1st – 4th June. In Rest Billets. Battalion training.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘The end of all things is at hand’. (1)
‘. . . ye remember that I told you of them’.(2) Epistle and Gospel for:-
Sunday after Ascension Day. June 4/ 16
My Very Dear Mother & Father & Basil,
I picture you three this time;I fancy Harold does not go Home and spend tea with you every Sunday.I went to see Sydney this afternoon at his billet; he was however in a field opposite, writing in answer to a long letter. I asked him my usual, i.e. if he had had anything in the post, & he gave me Dodger’s most jolly letter of 28th May (last Sunday).
Dodger, you did make I larf & Sydney too smiledwhen I repeated what you said about that incident at Abergele(3). Sydney also showed me several PCs,one was a photo with Vernon, oh how his old face came back so.By the by Norman* is not at all a bad letter writer & he too can send long epistles.
I had a very kindly & most lengthy, extraordinarily lengthy letter from Miss Foster*, with some toffees& a Tin of Three Nuns Tobacco (4). Alas! I have not a decent pipe,but you need not send me a pipe as I m-m-mi-ight be Home next week at this time.
I wrote to Miss Foster yesterday but forgot to mention the Colwick Cheese (3). Miss Foster was told that the Colwick Cheese would turn very ‘high’ & she did not wish the Regiment to be wiped out just by a Colwick Cheese. She wanted to know if I knew of anybody receiving a cheese that smelt; just write & tell her in your next that I have not & I will give up the expectation; Miss Foster can cancel the idea & tell her we shall not need a Colwick Cheese to make us run. Tell her that the jokes about the cheese made me nearly split with laughing.
Sydney, knowing that I had ‘petit d’argent’ & my unexpected Home Leave coming any day now,generously presented me with a handsome note, five francs;which is, in English money, 3/7d.(5)
What a lot of fuss & talk etc in the papers & by people at Home over this Daylight Bill (6).
Punch (7) has a great deal to say about it and chapsfrom Leavehave said how puzzling it was, the clocks had not been altered & they were all giving different times.
Latest news of Leave is that I am leaving the Batt. on Tuesday –if all goes well & Leave is not stopped.
I will close now with Best love to all.
Always your affec. Bertie.
PS:Should I have the luck to go Home next week, I wish to have just a quiet time with you at Home. I shall not put myself about to speak to friends, only keep my promise of invitation. I feel that I couldn’t bear to have the bell ringing everyday with people to see me, a Private. Buy in no extras. Take things as a M of C. (8).
Please,thank you,dear Mum, I had rather wait till I see you before you give me a prayer-book (9). I am trying to make this one last the record.Nice letters of the Evans aren’t they?
The apocalyptic language used in this letter indicates how well an ordinary soldier like Pte Bertie Hibbettunderstood that a Major Battle was about to take place on the Western Front and that great loss of life was inevitable. For him there was no way out. Even if he got Home Leave it would be very short and he would have to return to the Front. His longing is for a quiet time and the comfortable commonplace of Home.
(1)‘The end of all things is at hand’ 1 Peter 4.7:. .be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves’.Possible date: Roman Emperor Domitian’s persecution of Christian Church. AD 81 -96.
(2) Sunday after Ascension: Gospel:John 15.26. ‘Ye remember that I told you’. ‘When the comforter is come, he will testify of me. . . the time cometh that whoso killeth you will think they do God service . . . When the time shall come ye may remember. . . ‘
(3) Abergele HolidayAug 1914 when someone sent the family a very ripe cheese? Colwick Cheese: a soft curdy cheese bowl-shaped for sweet or savoury fillings/ 17th Cent).Colwick: a village south of Nottingham.
(4) Three Nuns Tobacco: Advert reads: ‘Philosophy, under the most trying conditions, is to be found by distracting the mind from the contemplation of immediate disaster. Give a man a pipeful of Three Nuns – the familiar fragrance woos back the mind to the comfortable commonplace . . . puts fresh heart into a man and gives him assurance that there’s a good time coming’. NB. It took my father until the 1950s to give up smoking.
(5) Five France Noteworth 3/7d (i.e. 43p today). Selling now on ebay for $159/£109.
(6) The Daylight Bill 1916: pioneered by William Willett1856-1915. (Property developer Sloane Street, London 1880s).An attempt to aid economy/farming by increasing daylight hours. Greenwich Meantime was advanced one hour in Spring & put back one hour in autumn.(i.e. 21st May & 1st Oct 1916).
(7) Punch 1916: ‘So simple and successful has been the progress of the Daylight-Saving Scheme, under which the clock is to be put forward an hour during the summer months, that a movement is on foot to help the War Office prophets by putting the War back a couple of years’. NB 1914 prophets had said ‘The War will be over by Christmas‘.
(8)The Book of Common Prayer. 1662: from which Pte Bertie appears to have taken most of his biblical quotations. He knew & took comfort from the fact that his family would be reading the same passages designated for the day.
NEXT POST:4th June 1916. Enclosed Letter to Basil/ Dodger.
21st -31st May: Battalion Training. In Rest Billets.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘Home Sweet Home’(1)
Woden’s Day. May 24/ 16.
My Dear Mother & Father,
Mum’s long letter of last Sunday 21st was beautiful & interesting. I received it this evening after a good day’s work. We have been inspected by the Gen. of the BEF (2).
So very, very glad to hear you had a sunny Sunday and a ‘happy’ day on the 17th.
I liked the account of how you got my letter from the lady postman (3). How delightful to have had Sydney’s favourite hymn (4) on the Sunday following.
Your letter had the opposite effect to the one previous & seemed to have had that ‘forgiveness’I told you of in my last letter which has turned the story beautiful again, & how queer that I should have written about it last Sunday too.
Yes, I guess you would miss Ida, & do you know I had an idea she had kept her intention from you for she never mentioned you in her letter as reference. Well I do praise her up to a certain extent & if she were a boy she would undoubtedly win a medal on Active Service.
Sorry you have been ill, but I love you for the way you took it so lightly by your writing. Bravo Dr. Utting*! (5)
Yes, Ball* was always decent to me, he is only a Private like I am, but one of the decent chaps among the ranks.He is dark haired & has a rosy fresh complexion, hasn’t he? Yes, I will do as you said & he will deserve all I give him poor chap.Yes, he is quiet & that’s the best of him, all the others are rowdy.As for the Hinds I think Cyril* is the better.
Ah! your description of Basil cutting the grass & of your sitting in the garden gave me much pleasure.
I am looking forward to the lilies.This is the Land of the Lily (6), but I have not seen any yet this year.I think the lily (the symbol of this country) is the ‘Arum’ – that which you decorate the altar with.
Mrs Hurst* told me it would soon be the Sunday School Festival & Mr Key*loves white flowers.
Am pleased you like Mrs Hurst, she is very much like Mrs Jones in her manner of writing.
Thursday. You told me in one of your past letters that I could have one of the washing squares as you had sent Sydney some.The one I have is simply a ‘tres bon’ idea. I found, when I had a bath last night, that it is much easier to get a lather with it than without,& also there is no waste soap as I put my soap inside the ‘bag’ & that which gets smeared on the square is used next time.
I told you in my last letter but one that Lieut Sanger* wished to be kindly remembered to you, at any rate I will give him the ‘Boomerang’ (wish). It was sometime after that I sawAllen Machin*. I think S(ydney) is the best of the lot & Allen looks fine.
We have been out of the trenches since Saturday night & have done a route march each night for 3 nights.It is cooler to march at night. I guess you have wondered whether we march at night or not & you would think all sorts of things, not missing out thatwe are cheerful. And we are not always singing ‘Tipperary’ (7). There are always some of us who find out something fresh & they are not always songs.
One night a few of us imitated the rocket we saw at the Arboretum Flower Show (8). I think someone behind us must have seen an artillery rocket,at any rate it was not long before nearly all of us picked up the joke. A long whistle for the rocket &, as we imagined the illumination to burst & show all its different colours gracefully fall to earth we should utter that expression of those who saw fireworks – ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw’ – & then the excited quick Hurrah! at the end.
At another time I fancied I could smell the old ‘bread & milk’ I loved when a little school boy.I could indeed smell a kind of burnt bread & burnt milk.Sorry I lost the choc and Terry’s sweets with theparcel, but I am hoping they will turn up after me writing.And I suppose you sent someMonkey Brandfor my mess tin (8). I need also someEmery Cloth (9).
I have at last managed to sketch something original but of course I could not better Bairnsfather’s features in his sketches.Have drawn two, one you could send to Miss Foster*, if you think she would like it, & the other for yourself. Choose which you like the better, the one with ‘Yours faithfully’ in front has the more original sketches in & I have substituted a verse for a better one about the Kaiser(10).
I am expecting Sydney soon, as his course should not last more than a month.
Best love to all, Bertie.
PS Did you get the ‘green’ to Ida dated about 14th? [Ed: if so then it hasn’t survived].
The inspection by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig was a clear sign that the Battle of the Somme was imminent. Pte Bertie Hibbett has to send Home for more emery cloth & cleaning powder to spruce up his uniform & equipment.
1/5th South Staffords, at Lucheux (on top of the usual bombing, sniping & bayonet practice) were kept fit by night marches, whilst during the day they cut wood for hurdles & fascines; these were used to strengthen the long communication trenches over the dangerously exposed ridge from Souastre to the Front at Fonquevillers.
My father was happy in his peace-making efforts at Home. He took comfort from signs of Spring & thoughts of Home Sweet Home which in the song gave him ‘the peace of mind dearer than all‘ – but in his letters from now on there seems to be a growing acceptance that he would not see his Home again until after the coming Battle.
(1) Home Sweet Home:1823. Lyrics: John Howard Payne, 1791-1852.American dramatist, poet & actor.Music: Sir Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 -1855.
(2) Field MarshallSir Douglas Earl Haig Commander B.E.F. replaced the First Commander, Field Marshall Sir John French after the Battle of Loos, Oct. 1915.
(3) ‘Lady Postman’: 35000 women were draftedin during 1914-1916. The Post Office was ‘the largest single employer of labour in the world‘. Dealt with 5.9 billion items of post, responsible for nation’s telegraph/ telephone system/ savings bank & 1000 branch post offices. By 1917 19,000 mailbags crossed the Channel everyday. See websites: <http://www.postalheritage.org.uk <http://www.worldwar1postcards.com/soldiers-mail.php >
(4) Sydney’s favourite Hymn: ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King’. 1744.Chorus: ‘Lift up your heart lift up your voice. Rejoice again I say rejoice!‘. Words: Charles Wesley. 1707 -1788. Based on Philippians 4. 4. See Hibbett Letter: 23rd April 1916.
(5) Dr Utting: Hibbett family doctor/ later tended Ida in her last illness. Utting & Hibbett family grave/memorial, Church of St Michael the Archangel, Rushall, Walsall.
(6) Land of the Lily: Fleur de Lys/Iris or Arum Lily/ symbol of France. See Hibbett Letter: 14th April 1916.
(7) ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.Music Hall Song: Jack Judge, in collaboration with Henry James Williams. 1912.
(8) ‘Monkey’:at least3 different items with this brand name. Rather than tobacco, the context implies ‘Monkey Soap’,a scouring soap (produced in 1899 by Sydney & Henry Gross, Philadelphia, USA/later called Port Sunlight Soap) – or even black tooth powder for cleaning a mess tin. See Hibbett Letter: 21st Oct 1915.
(9) Emery: ‘dark granular rock‘ used to make abrasive powder (corundum/ aluminium oxide). Rock mined over 2000 years in Turkey & Greece (Island of Naxos), world’s main supply. Used in Asia for grinding rice. Emery Cloth: coated abrasive, bonded to cloth, for hand use.
18th May Thur.12.45 am to 1.30 am: Enemy fired 18 canister bombs(1) which fell between ‘A’ Company’s advanced posts and company Headquarters.All communication trenches damaged.1.45-2.15 am 12 canister bombs fell between No 4 and 5 posts. No damage. 10.15 pm – 10.45 pm 12 canister bombs fell between No 4 and 2 Posts. LIVERY STREET damaged (2).
19th May Fri. 8.30 pm: 6 canister bombs fell between No.1 and No 2 posts. No damage. Our Artillery retaliated on GOMMECOURT PARK.Enemy whizz-banged (3)in vicinity of Headquarters. Relieved by 1/5th SHERWOOD FORESTERS (4). Marched to billets at SOUASTRE (5).
20th May Sat:SOUASTRE. Marched to new billets at LUCHEUX (6). Arrived at 2.0 am.
21st May Sun: LUCHEUX. In Rest Billets. Battalion Training.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings. New draft of officers. Saw Lieut. Sanger* with whom I had a nice chat; he was later over No 2 Platoon. Illustrated Sniper Atkins and substituted a verse about the Kaiser in place of ‘Atkins loves his pal the rifle’ (7).
LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘. . . among the sundry and manifold changes of the world. . .’(8). ‘I have yet many things to say unto you’ (9).
Collect and Gospel for:– 4th Sunday after Easter. May 21/ 16
My Very Dear Mother,
How very, very sorry indeed I felt, when I read your letter(in with Ida’s)dealing with the manner Sydney behaved. Yes Sydney is often thoughtless & I think it is rotten to have divided affection. I say ‘Mother the Queen of the Home – Ist A1.Then if you like —someone else A2, but to me Dad & Mum are equally A1. ‘Ah wee’, as the French say, the first few lines of Chapter XXII are disappointing.Yet a Mother can forgive & that will turn the story beautiful.
The weather is excellent, fine & sunny & of course I am wondering what sort of Sunday you are having.Oh No! Jones* left the letter untouched, I arrived in time. I did not understand the matter about the photo, I overlooked that & was more interested in the other news in the letter. Jones*is going to give me Sydney’s watch today. I shall try & get it before tea-time just for curiosity in case you think of it in conversation during tea hour. I told you before that I have written to the 3rd Field Ambulance. I have received very nice letters during the week from Miss Foster*(one of hers was returned to her).
Miss Bore* sent a PC & letter & Pearson’s Magazine (10) to the Hospital on the 5th May. I got it yesterday. [Ed. i.e. 17th May].
Jolly old Vernon wrote a nice long letter from Ripon, No 6 Coy. No 1 Hut, No 3 Camp, Northern Command Depot (11).Perhaps you would like to write to him. You told me in one of your letters he was not any better & that he had been sent to Ripon. His brother Norman* is Editor of the Junior School Magazine. I am patronising his office by sending him my doggerel ‘Sniper Atkins’ – Illustrated. You may think I am vain to send it, but my idea of giving them pleasure exceeds the former idea of vanity& I thought if the C.O. commended it(& every Tommy I have shown it to has been highly amused & many have suggested that I should send the poem to some paper)that I should.I conclude that I humbly beg the Editor, Mr. N. Evans* to give me his opinion as to whether my doggerel is worthy of being published in his respected School paper.
Sydney once told me not to be so ‘gushing’ in my letters to him, & about him at Home.But Vernon is worse to me than I was with regard to Sydney. He apparently has changed right round. In spite of the old saying that we love one another more when parted. I think Vernon will remain true now (this is between you & me Mum).
Going back to ‘Sniper Atkins’ again. I may say that I have made an Illustrated Copy for you Mumfirst, but should you discover that someone else has a copy before you, it will be because I wrote it on paper to fit an envelope. This size notepaper will not go into a ‘green’ envelope without folding.
Doesn’t Arthur Brown* look old in the Observer? & I didn’t know he was Sergt.On leaving the Batt. he only had 2 stripes showing. Of course he was once Acting Orderly Sergeant.Well, I looked over & over again at the photos but could not recognise Brown until I began to read the names underneath.
This morning I received the Refill for the Boots Cooker.I have noticed that the labels always come & do not get torn off. This reminds me that I made a delicious mess tin of coffee for supper with that you sent me; Cliff Hackett*was only too willing to give me ‘du lieu’ (12). Cyril Hinde*returned from Leave a day or so ago. Yesterday I went & talked with him in the field by the huts. He wishes me to say that he was sorry he could not find time to see you.
I am afraid my Sunday letter is not altogether a success.I cannot write properly today somehow, this being a ‘green’. I may enquire of you if that Refill was rather expensive, & ifI have asked you for anything that taxes your pocket? But the advantage of the Refill comes when you send anything to be made into hot drinks& there are no fires to be had; also when our tea& bacongo cold or if we wish to make Welsh Rare Bit.
Oh I won’t arf make ye larf (at least I’ll try my best) in my next letter,but my sketches would not be Sundayfied if I enclosed them with this. I am getting quite aRival of Bairnsfatherand what two tasks have appeared at first incapable of accomplishment have both come out successful to the commendation of all. I have sent Field PCs to all those who wrote last week. I must not forget to tell you I had a letter from Mrs Hurst* today & she told me of her meeting with you & Ida on Monday. Her letter, curious enough, was dated May 17th.
I hope poor Sydney had a Happy Birthday and got your parcels safely. I well remember last year how I smoked his health from a pipe for the 1st time and how the Overends sent him a cake & toffees etc.
Talking about a pipe, you need not send me another – certainly of course not.I am so sorry Ida’s cigarettes have also gone astray.But there seems to be hope after having Miss Bore’s letter & Harold’s parcels from there (13).
Going to hear Mr Darling* preach at Streetly this evening ? (14).
Aren’t these large buttercups (from the trenches)?
Best love to all, Bertie.
According to 8th Sherwood Foresters this part of the Line at Fonquevillers was reported to be ‘about the quietest on the whole of the Western Front’. For the 1/5th South Staffords, it must have been a very welcome relief after the traumas of Vimy Ridge. Apart from the bombardment of 18th & 19th May, many ‘A Quiet Day’ enabled Pte Bertie Hibbett to lose himself in his ‘two tasks’ – writing his Sniper Atkins doggerel and illustrating it in a way that he hoped would make people laugh. He recognised that it was not ‘Sundayfied’ – not really in keeping with Christian values even when read ironically. It makes me recall my question as a child of how many people my father had killed in the War – & his reply that he thought he ‘might have killed one’!
My father’s growing maturity is seen in his attempt to resolve misunderstandings between his brother Sydney & his Mother – and his happiness in resolving those between himself & his best pal Vernon, through their experience of war.
(1) Canister bombs:fired from German trench mortars or minewerfers, exploded ‘with devastating effect causing almost visible shock-waves through the earth. . . very slow moving through the air. . . possible to watch bomb as it approached, turning end over end’ as it fell – but its ‘unnerving tendency to swerve at end of flight’ made direction of escape a matter of guess work. Alan MacDonald:A Lack of Offensive Spirit?
2) Livery Street: communication trench leading to Front Line atFonquevillers. Other names:Stafford Avenue, Lincoln Lane, Leicester Street, Derby Dyke, Roberts Avenue, Rotten Row, Regence Street, Raymond Avenue, Crawlboys Lane. All needed extensive repair before the ‘Big Push‘ to come.
(3) Whizz-bang:Tommy’s slang for light shells/ named for sound made when fired from smaller calibre field guns.
(4) Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby) Regt. 1881: Pte Bertie Hibbett was attached when 1/5th Staffords went to Egypt, Dec 1915/ Jan 1916.
(5) Souastre: small village, Pas-en Artois, over exposed ridge, 2 miles west of Fonquevillers/ damaged. (6) Lucheux: medieval town in Picardie, 18 miles SW of Arras. 12th cent Church & 15th cent Chateaux with moat. Relatively undamaged. See Map: Hibbett Letters 10th May,1916.
(7) Sniper Atkins: (not yet established whether Express & Star or QMS School Magazine published it). Text: Sniper Atkins. Composed by a Sniper.
Sniping Allemands All day long To the tune of British guns. Cooly sniping with A song, Sending greetings to the Huns. I shot 2 shots 3 shots. Sniper Tommy spots a Bosche And gains a ripping goal And he sees him dive – splosh! Down his muddy hole.I shot etc.
Placing five rounds in tin can Then another up the spout Tommy spies another man So gives the Bosche an awful clout. Tommy has a lucky ‘go’ His sharp eye spots the Kaiser. Tommy say Just ‘arf a Mo’ Take this to make you wiser. I shot 2 shots 3 shots etc.
Atkins with his glasses spies A Jerry working party. Keenly marks it with his eyes Just ‘Wait & See’ me hearty. I shot etc. Opponent snipers in some trees Little knowing of their fate, When Tommy snipes at what he sees They’ll sing no more their hymn of hate. 1 Shot 2 shots 3 shots etc.
Atkins aims at a machine gun & hits the Hun behind it. Oh! my word what jolly fun It fairly makes his sides split. I shot 2 shots 3 shots.
(8) Collect for 4th Sunday after Easter.Book of Common Prayer 1662:‘O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful man; Grant unto thy people that they may love the things which thou commandest & desire that which thou dost promise; that so amongst the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys may be found. Through Christ our Lord. (9) Gospel of St John 16.12-13: quotation continues:‘When the Spirit of truth is come, the Spirit will guide you into all truth’.
(10) Pearson’s Magazine:founded 1896 by Sir Cyril Arthur Pearson, blind newspaper magnate, 1866-1921. Founded Daily Express. Founded St Dunstan’s for soldiers blinded in WW1 (now Blind Veterans UK).Publishedshort stories/articles on literature, arts/ politics of ‘socialist bent/ advertisements for patent medicines & ‘get rich quick’ schemes/ first to publish a cross-word.
(11) Northern Command Depot Ripon: for Service/ Labour Units. Also for re-habilitation of soldiers too fit for Convalescent Camp but not yet fit enough to return to their Unit/ the Front.
(12) ‘du lieu’ ‘in the place of’:Cliff Hackett* had given him hot water earlier in week.(13) No 3 Field Ambulance/ Hospital where Pte Bertie went to rest his trench foot and shattered nerves after Vimy Ridge.
(14) Church of All Saints, Streetly: built 1908.6 miles north of Birminghamnear Aldridge & Sutton Coldfield. Named from Icknield Street /Roman Road.
NEXT POST: 24th May 1916.
The WW1 Letters and Drawings of Private Bertie Hibbett, 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, to his family in Walsall, will be posted again, one hundred years on, from August 1914 to November 1918, by his daughter Elizabeth Hibbett Webb. The first posting will be the Recruitment Postcard sent by Queen Mary's Grammar School Headmaster to the Hibbett family on holiday in Abergele, Wales.