7th -11th June Sun: Divisional Reserve. Furnishing working parties.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘Evermore to rejoice in His Holy Comfort’. (1)
‘I will come to you’. ‘My Peace I give unto you’(2) Collect & Gospel for :-
Whit Sunday. June 11/ 16.
My Very Dear Mother,
I cannot just lay my hand on your last letter with that most appropriate text you wrote at the top. Yes I am learning a lesson from that text today.It is not for us to know the times or the seasons. It is not for us to plan out the future but to take each day as it comes (3).
I am so sorry for not controlling myself that day. One of my comradessaid I should follow him for Leave.I committed again a great folly, but as Sydney said I may go any day now.
Since that day he went on leave Leave has been reduced to one man a Battalion a day,excepting Sun & Mon when two go.
We went digging today & I thought of you all at Church & at dinner time. I understand it is the Sunday School Festival today (4). I wonder if you all went? I am writing on a pad Mrs Hurst* sent me in a parcel with some fruit, coffee, sardines & some homemade Queen cakes(5). She sent the bananas green, thinking they would ripen on the way – good idea?
Sydney heard from Miss Foster* today. He is keeping quite well & smart & always finds a cheery word for me, like Basil does for Mummy.
I hope you are not making elaborate preparations & putting yourself unnecessarily out of the way.Rememberthat I am coming Home just fora quiet time withDad & Mum & brothers & sister.I shall not care for the bell to be kept ringing & Mum’s rooms & floors to be spoiled.
I just feel,after thisfatigue, that I could have a real rest at Home with Home people; to have friends would cause me to exert mental efforts in the way of manners & habits.
As for meals – just those good wholesome puddings & plain teaswill please me as well as anything.
I will close, hoping Our Lord, of whom we learn today is the Comforter, will give you strength & comfort to wait in hope. I trust He will send me Home in safety. Let us thank Him for all His mercies that He has bestowed upon us all these many months.
Vernon sends me the Observer(6) each week now apparently. I have had little time for writing.
Best love to all. Bertie.
PS This white carnationI picked from some growing by the trench. White for Whitsuntide.
Mentally & physically exhausted, Pte Bertie Hibbett longs for rest – & the quiet of Home. The news that Leave was restricted to one soldier a battalion must have been devastating. His digging ‘fatigue’ could well have been repairing the long & dangerous communication trenches, over the ridge from the Divisional Reserve at Souastre to the Front at Fonquevillers. Under close German observation these fatigues were conducted mainly at night.
Deprived of Church services, my father took strength from the Book of Common Prayer Readings & Prayers for the day – Whit Sunday, always a favourite festival for him. He took comfort from a white carnation picked by the trench and from the cheery word of his brother. His Mother’s advice ‘to take each day as it comes’, my Dad often passed on to me.
(1) Collect for Whit/ WhiteSunday/ Pentecost (50 days after Easter). Book of Common Prayer. 1662.‘God who as at this time didst teach to hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them of the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things: and ever more rejoice in his holy comfort. . .’
(2) Gospel for Whit Sunday/ Pentecost:John 14.15f.Jesus’ Discourse on Resurrection & Eternal Life.
(3) ‘It is not for us to know the times and seasons’: Acts 1.7.Jesus’ spiritual answer to his disciples’ political question ‘Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel’. i.e.Are you going to lead a rebellion against the Romans?
(4) St Paul’s Sunday School, Walsall. Bertie Hibbett had passed his Sunday School Teacher’s Examination in April 1914. Some of his class kept in touch with him during the War & sent him little gifts.
(5) Queen Cakes Patty Tinsc.1890; recipe older than reign of Queen Victoria? cf Historic Food Website.
21st -31st May: Battalion Training. In Rest Billets.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘Home Sweet Home’(1)
Woden’s Day. May 24/ 16.
My Dear Mother & Father,
Mum’s long letter of last Sunday 21st was beautiful & interesting. I received it this evening after a good day’s work. We have been inspected by the Gen. of the BEF (2).
So very, very glad to hear you had a sunny Sunday and a ‘happy’ day on the 17th.
I liked the account of how you got my letter from the lady postman (3). How delightful to have had Sydney’s favourite hymn (4) on the Sunday following.
Your letter had the opposite effect to the one previous & seemed to have had that ‘forgiveness’I told you of in my last letter which has turned the story beautiful again, & how queer that I should have written about it last Sunday too.
Yes, I guess you would miss Ida, & do you know I had an idea she had kept her intention from you for she never mentioned you in her letter as reference. Well I do praise her up to a certain extent & if she were a boy she would undoubtedly win a medal on Active Service.
Sorry you have been ill, but I love you for the way you took it so lightly by your writing. Bravo Dr. Utting*! (5)
Yes, Ball* was always decent to me, he is only a Private like I am, but one of the decent chaps among the ranks.He is dark haired & has a rosy fresh complexion, hasn’t he? Yes, I will do as you said & he will deserve all I give him poor chap.Yes, he is quiet & that’s the best of him, all the others are rowdy.As for the Hinds I think Cyril* is the better.
Ah! your description of Basil cutting the grass & of your sitting in the garden gave me much pleasure.
I am looking forward to the lilies.This is the Land of the Lily (6), but I have not seen any yet this year.I think the lily (the symbol of this country) is the ‘Arum’ – that which you decorate the altar with.
Mrs Hurst* told me it would soon be the Sunday School Festival & Mr Key*loves white flowers.
Am pleased you like Mrs Hurst, she is very much like Mrs Jones in her manner of writing.
Thursday. You told me in one of your past letters that I could have one of the washing squares as you had sent Sydney some.The one I have is simply a ‘tres bon’ idea. I found, when I had a bath last night, that it is much easier to get a lather with it than without,& also there is no waste soap as I put my soap inside the ‘bag’ & that which gets smeared on the square is used next time.
I told you in my last letter but one that Lieut Sanger* wished to be kindly remembered to you, at any rate I will give him the ‘Boomerang’ (wish). It was sometime after that I sawAllen Machin*. I think S(ydney) is the best of the lot & Allen looks fine.
We have been out of the trenches since Saturday night & have done a route march each night for 3 nights.It is cooler to march at night. I guess you have wondered whether we march at night or not & you would think all sorts of things, not missing out thatwe are cheerful. And we are not always singing ‘Tipperary’ (7). There are always some of us who find out something fresh & they are not always songs.
One night a few of us imitated the rocket we saw at the Arboretum Flower Show (8). I think someone behind us must have seen an artillery rocket,at any rate it was not long before nearly all of us picked up the joke. A long whistle for the rocket &, as we imagined the illumination to burst & show all its different colours gracefully fall to earth we should utter that expression of those who saw fireworks – ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw’ – & then the excited quick Hurrah! at the end.
At another time I fancied I could smell the old ‘bread & milk’ I loved when a little school boy.I could indeed smell a kind of burnt bread & burnt milk.Sorry I lost the choc and Terry’s sweets with theparcel, but I am hoping they will turn up after me writing.And I suppose you sent someMonkey Brandfor my mess tin (8). I need also someEmery Cloth (9).
I have at last managed to sketch something original but of course I could not better Bairnsfather’s features in his sketches.Have drawn two, one you could send to Miss Foster*, if you think she would like it, & the other for yourself. Choose which you like the better, the one with ‘Yours faithfully’ in front has the more original sketches in & I have substituted a verse for a better one about the Kaiser(10).
I am expecting Sydney soon, as his course should not last more than a month.
Best love to all, Bertie.
PS Did you get the ‘green’ to Ida dated about 14th? [Ed: if so then it hasn’t survived].
The inspection by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig was a clear sign that the Battle of the Somme was imminent. Pte Bertie Hibbett has to send Home for more emery cloth & cleaning powder to spruce up his uniform & equipment.
1/5th South Staffords, at Lucheux (on top of the usual bombing, sniping & bayonet practice) were kept fit by night marches, whilst during the day they cut wood for hurdles & fascines; these were used to strengthen the long communication trenches over the dangerously exposed ridge from Souastre to the Front at Fonquevillers.
My father was happy in his peace-making efforts at Home. He took comfort from signs of Spring & thoughts of Home Sweet Home which in the song gave him ‘the peace of mind dearer than all‘ – but in his letters from now on there seems to be a growing acceptance that he would not see his Home again until after the coming Battle.
(1) Home Sweet Home:1823. Lyrics: John Howard Payne, 1791-1852.American dramatist, poet & actor.Music: Sir Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 -1855.
(2) Field MarshallSir Douglas Earl Haig Commander B.E.F. replaced the First Commander, Field Marshall Sir John French after the Battle of Loos, Oct. 1915.
(3) ‘Lady Postman’: 35000 women were draftedin during 1914-1916. The Post Office was ‘the largest single employer of labour in the world‘. Dealt with 5.9 billion items of post, responsible for nation’s telegraph/ telephone system/ savings bank & 1000 branch post offices. By 1917 19,000 mailbags crossed the Channel everyday. See websites: <http://www.postalheritage.org.uk <http://www.worldwar1postcards.com/soldiers-mail.php >
(4) Sydney’s favourite Hymn: ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King’. 1744.Chorus: ‘Lift up your heart lift up your voice. Rejoice again I say rejoice!‘. Words: Charles Wesley. 1707 -1788. Based on Philippians 4. 4. See Hibbett Letter: 23rd April 1916.
(5) Dr Utting: Hibbett family doctor/ later tended Ida in her last illness. Utting & Hibbett family grave/memorial, Church of St Michael the Archangel, Rushall, Walsall.
(6) Land of the Lily: Fleur de Lys/Iris or Arum Lily/ symbol of France. See Hibbett Letter: 14th April 1916.
(7) ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.Music Hall Song: Jack Judge, in collaboration with Henry James Williams. 1912.
(8) ‘Monkey’:at least3 different items with this brand name. Rather than tobacco, the context implies ‘Monkey Soap’,a scouring soap (produced in 1899 by Sydney & Henry Gross, Philadelphia, USA/later called Port Sunlight Soap) – or even black tooth powder for cleaning a mess tin. See Hibbett Letter: 21st Oct 1915.
(9) Emery: ‘dark granular rock‘ used to make abrasive powder (corundum/ aluminium oxide). Rock mined over 2000 years in Turkey & Greece (Island of Naxos), world’s main supply. Used in Asia for grinding rice. Emery Cloth: coated abrasive, bonded to cloth, for hand use.
18th May Thur.12.45 am to 1.30 am: Enemy fired 18 canister bombs(1) which fell between ‘A’ Company’s advanced posts and company Headquarters.All communication trenches damaged.1.45-2.15 am 12 canister bombs fell between No 4 and 5 posts. No damage. 10.15 pm – 10.45 pm 12 canister bombs fell between No 4 and 2 Posts. LIVERY STREET damaged (2).
19th May Fri. 8.30 pm: 6 canister bombs fell between No.1 and No 2 posts. No damage. Our Artillery retaliated on GOMMECOURT PARK.Enemy whizz-banged (3)in vicinity of Headquarters. Relieved by 1/5th SHERWOOD FORESTERS (4). Marched to billets at SOUASTRE (5).
20th May Sat:SOUASTRE. Marched to new billets at LUCHEUX (6). Arrived at 2.0 am.
21st May Sun: LUCHEUX. In Rest Billets. Battalion Training.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings. New draft of officers. Saw Lieut. Sanger* with whom I had a nice chat; he was later over No 2 Platoon. Illustrated Sniper Atkins and substituted a verse about the Kaiser in place of ‘Atkins loves his pal the rifle’ (7).
LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘. . . among the sundry and manifold changes of the world. . .’(8). ‘I have yet many things to say unto you’ (9).
Collect and Gospel for:– 4th Sunday after Easter. May 21/ 16
My Very Dear Mother,
How very, very sorry indeed I felt, when I read your letter(in with Ida’s)dealing with the manner Sydney behaved. Yes Sydney is often thoughtless & I think it is rotten to have divided affection. I say ‘Mother the Queen of the Home – Ist A1.Then if you like —someone else A2, but to me Dad & Mum are equally A1. ‘Ah wee’, as the French say, the first few lines of Chapter XXII are disappointing.Yet a Mother can forgive & that will turn the story beautiful.
The weather is excellent, fine & sunny & of course I am wondering what sort of Sunday you are having.Oh No! Jones* left the letter untouched, I arrived in time. I did not understand the matter about the photo, I overlooked that & was more interested in the other news in the letter. Jones*is going to give me Sydney’s watch today. I shall try & get it before tea-time just for curiosity in case you think of it in conversation during tea hour. I told you before that I have written to the 3rd Field Ambulance. I have received very nice letters during the week from Miss Foster*(one of hers was returned to her).
Miss Bore* sent a PC & letter & Pearson’s Magazine (10) to the Hospital on the 5th May. I got it yesterday. [Ed. i.e. 17th May].
Jolly old Vernon wrote a nice long letter from Ripon, No 6 Coy. No 1 Hut, No 3 Camp, Northern Command Depot (11).Perhaps you would like to write to him. You told me in one of your letters he was not any better & that he had been sent to Ripon. His brother Norman* is Editor of the Junior School Magazine. I am patronising his office by sending him my doggerel ‘Sniper Atkins’ – Illustrated. You may think I am vain to send it, but my idea of giving them pleasure exceeds the former idea of vanity& I thought if the C.O. commended it(& every Tommy I have shown it to has been highly amused & many have suggested that I should send the poem to some paper)that I should.I conclude that I humbly beg the Editor, Mr. N. Evans* to give me his opinion as to whether my doggerel is worthy of being published in his respected School paper.
Sydney once told me not to be so ‘gushing’ in my letters to him, & about him at Home.But Vernon is worse to me than I was with regard to Sydney. He apparently has changed right round. In spite of the old saying that we love one another more when parted. I think Vernon will remain true now (this is between you & me Mum).
Going back to ‘Sniper Atkins’ again. I may say that I have made an Illustrated Copy for you Mumfirst, but should you discover that someone else has a copy before you, it will be because I wrote it on paper to fit an envelope. This size notepaper will not go into a ‘green’ envelope without folding.
Doesn’t Arthur Brown* look old in the Observer? & I didn’t know he was Sergt.On leaving the Batt. he only had 2 stripes showing. Of course he was once Acting Orderly Sergeant.Well, I looked over & over again at the photos but could not recognise Brown until I began to read the names underneath.
This morning I received the Refill for the Boots Cooker.I have noticed that the labels always come & do not get torn off. This reminds me that I made a delicious mess tin of coffee for supper with that you sent me; Cliff Hackett*was only too willing to give me ‘du lieu’ (12). Cyril Hinde*returned from Leave a day or so ago. Yesterday I went & talked with him in the field by the huts. He wishes me to say that he was sorry he could not find time to see you.
I am afraid my Sunday letter is not altogether a success.I cannot write properly today somehow, this being a ‘green’. I may enquire of you if that Refill was rather expensive, & ifI have asked you for anything that taxes your pocket? But the advantage of the Refill comes when you send anything to be made into hot drinks& there are no fires to be had; also when our tea& bacongo cold or if we wish to make Welsh Rare Bit.
Oh I won’t arf make ye larf (at least I’ll try my best) in my next letter,but my sketches would not be Sundayfied if I enclosed them with this. I am getting quite aRival of Bairnsfatherand what two tasks have appeared at first incapable of accomplishment have both come out successful to the commendation of all. I have sent Field PCs to all those who wrote last week. I must not forget to tell you I had a letter from Mrs Hurst* today & she told me of her meeting with you & Ida on Monday. Her letter, curious enough, was dated May 17th.
I hope poor Sydney had a Happy Birthday and got your parcels safely. I well remember last year how I smoked his health from a pipe for the 1st time and how the Overends sent him a cake & toffees etc.
Talking about a pipe, you need not send me another – certainly of course not.I am so sorry Ida’s cigarettes have also gone astray.But there seems to be hope after having Miss Bore’s letter & Harold’s parcels from there (13).
Going to hear Mr Darling* preach at Streetly this evening ? (14).
Aren’t these large buttercups (from the trenches)?
Best love to all, Bertie.
According to 8th Sherwood Foresters this part of the Line at Fonquevillers was reported to be ‘about the quietest on the whole of the Western Front’. For the 1/5th South Staffords, it must have been a very welcome relief after the traumas of Vimy Ridge. Apart from the bombardment of 18th & 19th May, many ‘A Quiet Day’ enabled Pte Bertie Hibbett to lose himself in his ‘two tasks’ – writing his Sniper Atkins doggerel and illustrating it in a way that he hoped would make people laugh. He recognised that it was not ‘Sundayfied’ – not really in keeping with Christian values even when read ironically. It makes me recall my question as a child of how many people my father had killed in the War – & his reply that he thought he ‘might have killed one’!
My father’s growing maturity is seen in his attempt to resolve misunderstandings between his brother Sydney & his Mother – and his happiness in resolving those between himself & his best pal Vernon, through their experience of war.
(1) Canister bombs:fired from German trench mortars or minewerfers, exploded ‘with devastating effect causing almost visible shock-waves through the earth. . . very slow moving through the air. . . possible to watch bomb as it approached, turning end over end’ as it fell – but its ‘unnerving tendency to swerve at end of flight’ made direction of escape a matter of guess work. Alan MacDonald:A Lack of Offensive Spirit?
2) Livery Street: communication trench leading to Front Line atFonquevillers. Other names:Stafford Avenue, Lincoln Lane, Leicester Street, Derby Dyke, Roberts Avenue, Rotten Row, Regence Street, Raymond Avenue, Crawlboys Lane. All needed extensive repair before the ‘Big Push‘ to come.
(3) Whizz-bang:Tommy’s slang for light shells/ named for sound made when fired from smaller calibre field guns.
(4) Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby) Regt. 1881: Pte Bertie Hibbett was attached when 1/5th Staffords went to Egypt, Dec 1915/ Jan 1916.
(5) Souastre: small village, Pas-en Artois, over exposed ridge, 2 miles west of Fonquevillers/ damaged. (6) Lucheux: medieval town in Picardie, 18 miles SW of Arras. 12th cent Church & 15th cent Chateaux with moat. Relatively undamaged. See Map: Hibbett Letters 10th May,1916.
(7) Sniper Atkins: (not yet established whether Express & Star or QMS School Magazine published it). Text: Sniper Atkins. Composed by a Sniper.
Sniping Allemands All day long To the tune of British guns. Cooly sniping with A song, Sending greetings to the Huns. I shot 2 shots 3 shots. Sniper Tommy spots a Bosche And gains a ripping goal And he sees him dive – splosh! Down his muddy hole.I shot etc.
Placing five rounds in tin can Then another up the spout Tommy spies another man So gives the Bosche an awful clout. Tommy has a lucky ‘go’ His sharp eye spots the Kaiser. Tommy say Just ‘arf a Mo’ Take this to make you wiser. I shot 2 shots 3 shots etc.
Atkins with his glasses spies A Jerry working party. Keenly marks it with his eyes Just ‘Wait & See’ me hearty. I shot etc. Opponent snipers in some trees Little knowing of their fate, When Tommy snipes at what he sees They’ll sing no more their hymn of hate. 1 Shot 2 shots 3 shots etc.
Atkins aims at a machine gun & hits the Hun behind it. Oh! my word what jolly fun It fairly makes his sides split. I shot 2 shots 3 shots.
(8) Collect for 4th Sunday after Easter.Book of Common Prayer 1662:‘O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful man; Grant unto thy people that they may love the things which thou commandest & desire that which thou dost promise; that so amongst the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys may be found. Through Christ our Lord. (9) Gospel of St John 16.12-13: quotation continues:‘When the Spirit of truth is come, the Spirit will guide you into all truth’.
(10) Pearson’s Magazine:founded 1896 by Sir Cyril Arthur Pearson, blind newspaper magnate, 1866-1921. Founded Daily Express. Founded St Dunstan’s for soldiers blinded in WW1 (now Blind Veterans UK).Publishedshort stories/articles on literature, arts/ politics of ‘socialist bent/ advertisements for patent medicines & ‘get rich quick’ schemes/ first to publish a cross-word.
(11) Northern Command Depot Ripon: for Service/ Labour Units. Also for re-habilitation of soldiers too fit for Convalescent Camp but not yet fit enough to return to their Unit/ the Front.
(12) ‘du lieu’ ‘in the place of’:Cliff Hackett* had given him hot water earlier in week.(13) No 3 Field Ambulance/ Hospital where Pte Bertie went to rest his trench foot and shattered nerves after Vimy Ridge.
(14) Church of All Saints, Streetly: built 1908.6 miles north of Birminghamnear Aldridge & Sutton Coldfield. Named from Icknield Street /Roman Road.
11th May Thur: Very Quiet day.Casualty: No. 8434L/ Corporal S. Goodewounded.
12th May Fri: Very Quiet day.Casualty: No. 957Pte J. Bird (attached 182 Tunnelling Company R.E.) found drowned (1).
13th – 15th May. Very Quiet day.
16th May Tue: Enemy bombarded our left at 12.30 am to 1.20 am. 300 shells of all descriptions dropped on orin the vicinity of GOOCH STREET (2)communication trenchfrom K.3b 6.9.No.6 post to battalion HeadquartersK3a 8half.9hals. No. 4.5. and 6 posts were trench mortared but no direct hits were obtained on these posts. Our field guns retaliated with about 150 shells on GOMMECOURT PARK. CASUALTIES: No. 8373Pte R. Harris and 9724Pte G. Bradfordwounded.MAP REF. SHEET 57 D.N.E. 1 and 2 (parts of).
17th May Wed:V. Quiet day.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to HIBBETT FAMILY, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. Censor W.E. Wright.
‘My hand shall hold him fast: and my arm shall strengthen him.’Psalm 89. (3)
‘I shall thank thee O Lord My God, with all my heart & will praise Thy name for evermore. Psalm 86 for:-
Wednesday May 17th/ 16. ‘Mafeking relieved’ (4).
My Dear People,
What an interesting, thrilling, exciting and most dramatic book, so full of romance. Chapter XXI ‘Finis’ last nightand now for:-
Within the paragraphs of Chapter XXI we read the Climax of an exceedingly eventful story.Like some exciting tales, that end abruptly and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination, soChapter XXI of Sydney’s Life Story concluded with an instance leaving me to imagine what he was doing.
Now we begin to read with deepest interest the 22nd Chapter.We feel as though we very much wish to turn over some pages to see what is coming. But ah! that cannot be with this marvellous Book. It would be wrong if we did not control our wish to foresee what events will happen. Let us be content to read line by line as each day comesand goes & then we shall find we can enjoy the story to the full.
Well Chapter XXII looks very promising at any rate.A lovely, exquisitely beautiful, bright morning. Everyone I met on my way to my Sniping Post greeted me with joviality. The cuckoo would not be left out of it, to just tell me again & again that today is Sydney’s Birthday.Cuckoo, cuckoo – cuckoo.I heard thecuckoo (first for the year) on Thursday, May 11th, when Miss Brookes* wrote a PC & told me I could keep Sydney’s cigs & not to blame me sen.
Since I wrote to you last Sunday and addressed the green to Ida, our Champion Adviser, Counsellor, Comforter and Sooth-sayer, I had just sent it in when on that morning I received a delightfully writtenletter from Mr Darling* (5). He, like Ida, calls a cold the ‘flue’ and he was laid in bed about Easter; of course he went to the services. I should guess it would be ‘horrid’ for him to preach with the ‘flue’. He appears to be having a very pleasant & bright time of it, yet I have always had the idea, since the War started, thata clergyman’s lifeis equallyas & even more (& most likely the latter than the 1st) hard than Tommy’s in the trenches (& most likely the latter than the first). I mentioned what Basil said about Psalm 77 – ‘The earth was moved & shook withal’in my letter in answer to his.Oh! it is just lovely in the trenches & reminds me of last year at this time.
Jolly old Sanger*. On hearing of him being in the vicinity I became jolly keen to see him & have a talk together. Two days or more passed without my expectation being fulfilled;atlarstI caught sight of the man.I could see he looked well & as strapping as he was wont to be & in spite of his new togs (6) I could tell the beaming big face of his.
But alas! if my first wish was fulfilledmy wish to have a talk with him failed for he was leading his men to the trenches.But as he was about to pass me altogether I said ‘Morning SIR!’ just to inform him I was still plodding on – existing like. ‘Morning Bertie’he replied as he turned his head back & looked at me.
In the afternoon I had my wish gratified & satisfied. He came up to me, shook hands & we talked over old affairs & new affairs. Will you forgive him for not visiting you? He told me to especially convey his kindest Remembrances & Regards to you both, Father & Mother. He remarked uponSydneybeing away, saying how unlucky he was to be away andhow he wished he could make Sydney his Platoon Sergeant; he would be delighted beyond measure.
Yesterday,(Tues)morning, I received the Tail end of your parcels& sent you a Field PC saying I got that alright enough.The candles came in ‘just on the right’ for we have a dark dugout. Manythanks too for the sockswhich are always welcome. I have rarely tried my hand at darning, if not at all. I shall have to buck up.
After reading the short letter from Mother (last night) .saying the first parcel was posted 11th I became a little agitated,not for my own gourmand lusts, but for dear generous Father & Mother, & all of you, who have expended on things I may never see. I wrote to the Field Ambulance about the missing parcels & hope to hear of some reason of delay. I got Harold’s safely eventually.
What a happy morning I’ve had so far with the first parcel, the Headthis time, seeing there was some chocolateenclosed. I rarely have found chocolatein parcels of late. The handkerchiefsalso gratified my wish & I shall enjoy the eggswhen breakfast comes. More especially I thank you for the currant bread & pat of butter. The Magazine will again come in useful & interesting as we have hours off duty as well as two hours on (6). The off duty hours have been the cause of many distinguished occurrences as well as those on. Thank you too for the Yorkshirepaper (7). As for the coffee, milk and sugar I will squeeze round Cliff Hackett* who, as I told you before, is in the Mess & he will, in all probability, let me have some hot water.
The stationery in the other parcelI liked immensely, especially the hand cut; these I shall use for special occasions.I may write out my final result of the poem ‘Sniper Atkins’on one as it was given to the CO and with drawings.
Ida, I have composedanother verse & revised other verses to make the number altogether up to 10& therefore Tommywould fire 30 rounds.I have also drawn one of my comrade snipers at his post.
I am sending a copy of the poem to the Express & Star & the poem went into the Orderly Room for ‘inspection’ the other day.Lieut Sanger* was greatly amused. I have not seenMachin*but saw ‘Allen’ * the first of the batch. He looks a real gentlemanly soldier in his new rig out (6).
And now for the bonny letters. I will begin in chronological order – ahem! So glad you got my letters of 14th & 16th of April. If you will call to mind, you also wrote on those dates & Mr W.H. Cozens* also wrote on Palm Sunday.
Yes God’s will be done & dearest Mother it is sweet to think so, for although at times, when God’s will is fulfilled we feel inclined to be disagreeable, there are times when we feel most grateful & full of joy;those are the times when we submit willingly to God’s will.Of course you told me that you got my Easter letter in the green.I can just imagine your surprise on having your letter returned, good of the post wasn’t it? yet I sympathise with you that it is not altogether pleasant to have a letter returned.
I have not yet heard from my Godmother* (8) since I went into Hospital. I had very little time to talk matters over with Sydney before he left for his course. Ida wrote a most delightful letter too.
Yes dears Leave is sure to come and I again say the ‘Dark Cloud’ has drifted farther away & more bright sunshine is coming through. Glad to hear you went to hear Stainer’s Crucifixion (9) & I hope you enjoyed it. Very interested to hear of you working in the ‘old’ garden (10). I love to read of sowing seed. See how poetical I am getting, & I saywithout any self bravadothat N. Smith* told me our present CO (11) (Mum knows him as a relation of Mrs Drew)commented upon ‘Sniper Atkins’ saying it was quite good.
Now Ida see if you can rival me & out-wit me.I think I have already beenoutwitted, for this afternoon I sawThe Bystander’s (12) ‘Fragments from France’, 1/- netand how I larfed at the drawings,and at the same time being enviousthat I could not think of anything original, for they seemed to deal with everything in Tommy’s Ways and Manners.
I must not forget to thank you for the pretty Bookmark Cross. I have grown rather vulgar being out here with men, men, men, & yet I loved the sight of that little Cross & immediately thought of you all. Yes ‘Jesus ever lives’ (13) and ‘He is the same yesterday, today & forever’ (14). Just think of some time past when you have felt God’s love especially. Well He has that same love for you today & He will have that same love for you in the future.
The Vicar’s letter was very satisfactory,but of course there must be no extra unnecessary taxes upon the congregation & then there will be no occurrence of debt (15).
A.O. Jones*is writing to Sydney himself,he told me last night, & so he went farther than letting me just remember him to Sydney in my letter to him. I saved two boxes ofcigs– that Miss Brookes* sent him – for fear he would return before today. As he has not, I am giving them to some of theold boys in his Platoon who have been out since the Batt came out (16).
The country looks beautiful & I even overlook the sight of ruins as being awful.
Again I had thelittle blue birds to come to greet me;they were the martins and their white tipped tails & blue wings struck me with their beauty.
I particularly thought ofBasil’s Birthday [Ed.1st May]I could see Ida ‘compris’d’ my meaning of Basil joining.
I wonder if Sydney has got any parcel today.How lucky I am to get your parcels so that I too can share in with Sydney’s festivity. When I have my tea of currant bread & brown bread with the biscuitsI shall feel more in keeping with the occasion.We are all thinking of the broad shouldered, tall, officer-like Sergeant who has been favoured by more than one superior. Lieut Robinson*, Moore*, Lister* etc – ‘I’l tres bien magnifique soldat’. Mother heads the list, Dad is bracketed with her, then Ida, Harold, Dodger, Miss Bore, Miss Foster*, Auntie Patty – and Leeena has, I guess, also got him in mind, as also has May O & the other Overends.
What a pretty poem that is in the Magazine:– I guess Mum has read it:-
‘Boys be like the meadow grass, Constant firm & strong, Spreading good with quiet force To help the World along’.
Just appropriate & in keeping with Spring as I gaze on the open fields full of buttercups & daisies.Even ‘burly’ Sanger* has sent home a buttercup.Yes, a Tommy might be rough, but, as I heard aptly from the Chaplain at Christmas, some have hearts ‘snow white’ (not at all insinuating that I am classed with them).
Kindest Remembrances to Miss K. E. Brookes*, Mr & Mrs Overend*, Mrs M.A. Jones* and Mrs Evans* etc & Miss Bore*.The watch is safe for Sydney. Sorry to hear of A. Brown* & Vernon* [Ed. both ill in UK?]. I am writing to Vernon’s people. I cannot very well write to Vernon as I do not know his present address. I wrote to him in Hospitalwhen I was withCliff Hackett.Hackett often used to tease Vernon in joke.
I have not had the parcels from Mrs Evans* and the Machins*. Mr Machin likes my ‘doggerel ‘so if you wish you can show him a copy. I am expecting a letter from the Vicar as I wrote an Easter Letter to him that would, I think, solve his query about Tommy’s Easter time.
Now I will write to dear Sydney. ‘Beaucoup correspondence’.
By Bye. Your affec. Bertie.
The length of Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Letters Home in May 1916, together with the creation of Sniper Atkins & its detailed illustrations, indicates how much time he had to himself at this time. The enemy was comparatively quiet and my father’s sniper observation post meant 2 hours off in every 4. The fact that he drew his sniper pal in action indicates he did not retreat from the post, despite its dangerous position beyond the British Front Line in No Man’s Land.
It is interesting to compare this letter with that of 17th May 1915, Sydney Hibbett’s 21st Birthday. His brother was still away training for the coming ‘Big Push’. Whilst anxious about missing Birthday parcels Pte Bertie was careful not to dwell too much on the future & what might happen when they both ‘went over the top’.
(1) Pte J. Bird:missing since April 2ndwas found drowned in a mineshaft, possibly when constructing subways in Zouave Valley, Vimy Ridge.182 Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers: one of 8 Coys formed by Brigadier George Fowke Feb 1915 for offensive/defensive mining under enemy lines/ also construction of deep dugouts/ subways/ saps & underground chambers for signals & medical services. Involved in 2nd Battle of Ypres and by March 1916182 were at Vimy Ridge. (Strangely no record of Pte J. Bird’s death in CWGC data base).
(2) Gooch Street: ‘300 shells fell on South Staffords lines from Gooch Street towards southern edge of the shallow depression south of Fonquevillers that gave Valley Avenue its name’. Alan MacDonald 2008: ‘A Lack of Offensive Spirit? <http://www.gommecourt.co.uk/lack> day by day account of 46th Midland Division preparation for Battle of Somme.
(3) Psalmsfor 17th day of the month.Book of Common Prayer. 1662.
(4) Mafeking /MahikengRelieved:Sir Robert Baden Powell with 800 men held out for 7 months in 2nd Boer War against 7000 Boers led by Piet Conje. See Hibbett Letter, 17th May 1915 for more details.
(5) Revd E. More Darling: Vicar of St Paul’s Walsall. (6) Officer Uniforms: Sanger*, Machin* & ‘Allen’* had recently received commissions/promotion.
(7) Yorkshire Evening Post1819-1954orYorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer1866-1955. (8) Godmother Mary Foster*, of Nottingham (Bertie & Sydney Hibbett’s birthplace). (9) Stainer’s Crucifixion: a Meditation on the Passion of Christ. Oratorio for Parish Church choirs with 5 congregational hymns.John StainerFeb 14th 1887.
(10) ‘Old’ garden:106, Rowley Street ? (first Hibbett Home in Walsall opposite 95 Foden Rd. (11) Major H.LordCommanding Officer 1/5th S Staffs during May 1916.
(12)Fragments from France.Humorous Cartoons by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather published by The Bystander 1916. Sold 200,000 copies of 1st & 2nd edition by end of March 1916 <http://www.brucebairnsfather.org.uk>
(13)‘Jesus ever lives’to ‘make intercession for those who draw near to God through him.’ Hebrews 7.25.(13) ‘Jesus is the same yesterday, today & for ever’ – an eternal divine presence in the midst of a changing world. Heb. 13.8.
(14) Church fund raising:a constant anxiety for the clergy/ especially in time of War. (15) March 2nd 1915, 6.19 pm:1/5th S Staffords sailed from Southampton & arrived in Havre, March 3rd 1.0 am.
11th Apr. Tue: V. Quiet Day. 12th Apr. Wed: Enemy shelled Support/ Communication Trench. Trench 063 Grenade and Aerial Torpedoed (1).
14th Apr. Fri: Snipers claim to have hit man looking over parapet behind B 4. Otherwise all quiet.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT’SWAR DIARY: A Little Book of Words & Doings.
April 13th. ‘First Birthday (2), Harold’s, Thursday at Mont S Eloi ruined Monastery looked very picturesque with Spring plumage. On MP duty Arras Rd. Wrote home Sunday previous & hoped Harold would be at home for his Birthday & so it turned out’.
LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & BASIL HIBBETT. Censor H. Chorlany.
Friday April 14/ 16
‘Protect & preserve the soul of Thy servant amidst so many dangers of the corruptible life, and, by Thy grace accompanying, direct him in the path of peace, to the land of everlasting brightness. Amen’.Thomas a Kempis (3).
My Dearest Mother & Basil,
And of course all of you really.Although I intended this, my next letter, to be for Basil I have changed my mind owing toHarold’s Birthday. I meant to write yesterday, so sorry, but time seemed to have gone short after doing duty. I wrote to Harold though, but could not find much to say. Alas! another 13th of April finds us in the land of the lily (4). Leave also has stopped for an indefinite period.
I have a notebook (5) in which I wrote the above prayer in Rouen. I thought of Harold when I read it yesterday. I hope he had a nice birthday & being Thursday I wonder if he went over to see you? Next Friday (6) you will be ‘manging’ Hot Cross Buns eh! We are having typical Aprilweather with perhaps a little above the average rainfall & wind.
I am on duty behind the line while the Batt. is in the trenches (7).
I met Sydney with the Coy. last Sunday night carrying a parcel from Harold. I also had one from Miss Foster* containing Pear’s Soap, Cigsand a Boots Heater (8).
How queer! – I dreamt a vivid dream of Miss Foster* last night& in that dream the memory of my ill manners & behaviour I had, while she came to visit us last time, came back to me. I dreamtI wasvery ill mannered, but in spite of itmy Godmother seemed to overlook my behaviour & she was most sympathetic.
Let us hope that if she comes to Walsall when I have Leave I am more of a gentleman (9). After 13 months of this life here it frequently comes across me, very suddenly, that I am very low off the mark of good manners.
Ah! now I see there was more than I thought in Vernon, although he went about it in a strict way of correcting me. I ought to have reaped out the good parts in his correction.
I have been looking out for your parcel, the transport passes our place, but I shan’t be disappointed if Sydney gets hold of it, he has been a long time without a parcelfrom Home,although he has had something fromMiss Thacker*often of late, &Mrs Hurst*.His photos are tres bon & I like the carbon.
I will close now & try to get this off today; enclosed you will find some more silk cig. cards (10). I was thinking of making a wax taper holder by stitching them together, it would make a unique ‘Easter Egg’, but I am short of cotton& needles.
Oh! by the by, that reminds me – could you please send me aHousewife(11) & some brown wool to mend your woollen gloves dark brown. Yes, I have them still & needed them these last two or three mornings, the wind was so cold.
Best love & wishes to all.
Basil – you mustn’t attest on May 1st. I shall have to talk the matter over if I see you before then.
Ta ra Bertie.
Pte Bertie Hibbett wants his brother Basil to wait until he is conscripted rather than attesting as soon as he is eligible (i.e. on his 18th birthday).He wants to ‘protect & preserve’ his brothers from all the dangers of War. He cannot do this in a letter which his Mother might read and the censor might destroy but he can warn about War’s corrupting effect on character. War has made Pte Bertie feel ‘very low off the mark of good manners’.
(1) Aerial Torpedo:a ground to air missile as illustrated above, rather than one dropped by plane over water. See <http://www.flikr.com>
(2) First Hibbett Birthdayof year: Harold, 13th April.Basil,1st May 1916 when he would be 18 and could attest as a volunteer in the Army.
(3) Thomas a Kempis: 1380-1471. Dutch writer, (named after Kempera his home-town in Germany) – copyist (of Bible 4 times). Known for popular devotional work:‘The Imitation of Christ’. ‘I have sought peace & found it not save ‘in a little corner with a little book’ (Latin/Dutch mix: in angelio cum libello).
(4) ‘Land of the Lily’ –fleur de lys –stylised lily /iris: national flower of France.
(5) ‘Notebook’ i.e.A Little Book of Words & Doingsbegun when Pte Bertie was in Hospital in Rouen, Aug – Oct 1915. (His original War Diary ‘lost in the straw of a barn 1915’ cf Hibbett Letters 17th March 1915. (6) Good Fridayhomemade Hot Cross Buns.
(7) Mont St Eloi:a ruined monastery near Neuville S.Vaast. Tower used as observation post over-looking Vimy Ridge. German shelling reduced its height nearly 30 feet from 173 -144 ft. (53m – 44m). (8) Boots Heater:cf Hibbett Letter 18th Nov.1915. <http://www.frontlinecrates.com>
(9) Good manners.Dictionary of Etiquette. Compiled by Marjory Luxmore. 1914. Pte Bertie’s Quotations front & back: ‘Manners maketh man’William Horman,Headmaster of Eton & Winchester. 1440 -1535; ‘None as great as gentleman soldier’:originunknown;‘Endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ’. 2 Timothy 2. 3-5. ‘Follow the examples of General Gordon & Earl Roberts, Wellington & Nelson.’ Pte Bertie’s advice to himself before embarkation to France? Inscription names Colonel Crawley & Capt C. Lister and gives details not found elsewhere e.g. Pte Bertie Hibbett ‘No 1. Section. ‘D’ Platoon’ in 1914-1915.
(10) Silk Cigarette Card: ‘small piece of printed/woven ‘satin’ (rarely silk) given away free in cigarette packets, sometimes on a backing card’ cf ebay: Military & Regimental Cigarette Silks of WW1.
(11) ‘Housewife’ /’Husif‘: Sewing Kit. My Dad was good at sewing and once made me a pencil case out of a date-box which he covered with material carefully stitched together & labelled with my name. A holder for spills/ wax-tapers (for lighting candles) would not have been beyond him.
26th Mar. Sun: NEUVILLE ST VAAST. Battalion in Brigade Reserve. Carrying and digging fatigues.CASUALTY: 7801Corpl. G.H. Maybury severely wounded.
27th Mar. Mon: In Brigade reserve. Carrying and digging fatigues. NEUVILLE shelled at 6.15 pm and again at 8.45 pm.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ALL , 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Monday Mar. 27/ 16
Just bide a wee and dinna fret. (1)
My Very Dear Mother & All of you,
Received your very nice parcel last night, after coming off fatigue.Circumstances are very hard for writing letters and oh HOW I did wish I could write a long letter just to your liking, but there has been no outward post lately.
I wrote yesterday& was forwarding the Com(mission)formin the green envelope,but will wait till I have answered your very long & nice letters of14th & 19th Mar.
I also had Harold’s parcel last night.I am absolutely at my wits end to know how to answer all the correspondence received of late. Miss Foster’s*lettersof Friday are waiting to be given in.
Must stop now as the orderly will be wanting the letters to be given in.
God bless you all.
Ta ta Bertie.
PS You will no doubt be seeing some of the 1/5th in Walsall on Leave.Don’t be alarmed, the Leave might stop any time, but gratefulto say, if it keeps on at the rate it is doing now,I shall probably spend Easter with you. D.V. Miss Foster*will tell you also as I told her in my letter.
Also I expect to see Sydney today & will ‘see how he looks’ and tell you as you wished.
Outward Post from Neuville St Vaast Trenches was stopped by ‘circumstances’ (i.e. the heavy shelling of the enemy, constant need for fatigues to repair trenches & bring in supplies) – but the Army seems to have made sure the Inward Post arrived with Harold Hibbett’s promised parcel and Letters from Home.
(1) ‘Bide a wee & dinna fret’. ‘Wait patiently a little while & do not be anxious’ (about Pte Bertie’s Home Leave & Sydney’s return to the Front). CNDC California Digital Newspaper Collection. California Farmer & Journal of Useful Sciences Vol 48. No 1. 2nd May 1878. Anon. 19th Cent. Scottishemigrant? Until I read this letter I thought this familiar saying came from my Mother’s Scottish side.
Is the road very dreary ? Patience yet.Rest will be sweeter if thou art a-weary, And after night cometh the morning cheery, Then bide a wee and dinna fret.
The clouds have silver lining, Don’t forget; And though He’s hidden, still the sun is shining; courage instead of tears and vain repining, Just bide a wee, and dinna fret.
With toil and cares unending art beset’! Bethink thee how the stormsfrom heaven descending Snap the stiff oak, but spare the willow bending. And bide a wee, and dinna fret.
Grief’s sharper sting doth borrow From regret; But yesterday is gone, and shall its sorrowUnfit us for the present, and the morrow? Nay; bide a wee, and dinna fret.
An over-anxious brooding both beget A host of fears and fantasies deluding; Then, brother, lest these torments be intruding, Just bide a wee, and dinna fret. — Leisure Hours.
‘A SHORT HISTORY OF THE STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT’. Regimental War Museum, Whittington, Lichfield.
NEUVILLE ST VAAST & THE LABYRINTH (1).
MARCH 1916: ‘The South Staffs then went into the trenches at Neuville St Vaast – holding the line which was known as the Labyrinth.. . .’
‘The shocking condition of the trenches atNeuville St Vaast was caused by the severity of the weather and owing especially of the enemy. The 6th South Staffs underwent some of their worst experience. The snow storms of the period and the hardship was keenly felt. Bosche’s activity underground added to the strain.Mines are the most unpleasantform of trench warfare.South Staffs were blown up no fewer than 9 times.’
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.
19th Mar. Sun.Proceeded to the Trenches EAST of NEUVILLE ST VAAST in the relief of 6th South Staffordshire Regiment.
20th Mar Mon: NEUVILLE . Enemy bombed Y Listening Post,damaging the barriers of N. 5. Trench.Enemy snipers active, our snipers shot a German opposite B.4.
21st Mar. Tue: ST VAAST. TRENCHES No. 4.5.6.Enemyheavily shelled with H.E. No 4. Fire,support and communication trenches from 11.0 am to 12 noon.Our artillery support very bad,3 of 5 shells burst inside our own lines. At 3.45 pm No. 5 and 6 Trenches cleared to enable our 9.2’s to burst Crater B.6. One 9.2 shell burst behind No. 6. Fire Trench, no damage. CASUALTIES: No 54Pte J. Brettle killed; No 161 Pte M McNally wounded.
22nd Mar. Wed: Very quiet day. 23rd Mar. Thur. About 12.15 pm our artillery sent over 5 whiz bangs. Enemyretaliated with 4. H.E. which (landed) in rear of No. 4. Support. Otherwise very quiet day.
25th Mar. Fri. About 7.10 am enemy opened brisk grenade attack. Our grenadiers replied vigorously. Artillery support good. Our guns bombarded the Crater B.6 at 3.0 pm and 9.2’s firing 15 shells, 4 of which were blind and 3 falling short, the ninth shell burst short,striking the parapet to the right of the dugout of Officer Commanding 064 Trench,burying Lieuts F. Wilkinson andA. L. Dawson,Forward Observing Officer 2nd Lincoln Battery, a piece of the same shell wounding 6954 Pte S. H. Simpson.The Forward Observing Officer had previously phoned that shells were dropping short, but was unable to speak direct to the Battery.
Battalion relieved in the trenches by 6th South Staffordshire Regiment at 11.20 pm and went into Brigade Reserve. Battalion in billets at 1.0 am, 26-3-16.CASUALTIES: Lieut. F. Wilkinson and 6954Pte S.H. Simpson wounded, also ArtilleryOfficerLieut. A.L. Dawson wounded.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT’SWAR DIARY: ‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.
March 19th 1916:Sunday evening. Went into trenches at Neuville St Vaast. On Sat received parcelfrom Mrs Jones*. Neuville St Vaast all in ruins to the ground. Bertie on Listening Post.
Treasured Sayings in Letters from Home:
Mother re Bomb Accident (2).‘Life is very sad now, but as Sydney said, he loves the Psalms & I said which is your favourite hymn Sydney? & he said, at once. “ Rejoice, again I say, Rejoice” so I say. “Rejoice again I say Rejoice” (3) “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing” (4).’ Mother.
LETTER TO MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. Censor Arthur J. Rowley.
In the Trenches. 3rd Sunday in Lent. Mar 26/ 16
‘Faith looking upward saith,‘Good is everything, Let it come, God ordereth the days’. Wayside Memories.
My Dear People,
I wonder if you ever think that it happens, some Sundays, circumstances make it very difficult to get a letter written to you. I am determined to write to you to day. I receivedDad’s letter last Tuesday. His report is ‘untrue’.
On Friday I had a very nice surprise of another parcel from Miss Foster*, with a tin of Youmi Turkish cigs for Sydney. Miss Fosterthinks he is with menow. I got a F.P.C. (5) from Sydneythis morning saying he was at the Base.I noticed he crossed out ‘Received letters, parcels, telegram’ although I wrote to him about Mar 5th to Derby.
How is Harold getting on? – just remember me kindly to him.Although I rarely mention him in my letters I am generally thinking of him & always mention him in my prayers. It does puzzle me about his promised parcel& I am beginning to think he cannot have had my letter of Mar 5th.
Trusting you are having a pleasant Sunday.I enclose the form for Com(mission).
Yours affec. Bertie.
The 1/5th South Staffords took over the trenches of Neuville St Vaast at the same time that the Canadians took over Vimy Ridge. ‘Circumstances’ (i.e. crater warfare, heavy bombardment, shelling, grenadeattacks and casualties when 1/5th Staffords Artillery shells fell short) made it difficult forPte Bertie Hibbett to write Home.
NB The name ST VAAST was to resonate with my father twenty years later when, in 1936, he became Vicar of St Vedast’s Church Tathwell, near Louth, Lincolnshire.
ST VAAST(Flemish, Norman, Picard)(English Vedast, Foster) AD 453 -540, was responsible for the conversion to the Christian Faith of the Frankish King Clovis. (St Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, appointed him 1st Bishop of dioceses of Arras & Cambrai). Many churches in Northern France, including the Cathedral at Arras, are dedicated to him, whereas he is Patron Saint to only two churches in the UK:St Vedast Foster Lane, London and St Vedast, Tathwell, where I was born on his Day, 6th Feb.
(1) The Labyrinth, Neuville St Vaast, on the slopes of Vimy Ridge, north-east of Arras:- a grim underground fortress of caves, tunnels and entrenchments cut into the chalk in ‘a lunar landscape of water filled shell-holes & destroyed trenches’ – compounded by ‘stench of rotting bodies’. A place of ‘horrific fighting’ and crater warfare, with 1/5th Staffords blown up 9 times. Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Listening Post would have been deep underground.
Vimy Ridgeis a 9 mile/15 km long hump-backed barrier, rising from the valley of River Scarpe to a peak of 145 metres to drop abruptly into the valley of River Souchez. An area fought over since Roman times, it commanded the Douai Plain and protected Lille and the coalfields of Lens. cf <http://www.battlefields.com/the-battle-of-Vimy-ridge>
OCCOCHES. 6th Mar. Mon. Battalion marched to new Billets at WAMIN (1).
7th Mar. Tue. Battalion Training. 8th Mar. Wed. Battalion marched to new Billets atMAGNICOURT (2). 9th Mar. Thur. – 10th Mar. Fri. In Billets. Battalion Training.
11th Mar. Sat. Battalion marched to new Billets at AUBIGNY (3).12th – 13th Mar. In Billets. Battalion Training. Battalion marched to new Billets at ECOIVRES (4).
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT:
‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.
March 10th 1916. ‘Mum got a letter from me, rare occasion. Sydney left Derby after being in England on sick leave.’
Treasured Sayings in Letters from Home:‘My head seems so full of things I hardly know what to say. Mother.’
LETTER TO BASIL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
In the Field.Monday Mar 13/ 16
‘Next to the Sunlight of Heaven is the cheerful face’.Wayside Ministries (5).
My Dearest brother Basil,
Three puffs of an Embassyand I will start ‘mon ecrire encore’.
You will think I have caughtWriting Feverno doubt, but I have just inwardly digested the QMS Mag you kindly enclosed in Mum’s parceland consequently I feel magnetised to the ‘Wire of Correspondence’ fixed between ‘Home Sweet Home’ and WarwornFrance.
What do you think of the articles in the Mag this time? Do you remember how the ‘Knowalls’ once called it a bore to read them & the Editors had no ‘savvy’ whatever as to ‘Editorial’?
After reading Lieut Thomas’ & Lawley’s account of their experiences (7) & then commencing to read the School Notes, the effect was ‘vice versa’as to the time I was at QMS. Do you compris my meaning? You, for instance, are sometimes naturally bored a little at reading Editorialletters about School, butthe letters from the Front to the QMS Editor are to you ‘tres bien interestant’. But the vice versa effect was not to the extreme, in fact I was deeply interested in Lawley’s vivid account of the Charge last Sept. (8).
The Debating Society’s Summarywas also jolly to read & I was so struck by it that I wished I could, at the very moment, send something in the way of a contribution, & then I decided to wait until I have Home Leave, at which time I will see if I can give them an Autograph Album after the example of the Spencer Club (9) – for the purpose of the members writing their names in after each Debate, & an illumination on each page.
The Poets in Queen Mary’s School seem to keep up the fine record of blossoming original verse (10).I should like to send a contribution to the Editor’s Letter Boxbut I count myself as no great writer & also come to the conclusion my sending a letter to appear in the ‘swanky’ pages of the Mag would have an embarrassing effect. I noticed your noble name in the list of new scholars under the noble title of School House; which House should be the prouder after the reception of your noble self, what what!
You have some ‘knutty’ ideas & phrases in your letters to me of late – they are worthy of being mentioned in the Magazine.
I will close now. Although I have written this today I doubt if I shall send it along to you for a time, because I havetwo letters to send Home. One to Dad, in reply to his ‘elongated’ envelope & one to Mum, in answer to the parcel of Mar 5, which, as I say again, was an ideal pancake (11).
Ah! dear Dodger, I trust you will use your gifted energy at comforting Mummy & use your tact if you are called up on you coming of 18 years of age. My best wishes for your success in the examsat School for your sake & Mum’s & Dad’s. (12).
Tell Ida she must send me a written formal apology for saying I am a WEE bit SAD.But of course you quite know it is all a mere joke on my part. Ha Ha!
Ta ra. Bertie.
PS This evening I received a sweet little letter from Molly (13) with her usual beaucoup kisses.She followed my idea of sticking a stampon the back of the envelope – one of a pussy cat.I think I have been the cause of renewing that craze, what think you?
TUES. “STOP PRESS” Got Mum’s letter of Friday about Sydney coming. Hope he will have a safe journey.
Pte Bertie Hibbett is now within 25 miles of the Western Front and the trenches of Neuville St Vaast and Vimy Ridge.
(1) Estree-Wamin: farming village/commune in Pas de Calais (Roman site – ‘estree’ is from ‘strata/street’).10 miles north from Occoches. (2) Magnicourt-en-Comte: commune in Pas de Calais. 13.05 miles north from Estree–Wamin. (3) Aubigny: commune in centre of Mont St Eloi area.11 miles south-east from Magnicourt. (4) Ecoivres: hamlet in commune of Mont Saint Eloi.6 miles east from Aubigny. Total March of 40 miles approx.
(5) Wayside Ministries. Called Wilkinson’s in Letter 17th 1916. Christian Mission literature/under influence of 18th Cent. American Jemima Wilkinson? Quoted in Walsall Church Mag.? (6) Lieut ( W.G.?)Thomson & (H.H.?) Lawley. QMS scholars /Info. pending.
(7) Battle of Loos-Hohenzollern Redoubt,13th Oct. 1915. (8) The Spencer Club. QMS Club? Bertie Hibbett was fond of creating ‘illuminations’ and after the War he kept an Autogaph Album of drawings, contributions and signatures of friends, some collected during the War.
(9) QMS Magazine December 1914. SONNET
Oh hear the wailing cry of agony Which swells above the cannon’s sullen roar, Above the piercing sounds of bloody war, And fills the hearts with deepest melancholy; Which drowns our feeble cries of victory, Whereby, poor thoughtless fools we set such store, Yea, opens to our eyes Death’s gaping door, Dark with the growing clouds of misery.
It is the sorrowing people’s pained cry, Who mourn the loss of all their bravest youth, Snatched by untimely death that knows no ruth, E’en while they fought for Home & Liberty. But better far they should thus honoured fall Than deaf remain to their dear country’s call. Anon.
(10) ‘an ideal pancake’: ref. to his Mother’s parcelof good things for Shrove Tuesday ‘Pancake Day’. 4th Mar.1916. (11) Senior OxfordExaminationMatriculation. (12) Molly Evans.Bertie’s pal Vernon Evans‘ little sister.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
I sent you a Green last Sunday.
The Next Sunday before Lent. Mar 5/ 16
‘I am very proud to think that the British blood is not weakening but growing stronger’. (1) ‘All our doings without CHARITY are nothing worth’. (2)
My Very Dear Mother,
You will be pleased to know I did get your handsome Parcel of the 11th Feb:addressed to the Notts & Derbys. If I ever told you that I suspected the men in the Batt. of keeping that parcel with ill intention I am ashamed of myself.
No, I could tell by their distinct manners & behaviour, of both officers & NCOs alike,that they would fain do such a thing.
All your letters& the parcelsent to the jolly, decentSherwoods (3), (as they are called) have been forwarded to me & I did enjoy reading them too, & relished the Parcel immensely.
I got your letter of Feb. 28thenclosing Dodger’s scribbly one, but how excitable to read. Oh no, Basil, your detailed account was not monotonous by far, it really drew my breath. Again I emphasise that Basil, Harold & Sydney & Bertie have much to be grateful for to have such a brave & patient Mother. And I must not leave out dear, dear Dad. I put Mother’s calmness, during the raid (4), down to Dad’s encouragement & comfort shown towards Mummy, as they sat in the silent sternness by the fire, in the dark.Oh how my heart leaps to you dear Mum & how it touched me when I thought of the amusing incident of ‘Sentry Go’ by Ida & Dodger alternately. I pray that you will never have another alarm even, let alone a raid.
I received your parcel of Feb 28th. What a lovely, soft, warm shirtand thank you for the (Walsall) Observer which I read with interest, as you will tell by the cuttings I have sent you.
Yes I am of the opinion of our dear Bishop: “Was it not something of an honour that we, in what was a comparatively small way should share the pain & the sacrifice of the men who were laying down their lives for us“– (that underlined please note).
The raid, I might say, was not so comparatively ‘small’, in one sense of the phrase, as Basil also had the same idea as the Bishop. I think that the raid, to you, was more of a catastrophe than a bombardment is to us in effect. For you must take into consideration that we out here have been used to the sound of guns – like Ben Battle, in ‘Faithless Nellie Grey’ (5) – ‘used to war’s alarms’whereas you atHomehave not only lived without the sound of a gun, but have had to bear anxiety & many sleepless nights (poor Mum) for thinking about us out here. Yet to Dodger & Ida I guess the raid ’twould be most ‘dramatically bookish’, like a vivid story in a book put into practice.
Dearest Mum, I read the beautiful account of the loss of your Mayoress* & also the sad account of Ken Marshall* (6). I noticed you marked those columns with a cross, but you did not notice the marriage. I think you can mingle sadness with gladness don’t you? Did you notice the account of Pte. Robert Ball (7) that Queen Mary’s Scholar who was chums with Sydney & me & came to see you when we fired at Tame Valley Range (8)? He had a rosy complexion, Bob, & I faintly remember him telling you he too had relatives in Ashton under Lyne. (9).
My word I did like that currant batch loaf & was able to get some butter, but this tinned stuff is not so nice as yours.
Vernon was naughty for not using a little more discretion. I shall have to pull him up aboot saying he last saw me scrubbing a floor. I was ordereddear Mum, I did not offer or volunteer to scrub and you must know that an order from a superior in the Army is what we call a DOOTY dear Mum. And then again, can I console you, & bring matters straight betwixt me & you & the gatepost,by just repeating what I read in the Parish Magazine you sent me. – ‘The only undignified thing is scamped work. All work of whatever kind is dignified’.
Of course, dear Mum, that doesn’t mean to say I shall put myself in the way to do charwoman’s work.
I too have felt so, so happy after doing something for someone else, lending a hand to the Lambs (10) of the 3rd Lineby carrying a rifle for my comrade marching on my right on a long, long, tiresome march. I knew what it was to have sore feet & so didLieut. Robinson. (11). He amused me by struggling with 3 rifles when he should have carried one. (12).
The title of the Frontispieces of the Feb. Mag.struck me as the one you wrote in my prayer book in February 1911 – ‘Be thou faithful unto death & I will give you a crown of life’. (13)
My letter this Sunday is getting long. I could fill all the pages of note paper you have sent me but I must now be on the close.
Did you read that Ken Marshall* did not wish to apply for a Com:he humbly left that responsible position of an officer to another who was more capable. I agree with him three parts of the way; the fourth part was responsible for my handing in the form you sent – E 536 (14).
I wrote to Dad, at his office, saying I needed a Birth Cert. & the other form. Then, when we have gone a little ‘forrarder’, all we shall do is to WAIT & SEE.
I am waiting patiently in high hopes for a speedy conclusion of Sydney’s application & shall be proud to see him in his TOGS. I wrote to Harold the night before I got the shirt, and to Miss Foster* some few days ago. Did you send her a stamp of mine? – hers is a pretty one.
Hoping you are spending a typical Sunday.
Best love to all, Bertie.
PS Did you get the Petit Parisiene(sic)(15) with that photo – or did the Censor take it out ? I am replying to a parcelfrom Miss Brookes* now.
Whilst Pte Bertie Hibbett was applying for a Commission in 3/5th Territorial Reserve Bn in UK, Serjeant Sydney Hibbett was applying for a Commission in 1/5th South Staffords, which would keep him out on the Western Front.
(1) Unknown Quotation. (2) Collect for Quinquagesima Sunday/next before Lent: Latin, literally ‘fiftieth’ day before Easter. Book of Common Prayer 1662.
(3) ‘Sherwoods‘/ The Sherwood Foresters i.e Notts & Derby Regt.Pte BertieHibbett possibly attached to ‘Transport’ in 1/5th Bn Sherwoods Territorial Force which became the 139th Brigade in 46th Midland Divison.
(4) Zeppelin Raid on Walsall. 31st Jan -1st Feb 1916. (5) A Pathetic Ballad.Faithless Nellie GreybyThomas Hood. 1799-1845. English Poet & humourist. Adapted by Bertie to fit his trench foot misery. cf Letter: 29th Nov. 1915/his Father’s Birthday and 19th Dec 1916.
(6) Mayoress Maria Julia Slater*killed in Zeppelin Raid & Ken Marshall* missing/wounded?cf Hibbett Letter 27th Feb 1916. (7) Pte Robert Ball. QMS friend. Ref. account of his marriage in Walsall Observer? cf Hibbett Letter: 17th Dec. 1914.
(8) Tame Valley Range. Army Firing Range near Walsall. (9) Ashton-under-Lyne: Marie Neal Hibbett’s (Yoxall) family home.
(10) Queen’s Royal Surrey Regt.had a Lamb & Flagbadge(symbol of Christ’s Sacrifice & Resurrection. Many refs to the Lamb of God in John’s Gospel & in Revelation).
(11) Lieutenant P.W. Robinsonrecently wounded in Bomb Accident. See Hibbett Letters: 28th Feb.1916; 9th Dec. 1915; 28th Nov. 1915; 16th Nov. 1916 (A Little Book of Words & Doings); 13th Oct. 1915. (refs to Captain Robinson of 6th Bn Sherwood Foresters & to a Chester Robinson/family member?)
(12) Rifle Rules/story/training in Bedfordshire. Hibbett Letters: Sept – Dec. 1914. (13) Faithful unto death. Rev. 2.10. Prayer Book given to Pte Bertie at his Confirmation.
21st Feb. Mon. Battalion marched to new billets at PROUVILLE (1). 22nd – 27th Feb. Sun. Battalion Training.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings.
Treasured Sayings inLetters fromIda andMother: ‘On my photo, taken atMarseilles with a Leica, Ida thought I looked ‘a wee bit sad’. Mum altered the opinion – ‘I think your photo simply lovely & very happy. You lookalright & everybody likes it & thinks it fine to be taken with an Indian* (2). (I did not send Miss Foster* one), Mother’.
LETTER to Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall.
Sexagesima Sunday(3). Feb 28/ 16
In weariness & painfulness; in watchings often, In hunger & thirst, in fasting often (4). Be not anxious, but by prayer & supplication Let your requests be made known unto God (5). Bring forth fruit with patience(6).
My Very Dear Mother,
How can I express my feelings after reading such delightful letters & enjoying the parcels. The currant breadwas fine & I toasted a slice, it was excellent with butter. I think you have set me up for some considerable time with this pad, the three pencils & other paper& envelopes. I will do my best to use the paper in writing comforting letters to you.
I feel a little better to day after the shock I got yesterday when you so much wanted me to get to England straightaway. I will put the matter to a chummy officer I know. I should have thought Sydney would have explained my circumstances to you.I believe a candidate for a Commission has to be an NCO for 2 months, that is why A.O. Jones* is a Lance Jack (7). As for keeping on arsking(sic)-worrying the officersit is counted as a breach of discipline. A private is supposed to be escorted by an NCO if he wishes to converse with an officer.
And then again, dear Mum, there are NCOs, even Sergeants,who have been out here as long as I have & NOT been home yet.
You ask me to say more about myself. Well all I can say is that I was keeping very happy & in good health, but reading your letter wanting me so to get to Englandworried me a little. Yet I am very anxious & do so hope that you, including the others & Harold (are) calling the photo a ripping one (8).
I was a little disappointed with the photo, yet I risked sending it you & hoped you would like it & – please take note that (I thought) you would not detect theslightest sign of sadness, but rather that I should cause you at least another brighter ray of happiness & comfort to you, Mother, & all of you. I only wish I could send you a really jolly one of myself with the sleeping helmetyou sent me & Miss Foster’s handsome muffler round me, & taken in my bed of blankets. I guess there are several people at Home who live the life of Tommy just for fun.
Tell Basil I have had all his letters up to date & they were rippers.
PS M.P. HIBBETT: I meant to say a word of congratulations towards Dad after praising Mum for her calmness during that awful time at night, before the glow of the fire in the darkness, withBasil & Ida doing Sentry Go (9). I meant to say how self-sacrificing in everything is Dad. I thought of that trait in him when I read what Councillor Evans* said at the meeting with regard to Salaries(10).
Three cheers from France to my brave & loving parents & hearty handshakes to jolly jolly Dodger & excellent Ida.
I wrote to Sydney the other day too, but he has not sent me his address. I had to risk the one at theAssembly Rooms at Derby (11). I enclose you hisjollyletters. My word I wish I could write like him. Aren’t mine absurd & hard to understand? I really am of no reputation that you should all so want to see this poor self.(12).
I am quite happy, yet I do hope what Basil said – to kiss your dear cheek in reality & not in mere dreams. Yet again I hope you will have ‘beaucoup’ happy dreams till I see you ‘face to face’.
God bless you all.
PSI went to Holy Communion in a barn this morning & of course thought of you & Ken Marshall* (13) & the Mayoress* (14) etc.
This letter is a good example of how Pte Bertie Hibbett, in the increasing anxiety & uncertainty of the War, found comfort in the words of the Gospel and Epistle each Sunday; identifying with and applying the biblical message to himself & his family.
(1) Prouville, Picardie N. France; 15 miles northeast of Abbeville. (2) Buckshee Ichbye Singh Waltu, Indian Expeditionary Force (Hindustani Sikh). Photo above: IndianSoldiers arrived in France 1914. <ww1blog.osborneink.com>
(3) Sexagesima Sunday: Sunday within sixty days of Easter. (Book of Common Prayer, 1662). Term rarely used today.
(4)Epistle and Gospel for Sexagesima Sunday(Book of Common Prayer 1662): 2 Cor. 11.27.(Paul’s description of his sufferings for the Gospel) and(6) Luke 8. 15. (Parable of the Sower): (5) Philippians 4.6. (AD 60-62, Paul, under threat of death himself, writes to the first European Church which had suffered great persecution & poverty since AD49).
(7) Lance Jack: Lance Corporal in the Army. An informal promotion/appointment; became a rank in 1961). From Italian ‘lancia spezzata’ – broken lance (i.e. when unseated from horse in battle he joined the infantry on foot. WW1 Army song ‘If you want to find the Lance Jack . . .’
(9) ref. Zeppelin Raid, Arthur Hibbett acting as‘M.P. like his son in Bellancourt. (10) Walsall Education Department Salaries. 1915.It appears Councillor Evans, (Vernon’s father) praised my grandfather for declining a pay rise to help the War effort.
(11) The Assembly Rooms, Market Place, Derby. Gutted by fire,1963. (12) ‘Of no reputation‘. Pte Bertie accepts he’s a Private and must not expect preferential treatment re Home Leave. Unconscious ref. to Philippians 2.7 ? (humility of Christ the Servant).
(13) Ken Marshall, wounded/ missing son of QMS Headmaster, E. N. Marshall*? (14) Mrs: Maria Julia Slater*, Walsall Mayoress.
NEXT POST:28th FEB. 1916.
The WW1 Letters and Drawings of Private Bertie Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, to his family in Walsall, will be posted again, one hundred years on, from August 1914 to November 1918, by his daughter Elizabeth Hibbett Webb. The first posting will be the Recruitment Postcard sent by Queen Mary's Grammar School Headmaster to the Hibbett family on holiday in Abergele, Wales.