Tag Archives: James 5.11.

28TH MAR.1916: ‘WE LIVE IN A CAVE – A LONG WAY DOWN & ‘SQUEEMISH’ – LIKE LINLEY CAVERNS.

South Staffordshire Badgee1/5TH SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

NEUVILLE ST VAAST

28th Mar. Tue: Battalion in Brigade Reserve. Carrying Parties. Draft of 191 men arrived at 8.20 pm. V. Quiet Day.

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Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT:  LETTER to ARTHUR & MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.

The way may be rough, but it cannot be long And then oh how joyful the Conqueror’s song. (1)

Behold, we count them Happy which endure.  James 5:11.

                                                 Mar. 28th 1915

My Very Dear Mother & Father.

After coming from fatigue I read Mother’s two very long but interesting letters (& touching too they were)  before settling down to snooze, although it was 3 in the morning.  I was sending you a green on Sunday but have kept it for this to answer, in a more detailed way, your ripping parcels & lettersYou will get my letter of yesterday & Sunday together before this. 

1st  I will answer Mum’s letter of 14th. That, which you started with, holds good in my case:-  My head seems to be so full of things that I hardly know what to say’ (& how to begin) (2) .

Now I must go back to the Sunday letter of Mum’s to say that I too went to Holy Communion so that makes a third & Providential cause of your going, for it was the Sunday night we went to the trenches.  I was very pleased & amused on reading that you got a letter from me on Sunday.  I should like you always to get one on a Sunday, as well as for me to write to you on a Sunday

Do you know, dearest Mum, & all of you, that I am sorry for Dear Sydney & that sorrow sometimes takes away the hopes of the pleasure  of seeing him –  I  mean the pleasure of seeing him.

2nd Lieut.W.A. Thacker. Yorkshire Regt. Killed in Action May 1917. QMS Walsall.
2nd Lieut. W.A. Thacker. QMS. Yorkshire Regt. Killed in Action May 1917. 

Glad you like Thacker* no doubt then, if you should like him, Sydney would, as he told me in his Christmas letter.

I expected to see dear Sydney when I came off fatigues last night.  We live in a cave while in reserve & do fatigues at nightThe way down to this dark hole is long & ‘squeemish’ & at the end I quite expected Sydney’s voice to be heard.  Well, I suppose he will come today.  Yes, I am so grateful he is Sergeant & he has a nice chum Burton*, who was made Sergeant Major after the bombing accident (3), & was formerly Sergeant when Sydney made chums.  Burton is TT & only smokes select tobacco & a Woodbine now & again, he does not care for dear cigs.

Yes the shirt is most lovely & comfortable & what I say is:- ‘A Comfortable Shirt is half the Battle’.  A light pair of pants is my next requisite for underwear The socks I must especially thank you for, with the exquisitely beautiful scented soap within, for they have come at a very acceptable time amidst rain, water & dirt —— I am telling you more about me sen.

Oh dearest Mum, I should so like to write you a letter you would really like & which would prove a comfort to you dear ones.  Wouldn’t Ida & Dad say that, if I said more about myself & what I do, I might take a stride too far & then you would feel more anxious & unhappy.  And then there is the Censor too; some censors I’m afraid would burn the letter if it contained news of importance to the enemy –  or hints even. But as you were so brave & collected dear Mum during that alarm (4) I will venture to tell you more aboot me sen, without gobbling up the fishing rod & hook, as well as the fish.

I shall need more candles if we are down here for any considerable time.  Another reason why I couldn’t write to you, as I would have liked, is that we could not get any lights & it rained up at the top I wrote my Sunday letter at the entrance – tell Ida it’s like Linley Caverns (5) & would be jolly for a picnic in Peace time, –  but oh its far from a pic-nic in War time.

You are most self-sacrificing to put butter in the parcel & eggs too, my word.  If you like you can send currant bread & I will eat this without you putting butter in the parcel. Dad said he hoped I had as much pleasure in consuming the contents as you have in packing them up.  Ah I am more than indebted to you & can hardly find words.  I fairly shivered with emotion on opening your parcel & reading the letters.  The parcels acted as a good stimulus when I was on that tiresome fatigue & I thought of Miss Foster’s* apt quotation in Wayside Memories.  ‘And then Oh how JOYFUL the Conqueror’s Song’  – & indeed it was like a beautiful song which was wafted with the parcel & good thoughts from Home.

Can you read this awful letter dears? –  surely I am not so ‘bad’ as George*(6) & Mrs Jones’s* writings.  Do you really & honestly think the photo a good one and DO I GIVE you a cheerful impression when you see me?  I did think of Miss Foster* but I did not want to send her a photo which would make her think I was a WEE bit sad (7).  Shall I send her that photo? I have one left in that little khaki case of mine.  Khaki Case with Photo

Yes, I still have your dear faces left & my poor, poor Prayer Book & khaki Bible look all the worse for wear and I am anxious that they will last until I come on Home Leave.

 

Oh dears, I have a little better & hopeful news. Home Leave, as I told you in my last letter, is going at a more satisfactory pace & if it does not stop suddenly, like it has done in times past, I shall, or rather hope to, spend Easter with you & oh how joyful it will be if we spend Easter Sunday together & go before the altar to thank God for His mercy.

I told you in my last that Sydney sent me a F.P.C. from the Base with the line ‘letter follows at first opp.’  so I took it that it was another of Sydney’s ways of taking the letter to be himself following.  I will let you know as soon as he comes and at my 1st opportunity.  Yes, I expect Sydney will be exceptionally full of talking, although he is not one for ‘gassing’ as I am.  I hope his Com. will push on with greater speed now our Colonel*(Lt Col.R.Raymer) is back.

Now I must say how my heart leaps to you in congratulations for your extra good work at Mrs Venables* (8) Yes, if you can spare me one of those squares I should indeed be delighted with one & treasure it to think of you whenever I use it (9).

I am glad you have lost that wretched snow & hope Spring weather will soon be there for you to enjoy.  Yes SPRING, & I hope it will bring me with it. How most Providential, you being so cool during the Raid I too have been surprised at myself for I could not have been frightened if I tried during some shelling we had.  I felt it a duty to cheer up those who were nervous. You were most apt in your description, yes, it is just like a Peace within one (10). 

I think I mentioned the bombing accident before, but of course I refrained from telling you details for two reasons, we are forbidden to mention casualties in our letters until we see them published in the papers, & also I thought you would be more anxious with the sudden news from me.

Remember me kindly to Mrs Brown* & the Venables*.  I should think Arthur*(11) is one of the youngest subalterns in his Regiment.  You say you feel very, very sad at times dear Mum, well, I too felt sorry that you were like that, but I do not disbelieve my prayers have not been heard. I must persevere more (12) Yes, I think Sydney & you all, will feel the parting sore for a time, but I hope it will be short.

Victorian Arcade Walsall. 2016.
Victorian Arcade Walsall. 2016.

I conjure up all sorts of  things that I will do when I go Home to you. How it puzzles me to get Home clean  & how I shall have to try to dodge being seen & pressed on going from the Station to the House.  How I shall pop into the Arcade Restaurant (13) & buy you some pork pies and then go to Sammons for some tomatoes & flowers.  I might think of playing a practical joke, but now I think it would be best to go straight forward.

Now for your delightful letter of 19th.  So Dad was playing hymns –  ah! they seem to have their truer meaning nowadays & I think we shall sing them with the understanding also (14).  Although it has been such a long time since I heard the Psalms sung I can remember some quite well & they remind me of Sydney liking them.  How beautifully happy, yes, that is how I felt when I read that you were happy although it rained on Sunday.  You see you kept your promise that is why, & jolly old Basil, he did do a ‘dodge’ out of his cosy bed and dodged firstI remember well you saying you liked walking in the fresh rain. 

Yes, Mr Darling * would feel mentally tired, as well as physically. He told me so one night I went to my Preparation (Confirmation) Class & it was Lent then too.  I am sure he takes it more of a duty now-adays.  Of course you will tell me if Mr Dixon* gave a stirring sermon & brought a crowded church (15).

Sydney is true in saying he finds his position as Sergeant an advantage, but he will, and will have done, by what I gather from your letters found correspondence goes against the grain at times & the amount of mind concentration upon his extra duties will cause him & anyone to be inclined not to bring his thoughts on behalf of Home etc into action. 

I am glad you are all well generally, but sorry Mum has those nasty pains.  I am wondering if Sydney will be attached to either another Coy. or Platoon, if so you must send smaller parcels. Compris!  I shan’t mind a toss –  its the thoughts I care forexcept when the rations are na pous ‘finis’ & bread is scarce (16).  We are having better & bigger rations of bread now as we go into the trenches. 

I should so much have liked to have sent my contribution for Mr Darling*.  I was very touched on reading that Sanger*did not go to see you.  Well never mind, everything is for the best.

No, (this time) it didn’t even enter my mind that your parcel was a long time in coming. I mean since your promise of a parcel.  You will no doubt be thinking I am a long time in acknowledging yours, but do forgive me dears, I do try.   Yes, I am sure God is keeping us all safe & I am grateful Sydney had a safe crossing & I have come out safely from six days in the trenches & every night on fatigue so far.  I am quite well enough to manage & peg this War out.

Malted Milk Tablets.I must now answer Harold’s letter & parcel containing Milk Tablets, which came in useful to quench my parched lips on fatigue.  Please dears, I advise you not to depend too much upon the cloth wrapping when sending parcels as the cardboard box is liable to get smashed

Best love Bertie.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

Pte Bertie Hibbett’s family wanted him to write more ‘about me sen’ (more about myself). But true to character this letter is full of the thoughtfulness and understanding of others that my father invariably showed in his life.

NB My father had expected to see his brother arrive with the  draft of 181 men reported in S Staffords War Diary for 28th Mar.1916.

(1) Conqueror’s Song: Hymn: John Newton 1779. Former Slave owner turned anti-slavery.  Collection of Hymns by John Wesley. 1875.

(2) ‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’. Hibbett Letter 13th March. 1916 1916. (3) Bombing Accident: Hibbett Letter 28th Feb. 1916. (4) Zeppelin Raid Walsall. 19th Jan. 1916.

(5) Linley Caverns, Aldridge, Staffordshire. Extensive 19th cent limestone workings now flooded: ‘an incredibly dangerous place’. Used for storing bombs in WW2. See <https:brownhillsbog.com> details of Urban Exploration at Linley Caverns. 1957 (16th Aug.1957 edition Walsall Observer).

6) George Lammerman (Ida’s friend from childhood). (7‘Wee bit sad’: Ida’s comment on Bertie’s photo with Hindustani Sikh at Marseilles. 27th Feb.1916.

8) Mrs Venables*: ref. to Bertie’s Mother helping at her Knitting Workshops & Sales for Soldiers, 1914-1918. (9) Face-flannel squares. 

(10) ‘Peace within’: See below Little Book of Words & Doings & Page: My Memories A.H.H. (I remember from childhood how my father’s sermons were often about ‘Peace’). (11) CorpArthur Venables dressed Pte Bertie’s wound 1st July 1916. Later Killed in Action. 

(12) ‘Very, very Sad’: ‘Little Book of Words & Doings’. Hibbett Letter 27th Mar.1916.

Victorian Arcade, Walsall.
Victorian Arcade, Walsall.

(13) Arcade Restaurant, Walsall.  Sammons (Brothers?)Walsall Greengrocer. (My father’s dream of arriving in Walsall on Home Leave and buying pork pies, tomatoes & flowers I find particularly poignant).

(14) ‘Sing with the understanding also’.  I Cor. 14.5. St Paul ‘I will sing/prayer with the spirit and use words with the understanding also.(15The Revd E. More Darling,  (Vicar of Walsall ) last Services on Retirement.

(16) ‘na pous finis’: British soldiers’ slang for French saying -‘no good/ rubbish’. 

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 Pte Bertie Hibbett’s ‘Little Book of Words & Doings’. Treasured Sayings in Letters from Home. March 1916.

 ‘My head seems so full of things that I hardly know what to say. Mother’. 

The Zeppelin Raid: ‘Do you know dear Bertie, Mother was the best of all of them. When the raid came I seem to have had strength given to me.  I do not think Basil was frightened at all – he wanted to know where the things were going . . .  Dad looked white & pinched round the nose & Ida took hold of my hand & cried & said ” Oh Mum I am frightened” and I said ” Never mind my love, we shall be all right” and I felt such a peace in me.  Mother. ‘

NB Computer problems meant this Letter was posted with:-

NEXT POST: 30th Mar: 1916.

 

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14TH NOV. 1915: IN THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND: UP TO MY EYES IN MUD MUDDY-MUD – & RATS!

South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

NEUVE CHAPELLE TRENCHES

12th Nov. FriEnemy very quiet. HILL STREET REDOUBT taken over from 1/6th Batt North Staffordshire Regt. and fire trench from HILL STREET to OXFORD STREET from 4th Batt Kings Liverpool Regiment.  CASUALTY: KILLED:  9308 Pte E Stevens.

13th Nov. Sat:  Enemy very quiet.

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings : Neuve Chapelle Trenches. Listening Post.  Trench full of water; bay at end of Seat 6.  Corp. Brewin* in charge.’ 

LETTER to Mr & Mrs ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. 

24th Sunday after Trinity. Nov 14/ 15

‘Unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness’. 1st Epistle. Col.13.1.

My Dearest Brave Mother, and Ida, as well as Daddie and Dodgy,

Mud, mud, muddy, muddy – MUD & clay toonow laugh!  Up to my eyes in mud.  There are two Tommies squatting in a muddy, muddy, mud-hole trying to write letters HOME with our hands all over mud & clay, just like gloves Yes I am not going to be done inI am not going to break the record of Sunday letters, and today especially.  I received Ida’s letter & Basil’s enclosed yesterday & read them with jollification, they did make me feel happier afterwards.

Vernon & I – Vernon, I am fonder of him nowfelt awfully fond  of him last night when we had to do the work of impossibilityThe Slough of Despond – clear some thick clay out of a trench (1).

A parcel, the only one in the post, came this morning – a sergeant brought it up – it was MINE – I saw with delight Dad’s writing.  But I had to hurry & go on a working party from 9 – 12. 30 this morning so I opened it this dinner time.

Stop a minute while I just pop one of those lumps of toffee Mummy’s homemade butterscotch made with butter, treacle & sugar – what nice sugar it is in the parcel.  What lovely TOFFEE dears. I’ve just given Vernon a Chief of Whip Cig.  I don’t smoke on Sundays.  Aren’t I narrow minded eh!

Now I will answer & tell you about everything.  I could write lots & fill heaps & piles of note paper but have got only three left like this.  I read Mum’s & Ida’s letters in the parcelMum’s of Oct 31st.  and Champion’s long, interesting letter.  I vidided (sic) a lovely applethey are nice & juicyamong two other muddy Tommies because, you see dear Mum, I’m like you, you said you would have liked to be with me looking round the shops in Rouen, to share with the pleasure,  –  so I cannot, I could not enjoy your parcels if I eat all myselfI want others to see & taste how good the things are I have from Home.  I made some coffee out of the parcel you sent to Sydney & I did enjoy it. – – – –

Shall have to stop here, I have been called to the working party again to fill sand bags.  When we come back I shall have a good tea out of the currant bread & fresh butter.

10.30 pm.  Oh dearest Mummy I could say heaps & heaps.  Post came while I was on fatigue tonight & I got your letter dated Nov 10th, also another letter but I read yours first & cannot wait until I have read the other but I must finish this first.

Well Verny & I had a ripping tea out of the currant bread & butter, which he said he quite enjoyed, he also wants me to convey thanks to you for an egg I gave him – he loves eggs.  Also I gave him a hankie because we have been using an old rag this wet weather & poor boy he is longing to hear from home & get a parcel.  Hospital has upset such a lot.

WW1 brazier
WW1 Brazier. Ghosts of World War 1 <http://evangelineholland.com&gt;

The toffee was lovely & I wished I had taken some out on fatigue as I thought of doing, but decided to save some for an emergency. The jujubes are good too.  Oh of course I have not finished the tea, but I thought I would have a change & make some coffee.  We have been working all day & had very little time to fetch & boil water.

Vernon was giving up the idea, but I made up my mind to have a hot drink of some sort, so I coaxed a chap for the use of a fire & some water & consequently, with the timely aid of Mrs Hurst’s* milk, I made some Homemade Cafe de Luxe, better far than the Cafe au lait tinned you know. 

Dearest Mum, & all of you I’m afraid I shall have to conclude my Sunday letter, but must just have a word about rats.

 . . . . . .    Oh! rats, owls & cats.  Lean rats, fat rats, scrabbling rats, squealing rats, biting rats & gormandizing rats.  Muddy rats and  – oh! mice, little mice, wee mice, muddy mice & sprinting stealing, thieving mice & oh my! can you just picture a bright moon & a frosty night, an owl is seen to fly over the trench & our heads & gives its weirdtoo hoot’ & a stealthy pussy cat, a black cat, comes crawling on the top of the trench of sand bags after vermin.  . . . . . . 

Rats: & Rat catcher WW1.
Rats & Rat Catcher WW1. <http://www.digventure.com >

Such is the life, but  very VERY HAPPY & Jolly at times because of news from Home Sweet Home.

Oh Mum, & all of you I pray that you will comfort one another, especially Ida.  I think she is really splendid, her letters are so chatty & interesting, (of course I firmly believe she has no influence under or from Phyllis C* (2 ).

So Mr Henry Cozens* wanted my address.  I think this other letter is from him, let’s see.  Oh so it is & such a pleasant one too.  Yes, Capt. Tim*(3) made himself like one of the Privates when talking to us.  Sydney will be excused writing lengthy letters in Hospital, but I think I shall have to stop now.

Our late Capt L. (4) kindly asked after Sydney, but all I could say was that I had not heard from him yet, but read about him from a Sergeant who said he was having a ripping time,  ‘I hope he will have a still better one at Christmas if he stays there till then’.

 – – – I must not leave out the tinned cream.  How funny Mummy it goes well with fruit but not so with teaVernon had cream because of the fruit  – – –

You will not have had my letters so promptly & this one will be sometime for I am, as you will know by the nature of this letter, in the trenches.  I count it ‘Happy to Endure’ (5) & have had  speedy answers to my prayers when feeling or inclining to feel in the blues. 

War can be turned to a blessing & makes several differences in one’s character.  I am fonder of Vernon now.

Hoping you had a happy Thursday with H. & H. Bore* and a Happy Sunday.

Best love from Bertie.

PS  Got FPC from Sydney tonight as well.  He sais ‘I am quite well.  Letter follows 1st opportunity.’

PPS  I scented the lovely Khaki hankies with White Heather Scent (6).  The towel is a nice one.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

The Hibbett family is brought poignantly close together when Pte Bertie receives Basil’s letter & Sydney’s posted on from Home and returns them with his own & the mud of a Neuve Chapelle trench.  My father’s blues –  and his emotional dependence on his family at this time  – can be seen in the family endearments & language of childhood  – and his delight in Mother’s Guy Fawkes Toffee.   

John Bunjan.
John Bunjan.

(1) ‘Slough of Despond’ – miry bog/swamp of despair into which Christian sinks under the weight of sin & guilt in Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan’s allegory of a Christian’s journey through life. Written in Bedford Jail. 1678.  <http://www.chapellibrary.org >

The mud & heavy clay Ptes Bertie & Vernon had to clear would have been almost certainly contaminated with dead vermin, human waste and even parts of human bodies, missing on both sides since the offensive of March 1915.

Neuve Chapelle after Battle March 1915.
Neuve Chapelle after Battle March 1915.

(2Phyllis Cozens? sister of (3) Tim Cozens* Killed in Action 13th Oct. 1915. Battle of Loos/Hohenzollern Redoubt (cf Letter: 10th Aug. 1915). 

(4) ‘Late Captaini.e. not ‘dead’ but promoted to Major Cecil Lister*.

(5) James 5.11King James Bible. ‘Happy to endure’ (with the patience of Job). (cf  Col. 13.1. quotation above).

 (6) White Heather Scent from Whitby, sent by Ida to help cope with the stench of trench life. (See Letters: 29th Aug. & 6th Sept. 1915).

NEXT POST: 16th Nov. 1915. YMCA Postcard.