Serjeant SYDNEY HIBBETT: LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd.Walsall.
Convalescent Camp. Rouen. Saturday. Nov 27th/ 15.
My very dear own Parents,
I am feeling much better today and can safely say I am quite well. I came out of the special treatment ward today and am now with the ‘Z’ Company again (1).
There was a concert in the YMCA last night so I went over and enjoyed myself. I don’t think I shall be here very long now as I don’t particularly desire it and want to get back to business. I wish it was the old Works again though (2). Then there is my commission: I want to see how that is going on, though a sergeant has a lot of privileges, I find (3).
I am looking forward rather to the morning service tomorrow: it was beautiful last Sunday, though I was so bad I could hardly stand. We have the Chaplain, a kindly old man, to play the harmonium & this, with all the band’s flutists, makes a most beautiful and tuneful melody.
The big YMCA hut is crowded with convalescents and we have a very similar service to the Matins at home. You know I delight to hear & sing the Psalms & a service without these & the Venite is no service to me (4). But last Sunday reminded one very much of the service at St Paul’s.
Ah yes! be happy that you have a good church and a nice service to go to on a Sunday; I think of it you know & can see you all in church in my mind’s eye: the familiar, well known people, the Farringtons, Fentons, Middletons, the Miss Hills and Co and so on.
They all perhaps think – ‘same place, another Sunday, same people, the same old round’. How I enjoyed the service that morning I went when I was on leave!
Tell Harold I wish him the best of luck and hope he won’t be forced to join the Army. The way some of the crippled soldiers have been treated by the War Office is enough to deter anyone from joining the Army. What will become of a great many of the poor fellows who are not able to help themselves, I don’t know: I shouldn’t like it. (5)
Yes next time there’s a War I shall stand on the footpath and shout Hurray! and wave my hand to the passing troops & stay at home – & send them cigarettes! And that is as far as I shall go.
Tell old Hal (6) to write me a line as he owes me a letter. Jolly old boy. Hasn’t poor old Alan been home yet? Perhaps he will be in time for Xmas.
I suppose you are having one of your usual Saturday afternoons again – nothing much to do and Hal is over at Sutton I expect, and Dad is reading his Times in the red chair by the fire and I hope you will both be going a walk soon.
What does Dodger do on a Sat. I suppose he kicks a ball about up at the old field, but I forgot, they have a new ground now (7). Ida will be making bombs perhaps, good old sort.
Well there is not much to say now it seems – the fellows are off to the pictures in Rouen & are marching down with the band. I never go myself. I think I will close now: the next time I write will probably be at the Base, we shall see.
Goodbye, dear Mother and everyone, and I hope you have a nice Sunday. Keep Harold at Home & don’t let him be in a hurry to join.
Best love from Sydney.
PS I had a letter from Miss Brookes* (8), a very nice one too. What about my watch?
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT & 1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY
NEUVE CHAPELLE TRENCHES
25th Nov.Thur: Relieved the 1/5th Batt. North Staffordshire Regiment in ‘C’ SUBSECTOR trenches at 6.40 pm.
26th Nov. Fri: Quiet Day. Enemy placed considerable number of H.E. around BREWERY. CASUALTY: 8646 Pte W. Edwards wounded by shrapnel.
27th Nov. Sat: Quiet morning. About mid-day enemy whiz-banged field West of BATTALION HEADQUARTERS. At 10.0 pm slightly increased activity of hostile gun and rifle fire.
The young Queen Mary’s School Cadet is now an experienced soldier and this Letter is that of a man who has fought his way for 2 days or more – along Big Willie in the Battle of Loos-Hohenzollern Redoubt. However sad, however disillusioned with the Army and the War Office he may appear to be, there is no question that Serjeant Sydney Hibbett knows his duty: he must get well, further his commission and get back to the Front to look after his men.
(1) ‘Z’ Company of Royal Engineers: a special unit specialising in use of gas & flame projectors (to create walls of fire) came into being in response to German gas attacks, 22nd April 1915. (Long Long Trail/ Royal Engineers/ website).
(2) Mining Engineering Works/Old Park Works, Wednesbury, Staffordshire.
(3) Serjeant (official spelling in WW1). 2nd in Command of a troop or platoon (50 men). Privileges: presumably these included exemption from censorship of letters ?
(4) Matins: common name for ‘Morning Prayer’ in Church of England Book of Common Prayer.1662. Originally a monastic liturgy at cock-crow/ also called ‘lauds’ (from Latin meaning ‘praise’). Oxford Dictionaries: Origin of word ‘matins’: Middle English from Old French ‘matines’, influenced by the Latin ‘matinutae’ (morning prayers), from Mutata/name of the Roman Dawn Goddess. Nice!
The Venite, Exultemus Domino ( ‘O Come, let us Sing unto the Lord’) is the 1st line of the opening Psalm 95. The Psalms Sydney loved (he probably knew many by heart) would be those of the Psalter in Book of Common Prayer (ordered to be read or sung through once a month) rather than those in King James translation of Old Testament Book of Psalms.
(5) Crippled Soldiers: 30% of British Soldiers were wounded in WW1. Before 1915 they relied on Soldiers & Sailors Help Society. The State reluctantly began to take some responsibility and Pensions were introduced. But many of the disabled & their families suffered great hardship. Those with ‘shell-shock’ were ignored or treated with suspicion as ‘malingerers’. See Jenny du Feu ‘Factors Informing Rehabilitation of British Soldiers of WW1‘. <https://www.medicinae.org >
(6) Hal: Sydney’s abbrev. for elder brother Harold. (7) QMS New Sports Ground: in same place as today? (8) Miss K. Brookes*: family friend & well-respected Sunday School Superintendant at St Paul’s Walsall.
NEXT POST: 28th Nov. 1915.