Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, Merville Casualty Clearing Station: LETTER HOME following straight on from Christmas Eve Letter. Enclosed in envelope addressed ‘To Mum, My very Dear Mother. All Good Wishes for a HAPPY CHRISTMAS from her very affec. son Bertie.
Christmas Day. 7-30 am approx.
Christians awake! Salute the Happy Morn, Whereon the Saviour of the World was born. Rise to adore the Mystery of Love Which Hosts of Angels chanted from above. (1)
Although we did not have a hymn at Holy Communion, (which I always like on Christmas Morning) the Chapel was prettily decorated with holly & evergreen & was made the best out of it. Candles burning in between the evergreens looked Christmassy. We had a few nurses with us this morning, yes, to see men, men, men, everywhere it was especially reminding of Home to see the other sex & it felt more what it should be at Christmas.
‘A Merry Christmas’ we all greeted one another on waking, ‘And the same to you’ came the reply to everyone I greeted on the way to wash, & to the Chapel. At the door I met a sister & the Chaplain – ‘the same to you’. And why shouldn’t it be Merry? ‘Rejoice again I say Rejoice’ (2). Those who have lost their lives for their country are numbered among the Hosts of Angels which chant above.
I dreamt (dreams are so hard to remember) but I do believe I dreamt of you all, certainly I dreamt of Mother & Ida & Dad & now I come to think on’t Basil too. I could see Ida as plain as a pike staff. And I dreamt of Sydney too & we met a nurse, I believe, who told us he was much better, at which we were all so glad. I have dreamt of you all at one time or another these nights this week how queer – will it be a coincidence? Well I will leave off till after the dinner now. We get cold ham for breakfast.
From breakfast till Church time I read a Christmassy story I came across accidentally & only began to find out as I read along. You must know that this Hospital, so I’ve been told, was once a monastery & it looks like one too – all the more happy to imagine Ye olde Christmasse TYMES with the monks & so I read a Monk’s tale about Kings & Dukes & Princesses. The story also introduced York – ‘then as Winter came on quickly, withdrawing himself to his good old town of York to keep his Christmas, rest his men, etc.’ Then again, ‘he’, referring to the King of England, now the King of Scots. ‘So at last about Xmas time the snow being very deep, the King of Scots sat down behind the wattles of his trenches, saying ‘if we cannot burn them out or cut them out, we will starve them out’ – and so with the G——ns eh!
While I was reading several orcifers (sic) with their orderlies & a whole retinue of NCOs came to decide if our decorations deserved Ist Prize. Then the orderly made us all go to Church.
The service, which I have just come from & set to write you about, was as Christmassy as possible & again I guess we all thought of our Homes, & others, their sweethearts & wives. The sermon was the old story of the Inn & the Shepherds and the Saviour. Though the ocean & lands divide us we think of each other at Holy Eucharist, so the old Latin text goes interpreted.
‘O Come all ye Faithful’ I can hear you singing, the very words we have too (3). And we had the Hymn for absent friends ‘Keep them ’neath Thy care’ (4). I used that little Red Prayer Book in which you put my name & the text, ‘Be thou faithful unto death’ (5). It is much dilapidated now but for all that it brought back memories of Xmasses gone by when I used it. (6)
I will leave off now till after dinner else I shall not have paper to finish.
Christmas Dinner. ‘A goodly feast forsooth’. A sight which reminds me of the words in the story I read this morning:- ‘All was done in noble order, with abundance to eat (& drink), with minstrels in the gallery, dogs under the tables, a fool in a corner and silver trumpets at the buttery door to cry the courses’.
Yes, the officers waited on the men & the Chaplain served us too; as for the courses, the first was beef, haricot beans & spuds, the second was plum pudding with white sauce (I put in some almonds from a dish of fruit just by). Then jellies of all kinds & chocolate blancmange Ida, yes. The room, which was downstairs, held all the patients, numbering 200 in all. We were greeted by the Chaplain who wished us all a Merry Christmas & told us that those who ate too much would be sent to the Base immediately, Yes, get C.B. – not Confined to Barracks but Condemned for the Base.
Let’s see Mum, when was it I had that big BURD for dinner – nine – teen – fif – er- no – nine-teen -THUR-TEEEN. Oh my poor napper. Let’s crack a bon bon, there were those on the table & those paper serviettes in pretty patterns. Also raisins & almonds, walnuts, chocolates, toffee & the Chaplain came round with cigarettes again. So we have had a bit of Christmas & Santa Claus is coming at 4 o’clock.
Oh I’m full, full inside, & the officers have stuffed our pockets with nuts, chocolates & all those things I’ve said. Eight volunteers for washing up. I was one.
Ta Ta till after tea. I am at peace with all the World, so said Dad once, & I hope you have all had a good dinner too. I’m at peace with Ye K——r!
The afternoon passed in a happy, lazy way. I read the story of the little Child leading the King of Beasts, the tiger & all the other animals in Isaiah, Chapter 11, verse 6 . ‘The Wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, & the leopard shall lie down with the kid & the calf & the young lion & the fatling together, & a little Child shall lead them’. How typical of the Hun & the Peacemakers. The K——r, so apparently hated by some people, will find blessing from God. All the nations at war with one another shall live in peace & love one another in God’s good time. And a little Child shall lead the nations. Reminds me of the Victor on a White Horse, leading his Hosts in white, in Revelation (7).
For tea we had jam & bread, but we did not open the tins, some iced cake & gingerbread came in & the iced cake vanished first.
‘Poor old Bertie will not have any of our Christmas gifts!’
Best love, Bertie. X X X X X
25th Dec. 1915: Entrained at BERQUETTE STATION for MARSEILLES, and arrived there on the 27th. (en route for Dardanelles Campaign begun 25th April 1915).
My 20 year old father, Pte Bertie Hibbett, is determined to be happy, and to convince his Mother that he is happy, spending Christmas in Hospital, sleeping on a stretcher, denied letters and parcels of Christmas Cheer from Home, separated from his brother & his best pal Vernon Evans, all three now in Hospital.
From Merville he would have heard the sound of guns at the Front. He knows the rest of his pals in 1/5th South Staffords are preparing for the Dardanelles /Gallipoli Campaign and he must soon be joining them. All he has to hold on to is his heightened awareness of the true meaning of Christmas, the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy – and the Army’s ‘Goodly Feast!’
(1) Christians Awake: Hymn. Text John Byrom 1691-1763. Tune: John Wainwright 1723-1768.
(2) Rejoice again: Philippians 4.4. written by S. Paul in time of persecution, AD 49-51.
(3) O Come all ye faithful/ Adeste Fidelis: John Francis Wade, 1711-1786. Translated from Latin by Frederick Oateley, 1841. (4) Neath thy Care: Isabella S. Stevenson, 1869. ‘Keep our loved ones now far distant, neath Thy care‘; (written when her brother was sent away to S. Africa for his health).
(5) ‘Be thou faithful unto death & I will give thee the crown of life’. Revelation 2.10. (6) Confirmation Prayer Book, a gift from his Mother. Confirmed Sunday 12th March, 1911 (16 yrs old).
(7) Book of Revelation: the only apocalyptic /prophetic document in the New Testament canon (dealing with Christian eschatology i.e. interpretation of the End Time). Written AD 81-96, in the form of a letter to all the churches during Emperor Domitian’s persecution of Christians/ a poetic allegory of the ongoing struggle between good & evil.
NEXT POST: 26th Dec. 1915.