Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, No 9 GENERAL HOSPITAL ROUEN: LETTER to MOTHER & FATHER, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall. Possibly the longest letter he wrote Home.
In Red White and Blue. Sunday Aug. 29/ 15
My Dear Mother & Father,
There is plenty of literature in the ward, but that doesn’t mean to say your contribution of magazines was not welcome, they were indeed very welcome, but of course they would have been more so in the trenches (I was sorry for Sydney not to see them).
But what my idea was at the start of this letter was this:– on receiving a letter from anyone I picture that person in the act of writing the letter to me & the surroundings, & if there is a description of the surroundings I can manage a better picture. I was once looking at some Art paintings of the War & came across two striking pictures. One was of a Tommy in a trench writing on a mess tin to his Home – his wife & children likely. The other picture was what he imagined. His wife receiving the letter & children gathered round.
My case is somewhat similar. I like you to picture me where I am & not just to let you read some more pencil scribble on paper. I try to get you to form up some picture of the life I am having. Well Sunday is round again, your 1st Sunday back from the holidays. The weather is lovely & sunny again & I am seated on a camp chair in front of the hut. The wooden huts are all in rows & their fronts are facing the main road, which runs between an avenue of trees. A tram-way also runs along one side of the road & trams frequently go by.
In the distance is a very thick wood of tall fir trees & on the other side of the road is MEERUT, an Indian Camp (1). In the front of each hut is a large tree root – & in plant pots an elect lot of geraniums. Its not long since a swanky French open carriage & pair went by.
Yesterday, Saturday, was our ‘Autumn Cleaning’ of No 6 Ward & so we removed to No 5. All ‘UP’ Patients in the ward helped in the cleaning – to scrub the windows, shake the blankets, lockers etc. There goes the ‘Cookus bugle’ so will finish either after tea or after Church.
Mummy, I’ve had a cold, hard-boiled egg, would you believe it. The chap, who helps me to ‘wash up’ & do orderly work, gave it to me with a slice of his, what he called, ‘Home made bread’. I daresay you will have gained a little more light on the matter concerning my poor old pate. I’m really sorry I did not put it to you more wisely. I thought you would like to hear from me while on your holidays, for you remember how much nicer it seemed to be receiving letters while on our holidays. Would you have been still more anxious if you had not received even a PC from me during your long stay at Whitby? It seems a long time since the 1st Saturday you were at Whitby.
I am now looking at Dad’s PC AH! Ask Ida if she can remember the walk we took from Sandsend to Whitby, by the shore, via Upgang boat house (2).
Let me tell you that the letters addressed straight to the Ward arrived on the date. I got Mrs Evans*’ letter of 22nd on the Wednesday and yours of 22nd on Friday. Yes Mummy I spent the bit of cash on good things, apples, biscuits, a few cakes & a bit of chocolate – it came in just when I needed it; we get no pay while in Hospital.
This leaf from the Territorial Gazette (3) will interest you. What a pity I did not enclose it in my last letter eh! Mummy. I had the paper lent to me & was curiously taken with it. I did not know about THE article in it from a Lancashire Tommy, else I would certainly have sent it along before this. Such a coincidence as this makes my heart really throb – to think of it. I saw a photo of a lot of Turks; they did look a burly set too & I thought at the time such ‘gorilla-looking’ individuals as these would likely kill poor Jack (Wade), but I was proud to mention it to one or two of the patients.
By the by the 1st few days of Hospital life were the happiest, but those patients have nearly all gone & fresh ones have come in their places – one is a Jew, one of the poor class I should expect.
It is pouring cats & dogs now. The Church Tent is not far off. I am in my doots as to whether to have a good scoot for it or not. I did not go to Church this morning. We were expecting a General to come round & we had to stand to our beds. No it is not like last Sunday. Last Sunday seemed more like those at home. I went three times. I must not forget that I put on Mum’s khaki socks & relished the apples & pears from the picturesque market.
Now I can hear that man ringing that piece of iron with that wooden mallet calling me to go to Church – so will FINIS when I come back & tell you all about the service.
– The Church was part of a Railway Line. The clergyman was amused too on looking at it & agreed with me that it was a splendid imitation. We’ve had some very nice hymns (4) which reminded me of Home sweet ’ome:
‘Abide with me’ and the one you had on the Bridge (5) at the Intercession Service – ‘Neath thy care’ & ‘Lead kindly light’ & lastly, after another nice sermon on discipleship, we had ‘For all the saints’. It went with a swing as the few that were present stood up & made their voices to be heard, the nurses and patients. Quite a good number in blues, although it was still raining. Our Ward Sister tried hard to get some patients to go to Church.
Ain’t it funny, – larst year the excitement was on the East Coast (6), – now you’ve gone for your holidays on the East Coast ’tis over in the West, what with escaped prisoners (7) – and bombardments of Cumberland (8).
I liked Dodger’s larst letter, – a splendid holiday description besmeared in a motley of ink blots. I gazed at the photo of Whitby. I could see myself and Dodger racing each other home . . . along the Quay.
My word Basil you are getting up to our scratch for early rising! Did you ever get up late for the nice frizzled bacon or fresh herrings? Oh! you said you couldn’t get herrings, was the salmon dear?
I look at Larpool (9) & see the bank where we lay down on Sunny Sunday afternoons & down by the Railway where I painted a view of the old houses on the cliff.
I shall have to stop now. I also enclose Miss Winifred Evans*’ letter, rather jolly aint it, a jollily-put-like letter.
Shall I marry a Winifred I wonder. W. Overend* or W. Evans*.
I sent Basil’s 1st long letter, with the one of Mother’s, in the papers. Have written to him several times but not yet heard from him. Wrote also a page to Vernon.
Do not be anxious dear Mummy. I’m an nawful ‘ipocrite’. Did you take a walk right from the (Whitby) Heights & across the moor again?
O’er moor & fen, o’er crag & torrent till the night is gone And with the morn those Angel faces smile Which I have loved long since and lost awhile. (10)
Yes, I remember you saying in a past letter that there’s an angel guarding each one of us by night and day. I’ve not told anyone that I’m down in the dumps & knocked up, as we put it – except Auntie, Harold, you – & Miss Foster – who wanted to know if it was a sort of rest we all took in turn. I did think of Ida again when the nurse sat down at the piano.
Goodnight Mum, I’m off to bed now. I often dream vividly of Dad & Basil & Sister & you.
Bestest love from Bertie.
PS NB I am enclosing the Gazette cutting in another envelope to Ida. Putting it as the nurses do – ‘ What a silly laddie’ I am. Really I must not forget to say how delighted I am with the souvenir from Whitby you sent i.e. the Whitby Heather Soap from Masons (10). Yes I remember Masons – the shop I went to one Sunday to get some ammonia for a sting. Yes I had a lovely wash this morning, such a nice scent isn’t it? I hope you took something home for Ida & tell her to be good.
Monday. Am sending the article about the Wades* to her for you.
PS NB MA (many apologies) The hard boiled egg from my pal was a duck egg Mummy. Tell me if you get this long letter & newspaper cutting.
Your affec. son, Bertie.
Postcards & Memories of Family Holidays in Whitby, along with well-loved comforting Hymns and kindly Nurses, keep up Pte Bertie Hibbett’s spirits in Hospital in Rouen.
(1) Meerut Indian Camp & British General Hospital for Infectious Diseases. Visited by Matron in Chief, B.E.F. Maud McCarthy who described it as ‘under canvas and ‘very good’. The Hospitals she said were ‘very full’ ‘many seriously wounded’ with ‘many hopeless cases I’m afraid’. No 9 Gen. Hospital in huts she found ‘on the whole very good’ but ‘Nurses quarters not so satisfactory’. The National Archive. Scarlet Finders.
(2) Sandsend. N. Yorkshire village on coast, approx, 3 mile beach walk from Whitby. Upgang Boathouse/ Whitby Lifeboat station; involved in rescue of Hospital Ship Rohilla from Whitby Rock. (3)Territorial Service Gazette: estab. 1859. Principle source of information on Army’s Territorial Battalions in WW1. ‘The Lancashire Tommy’ refers to Jack Wade*, missing on the Eastern Front.
(4) Hymns of comfort & encouragement in times of trouble & distress: Abide with Me. Words: Henry Francis Lyte, 1793-1847(dying from TB): I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless…Where is death’s sting? Where grave thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me. Based on Emmaus Resurrection story, Luke 24. 13-35 & I Cor 15.55. Neath Thy Care. Words: Isabella S. Stevenson 1869, Keep our loved ones now far distant, neath Thy care. (written when her brother was sent away to S. Africa for his health).
For All the Saints: Words: William Walsham How. Anglican Bishop of Wakefield, 1864. For Feast of All Saints. Tune Sine Nomine (for those ‘with no name’): Ralph Vaughan Williams. And when the strife is fierce the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph-song, And hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Alleluia!
(5) Bridge Street, Walsall: open air Intercession Service. 1915. (6) German Bombardment of Whitby: 19th Dec. 1914. (7) Gunther Pluschow, (held in Donington Hall, Leicestershire) is reputed to be the only prisoner to escape Britain in WW1. Aug. 1915.
(8) Cumberland Bombardment: 16th Aug. 1915. German U-Boat fired 55 shells at Chemical Factory in Lowca area between 4.30 am & 5.20 am. No damage or casualties. This Factory (installed by Germans in 1910 & labelled ‘top secret!) produced toluene (key ingredient for TNT from coal). <http://www.pastpresent.info/cumbria/parton/uboathtm>
(8) Larpool: village, N. York Moors. Larpool Viaduct (195 ft long & 120ft high with 13 arches) carried Scarborough to Whitby single-track Railway over River Esk. 1885-1965. (Grade II Listed Building & Public Walk way. Used by steam trains on N Yorkshire Moors Railway). <http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/film/sentimental-journey-whitby-scarborough>.
(9) Hymn Lead Kindly Light (verse): John Henry Newman, 1801-1890 (Anglican Divine, later Catholic Cardinal Newman) wrote these words when ill in Italy & desperate to get home. Music: Lux Benigna: John B. Dykes. 1823-1876.
(10) Masons’ Flower, Fruit & Vegetable Shop still appears to be flourishing in Whitby: 11 Flower Gate, Whitby. YO 21 3BA: tel. 0197 820240.
NEXT POST: 5th SEPT. 1915: In Khaki Again.