Tag Archives: Army Chaplain.


Bertie HibbettPte BERTIE HIBBETT, Merville Casualty Clearing Station: LETTER  HOME following straight on from Christmas Eve Letter. Enclosed in envelope addressed To Mum, My very Dear Mother. All Good Wishes for a HAPPY CHRISTMAS from her very affec. son Bertie.

                                            Christmas Day.  7-30 am approx.

Christians awake! Salute the Happy Morn, Whereon the Saviour of the World was born. Rise to adore the Mystery of Love Which Hosts of Angels chanted from above. (1)

Merville monasteryIMG_2808
Monastery Chapel, Merville ?  Courtesy www.Liz  Clutterbuck.com> 

Although we did not have a hymn at Holy Communion, (which I always like on Christmas Morning) the Chapel was prettily decorated with holly & evergreen & was made the best out of it.  Candles burning in between the evergreens looked Christmassy.  We had a few nurses with us this morning,  yes, to see men, men, men, everywhere it was especially reminding of Home to see the other sex & it felt more what it should be at Christmas.

‘A Merry Christmas’ we all greeted one another on waking,And the same to you’ came the reply to everyone I greeted on the way to wash, & to the ChapelAt the door I met a sister & the Chaplain –  ‘the same to you’.  And why shouldn’t it be Merry?  ‘Rejoice again I say Rejoice’ (2) Those who have lost their lives for their country are numbered among the Hosts of Angels  which chant above.

I dreamt (dreams  are so hard to remember) but I do believe I dreamt of you all, certainly I dreamt of Mother & Ida & Dad & now I come to think on’t Basil too.  I could see Ida as plain as a pike staff.  And I dreamt of Sydney too & we met a nurse, I believe, who told us he was much better, at which we were all so glad.  I have dreamt of you all at one time or another these nights this week how queer – will it be a coincidence?  Well I will leave off  till after the dinner now. We get cold ham for breakfast.

From breakfast till Church time I read a Christmassy story I came across accidentally & only began to find out as I read along.  You must know that this Hospital, so I’ve been told, was once a monastery & it looks like one too –  all the more happy to imagine Ye olde Christmasse TYMES with the monks & so I read a Monk’s tale about Kings & Dukes & Princesses. The story also introduced York – ‘then as Winter came on quickly, withdrawing himself to his good old town of York to keep his Christmas, rest his men, etc.’  Then again, ‘he’, referring to the King of England, now the King of Scots.  ‘So at last about Xmas time the snow being very deep, the King of Scots sat down behind the wattles of his trenches, saying ‘if we cannot burn them out or cut them out, we will starve them out’ –   and so with the G——ns eh!

While I was reading several orcifers (sic) with their orderlies & a whole retinue of NCOs came to decide if our decorations deserved Ist Prize. Then the orderly made us all go to Church.

The service, which I have just come from & set to write you about, was as Christmassy as possible & again I guess we all thought of our Homes, & others, their sweethearts & wives.  The sermon was the old story of the Inn & the Shepherds and the Saviour. Though the ocean & lands divide us we think of each other at Holy Eucharist, so the old Latin text goes interpreted.

O Come all ye Faithful I can hear you singing, the very words we have too (3).  And we had the Hymn for absent friendsKeep them ’neath Thy care (4). I used that little Red Prayer Book in which you put my name & the text,Be thou faithful unto death(5). It is much dilapidated now but for all that it brought back memories of Xmasses gone by when I used it. (6)

I will leave off now till after dinner else I shall not have paper to finish.

Christmas Dinner.  ‘A goodly feast forsooth’.  A sight which reminds me of the words in the story I read this morning:-  ‘All was done in noble order, with abundance to eat (& drink), with minstrels in the gallery, dogs under the tables, a fool in a corner and silver trumpets at the buttery door to cry the courses’.

Yes, the officers waited on the men & the Chaplain served us too; as for the courses, the first was beef, haricot beans & spuds,  the second was plum pudding with white sauce (I put in some almonds from a dish of fruit just by). Then jellies of all kinds & chocolate blancmange Ida, yes.  The room, which was downstairs, held all the patients, numbering 200 in all.  We were greeted by the Chaplain who wished us all a Merry Christmas & told us that those who ate too much would be sent to the Base immediately,  Yes, get C.B. – not Confined to Barracks but Condemned for the Base.

Let’s see Mum, when was it I had that big BURD for dinner nine – teen – fif – er- no – nine-teen -THUR-TEEEN.  Oh my poor napper.  Let’s crack a bon bonthere were those on the table & those paper serviettes in pretty patterns. Also raisins & almonds, walnuts, chocolates, toffee & the Chaplain came round with cigarettes again.  So we have had a bit of Christmas & Santa Claus is coming at 4 o’clock.

Oh I’m full, full inside, & the officers have stuffed our pockets with nuts, chocolates & all those things I’ve said.  Eight volunteers for washing up.  I was one.

Ta Ta till after tea.  I am at peace with all the World, so said Dad once, & I hope you have all had a good dinner too.  I’m at peace with Ye K——r!

The afternoon passed in a happy, lazy way. I read the story of the little Child leading the King of Beasts, the tiger & all the other animals in Isaiah, Chapter 11, verse 6 . ‘The Wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, & the leopard shall lie down with the kid & the calf & the young lion & the fatling together, & a little Child shall lead them’.  How typical of the Hun & the Peacemakers. The K——r, so apparently hated by some people, will find blessing from God.  All the nations at war with one another shall live in peace & love one another in God’s good time.  And a little Child shall lead the nations. Reminds me of the Victor on a White Horse, leading his Hosts in white, in Revelation (7).

For tea we had jam & bread, but we did not open the tins, some iced cake & gingerbread came in & the  iced cake vanished first.

Poor old Bertie will not have any of our Christmas gifts!’

Best love, Bertie.   X X X X X


South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.

 25th Dec. 1915:  Entrained at BERQUETTE STATION for MARSEILLES, and arrived there on the 27th. (en route for  Dardanelles Campaign begun 25th April 1915).


My 20 year old father, Pte Bertie Hibbett, is determined to be happy, and to convince his Mother that he is happy, spending Christmas in Hospital, sleeping on a stretcher, denied letters and parcels of Christmas Cheer from Home, separated from his brother & his best pal Vernon Evans, all three now in Hospital.

From Merville he would have heard the sound of guns at the Front. He knows the rest of his pals in 1/5th South Staffords are preparing for the Dardanelles /Gallipoli Campaign and he must soon be joining them. All he has to hold on to is his heightened awareness  of the true meaning of Christmas, the fulfillment of  Hebrew prophecy  – and the Army’s ‘Goodly Feast!’Byrom_J

(1) Christians Awake: Hymn. Text John Byrom 1691-1763. Tune: John Wainwright 1723-1768

(2) Rejoice again: Philippians 4.4. written by S. Paul in time of persecution, AD 49-51.

(3O Come all ye faithful/ Adeste Fidelis: John Francis Wade, 1711-1786. Translated from Latin by Frederick Oateley, 1841. (4) Neath thy Care: 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).

(5) Be thou faithful unto death & I will give thee the crown of life’. Revelation 2.10. (6) Confirmation Prayer Book, a gift from his Mother. Confirmed Sunday 12th March, 1911 (16 yrs old).

(7) Book of Revelation: the only apocalyptic /prophetic document in the New Testament canon (dealing with Christian eschatology i.e. interpretation of the End Time). Written AD 81-96, in the form of a letter to all the churches during Emperor Domitian’s persecution of Christians/ a poetic allegory of the ongoing struggle between good & evil.

NEXT POST: 26th Dec. 1915.




Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE  HIBBETT, Merville Casualty Clearing Station, North France: LETTER to Mother, Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.

Christmas Eve  1915

Bless you my Mother.  Bless you my Father. Bless you my Sister. Bless you my Brother.

My Very Dear Mother & all of you,

I have just come from a very pleasant little service in the Chapel.  Our C. of E. Chaplain came round rallying us all to go to the service on the Eve of Christmas & how they all flocked down the stairs & through the Cloisters – & the little Chapel, no larger than the Lady Chapel at St Paul’s (1) was crowded.

We all sangWhile shepherds watched their flocks by night’ (2).  I doubt not that everyone was thinking of their Home, his dear Father & Mother, & if they had any brothers and  a sister like me.  The Chaplain himself said we shall all be thinking of our relatives & friends, no matter how far away with foreign countries between & the deep & the spacious ocean too, in spite of that our hearts will be as near as if we were with you. 

Yes dear Mummy, you & Dad an all of you are as close to me & my heart is as warm towards you as if you were as plain as my comrade on the next stretcher here to me.

liveauction coins op13715740_1_lMum, although I have no pleasures of Home with you, I have had a very pleasant afternoon & Eve.  We have had a gramophone on this afternoon & one record touched ours hearts so much we had it on again.  The records are double sided, as you know, & one record had two songs about ‘Mother’  – ‘When did you write to Mother last?’ &Break the news to Mother’ (3) It was the first one we were so taken by. 

Coin-activated Gramophone c 1915. <www.liveauctioneers.com>

We have a table in the centre of the room (which is now crammed with decorations) & a red blanket serves well for a table cloth.  Well there I sat at this table with my head between my hands, resting my chin on the palm of my hands & I listened as the words sang  ‘Just think of all the things she did for youand then the other song –  ‘There’s not another Can take the place of Mother. Then say to her how I love her And break the news to Mother’.

Then we had the other records dealing with Christmas, but they did not get an encore like the songs of Mother did.

Yes, we have books to read & I was admiring a picture in The Graphic (4) ofAn Ideal Christmas’.  ‘The return of the First Born from the Field of BattleThere in the firelight was the eldest son with his two little brothers eagerly listening to his adventures, the Father was on the sofa with his head turned from his paper to his eldest boy, & Mother too, whilst his eldest sister had stopped playing at the piano.

How do you like the picture I sent you on Thursday?  I did not know who to send it to, but whenever I see anything beautiful I think of those at Home & think they will appreciate it more than anyone else. 

So Mum, I believe I am not wrong in guessing that it will be Ida’s Birthday on the 28th & I believe it is Innocents’ Day then (5).  Sorry I cannot find anything so far to send her, but if you wish you can give her that picture, Ida being a lover of pictures, and say that it is a present from Mum & me.

Yes, I shall be thinking of you tomorrowThe Day, the Birthday of Our Lord early in the morning at 6.45 am at Holy Communion – & very likely Sydney will too.  The Chaplain sais there will be dinner for all the patients at 1 pm & Father Christmas will visit the wards atBlind Man’s Holiday’ (6) i.e. 4 pm so we shall have a bit of Christmas out here.

 Part the Second.

I shall put up my stocking for fun tonight.  The Chaplain comes round with cigarettes every night when we are about to go to sleep.

St Benedict. AD 481-543.
St Benedict. AD 481-543.

Goodnight to you dear Mum & all of you, may you have a sound good sleep, St Benedict (7) to keep away the evil goblins and a happy, a very happy awakening on the morning of Christmas Day –  heralded by a carol – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ (8) . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I will leave my letter to finish tomorrow.


South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.

ISBERQUES: 20th-24th Dec.1915Platoon & Company Training.



A poignant picture here of Pte Bertie Hibbett thinking of Christmas at Home in Walsall (note service at 6.45 am!), making decorations and head in hands listening to gramophone songs about ‘Mother’ with other young patients.

(1) The Lady Chapel remains as my father would have remembered it, with its intricate domed-ceiling of inlaid-veneer. The rest of St Paul’s was wonderfully transformed in 1994 -1995; now called The Crossing at St Paul’s (a Christian Centre for Social Justice & Place of Worship) it serves the industrial & commercial centre of Walsall , the Old Butts & the Chuckery.  See Hibbett Letter: 26th Aug. 1914 for further details.

(2) While Shepherds watched. Carol Text based on Luke 2.8-14 by Nahum Tate 1652-1715 (Irish Hymnist/Poet Laureate to Queen Anne. Published by Tate & Nicholas Brady in ‘Supplement of New Version of Psalms of David.1696’ .  Music Old Winchester. The only Christian hymn authorised to be sung in Anglican Churches. (Before 1700 only Psalms could be sung).

(3)Break the News to Mother. Chorus: Just break the news to Mother, She knows how dear I love her, And tell her not to wait for me For I’m not coming home. Just say there is no other Can take the place of Mother, Then kiss her dear sweet lips for me, And break the news to her.  Tragic ballad of boy soldier who died ‘saving the flag‘ in Spanish-American War, when United States intervened in Cuban War of Independence. Treaty of Paris, 1898, marked the collapse of The Spanish Empire & allowed U.S. temporary control of Cuba. (NB Can find no reference to the first song).

(4) The Graphic: British weekly newspaper, published 4th Dec.1869, by William Lucas Thomson (Artist/ wood engraver/social reformer), angered by treatment of artists in The Illustrated London News.

Flavius Josephus.
Flavius Josephus.
Herod Great.search
Herod The Great. Died 4.BC

(5) Holy Innocents Day, 28th Dec. commemorates story of Massacre of the Innocents by Herod the Great (died 4.BC). Story is peculiar to Matthew 2.26, where Jesus is presented as the Jews’ Messiah and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Not found in Flavius Josephus AD 37 -100 (Romano-Jewish scholar, historian & hagiographer).

6) Blind Man’s Holiday: time between daylight & candlelight (i.e 4.00 pm in December) when a partially sighted person could not be expected to work. cf Webster’s Dictionary. 

The Secret History of Hobgoblins. Ari Berk. 2013.

(7) St Benedict,  AD 480- 543. ItalianPatron Saint of Europe. Called ‘The Founder of Western Monasticism’.  The Rule of St Benedict was renowned for its ‘spirit of balance & reasonableness’ & adopted by many religious foundations. Can find no specific connection with hobgoblins (mischievous imps, spirits, bogies, evil trolls, traditionally associated with Halloween & Christmas Eve).

William Hayman Cummings.

(8Hark the Herald Angels Sing.1739. Text: Charles Wesley, (brother of John Wesley founder of Methodism) , adapted by George Whitfield. Music: Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847, adapted by William Hayman Cummings 1831-1915 (English musician, tenor & organist at Waltham Abbey. Chorister under Mendelssohn’s baton.

NEXT POSTS:  25th, 26th,  28th, 30th, 31st Dec. 1915 will be published as soon as possible.