ARMAGH WOOD TRENCHES.
10th July, Sat: More enemy rifle fire than usual. 15 rifle grenades were fired into enemy trenches, 4 failed to explode. Enemy fired 6 rifle grenades, 3 burst short, 3 behind our lines (1).
Patrol reports loose barbed wire in front of enemy’s trench opp. 50. Enemy working party observed in Redoubt in front of 50, another enemy working party behind their front line fired on and dispersed. Our Snipers doing good work. N.W. wind. CASUALTY: WOUNDED: No 7594 Cpl. Marsh G.H.
11th July, Sun: Two enemy Aeroplane (2) over our lines yesterday evening and one from 3.45 and 4.20 am. this morning. Enemy fired 4 trench mortar shells at 50. about 8.30 pm. damage slight. Retaliated with 16 rifle grenades, 7 failing to explode. Our guns also opened fire. Suspect enemy sapping towards 50 from new redoubt. Enemy have lowered parapet opp. A1 and A2. Snipers report accounting for German officer. Enemy shell burst over A5 Support about 10.am inflicting 6 casualties. Our artillery shelled wood opp. A5. Enemy replied by shelling Sanctuary Wood. CASUALTIES: KILLED No 7849 Pte J. Perry, 9014 Pte G. Fletcher. WOUNDED: 9131 L/Cpl. W.H. Kendrick, 7983 Pte H. Downs. 7822 Pte L. Norris. 9403 Pte C.N. Harriman. 9437 Pte W.R.Thomas, 9304 Pte G. Latham. 1381 Coy. Sgt. Major, C. Hawkins. 8197 Pte G. Thorne. 9316 Pte J. Booth.
12th July. Mon: relieved by 5th Bn NOTTS & DERBY about 1.15 am. In bivouacs at 5 am. WOUNDED returning from the trenches, No 7962 Pte E. Cadman.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings. 12th July. Birthday. ‘Previous night returned from Zilebek trenches. Rained heavily on return to bivouacs at Ouverdom (sic)but sunny & fine later, & in evening. Spent money in Rheninghel(ps). Parcels from Harold & Home received on the day. Rowntrees whipped cream – Vernon’s delight, cakes, etc.’
LETTER to MOTHER & FATHER, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
The Z-Urban Dist. Trench Improvement Society. Tel. No: 40.
Bully Beef Bungalow. Prince John’s Birthday (3). July 12th/ 15.
If we go forward we die, If we go backward we die. Better go forward & die. Gen. Baden Powell (4).
How grateful I feel that I am alive & kicking & have come to see my 20th Birthday.
We returned to Bivouac about five this morning after a very long march in full pack across lovely country & passed many different scenes (5). But we were tired & sleepy; I fell off to sleep on one of the rests. We had breakfast very soon after we arrived back & the rain it rained & the wind it blew. But now the weather is sunny & bright, yet there is the same wind.
I had two small parcels while I was in the trenches. One on Sat. – the other on Sunday. On Sat I got some Mexican Chocolate (6) & Bachelor Buttons (7) from Bates*. He wrote to me about two months ago saying he would be willing indeed to act as shop keeper for me. Not wishing to be mercenary I jokingly suggested he sent a card of Bachelors Buttons. Eventually he took it quite literally & said he had been round to many shops before he could get them.
Well I am surprised – or was on Sunday. I got two nice letters in one envelope from Auntie*, one written on the Ist. She said it was returned owing to omission of the Regiment. Enclosed also was a lovely khaki silk handkerchief with rich blue border. The parcel was from Okoo. I was looking forward to something nice inside such as cigs and chocs, but Oh dear I found two neatly wrapped boxes in white paper & sealed with red wax & some bandage. Don’t be inquisitive now!
I must tell you all some more about the interesting letters I read; one which Vernon handed me in mistake, but said I could read it afterwards. Well, Ida, she mentioned about the names on the bedroom doors & ‘mousehole’ in the box room – & Dodger, did they succeed in the tricks, especially the nightgown things (as Molly* puts it ‘cos she can’t spell pyjamas? I did feel flattered when my pictures were mentioned for exhibition in the monkey show. Yes the letters were saturated about the pleasant time the two had at No 95.
Mr Rowntree of York* went to Vernon’s house & his sister hoped he brought his trade with him namely ‘chocolates delect’. Norman, his younger brother, had been to the Royal Show at Nottingham. I mentioned I was in some way intimate to the two facts ahem! You must, dear Mummy, get the Observer & read about Rowntree (8 &9).
There is one unique coincidence with regard to ‘No 40’ – ‘A’ Company touched for what we thought would be a squeamish position – i.e. 40 yards from the enemy. On the night of relief – i.e. Sunday – they threw what we call ‘sausages’ (10) into our trench. You can see the sausages coming & are more prepared for the fall than when a shell comes. A mine also blew up and we all ‘Stood To’. Half thought we should have to cancel the relief & stay the night in the trenches. Then ‘No 40’ comes in again with regard to the rumour of the length of time we shall be in the trenches next time after our 12 days rest in bivouac. We are going, ‘they say’, to that place you have heard of that Ida wanted to know if we were anywhere near (11). I want you to get this letter, so I had better not go too far in giving the show away.
Well, dear Mummy, I will conclude my letters with love to you. I wish I could ride to Aldridge again. Mr Bates* said his roses & strawberries were in fine growth & he wished he could send me some.
Do you remember the tea party on the lawn when you were so generous as to lavishly buy cakes & biscuits for the scholars’ tea & the maid came to serve the mites? And does Basil remember the little man & how the scholars liked the evening so much that they were not too keen to go home? (12).
Got your two parcels today & enjoyed a good tea with Syd – will tell you more about today next time I write, but want to get this off by this post.
Best love, Bertie.
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s relief at seeing his 20th Birthday after what was probably his worst week is paramount – and reflected in his use of ‘dear Mummy‘.
(1) Hales Rifle Grenade: Martin Hale, 1907, a hand-grenade attached to a metal rod and inserted into the rifle barrel/ had range of 150 yards. (Not available to British Army until 1915. See also ‘Mills Bomb’ wikipedia). Pte Bertie Hibbett experienced them ‘40 yards from the enemy’. (2) Reconnaisance and/or Fighter Aeroplanes.
(3) Prince John Charles Francis. Disabled/ epileptic youngest son of George Vth, b.1905 d.1919 aged 14 yrs.
(4) Robert Stephenson Baden Powell, 1857-1941. Mafeking Hero, Boer War 1899-1900.
Founder of Boy Scouts, educational innovator, promoting citizenship though outdoor activities. Much admired by my father who helped with Scouts when Curate at Alford, Lincolnshire, 1920s. ‘Doing good & helping others’.
(5) ‘Different Scenes‘: my father plays down the dangerous trek back from the ‘New Trenches‘ after such a ‘relief‘ & so many casualties. (see Map of Route. Letter 9th July.1915). (6) Mexican Chocolate: Advert.‘ British Chocolate for our Soldiers at the Front. Offer of Cadbury’s. To mail direct post free. Tin containing g four cakes of famous Mexican Chocolate &1Ib tin of cocoa & milk powder. Total Cost 3 shillings & 6d.‘ The Argus. Oct 28th 1915. (7) Bachelors Buttons: Not sweets (as 1st thought) but suspender buttons sent by Mr Bates, Aldridge.
(8) Arnold Stephenson Rowntree, 1872 -1921. Chocolate manufacturer, Quaker & Liberal MP for York, 1910. Involved in: Fellowship of Reconciliation (inter-denominational Christian group promoting pacifism 1914); Friends War Victim Relief; Quaker Meeting for Sufferings (led to creation of Field Ambulance Units); Military Service Act,1916 helped amend provision of conscientious objectors).
Rowntree Society: Letters of Rowntree to his wife, Mary Katherine, 4th & 5th July, 1915, ‘visited Bournville at Uffculme, where I met George Cadbury – & Henry Cadbury, who motored me to Walsall (Dundrennan House, Wednesbury Rd):
‘where I stayed with a nice Conservative solicitor, Mr. Evans . . . got on nicely and after an early lunch Mr. Evans’ son motored me to Birmingham‘ for Quaker Peace Talks. (9) NB this ‘son’ would have been Norman Harrison Evans* (age 13, no age-limit/ driving test needed).
(10) ‘Sausages‘- Tommy’s slang for ‘rifle grenades’ (see (1) above). (11) Ypres Salient. (12) Bertie Hibbett’s 19th Birthday Tea with Sunday School pupils at 95, Foden Rd. Walsall, 1914,
NEXT POST: 13th JULY, 1915. Mother’s Birthday.