. AHH.


‘Our Bathing Tent. Wed. Aug.12th 1914. As a momento of Harold’s Photography.’


Sketched a 'stone's throw' from holiday digs.Aug. 1914


 ‘Sketched this on a boiling Friday afternoon Aug.14th, just a stone’s throw from Fron Hyfrid, the place we digged. Struck 3 when I had done a little & quarter to 5  (when) I finished – bad pen or heat dried the ink, slight wind.’  

Abergele Tower: AHH Sketch Aug.1914
ABERGELE TOWER   Watercolour. AHH 

In the year 2000, EFW discovered the Hibbett Holiday Let by  lining up the Church sketch with the Tower on the horizon, then -‘just a stone’s throw ‘away –  there was Fron Hyfrid!

Fron Hyfrid,  Abergele. Still a Holiday Let in 2000.
Still a Holiday Let in 2000. 






The Old Tower. Situated Tower Hill, Abergele. Can be seen from Rhyl. Most lovely panorama of Abergele, Rhyl and beyond Prestatyn, also beyond the Dee, Birkenhead – the trains on the mainland seemed to crawl along.  I climbed up the inner wall of this tower to a sort of chimney in the wall.  Could stand up in it.  Carved our names on the walls. Ida, Miss Bore & I went Aug. 2nd .  My sister took a photo of it, Miss Bore took photo of Ida. Gathered heather. Lovely day.’

Abergele ornfileds AHH.

Father 'Reading the War News:' AHH Sketch. Aug. 1914.

‘Drew this on the way to our Tent on the Sands. The Hills at the back of Grych Castle  – & Cornfields for a foreground.’







Looking out to Sea: AHH Painting: Aug. 1914

'An Impression': AHH


An Impression’ was drawn on the first Saturday, 1st Aug. or very early in holidays of 1914.’ AHH.


'The Railroad by the Sea'.   AHH. Sketch. August 1914
‘THE RAILROAD BY THE SEA. Abergele – Rhyl’  AHH.. Aug.1914


EFW  2009

The First World War is only a generation away still, for many. I found the  Headmaster’s Recruitment Postcard very useful when teaching  Open University Arts Foundation History (Handling Primary Sources).  But invariably there would be someone who would ask: ‘Was your father killed?”  To which I would reply “I’m not as old as all that!” or  just raise an eyebrow!


PARCELS TO THE FRONT & LETTERS HOME  would appear to be a most appropriate title for this Post,  for most of the letters are joyful, often ecstatic thanks for parcels sent from home.

The sheer volume & variety of food & provisions, which Pte Bertie’s Family sent across the Channel, is extraordinary.  Bertie records each item carefully so that his Mother could check he had received everything.

Crawfords City Assorted packaging: used when paper was scarce.
Crawfords City Assorted packaging: used when paper was scarce.

‘Another 1/2 Ib & some of those round crisp assortment you sent as well.  & if you like next time you make anything for yourselves Ida can make me two tea cakes.  & of course the eggs but just as you please, you know. Forgive me.   Bertie.  See over’.

‘Like as you promise me another parcel I promise you another letter. But don’t you fall through the bottom of your chair Mum..  With regard to shirts & other important matters I will refer in my next letter. ‘  1915.

Nov. 23rd 1915
Nov. 23rd 1915

Transcription:   A Merry Party of Tommies.  

My Dearest Mum, Dad & All.  What really ripping parcels. And the best of it they have fortunately come at a very happy & convenient time. The one & the only one which was brought into the trenches that day. Indeed the towel came also very timely to cleanse my dirty black fuzzywig,  & the toffee too came also at an acceptable time, a rough time, a cold time, a time when my tummy felt cold & frozen a nightly time…

THE TOTAL NUMBER OF PARCELS  Bertie received in the Field, between embarkation on March 1st 1915 and July 1st 1916, appears to have been an average of one a week – from small parcels of cigarettes, chocolates and magazines to large food hampers of home-made cakes and bread.  The ‘tie with home’, as well as the promise of ‘home comforts on Listening Post’, gave my father the energy at times to carry not only his own parcels, on top of his full pack, but also those for his brother and his old school pal, Vernon Evans.

The Hibbett Family at Tea:  Mother, Bertie, Sydney and Ida.
The Hibbett Family at Tea: Mother, Bertie, Sydney and Ida.

MISSING PARCELS :  When parcels did go missing, Bertie’s grief was as much for his Family as for himself, that their Christmas gifts, so lovingly prepared and packed, could not be enjoyed by ‘the boy who would appreciate them best’. That the Army went to so much trouble to deliver these parcels  within just a few days , and that so few appear to have gone astray, is unwitting testimony to their importance to morale and as a necessary boost to the notoriously poor diet endured by the troops.

Mother at Tea.
Mother at Tea.

FOOD TO THE FRONT & LETTERS HOME  would also make a good title. Food was always on Bertie’s mind. He felt greedy but he wasn’t afraid to ask for more!

LISTS OF FOOD MENTIONED IN THE LETTERS mostly in thanks for parcels received and requests for more. ‘It’s only the Tie with Home I want really’.

ARMY FOOD: Beef; Bully Beef; Bacon; Marconochies (tinned meat & veg.); Pontoon; Rations; Vegetables.

Ale/ Stout; Almonds; Apples; Apple Pie; Apricots.

Bacon (Fa’bacon); Bananas; Beans/ haricot; Beef; Biscuits/ Crawfords; Bovril; Brazil Nuts; Bread/ Brown/Loaf; Bread & Milk; Bread & Buitter Pudding; Butter.

Cake: Cake with Sydney & Bertie’s initials; Caraway Seed; Cheese Tarts; Currant; Ginger; Queen’s Cakes; Wedding Cake.

Cheese; Chutney; Cocoa; Condensed milk; Coffee (Velma Coffee); Cold Food/ Meat; Corn; Crab; Cream/ tinned; Cucumber; Currant Bread/ Loaf; Custard.

Chocolate: Batchelor Buttons; Bournville; Cadbury’s; Cadbury’s Mexican; Chocolate Caramels; Nestles; King Edward Chocolate.

Dates; Eggs/ hard boiled/ duck.

Favourite Food: Ida/  nuts; Mother/apricots; Bertie/bread & butter pudding; Syd/ chocolates.

Figs; Fruit; Goose; Gravy; Ham; Herrings; Homemade Cakes/ Biscuits & Bread;

Horlick’s Malted Milk Tablets; Hot Cross Buns; Hot Food/ Drink; Hot Milk.

Jam: Gooseberry/ Damson; Jelly; Lemon Jelly; Lemonade Crystals (Symingtons & Birds); Lemon Curd.

Milk; Mince Pies; Mineral Water; Mixed Fruit; Mutton; Nuts/ Hazel; Oats/ Quaker; Oatmeal Cakes; Oranges/Jamaica; Oxo.

Pancakes; Parkin; Pea Flour /Symington’s; Pears; Pea Soup; Pickles/ Cross & Blackwell; Picallilie; Pippins; Pork Pie; Pleasant; Pineapple chunks; Plums; Porridge; Potatoes.

Pudding: Bread & Butter; Christmas; Milk; Plum; Rice; Tapioca; Yorkshire/ York.

Raisins; Sardines; Sausages; Sausage rolls; Scones; Shortcake; Shrimp & Salmon Pate; Soup; Stem Ginger; Sugar/ brown; sultanas; Syrup/ Golden; Strawberries.

Sweets: Acid Drops; Butterscotch; Bachelor Buttons; Barley Sugar; Bull’s eyes; Caramel Toffee; Cream walnuts; humbugs; Mackintosh’s de lux/ mint toffee; Pastilles/ lime juice; Rowntrees pastilles/ walnut cream; Terry’s Toffee; Turkish Delight; Walnut Cream; Whitby Rock.

Tinned Food: Butter/ Coffee/ Cream/ Crab/ Marchonochies/ Meat.

Turf Cake; Turkey; Tea; Tomatoes; Water; Water Cress; Welsh Rarebit; Wine.



PROFILE: Pte Bertie Hibbett

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall, Cadet.
Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, Cadet.

This is me at 15, a Cadet at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall. Everyone called me Bertie: my full name is Arthur Hubert Hibbett.

At the outbreak of the Great War, I was 19 yrs old and a Mining Surveyor Apprentice in Walsall, to a Mr. Nightingale of Lichfield Street.  My father was Chief Inspector of Schools for the Borough. The whole family, my parents, three brothers and my sister, were on holiday in Abergele, Wales, when my old Headmaster, Mr. E.N. Marshall, sent my brother Sydney and me his fateful Recruiting Postcard, to raise volunteers in the 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS ON  my daughter, Elizabeth, will be posting this Card again, on the date it was sent, August 11th 1914. For the next four years, God willing, she will continue to post over 200 of my letters on the date I wrote them from the trenches,  with my  drawings and sketches. They are to the various members of my family but mostly to my Mother. They date from training in Luton and Saffron Walden and from the Front in Flanders & France, – until I went over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916. I was wounded and my brother Sydney was killed .

Further Letters, written in my left hand, will follow from the Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, until my discharge from the Army in July, 1917 . They will continue from Lichfield Theological College on Armistice Day, 1918, until I was ordained an Anglican Priest in 1924.

Grt Paxton


MY FIRST LIVING  was Great Paxton, Little Paxton and Toseland, in Huntingdonshire, but I served the rest of my ministry in Lincolnshire, mainly as Vicar of St. Vedast’s Church, Tathwell, with Haugham, near Louth. This Patron Saint was a constant reminder to me of Easter Day Dawn, 1916, when I stood sentry at Neuville St. Vaast, on the Somme.

Sapientia Urbs Conditur, The City is Founded on Wisdom
Bookplate: St Vedast unites Tathwell Church with Arras Cathedral under the University of Nottingham’s Latin Tag ‘Sapientia Urbs Conditur’ (The City is Founded on Wisdom) and above Psalm 99 ‘Thy Word is a Lantern unto my Feet & Light unto my Path’. AHH 1967.



‘As a child I was made more aware of the 1st World War than of the 2nd, in which I grew up. My father never allowed me to forget that I was born on St Vedast’s Day, for it was an ever present reminder to him of his Sentry Duty at Neuville St. Vaast, Messines, Easter Day 1916.  I had a little seat on his rattley old bike and he would take me round the parishes selling Earl Haig poppies.

Every  Remembrance Day, and every 1st July, my father would bring out his 1914 Sketch Book and his 21st Birthday Autograph Album. His painting of ‘Poppies on the Battlefield’ made a very strong impression on me, together with his beautifully scripted text of ‘In Flanders’ Fields’, by  John McCrae.’

AHH Poppies Text


The Revd. A.H. Hibbett.
The Revd. A.H. Hibbett.1960s.

AHH Painting 2

THE LETTERS 1914 -1918


Private Bertie Hibbett illustrated many of his letters in the Field.

ADDRESSES. Censorship meant that he was not allowed to give a geographical address so he often used the names he & his pals gave to their dugouts:-

‘The Z -Urban District Trench Improvement Society. ‘Bully Beef Bungalow’; ‘ Whizbang Dugout’; ‘The Listener’s Lounge’; ‘Somewhere Else’; ‘All in Bandages’; ‘In Red White and Blue’ and once or twice he has ’20 Yards from The Enemy!’.

These ‘addresses’ were a great help when trying to place a letter in its chronological order.

Smiling Letter Flying Home from France. 1916
Smiling Letter Flying Home from France. 1916.

DECORATIVE LETTER HEADINGS : Most of his drawings were of necessity in pencil but , when he had time, Bertie provided illustrated headings in ink; e.g. before embarcation and when in Hospital in France.

Decorative Letter Heading. 1915.
Uphold the Knot. Decorative Letter Heading : S.Staffs Knot  Badge. Feb. 1915.
Decorative Heading for a Letter
Decorative Heading for a Letter

SKETCHES : Pte Bertie Hibbett was detailed as a Sniper in 1916. When, as a child, I asked him if he had killed anyone in the Great War, he said he thought he had  – ‘once’, when he fired at a helmet and heard a shout. He was also detailed by HQ, perhaps more successfully, to make sketches with a periscope of the German Front Line at Gommecourt.  He brought Home a copy but sadly he showed it at  a ‘Toc H’ exhibition in Lincolnshire in the 1960s and we never saw it again.

Sniper Atkins Doggerel. Fonquevillers, near Gommecourt. Before the Big Push. May 1916.
Sniper Atkins Doggerel. Fonquevillers, near Gommecourt. Before the Big Push. May 1916.

Bottom Left: Old German Soldiers “with long beards observed digging trenches”. Right : “A fellow soldier posed for me” .

 ENVELOPES :  WHITE envelopes were censored by the Regiment.  GREEN envelopes need not be censored by the Regiment but their contents  could  be examined at the Base.  Soldiers had to sign:- ‘I certify on my honour that the contents of this envelope refer to nothing but private and family matters.’  Pte Bertie tells how sorry he feels for the censors wading through the huge pile of letters before the Battle of the Somme.

Parcels to the Front & Letters Home. The Story of Private Bertie Hibbett 1914 -1918

DEDICATION:  These Letters are Dedicated to World Peace and are published in  Honour of all who Suffered in the First World War. 


This remarkable collection of letters, original drawings and sketches, sent Home to his Family at 95, Foden Road, Walsall, tells the First World War story, in his own words, of my father, Private Arthur Hubert Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment.  Most have no address but their exact geographical location along  the Western Front, was discovered with the help of the Regiment’s Official War Diary and Bertie’s own War Diary, A Little Book of Words and Doings.

Together with My Memories of the First World War, written in 1967, Bertie Hibbett’s Letters will be of value to historians, teachers and all interested in the history of the Great War and its Aftermath.



Today, as I gently open out the flimsy sheets, I wonder at their history and the journey they have made from the trenches, through the years, into my hands.  I think about those who first opened and read them and of the brave young man, much younger than my own son now, who wrote them.  Reading the letters, one after another, I feel I am in the same position as those who first received them, entering into my father’s life at the Front, seeing it unfold day by day and week by long week, waiting in expectation of what will happen next, caught up in the immediacy of it all.  I want all who read them to be in that position too.


Envelop. Ida

Aug. 1915

August Bank Holiday.  2/8/15 Anniversary of Decl. of War.

‘My Dear Sister Ida,  Just come off fatigue  – last journey through woods with big bag of coke. The trees are nothing but trunks now & last night the sun setting like a ball of fire looked mystic as it shone through the straight tall trunks, some broken half way down…’

A RICH COMBINATION OF FACTORS, both fascinating and informative, make the letters unique.

THEY ARE WRITTEN FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A PRIVATE rather than of an Officer; one who had volunteered as a Mining Surveyor Apprentice at the outbreak of War but who, by Armistice Day, 1918, had entered Lichfield Theological College to train for ordination as an Anglican Priest.

THEY ARE LETTERS TO A WHOLE FAMILY, not only to his Mother and Father, but to three Brothers and a Sister, as well as to a Godmother and a number of close friends –  the varying style in each reflects the different relationships. Readers will be able to follow not only the emotional & spiritual development of a sensitive, intelligent, young man but also to gain a picture of his ‘most painstaking and loving mother’, that quiet father ‘kindness itself’, that compassionate, wise sister and those ‘thoughtful’, kindly brothers at home, where my father longed to be.

THE LETTERS ARE ABOUT EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE TRENCHES; the horror of War is conveyed through understatement, rather than by graphic description of battles and charges.  With letters written every few days, they cover a period of two and a half years, almost without a break, from Bertie Hibbett’s enlistment, his training in Luton and Saffron Walden, through 16 months at the Front – to the loss of his brother and his own wounding at the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916. They continue through long months in the Red Cross Hospital at New Brighton (where he wrote and drew with his left hand), to his discharge from the Army in 1917 and his entry into Lichfield Theological College and the Anglican Church ministry. 


Smiling Letter Flying Home from France. 1916
Smiling Letter Flying Home before the Battle of  the Somme. 1916.


Greetings from Walsall

LOCAL AS WELL AS MILITARY HISTORIANS  will be interested in the light shed on the South Staffordshire Regiment and on Queen Mary’s Grammar School Walsall. Some 70 officers and men are mentioned by name (many of them Old Boys of QMS), together with those of  prominent members of Walsall Borough Council.  They tell the story of the impact of War on professional middle class families, of their War effort and support in the way of parcels as well as letters; they tell of middle class education and values pre-1914 in one town in the Midlands.  They also provide valuable information concerning contemporary Christian Faith & Church life at Home and at the Front.  With numerous sketches and drawings, they tell the story of one young soldier’s courage, humour and hope in the face of extremity, and of his journey from boy at war to man of peace.

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.
Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall.
St Paul's Walsall 1914. Now called St Paul's at the Crossing.
ST PAUL’S CHURCH WALSALL 1914. Now called The Crossing at St Paul’s.


IT IS THE UNWITTING, FIRST HAND EYE-WITNESS  quality that gives Bertie Hibbett’s letters their sociological and educational value.  Longing for letters and loving to write them, his words tumble onto the page, with postscript after postscript in an agony not to finish.  ‘It is only the tie of family love I want really’. 

Invariably cheerful, amusing, courageous, Bertie is almost overwhelmed at times by the mixed emotions of duty, loyalty, love and fear. He knew what it was to be utterly ‘HBD’, Heart Bowed Down.  Desperately home-sick, craving for the Home Leave that never came, he suffers the intense pain of boils ‘like toothache in the neck’, trench foot & shell shock that were to plague him for the rest of his life.  Watching over his elder brother with fierce love and pride, trying to keep up the courage of his pals in the worst of the shelling, Bertie is torn between gaining sympathy by telling his mother ‘all about me sen’ and trying to shield her from the unspeakable horrors of his life out there.

That his ‘humble scribblings’ should be studied seriously as part of a school or university curriculum, and be worthy of exhibition, would have filled my father with wondering astonishment.  Whilst he loved writing letters, to entertain himself and his family, his main thought, each Sunday, was to reassure his mother of the safe arrival of parcels and thereby of his own safety.

Certainly the faith of his family was a daily comfort, especially that of his Mother, whom he pictures in the familiar pew in St Paul’s, Walsall.  My father’s firm belief in the power of good over evil, that ‘everything works together for good’, is reflected not only in the biblical quotations heading most of his letters from the trenches, but also in his lyrical descriptions of Mother Nature, of sunlight and bright mornings, of animals and birds and also of flowers, picked to adorn the dugouts, to press and to send home.

‘At last I have found a few June roses’, he writes to his mother in his last letter Home before the Battle of the Somme, 1st  July 1916.

EDITING:      Allowed to tell their own story, the letters stand with just enough editing to make Bertie’s language, quaint spellings and abbreviations, intelligible  today. EFW. 2014.

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.