Tag Archives: Lyddite shells.

24th APRIL 1915. WULVERGHEM: BOMBS, BULLETS & BISCUITS.

South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

NEUVE EGLISE

April 24th Sat.  Drill – Route March. Working Party of 200 men on G.H.Q. Line, 8 -12 midnight.  

SYDNEY HIBBETT 20 in 1914.
SYDNEY HIBBETT
21st Birthday 17th May 1915..

Lance Corp. SYDNEY HIBBETT: LETTER to sister IDA HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall  – in which he gives a description of Wulverghem village, its shattered Church and Priest’s House. (1)

Saturday Afternoon                                                                                                     April 24th 1915        ‘Himley Hall’ (2)

My Dear Sister Ida,

I am taking this, the first opportunity to answer your last two letters to me.  Many thanks  for your interesting chat and also for your good opinion of our doings.  It cheers one up & eggs one on to know that you are all thinking & praying for us when you have time. 

I was very glad Harold got my letter & ‘love’ & that you saw it.  Ask him if he got my instructions about Eddie & George not touching my Velox motor as it is important (3)  & (4).

I received (also Bert) your letter yesterdaythe post always arrives about tea-time here at the Rest Camp. I was glad to hear from the Overend girls & I sent Winnie a Field PC by return, thanking her for the chocolate, or rather acknowledging the receipt of same & her letter you enclosed.  It is very nice to know these people think of you.

As for courage & determination, I don’t think we remember that when they are shelling us, as I described to you before.  If  you are on sentry  you have to still look over the parapet or through the loophole, as a matter of course, just to see if the beggars are watching the shells burst & then of course you take a sight on the blighter & perhaps over he goes& there’s another for Whitby Abbey! (5).

The Lyddite are the worst shells as the fumes make your eyes smart so that you cannot see properly (6).

Our partner ‘E’ Coy. was shelled again on Wednesday & though not a man was hurt their dugouts & parapets were thrown down & in an awful mess.  Several shells did not burstthere was a distant boom, a swish overhead, bump, but no explosion.  Very funny to see the chaps’ faces when it didn’t burst.   Well we came out of the trenches for the 3rd time on Thursday night at the usual hour when you would be asleep in bed.  What would happen if all of us went to sleep then?

My platoon has not been in the trenches this time.  When the Batt. went in last Sunday night we stopped at a farm in the rear which was our billet for the time (6).  We slept in a barn & though bullets at times flattened themselves on the walls & in the yard we managed to keep clear of them, except for one or two who were hit in the arm & head.  They are bullets that don’t strike the trenches’ parapets, but flying over continue until they descend in the farm which is close to a very much shattered village (7).  

This village (about as big as Uffington (8) would be very pretty in peace time & especially now in the Spring but Good Lord!  it is now a disorderly heap of bricks & wood. Every house is shattered, the church has one wall of the tower left, the clock remains at 6.10, the windows are broken & bent beams lie all around; graves have disappeared & only a great hole remainsThe chairs inside are matchwood.  The Catholic Priest’s house opposite was a very beautiful residence once, but all his pictures & library & household effects are littered about  – valuable theological books are there – still whole, but neglected & dusty.  Then his garden is still beautiful with flowers and shrubs but littered with biscuits (9) & refuse.  In short a ghastly mess. 

Well on Monday, a beautiful hot day, & very still & quiet except for an occasional ping from a passing bullet, I had the job of getting all the good timber floors & doors etc out of these houses & handing it over to the R.E. to make trench gratings etc from Will finish this tomorrow as I am wanted outside.       ***************

Sunday 6.pm.   We have been building up the parapets in our reserve trenches from 10 am till 3 pm & so I am rather tired.  The Germans sent some shells over us which exploded near the village. The holes could be seen & the earth & stuff went skying up.  We were all digging hard, about the time you would be having dinner, when suddenly we heard the swish of the first shell coming over – down we all jumped into the trench & crouched thinking we were their blessed objective – but it passed over & I was just in time to see the shell burst near the village a few hundred yards away.  Well we had it like this for about half an hour, our Territorial battery replying & then it ceased.

It has been very warm todaythe artillery of both sides, especially our own, has been very busy lately & today also.  We could see the gun flashes & hear the blessed shells. 

I received a nice writing pad & material from Miss Negus (10) today & also a lovely box of chocolates & parkin from Auntie Pat* yesterday – nothing is left now!  They had Church parade while we were away digging, so I have read the Psalm over for today myself (11).

Bert’s feet are still bad & he does not do many parades so that he can get them better.  Nothing to worry about.(12)

Must close now.    Best love & wishes,  

Your loving brother,   Sydney.

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

(1) Bruce Bairnsfather. Bullets & Billets. 1916. Chapter XXIII has a similar but more detailed description of the state of the Wulverghem Church & Priest’s House, 1915. The Project Gutenberg ebook  produced by Jonathan Ingram, Steven desJardin & Distributer Proofreader

(2) Himley Hall, Dudley, Staffordshire: Home of the Lords of Dudley* (since 16th Cent. Owners of coal and iron mines) – playful contrast with Sydney Hibbett’s present billet!

(3) Eddie & George – possibly young Hibbett cousins in Yorkshire. (4) Sydney Hibbett’s Velox was one of only 21  automobiles made by Velox Motor Company of Coventry (established 1902. Directors: George H. Davie & A.F. Harris). Grace’s Industrial History Guide.  

(4) Whitby – 16th Dec. 1914 suffered 7 minute German bombardment from sea, .  Abbey seriously damaged. (5) Lyddite is picric acid (Greek for ‘bitter’ reflecting taste/smell): formerly called ( TNP) 2,4,6 trinitrophenol  – primarily an explosive, also used in medicine/anaesthetic.  Lyddite Shells were high explosive shells, capable of piercing armour, used in Boer War & WW1.  Common Lyddite shells detonated/ fragmented into small pieces in all directions (but no fire). See Pte Bertie Hibbett’s letter of 23rd April, 1915.

(6Souvenir Farm/ Ration Farm? (7 ) Wulverghem. (8) Uffington in Lincolnshire (2 miles east of Stamford, i.e. close to Rutland – early 19th century home of Hibbett family). 

(9) Biscuits. It occurs to me (brought up in a Vicarage) that these  could be large unconsecrated Priest’s wafers ready for the Mass – even if a more humble biscuit they create a poignant image.  

(10Miss Negus (unable to trace). (11Psalm for 24th day of month: Ps.116 -119. Book of Common Prayer, 1662.

(12Bertie Hibbett’s April letters make no mention of his sore feet (no doubt to allay his Mother’s anxiety) but to be excused parade is indicative of something to worry about‘. 

NB  Useful Links: Hellfire Corner. The North Staffordshire Regiment at Wulverghem.  Contains pictures of Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Trench 8. <http://hellfirecorner.co.uk/wulverghem.htm  >

Bruce Bairnsfather: Bullets & Billets ebook

NEXT POST: 25th APRIL 1915. Letter from Godmother Mary Foster, Fernleigh, Nottingham.

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23rd APRIL 1915. WULVERGHEM: ‘EXCITING TIME’ RATION FATIGUE & GAS ALERT!

GAS MASK DRAWING: Pte BERTIE HIBBETT Dec.1915.
A CHRISTMAS GHOST:  GAS MASK DRAWING: Pte BERTIE HIBBETT. Dec.1915.  ‘They rose suddenly from the earth,wearing  smoke helmets over their faces, and looking not like soldiers but like devils.’

SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

NEUVE EGLISE.  April 18th. Sun Practice in crossing barbed wire entanglements. Bn paraded for Trenches 7.20 pm. Casualties. Wounded: 8948 Pte C. Weaver, ‘C’ Coy wounded during relief.  83 02 Pte L. Benton ‘B’ Coy wounded while carrying rations. Now possible to visit all Trenches by daylight.

April 19th Mon.  WULVERGHEM Trenches.  Fired on German working party opposite 10b trench. Outburst of rapid fire from German trenches about 3.30 a.m. Two H.E. followed by two shrapnel fired at S.P.4 at 6.0 am. No damage. Casualty: 9468 Pte J.T. Stanley ‘C’ Coy wounded.
April 20th Tue.  Six rounds shrapnel fired by German artillery at 120a left. No casualties. Trenches  8 (Bertie’s) & 9 troubled by German sniping from MESSINES..
April 21st Wed.  Further sniping along 8 & 9 trenches. Casualties: 9199 Pte A. Walker; 8817 Pte R.W. Hempshall, both ‘A’ Coy, wounded. Two HE shells & two shrapnel  burst near & over SOUVENIR FARM about 1 pm. Casualty: Major J. Lees wounded.  6 H.E. shells fell in Wulverghem about 1.30 pm. 16  H.E. shells burst in & near Trench 9, doing much damage to parapet of 9b.  Working parties brought in & fire 10 rounds) opened on German Trenches at 10.30 pm.  Casualty: Pte Hounslow  ‘D’ Coy wounded (died later).
April 22nd Thur. Lt Cozens* & Pte Thorne exploded grenade in German Listening Post at 2.am and returned safely. Relieved by 1/6th South Staffs.  Marched to BULFORD CAMP. Fumes of asphyxiating gas caused smarting of eyes. Received warning to be prepared to embus at short notice. (1)
April 23rd Fri.  NEUVE EGLISE.  Bath & cleaning up. Working party of 200 men on G.H.Q. line. 8 – 12 midnight.
**************************************** 

Bertie in UniformPTE BERTIE HIBBETT LETTER to sister IDA HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.                                                                                                            Friday April 23/ 15 (White envelope, Post Date 27th).

My Dear Sister,  

A simple address  –  I won’t say dearest or dear dear or very dear and couldn’t say darling!  Yet I guess that Sid and I love our only sister with infinite love & I find it difficult sometimes to keep it from sentiment, for we seem to love one another more when we are apart than when we are together at home, what say you? yet again I guess you often wish us to be at home again.

The censor is growing stricter.  I am afraid of letting you know in detail the exciting time we have had this week. 

We have not spent our time in the trenches but have been on fatigue carrying rations & other things to the trenches, making about 3 journeys each night.  Pretty exciting. (2)   Well I must keep this letter quite free from officialism.

The more you say or think your letters not good enough the more we like them.  Your last letters we received today are simply ripping and so homely and above all the letter from E. Overend* brings back old 106 New Rowley Rd Days (3).

The PICKWICK CLUB of 1905.
The PICKWICK CLUB of 1905: scribbled note amongst Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Letters.

Has the 13 years gone yet?  Where are the members of the Pickwick Club? (4)

October 1905. The Pickwick Magazine.  Editor: Sam Weller M.P.C. (M. Overend)

Motto: NIL  DESPERANDO (sic) (5)

Sam Pickwick PresidentI. Hibbett. Augs. Snodgrass MemberS. Hibbett. (8 yrs).  Sam Weller MemberM. Overend*. Tracy Tupman  Member – Bertie Hibbett (7 yrs). Sam Wardle Member I. Cozens(?). Nath Winkle MemberD. Cozens(?).

Has Dodger come back from his holidays yet? –  if not he is thoroughly enjoying himself?   Did all your ears burn ?  I mean those of Mother, Dad’s as well as yours, on Monday teatime? – because you can picture us in a ruined farmyard eating with enjoyment the sardines, butter & finishing off Mother’s currant bread.  Tell Mother the bread kept lovely & light, not dry in the least.  We get tins of butter now & again, but we preferred the butter from home with the currant loaf.

Don’t forget to try & send us one or two different photos of the family, especially a good one of MotherI have not one of Mother close to.  I hope Harold will get settled well at Bedale (6) rather a long way from Mother.  He will make a third one away won’t he?

Miss Foster would be greatly interested in what and where we are, so could you send her a Walsall paper now and again giving her a description of our experiences?  as I dare not say much in these letters.  You can tell the Overends* we QMS (7) boys manage to keep together most times.  Lucky isn’t it? 

I will finish this in the candle light.   Sid and I received a parcel of chocolates and parkin from Auntie* (8), so have you written to York then?

I could do with another towel.   Best love, Bertie.

PS I should like to say a lot  – what the censor will not allow but you will be patient won’t you & wait till we get home –  it is with regard to an officer I like very much indeed.  You will hear of him in the Walsall papers I dare say. (9)

Sid will tell you of the queer coincidences with regard to a parcel from good Mrs Penning*.

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

(1) ‘Fumes of asphyxiating gas’: April 22nd 1915 marked the first use of POISON GAS by the Germans on unprotected French troops at Ypres. Until I read Simon Jones‘ article in the Guardian (for 22nd April) that the smell of chlorine gas spread for ‘miles around’, I thought this 1/5th S. Staffs War Diary reference was to the fumes caused by exploding  Lyddite shells (see Sydney Hibbett’s letter to his sister, 24th April 1915).  Wulverghem is less than 8 miles from Ypres and the order to be ready to ’embus’ at short notice could well indicate poison gas alert.

My father’s drawing ‘A Christmas Ghost’ is included in his Christmas Letters of December 1915 – as if he had only just been issued with a ‘smoke helmet‘.

2Ration fatigues had to be made at night because of the danger from snipers.  Ration Farm,  (La Plus Douve) half a mile east of Wulverghem, south of road to Messines (Mesen) was most probably where Bertie met up with his brother after his absence in March.

(3) 106 New Rowley Rd, Walsall; where Hibbett family first lived in Walsall, before moving opposite to 95, Foden Rd. (4) The Pickwick Club seems to have been formed by Ida & Mollie or May Overend  for adventures and to share observations  – vis a vis Dickens’ novel Pickwick Papers. (More to come in 1916 Letters Home).

(5)Nil Desperandum – Never despair!  (6) Bedale, Yorkshire; Harold’s new post as Shop Manager, retail Chemist (cf.1911 Census)(7) QMS i.e. Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall. (8) Auntie Pattie (Pat) Yoxall/Neal? unable to trace on family tree/ possibly lived in north Manchester.

(8) Lieut Tim Cozens* see S. Staffs War Diary above 22nd April 1915. Also Walsall Observer for April 1915. 

NEXT POST: 24th April, 1915. Wulverghem Village: bombs, bullets & biscuits.