Tag Archives: Christmas Carols


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.

27th Dec. 1914: Saffron Walden: An Army Christmas.

Bertie in Uniform
Bertie Hibbett. 19 in 1914.

Pte BERTIE  HIBBETT ‘A’Coy :  Christmas Letter to Mrs Marie Neal Hibbett, 95 Foden Rd, Walsall.    

53 in 1914.

29,  Gold Street, Saffron Walden.                                      Sunday Night/ 14


My Dear Mother,

I can very well guess that  you would so much like to know how  we spent Christmas.  Well I could write a still longer letter but   – – –

To begin with Sydney, the 4th(1) and myself went to Holy Communion at 7. am on Christmas Day.  The Service was not Choral and we did not have even one Christmas Hymn I always like to start Christmas Day with a Carol  –  but at any rate the Church was decorated most beautifully, red, green and white flowers & leaves, large white chrysanths.

When we returned we were too late for Parade &  we wanted our breakfast, but we were told beforehand that we should be excused Parade.

I should think few of ‘A’ Coy.  went on Parade for they were nearly all at Communion.

ST MARY the VIRGIN, Saffron Walden, Essex. 1914

Nearly all of the communicants were soldiers too, and the sight of all the khaki going out of the Church really seemed peculiar after such a festivalYes – Christmas Eucharist – Wartime –  Soldiers  –  I can only explain it like the above  –   the thoughts that passed through my mind just at the time.

The Colour Sergeant wanted helpers at the Cookhouse to peel the potatoes for the dinnerAll four of us in No 29 went down and set to work and so we missed the ordinary civilian’s service we, at least I, had intended to go to.

The authorities did their little best to make the Christmas Dinner as jolly & as pleasant as possible.  The soldiers decorated the room & I saw the paper decorations I had made while ‘on sick’ as a fatigue duty.

The tables were set beautifully  with plenty of plates piled with fruit and nutsThe courses were turkey, goose, beef and plum pudding & crackers; mineral waters, ale, stout & wine were laid on the tables.

A short sing-song was given after dinner I must not forget to say that the Colonel came in to give us his good wishes & the Major hoped that we should all spend next Christmas at homeWe all bawled out for the Colonel And he’s a jolly good fellow’. The Captain waited upon us & his wife was present too.

A supper was given at 8 o’clock but we Four didn’t go.  I should have gone to hear Carols at the  Parish Church if I could have made certain there were any.

I must not by any means miss telling you about the Hamper, although I have mentioned it once before in Ida’s letter. Sydney wanted to open it before the Day but managed to keep patientWe were both eager to open it & did so just  after breakfast (the box arrived on Thursday).

Well, poor Ida,  –  we’ve robbed her of her favourite nuts and raisins & we’ve given you, dear Mother a lot of trouble I am certain in making that pork pie.  We broke into it on Boxing Day for dinner  –  very good, really it was, & will be for we have not eaten it all yet.  We  poked into the dates, the figs and cracked the nuts and cried Yule! 

Oh! THE JELLY!  I thought it was a pot of jam,  what a joke.  Boxing Day tea-time I turned the pot upside down & emptied the flobly-flobly on to a plate.  I offered some to Vernon and in so doing the jelly  –  what did it do?  but rolled the length of the table!  I managed to place it onto the plate once more.

The lemon jelly was very lovely.  Then the mince pies – well  – they too were and are & will be very tasty, either hot or cold & I am like you mother, I like them hot.

And what next was it that Basil couldn’t count and tell me what was coming?  I don’t believe he could have done so even if he were allowed to break the secret, but I must thank you for everyone (thing) and name them as I go along — next comes the ChocolateRowntrees, that’s good  –  poor Ida again   –  we’ve nearly eaten them all now – shall I send just one back home?

–  that reminds me of the little slice of turkey that you are going to send.  How laughable.  Shall we see it walking in to No 29?  I remember well the samples you sent to Ida last Christmas (2).

One thing we have not yet touched & that we mean to break into on Ida’s Birthday & to remember her while eating it – ‘remember our sister who was born on Holy Innocents Day’ –   I remember you saying something like that last Christmas.  It has really grieved me that I feared the letter I wrote on Boxing Day night will perhaps be too late to let Ida get my wishes.

I wish you Mother to understand that sometimes when writing my letters there is a musical instrument pegging away & sometimes a vocalist accompanying it & so please excuse any funny sentences you may come acrossEddy Hateley, the one who makes up the Four, obtains (?) that article of charming musical talent.

We have tried to make the billet as much like home as possible; all the cards adorn the mantelpiece.  The landlady has had a fire in the front room for three days now.

Sydney and I have been to the Parish Church tonight.  We had the same Carols as the Parade had this morning, excepting one –  ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’.  The Service started with a Processional, ‘Hark the Herald Angels ‘; the other two were ‘Once in Royal’  and ‘Nowell’,  my favourite.  These three we had this morning with  ‘As with gladness men of old’.  So I have heard some Carols after all.  I thought I should spend Christmas without hearing a Carol (sung well).

I am afraid this letter is getting as long as some before.  I will, if  you don’t mind, finish this to Ida.

I will just thank you, for it is worth doing so again, for the cards from both you and Father  –  very nice and appropriate words indeed.

Oh, by the by, that reminds me (3)– I forgot whether I wrote on the cards I sent you, in the fat letter with the parcel, who each of them was for.  The Christmas Snow view was for you Mother & the one with the Ship for Basil.

Best love,  Bertie.


My father loved Christmas and made it a very special time for us all at Home and at Church (St Vedast, Tathwell, Louth in Lincolnshire 1936 – 1954).

St Vedast Church, Tathwell, Louth, Lincolnshire
St Vedast Church, Tathwell, Louth, Lincolnshire.

Many of his favourite things are described  in these Christmas Letters of 1914: the way he wanted to celebrate Christmas; the Carols he liked best; the decorations and the Christmas food he most enjoyed.

1) Eddie Hateley was one of the Four at 29, Gold Street. Saffron Walden. (2) Christmas 1913: Ida was away training at Leicester Royal Infirmary (?).(3A characteristic little turn of phrase,  which brings my Dad so clearly to mind.

NEXT POSTS: 28th Dec. 1914. Letter to Ida on her Birthday.