25th March, 1915. Marched 10.00 am to return to old billets near Bailleul & Meteren, arrived about 1.00 pm. GOC NMD witnessed march thro’ Bailleul as also did GOC III Corps (Compliment). (1)
26th March, Thur. Remained in billets. Coy Training – physical drill, short route marches. 27th March, Fri. Moved Hd Qrs & ‘C ‘& ‘D’ Coys billets nearer to Meteren & Oultersteene. Company Training carried on, musketry instruction, physical drill, short route matches.
28th March. Oultersteene. Church Parade Service in the morning.
Palm Sunday Morning. 28/ 3 / 15 (censor C.Lister)
My Very Dear Mother,
I want so much to write you a very, very ‘nice’ letter, but I regret to say I don’t know how to begin.
Palm Sunday, and thinking about processions, the Brigade paraded to a fresh green field some miles away in the open country.
Our company marched gaily along in the sunshine & cold wind with our rifles & equipment.
We formed up in a quadrangle again & our Chaplain administered a short form of service. We had three pleasant hymns, – your favourite Mother,
Fight the good fight and we had O God our help in ages past and lastly we had that good old hymn which goes well with many voices – The Church’s One Foundation. (2)
I am in a dilemma, this very moment whether to confess that I could hardly get some of the words out in your favourite hymn, so deep were my thoughts of you, dear Mother.
I believe in giving way to one’s feelings & not keeping them penned up, yet ‘cast care aside’ touched me & I tried hard to think its my Duty to stick firm & not give in to imaginations & every high thing that exalts itself against principle. (3). I am serving my King and Country, & you dear Mother are, I am sure, proud to have done your share & I am proud to the excess that you have borne our absence from home these many weeks and months.
‘Trust’, again I repeat that motto ‘Trust in the Lord & he shall bring it to pass’.
I will keep my eye on the knife, fork and spoon this time. I have seen the novel arrangement of knife and fork in Luton & almost expected you would send something of the like. I do feel so grateful & can’t express my thanks for your extreme kindness & constant thoughts & consideration.
I should, & I guess Sid too, like more correspondence from Ida & a letter or two now and again from Dad. He takes the important bits in hand – of writing in his careful hand, as he generally does, our lengthy address, yet I should like a little more from him.
As for Dodger, I guess he is enjoying hot beef & York pudding with vegetables and gravy, the meal he likes so much. I have replied to Harold’s letter I got yesterday, 27th, & told him Basil will miss such dinners.
I thought it my duty to write & answer the small parcel of yours before setting down to my dinner of Bully beef, biscuits etc . Cyril Hind* has just had a parcel & given me a small piece of his cake as a sweet. I must tell you before I close that I got a lovely parcel from Fernliegh* (4) & enjoyed some of the contents, namely, Shrimp and Salmon Pate, Cadbury’s Mexican Choc. & Horlicks Tablets.
Dear Mother this letter is getting long. I have written a long letter to Harold, so long that I’m afraid the censors will have their patience tried. So I must pack news in close, and brief.
Sid has been on duty some miles away since Friday Reveille & will be pleased to see, on his return, something from Home & from his Bible Class.
& Dodger, Sid & I with our knuts poking out of the tent –
and Ida sitting on a chair. I look at them now & again especially on Sundays.
Our Colonel said that should anyone find anything of sentimental importance on the person of anyone wounded to death he must see that it will get into reliable hands to be sent to his home.
The handsome tin comes in useful & we keep Harold’s things & Miss K.E.Brookes* things in, they just fit. You will be pleased that Sid, Vernon and I were together in the trenches last Tues. night & we are in this loft now with the majority of QMS boys, Norman Cope*, Cecil Jackson*, A.E. Brown*, Jones*, Cyril Hind* etc.
Will close now & Harold will give you more news – & Sid. I hope you will get this letter – tell me. I have got all yours since we were in this country. You will be glad to know they came quicker than those sent to you.
Best love, Bertie.
Bertie Hibbett gives no details of what he had just experienced in the trenches of Armentieres, but he is clearly in shock at the horrific reality in which he and his QMS pals are caught up. His ‘dilemma’ is more than wondering whether to confess his natural emotions during Church Parade. On Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the hymn tells him to ‘Lay hold on Life‘ but everything is in utter contrast to anything he has ever known. To bring him ‘halfway Home’ all he has to rely on now are Family Letters & Food Parcels, his QMS Pals, carefully named, and the Faith in Christ his Mother has taught him.
(1) GOC NMD: General Officer Commanding North Midland Division. GOC III Corps.
(2) Hymns: Fight the Good Fight based on 1 Timothy 6.12. John S.B. Monsell, 1863. Our God, our Help in Ages Past: Isaac Watts. 1719, based on Psalm 90. [John Wesley altered the first word to ‘O God’]. The Church’s One Foundation: Samuel John Stone, based on the Apostles’ Creed, Book of Common Prayer, 1662 (a ‘statement of belief’ developed from the earliest New Testament preaching). Tune: Aurelia. S.S. Wesley.1864. [Hymn is said to have inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Hymn before Battle’ 1896].
(3) 2 Corinthians. 10 5. King James Bible. Pte Bertie slips into quotation of St Paul. [Saying appears in 18th & 19th Cent. Enlightenment Essays on the Principles of Human Behaviour]. (4) Fernleigh, Nottingham, home of Bertie’s Godmother, Mary Foster.
NEXT POST: Ist April, 1915.