Tag Archives: Keep the Home Fires Burning.


Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT, British Red Cross Hospital, The Cenacle, New Brighton, Cheshire: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. [Written with the left hand. Pages very faint, barely decipherable in places]  

The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge, It is Thou that savest us from our enemies. We make our boast of God all day long and will praise Thy Name for ever’ (1).

‘O God the Protector of all them that trust in Thee’. Collect & Psalms:- Fourth Sunday after Trinity (2).

Mother at Tea.
Mother at Tea.

July 9th/ 16.

My Dearest Brave Mother,

A burst of sunshine and the ‘Dark Cloud’ vanished – the ‘Buoy’ has at last come Home (3).  Although I am so far from you as Birkenhead  you will no doubt feel me warmly nearer to you, won’t you Mumsie?  Turn right over for page 2.

Ha ha har!  You see me Dearies at Home, no one, not even Apollo or Jupiter or Penelope, Hermes, Mars, Saturn, Adonis, Orpheus, nor strong & mighty Thor, nor boisterous rude Boreas, yea and cunning Medusa or any other of those ancient gods can prevent me, by their all magical powers from writing my usual Sunday letter to my Home sweet Home (4). 

As  afore-mentioned in the PC to Dad yesterday I am training my left hand to do something for its living.

This Sunday morning is beautiful.  I have had my ‘Bon Breakfast’, of bread & butter with a new laid egg & refreshing tea.  I am now sitting up in the cot to write something for you to pass away a happy moment in our sunny garden, where very nearly two years ago you, my darling Mummy, lavished a nice garden tea for those little Sunday School Boys of mine (5).

The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton with wounded soldier & tea-party on lawn. Pen & Ink. Arthur H. Hibbett. 1916-1917. Copyright.

When you come Mummy  you will see that this place is not a Military Hospital. The sisters are very kind & tender & there are two elderly nurses who are almost angels when they come to dress my woundBut dearest Mumsie don’t  – Halt! one of those two, who has come to dress the other patients, has just told me to ‘give them my love’  –

The Happy Warrior. George Frederick Watts.

Now dear Mummy don’t be afraid of me just saying that the wound is painful because I wish you to know that when I am trying hard to bear the pain.  I like to picture you as that angel in the famous painting ‘The Happy Warrior’ (6)kissing my brow. Yes a Mother’s kiss will do lots to heal a wound & a Father’s all wise & quiet sympathy, like my Dad, will act with the same wonder.

A pause for a rest – and now once more to the breach –  my left – across paper – Quick march! Left – right – left.

My word the Lancashire lassies can’t arf cheer, talk about the most excitable & most embarrassing moment I have ever had. When we passed through Southampton on the Thursday we arrived, I found that both rich & poor had not grown the least tired in cheering & waving their hands & smiling; from every window, door, or corner along the side of the Railway, people gave us their appreciation. As for Birmingham, where we passed through at 7 pm, they had the police to keep the crowds back – with ropes too, but even that preventative could not stop some eager ‘bird’ to flutter under the rope & throw a gift into the carriage. 

Nurses of the St John’s Ambulance came with big flat trays on which were piled oranges & other fruit; on other trays there were meat sandwiches, while others had pipes & smokes & other sweets. Then, as the train passed out, the nurses could be seen to stand to attention.

The Finale came when we arrived at BirkenheadLined all along the platform were private cars in which the owners drove us to New Brighton (where I am now)As soon as the train stopped a voice was heard to shoutDoubleand  like a streak of lightningthere rushed down dozens of civvies to the carriage doors (which were of course locked) (7). Then each civvy took a ‘Woundy’ Tommy & helped him into a car. As each car left the station the occupants received stunning cheers from the dense crowd which stretched through the entrance of the station & all up both sides of the first street.

I leave it to you to imagine how I looked & felt.

Now it is all peaceful in this sunny room where I can have my ‘bit’ of Sunday easier than those previous.  I read the Collect & Psalms for today, as you will see by the special texts I have picked out & put at the head of this letter.


Never before have I felt the Psalms to be  more appropriate for these fighting days. After the experience of trench warfare and artillery bombardment I still believe in that principle that is signified in verse 7 of Psalm 44 But it is not my sword that shall help me, but it is Thou that savest us . . . ‘.

Then the Collect too is most suitable for those concerned in the Great Allied Offensive. What too can be more encouraging and comforting than the first verse in the Epistle. ‘I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be  compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us’ which applies to those at Home as well at to those at the Front. 

We are getting excellent food here, fresh fish & good milk puddings & stewed fruit.  What a delight to taste them after so long without.  Yes I have a great, great deal to be thankful for.

Staffordshire Regt. Brooch.This afternoon is also sunnyI am trusting you too are having fine weather & an ideal Sunday.  I hope you & Ida got the brooches which, (as I told Harold in a letter I sent, a day or so before The Saturday) were handmade by a Soldier’s crippled friend in England. 

Ida’s parcel & your letter following that tin parcel came just happily timely, as did a nice parcel from Miss Brookes*. I did think I was lucky in receiving them so timely & you must know how happy I felt when I got  your parcel with the current bread in, for although it came on the Wednesday of that week we all thought we were going up from those Huts where we were spending a rest that Wednesday night (8).

We eventually went to the trenches on the Friday night, and arrived early on the Saturday morning, only having five or ten minutes to fetch & drink some soup At which time I saw Sydney pass me with his Platoon. ‘‘So long Sydney!” I greeted him & since then I did not see him again.  

I am hoping for the best, & it will not believe anything until there comes something definite & official (9). ‘Let us prove all things’, sais St Paul. I believe or rather trust in Those Heavenly Higher Hands that dear Brother Sydney will too finally not lose the things eternal (10).

Basil Hibbett, 18 yrs,

Now dears, Mother & Father I will close my usual S. letter with the same Sunday Wish that I hope you are enjoying the Day with Peace reigning in your Hearts by Faith & spending a Happy time all together with Basil (11) – (The Dodger that comforts Mother) – Harold & Hilda, to whom I send my love as well as to my affect. parents.

God bless you all. 

Your affec.  Bertie .

Last Page of Long Letter all in Left Hand:-

Drawing with Left Hand in first Letter Home from Hospital. 9th July 1916. A.H.Hibbett. Copyright.
‘FONCQUEVILLERS CHURCH BEFORE GOMMECOURT’. Drawing with Left Hand  & from Memory. The last thing Bertie saw of Foncquevillers, 1st July 1916. A.H.Hibbett. Copyright.

Pte Bertie Hibbett may have shown this drawing of the ruined Church of Our Lady, Foncquevillers, to one of his nurses; she then gave him a Postcard sent her by her boyfriend, M. Nelson, R.E. in Oct 1916. My father then worked on a pen & ink sketch of his own, which I remember always hung in his study.

Compare illustrations.

Up Traffic Only Fonqu Fonquevillers Up traffic.sc0002ebfbMy Dad has kept one soldier sitting on the wall, reflected in the water & added the famous sign ‘To BERLIN. Up Traffic Only’ – and soldiers carrying ladders. In his last Letter of 27th June before the Battle, he said he had at last managed to find his Mothera few June roses – hence the note ‘wild roses‘ in his Letter’s drawing above.

Strangely enough, when my sister & I arrived at Foncquevillers by bike a hundred years later, the Church clock said five to three, exactly the time the clock had stopped during bombardment – & as Dad remembered it.

(1) ‘The Lord of Hosts is with us’. Psalm 46.7. (2) ‘The God & Protector of all that put their trust in Thee.’ Collect. Bk of Common Prayer, 1662. 

(3) Keep the Home Fires Burning:’There’s a silver lining through the Dark Cloud shining’. Ivor Novello.

Boreas: God of the North Wind.
Boreas: God of the North Wind.

(4) Greek & Roman mythology & art was all part of a classical education in the early 20th Cent. From 1907-1921, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd published the series Myths & Legends (of the world) which my father collected after the War.

(5) Bertie Hibbett’s 19th Birthday tea for his Walsall Sunday School pupils, at No 95 Foden Rd. See Hibbett Letter 12th July 1915.

George Frederick Watts.
George Frederick Watts.

(6) The Happy Warrior: George Frederick Watts, English painter/ Symbolist Movement. 1817-1904.  After the poem The Character of the Happy Warrior William Wordsworth 1806 : “Who is the Happy Warrior, who is he that every man in arms should wish to be . . . ? It is the  generous spirit . . . an inward light . . . that makes the path before him always bright . . . more able to endure, as more exposed to suffering & distress . . . Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim . . . This is the Happy Warrior, this is he, that every man in arms should wish to be.”

(7) Ambulance train doors locked: to prevent scale of Somme casualties affecting national morale?

Humbercamps. Howitzer elevated ready for firing. 1st July 1916..

(8) Humbercamps Huts: 3 miles from Front Bertie expected to march at 2.00 am. 29th July. Battle delayed 2 days.

SYDNEY HIBBETT 20 in 1914.
Just 20 in 1914.

(9) The South Staffords Roll Book, held in 1/5th S Staffordshire Regiment Museum, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield reads, simply :- ‘Sydney Hibbett: Missing. Expectation of Death. 1.7.1916’.  Bertie Hibbett had probably not yet told his parents the detailed news he had heard of Sydney. cf ‘My Memories’. 1967. It was several years before they had confirmation of death.

(10) I Thessalonians 5.21& Collect for 4th Sunday after Trinity.

NEXT POST: 19th July 1916. ‘With regard to your brother Syd, I fear the worst has happened’.


Staffordshire Regt. Brooch.A Short History of South Staffordshire Regiment: After a month’s hard earned rest S. Staffs began to prepare for the Battle of the Somme.’

South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY:


2nd May Tue: Battalion Training. 3rd May: Wed. 9.45 am: Marched to new billets at CONETTEMONT and HONVAL4th May Thur 7.0 am: Marched to new billets at ST. AMAND (1).

Royal Warwickshire Regt. www.en.wiki.org
Royal Warwickshire Regt. <http://www.en-wiki.org.uk&gt;

5th May Fri: 1.30 pm: Marched to FONQUEVILLERS (2) and relieved 1/6th Bn ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGT in L SECTOR Trenches.

6th- 7th May: FONQUEVILLERS. Enemy abnormally quiet.  8th May Mon: Enemy fired 10 Trench mortar bombs between No.1 and 2 posts. Our artillery retaliated on enemy front line.

9th May Tue.:  Enemy shelled No. 4 post. 1 Lewis Gun damaged and portion of parapet damaged. 10th May Wed:  Very quiet day.

From Chelers to Fonquevillers/Gommecourt via Canettemont/Honval snd St Amand.
March from Chelers to Front Line at Fonquevillers/Gommecourt via Canettemont/Honval and St Amand: 40 miles (65 km) approx. with  full pack in 2 days.  Rough Map efw.


Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT’s Own War Diary: A Little Book of Words & Doings’. May 3rd – May 31st.  ‘Sydney went to 6 Syndicate for School of Instruction at 3 Army Corp & returned. Very instructive lesson. Spends his 22nd Birthday there & received parcels from Home on Sunday.  He sent two large photos of Abbeville Cathedral.  Bomb courses, amo courses, attack runs etc.’

‘On Friday, (5th May) at Stand To & Stand Down, I heard  our friend the cuckoo calling as if to say Come to England:- ‘Blighty co-om’.  It was heard in our Reserve of the village of Fonquevillers in the wood. How transporting to the good old days in England.’

Preface Title Page: 'Sniper Atkins composed by a Sniper during a tour in the Trenches and Illustrated with original drawings from the pen of the same'. Signed 'Sniper Hibbett'.
Preface Title Page: ‘Sniper Atkins composed by a Sniper during a tour in the Trenches and Illustrated with original drawings from the pencil of the same’. Signed ‘Sniper Hibbett’.

While in trenches I drew sketch of Gommecourt Wood (3) in Fonquevillers and composed ‘Sniper Atkins’ (4). More observing and taking notes than firing from Sunday May 6th.

‘Sketched position. Man, wearing no equipment & carrying no rifle, seen to come down enfilade trench towards first line trenches, disappear in shrubbery & appear again walking apparently on top of parados of first line trenches, seen then to carry a white can similar to gallon can by hand, tall trees in front, making towards silver birch tree.  Later he returned without the can & went up trench towards enfilade trench.

Quarter of an hour later two men appeared in front trenches, running below in front, crossing each other one went to right & disappeared & one went left.  From S.B. (5), when walking about below, the whole of the figures of the men from the knee could be seen.  [Ed. NB. enfilade trench is where weapons can be fired along its longest axis. Parados – the back of a trench & lined with sandbags.]

LETTER to HIBBETT FAMILY, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. 

Wednesday, May 10th/ 16.

There’s a silver lining through the dark cloud shining, Turn the dark cloud inside out, till the boys come home (6).

My Dear People,

On Monday (8th) morning Sydney’s parcel, with the watch in, had been opened by A.O. Jones* who is in Sydney’s Platoon & was with him & slept by him.  Sydney must have left word to Jones to forward on the parcels etc, if he found his address, but someone told Jones that he had not received a certain parcel which had been forwarded to him (it had been mislaid I suppose) so Jones is keeping the watch for Sydney.  I took the cake & tin (a nice tin for a parcel).

This morning the Railway Magazine (7) with the washing square came & was handed to me.  I am keeping them in my haversack until Sydney returns, which I think will not be more than 3 weeks now.

There are only about 6 men in No 2 Platoon who have been on Active Service since the Division came out in March/ 15. So if I should get leave before Sydney returns I will leave his things with Jones. I had Harold’s parcel of candles, Horlick’s Milk Tablets & ointment which was addressed to 3rd Field Ambulance am yesterday.  Did you post the parcel you sent on Saturday April 2th to 3rd Field Ambulance? the one you said had eggs in?  That makes the second which will have gone astray if it does not arrive soon.

I read Dodger’s letters to Sydney (you don’t mind do you Dodger?) & was greatly interested in them, but I think you beat me in scribbling.  The first thing I noticed was the ‘Censoring’ & was amused to read you had the same idea. 

Inns of Court Badge.
Inns of Court Badge. The Devil’s Own. <http://dacorumheritage.org.uk&gt;

I have had another swanky letter with seals on the envelope & paper – the latter came from Mr Bates*, who was in the Inns of Court OTC (8) – Vernon* told me that rotten officers were being turned out by its training – at any rate Mr Bates was gazetted last November to the Durham Light Infantry & he is now at Rugeley Camp, Cannock Chase (9).

I have not written to Nightingale* (10) since last December, as you said his letter had been returned when it did not reach me, owing to me being in Hospital.

I think the ‘Dark Cloud’ is drifting by and the sunshine of Home Leave is showing itself. Theysay the number has increased to 12 men a day on leave.  I hope I shall not bhoy (sic) you up on false hopes – ahem!

So, so very, very sorry Sydney is away for the sake of your Birthday parcels for him, but I think if you address the parcels to where he is No 6 Syndicate, 3rd Army School of Instruction (Infantry) B.E.F. it will find him.  What do you think?  I hope in any case matters will come straight & he will not miss them.

I am detached from 2 Platoon while in these trenches, for I am a Schniper (sic) as you knowI do not do much firing – well I have not fired a shot yet as my post,  which is a ‘cushi’ one, is for observation purposes chiefly, as we can see the enemy often.  I make out reports & am on a ‘sketch’ of the enemy line.  You see the Sergeant in charge has somehow found out my natural inclinations.

Macdonald's Export Cigarettes.
Macdonald’s Export Cigarettes.<http://thecanadiansoldier.com&gt;

Mrs Brookes*parcel of cigs from London has not yet come, but I suppose, as Jones* told me Parcels dodrawbackfor sometimes a month before they arrive. (Jones frequently has a wholesome lot of cigs Export or Drawback (11).

6th Inniskilling Dragoons.
6th Inniskilling Dragoons.

Mr Bates*, by the by, had a brother, a Regular in the Inniskilling Dragoons & he was killed in March at the place along the line we are now occupying.  So if Dad asks Nightingale* or Bates*, should Dad see either, you can get to know.

We have had it charmingly quiet & comfortable while we’ve been here.  The country looks ‘Bon’ in the Spring atmosphere.  Am I telling you anything about me sen?  I am keeping well & happy & my sores are very nearly better. I think it was the Spring, partly, that caused them.

Talking about Spring again; you have heard the old saying that Spring brings with itBuddingin every form, not only in trees & such things but ‘Budding Authors’ & ‘Budding PoetsThe latter class includes this humble self.  I caught the fever from copying a piece of ‘doggerel’ from one of Hacket’s* chums in his Mess

Title Page Sniper Atkins
Title Page Sniper Atkins. ‘Wait & See.  A few verses from my pencil written in the trenches, during the reign of Good King George V ‘.  Sketch of one of his sniper pals. Signed A. H. Hibbett. 

So, during my hours off, I began to compose a poem on Sniping, just for a joke. To see if I get any luck I am sending the result off to The Walsall Observer, (which Dad refers to as ‘not up to much in news’ & only gets it to read the Education Notes etc).  

So look out for a poem in its columns entitled ‘Sniper Atkins’.  I think I shall tell them not to put my name to it, but say that it was composed by a Sniper in the 1/5th S. Staffs T. F.  Ha! ha! ha!  Poor old Dad when he sees it!  Look out & tell me what you think on’t.  I will send you a copy in my next letter.  Of course it’s original.  What, what!

Now is there anything else to tell you,  scratch!- scratch!- scratch  my noddle — no!

Toodle oo & Best of Love,   Affectionately yours,


PS  My word Dodger, you  & I will stick ‘we’ mouths togedder (sic) with Turkish Delight when we go cycling round those good old places which you gave such a homely description of.


‘To Tamworth (13)- had a drink of stone ginger & Turkish Delight’.   

PS  I will address my next to Ida as she takes an interest in poems – I suppose you’ll be amused at the crossing out – the Censor so to speak. My last letter was sent on Monday, dated Sun.  Hope you get it.



With Pte Bertie Hibbett only just arrived back from Field Ambulance/ Hospital and his brother Serjeant Sydney on a course in (or near) Abbeville, the Hibbett family were anxious about the safe arrival of parcels, especially Sydney’s 22nd Birthday Parcel containing a watch. 

My father was officially detailed to make sketches of Gommecourt Wood. He brought a copy Home and kept it for over 50 years until, sadly, it disappeared after a Toc H. Exhibition in Skegness. I have yet to discover whether his illustrated doggerel ‘Sniper Atkins’ was ever published in the Walsall Observer.

1) A march of 40 miles (65 km) approx to Fonquevillers from Chelers, via Canettemont, Honval & St Amand (farming villages, Pas de Calais). (2) Fonquevillers: farming commune, 12 miles south of Arras. On British Front Line almost all of 1914- 1918. Village & Church of Our Lady destroyed & rebuilt with help of Derby & Nottingham. Plaque to ‘Derby Notre Marraine’ ‘Derby our Godmother‘.

(3) Gommecourt: farming village approx. 1 mile south of Fonquevillers, held by German Imperial Army (52nd Infantry Division, Baden & 2nd Guards Reserve Division, Westphalia). Diversionary attack by 1/5th S Staffords, 46th N. Midland Division, 1st July 1916. <www.ww1battlefields.co.uk>

(4) Sniper Atkins: Doggerel poem written & illustrated by Pte Bertie Hibbett. Tommy Atkins‘ – name adopted by Duke of Wellington 1815 for the common soldier in British Army. Origin: Pte Thomas Atkins, Battle of Boxtel, 1794. cf Rudyard Kipling ‘Tommy’, Barrack Room Ballads. 1892. See < http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems&gt; and <http://www.historic-uk.com/history&gt;

(5S.B. abbrev. of ‘Subject’? ie Pte Bertie?

en-wiki220px-KeepTheHomeFiresBurning1915(6) There’s a Silver Lining through the Dark Clouds shining: WW1 Song: Keep the Home Fires Burning’. Ivor Novello, Words: Lena Guilbert Ford. 8th Oct. 1914.

(7) Railway Magazine: See Hibbett Letter, 10th Nov. 1915. (8) Inns of Court O.T.C.: Harold Hibbett was intending to join.

(9) Rugeley Camp, Cannock Chase: one of two large Transit Camps for Service Battalions begun March 1915 at Cannock Chase (68 acres (AONB) Staffordshire). Timber huts, a Church, Post Office, Theatre – and a Hospital at Brindley Heath (1000 beds). Known for its ‘Tackaroo Railway’.(10Nightingale: Mining Surveyor, Lichfield Street, Walsall, Pte Bertie’s former boss.

(10) ‘Export & Drawback Cigarettes’: ref to drawback/tax relief: cf Houses of Parliament Hansard: 14th March 1916: The Secretary to the Treasury (re delay in payment of drawback on tobacco to manufacturers.  ‘The recent increase in tobacco drawback rates involving special inquiry into many claims submitted, combined with heavy & continuous increase in numbers of exportations, particularly those by parcel post to the Expeditionary Forces, has led to some unavoidable delay in the full payment of claims’.

(11) Camwell: near Sutton Coldfield. Church of St Giles, Mary & All Saints ‘an architectural gem’, Sir John Betjemin.

Tamworth castle.
Tamworth Castle. <http://www.en-wiki.org.uk&gt;

(12) Tamworth: large market town on River Tame, 14 miles from Birmingham/ renowned for Castle. See Hibbett Letter. 1st Aug. 1915.

NEXT POST: 17th May. Sydney’s 22nd Birthday Letter.  Also Sniper Atkins Page with doggerel transcript sometime before.