Bellancourt (1). ‘Had a good time with Transport at Bellancourt, where I acted as MP over billets. Got in with French chap & an old couple and baby who would greet me as ‘Daddy‘ and cry awfully when I went away. Albene by name. Invited me to supper. Menu: Pork et Pomme de terre. Cider. Macaroni pudding. Pommes de fritters. Cafe. Promised to keep in touch with Bukhshee Ichbye Singh Waltu (clerk). No 5. Base Supply Depot, Indian Expeditionary Force, France.’ .
POSTCARD ‘Notre Petit Gars’ to Mother, Marie Neal Hibbett (omitted from post by mistake, illustrated below): 27/ 1/ 1916.
My very dear Mother, still here.
Any amount of flies in this orderly room, but half dazed. I squashed one on my ear. Trust you got the PC I sent to Dad. Not much I can tell you now, but hope to do so in time. The French are great at painting mind pictures. PCs are ½ d each here but these two were a 1d each owing to them being hand finished. I bought several PCs and hope to paint a picture or two when I have leave at home (when that is).
I wonder if S(ydney) is at home or in England yet. Sorry you will not be able to write to me as I am still away from the Batt.
Best love, Bertie.
Pte BERTIE tries his hand at ‘L’Angue Francais’ in LETTER to Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall, she had not heard from him for some time.
NB Neuve Address (1) Lundi, Fevrier 7/ 16
Mon bien Chêre Mère, (2)
Comment-allez vous mon Mama. Je vous espère – ne heureuse – about me not being able to write you on Janvier 31st Demanche. Que pensez vous le raide des zeppelins sur l’Angleterre? Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Liverpool, & Nottingham.
I spent Sunday January 31st in a cow truck, so of course I could not very well write to you as the train shook too much for reading even, let alone writing. Je suis bien triste mon Mère that I have missed my usual Lettre de Demanche.
I guess you will be ‘Bien Heureuse’ to receive a letter from me, & still happier I know that you can send parcels & letters from now on until further orders to Private AH Hibbett 8832 1/5 South Staffordshire, attached to A Company 1/5 Notts & Derby Regiment BEF. Please note the latter Regiment. Basil can make a copy for you to keep safe. I was told to write the address in the letter & not on Top.
I hope now that I shall soon hear of Sydney. I wonder if he has left England yet. When I wrote you last I sent you two French Postcards with something of little interest written on them, for then I could not tell you much. But since then – Je suis avons une longue journé dans le chemin de fer & spent some happy days at a little village composed of nothing but farm houses & ‘chateaux’. (3).
I was in charge of a billet as ‘police hommes en garde’ & got to know the farm people who lived there. The old lady invited me to supper every evening free of charge. The supper was fine every time. I had no less than four courses, but curious enough all the courses, except the second, was the same every night:–
Menu: Prem: Pommes de terres frittres. 2. Macoroni au lait. 3. Pommes des frittres et du pain. 4. Cafe. – see torn leaf. (4)
[Torn Leaf: We all made ourselves quite happy & at home with L’Angue Francais. Je connaissez petit – causing one another to break into roars of laughter now & again. They had one little child who mistook me for her ‘Dada’ & she would break into crying everytime I promenaded down La Rue de Ville. The farmer gave me many souvenirs. ]
So do not Rêre but be en L’Alerte for a letter from my French Chum, Joé by name. They were very interested, as well as surprised, when I got them to understand that my home was in Staffordshire over which des Zeppelins travelled (5). We got to know of the damage done at Nottingham & Liverpool & I made them understand that I wanted to send the news in French to mon Père et mon chêre Mère as the news in French would be ‘Bien Interestanté’.
Je suis fatigue – êcriré l’angue Francais. Je suis bien ignorant. Monsieur Basil (the French compris ‘Basil’ as it is a French man’s name also) will think my scraps of French ‘Bien faible’, but I just put the phrases in as I like plenty of variety when writing letters. I hate reading letters which are written in the same ‘olde style’.
Aimez-vous les petit timbres et les petit photograph de moi-même et mon ami Bukhshee – il un Hindustani Sikh:– that is his name. He could speak, not only his own language but French fluently, & English too. (6).
I will conclude now. Je vous promets que vous serez heureuse when je vous vois at Home.
Please note Notts & Derby Reg. Let Basil make a copy for you to keep in a safe place. You can, if you wish, send me any thing you like in a parcel.
Je suis votre aimable fil, (7). Bertie.
PS Que pensez-vous de la raide des zeppelins sur L’Angleterre? Mon Basil [. . the rest is censored . .]
(1) BELLANCOURT, a tiny settlement in Picardie, 3 miles north-east of the Cathedral City of Abbeville. Pte Bertie, was now attached to Notts & Derby Regt (Transport) & acting as military policeman (until 1/5th South Staffords arrived back in France from the Eastern Front). He accounts for the lack of a Letter Home on 31st January (on a train journey in a cow truck) and his Mother may not have received anything from him in January except a couple of postcards with ‘little of interest’ (see above PC 27th Jan). The British Army was keen to keep its movements quiet.
(2) Pte Bertie’s French is exactly as he wrote it (including accents) but readers, even with little French themselves, can make out the gist of his meaning! Here he confuses ‘bien’ (good) with ‘très’ (very) and signs himself ‘Your kind (fil) thread‘! instead of ‘Your loving (fils) son. ‘Je suis bien ignorant’ I can hear him laughing, but he made himself understood & his Little Book of Words & Doings has pages of French vocabulary. NB. Walsall’s Blue Coat Elementary School curriculum would probably not have included French and at Queen Mary’s Grammar his studies would have been geared towards his mining surveyor apprenticeship.
(3) Pte Bertie’s position as an MP (military policeman) may account for his happier billet on Joé Albene’s farm.
(4) ‘Pommes des terres Frittres‘: Potato chips. ‘Pommes des frittres‘: Apple fritters. NB omission of Pork listed in his ‘Little Book’.
(5) Zeppelins L 21 & L19 intended to bomb Liverpool on 31st Jan -1st Feb. 1916 but got lost in the Midlands and bombed the Black Country instead – with high explosives & incendiary bombs.
Walsall was hit on the afternoon of 1st Feb. The Lady Mayoress, Mary Julia Slater, died later (20th Feb.) having been badly injured whilst riding on the top of an open-air tram 16 in the centre of town near the Science & Art Institute in Bradford Place (at the spot where the War Memorial now stands). My grandfather had a narrow escape and my grandmother at 95, Foden Rd watched the sinister aircraft pass overhead. Total Casualties: 35 killed. <https://www.expressand star.com/tag/walsall> <https://www.en-wikipedia.org>
(6) Bukhshee Ichbye Singh Waltu: one of 130,000 members of Indian Expeditionary Force who served in France & Flanders, of whom 9,000 died. Memorials at Ypres & Neuve Chappelle. <https://www.greatwar.co.uk> < https://www.en-wikipedia.org>
NEXT NEW PAGE: 10th Feb. 2016. ‘My Memories of the First World War & the Battle of the Somme’ by the Revd A.H. Hibbett. Essay: 1967.
NEXT POST: 13th Feb. 1916.