Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire:LETTER toArthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
Aug. 28th/ 16.
‘Be thou faithful unto the end, and I will give thee a crown of life’. (1)
If I am not far wrong it is the eventful day of Basil being called up for Service. The picture and the words I got from the Calendar(2) for Sat. 26th are most appropriate.
May Our Heavenly Father bless, protect and prosper him, and strengthen the patience combined with love in my dear brave Mother;as forDaddie, Proverbsteaches us a beautiful saying, that the glory of children are their fathersic, ‘how venerable is a father in the sight of his son who has returned from the wars’ (3).
Well Miss Foster*, Mary, gets over me, I had another nice letter from her today, she takes away my sorrow. . .
The National Registration Act of July 1915 was intended to boost voluntary enlistment. It failed. The census (in which Ida Hibbett played her part in Walsall Town Hall)revealed that 5 million males of military age were not in the forces and 1.6 million were ‘starred’ (i.e. protected by high or scarce skilled jobs). See Hibbett Letter: 21st Oct.1915.
Since the South Staffords embarked for France in 1915, Basil Hibbett had been keen to join his brothers at the Front but they had done their best to dissuade him from attesting until he was compelled to do so. See Hibbett Letter: 28 April 1916.
The Military Service Act, 27th Jan 1916, of necessity, introduced conscription for men aged between 19 -41 years – so Basil had no choice but to attest after his 18th Birthday (1st May 1916). According to The Long Long Trail website these ‘Class A’ men were given a day’s pay, transferred to Section B Army Reserve & sent back home until they received their ‘call up’ papers.
Bertie states that Basil was to be ‘called-up’ on 28th Aug., but he must have meant ‘attest’ for in September Basil wrote to him about bringing in a ‘late harvest’ at East Soham, Suffolk.
Basil Hibbett was given a grey armband with a red crown as a sign that he had volunteered. The biblical significance of the crown on the arm band was not lost on Bertie.
(1) Revelation 2.10.Exact wording KJVBible: ‘Be thou faithful unto death & I will give thee a crown of life’.
(2) Painting: ‘Faithful unto Death’.Roman Sentry at Pompeii. Eruption of Vesuvius, AD 79.Edward John Poynter,Pre-Raphaelite Painter.1836-1919. Copy cut from Walsall Parish Church Calendar?). See ‘Pompeii Live from the British Museum’.<http://www.britishmuseum.org>
(3) Proverbs 17.6: Children’s children are the crown of old men; & the glory of children is their fathers’. Second half of quotation ‘how venerable is a father’ not found in Proverbs (possibly paraphrase of saying in Homer’s Iliad? Homer: 8th Cent BC. considered first & greatest of Greek epic poets, foundation of European Literature.
CHARLES LE BON, Headmaster, Blue Coat School Walsall (?): LETTER to BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire. 82, Charlotte St. Walsall (1)
Aug 25th 1916.
My Dear Bertie,
Many and many a time have I thought of you and the other gallant lads that I watched walk up Park St. one day in September 1914.
There you all were in mufti marching away to do your duty and to respond to your country’s call for men. Those were the days before Lord Derby’s Scheme (2) and prior to the Military Act(3) when all of the proper age are compelled to serve.
What England owes to those men who joined up in the first month of the war none can ever tell, and words fail me when I wish to express my admiration and feeling towards those numerous old boys of mine who responded so early.
You know better than I do what it has meant to you all. How you sacrificed your homes, your positions, your comfort and everything that one should hold dear in this world. I do not differentiate between any of you; all were noble, self-sacrificing gallant lads, and I am proud that you were amongst the number.
Don’t think that I ever doubted you. I know your noble nature too well, and if I wrote all I think of you I may be accused of being a fulsome flatterer and lacking in sincerity. I feel that you know me well enough to write what I mean.
Since you have been on Active Service I have made regular and frequent enquiries concerning your welfare, and when I heard that you had been wounded I was deeply grieved for yourself and the other members of your family. I have made numerous enquiries concerning your progress, but I forbore going to your parents because I felt that to talk about you would only increase their worry.
I am pleased to know that you are making fairly good progress, and I sincerely trust and pray that such may continue and that in the fullness of God’s blessings you may ultimately be restored to your parents safe and sound. I was highly delighted to learn of the great patience and fortitude you have shown in the hour of your great misfortune and I feel sure that such manly conduct will meet with its just reward.
We all take comfort in the worn out saying that things may have been much worse. It appears to me very cold comfort, but then we must try and be philosophic, and with brave hearts and cool courage fight against misfortunes and troubles, and with God’s help prove ourselves superior to the multitude of worries that surround us, and appear to be overwhelming us.
My Dear Bertie, I am writing with the hope that this expression of my sympathy towards you will in some small way help you to bear your great burden, and will also afford you some comfort in your illness, and perhaps the knowledge that what you have done is fully appreciated, by us who are left at home, will also assist you and comfort you.
Mrs Le Bon heartily joins with me and wishes to be remembered very kindly to you and I will close with our sincere best wishes for your welfare and fond remembrances of a brave and noble boy.
Believe me to remain,
Very Sincerely Yours, Charles Le Bon.
The overwhelming impact of the Battle of the Somme on those at Home, and the respect & affectionate regard shown towards all who had volunteered in 1914 is clear in this letter.
From the style of writing, as well as the reference to ‘those numerous old boys of mine’, the writer appears to be a teacher, possibly at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, but more likely Charles Le Bon was the Head Master of the Blue Coat Elementary School in Walsall. Sydney, Bertie & Basil Hibbett all attended this school before attending the Grammar School.
(1) Charlotte Street:the next street to the Hibbett Family Home, 95 Foden Road., a popular professional middle-class area in Walsall, close to the Arboretum.
(3) The National Registration Act resulted from the huge number of trench warfare casualties 1915. See Hibbett Letter, 21st Oct. 1915. Ida Hibbett volunteered at WalsallTown Hall, helping to create a Card Index of Men Availablefor Military Service. 29 million forms were issued: Granite Blue forms for Men andWhite forms for Women. A Pink Form was completed for each Granite Blue Form, if that man was between the age of 18 and 41 years.Local Recruiting Officers began canvassingbut the hoped-for recruits did not materialise. The Military Service Act, amounting to conscription, was then passed on 27th Jan. 1916.Basil Hibbett, just 18, the youngest of the family, had now no choice but to attest and await call up.
NEXT POST: 28th Aug. 1916. ‘Be thou faithful unto death’.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, No 3 FIELD AMBULANCE N. MIDLANDS DIVISION: THE PICKWICKIAN LEAFLET to IDA HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Envelope: THE PICKWICKIAN LEAFLET, Active Service Supplement of The Pickwick Magazine,Organ of a Pickwick Club. (1)
cont: No 1. ISSUED MONTHLYThis month’s leaflet is dedicated to ‘OurDodger’ and ‘May’ O. On back: ‘Oh! If you like you can send this to May Overend*’ (2).(Censor A. S. Hoads)
Many Happy returns to Basil & May but we hope that we shall be enjoying ‘Peace’ next May Day. I wish I had made a decent article but being on Active Service I can’t start afresh see over . . .
NO I. MONDAY MAY 1st 1916. MONTHLY.
News from the Papers.Not a reflection uponDe Coverley (3). I could not help thinking that this name of ‘Sir Roger’ has been disgraced. Goldsmith’s ‘Sir Roger’was a good man, but the one who was put in the Tower of London ought instead to be shut up in a case of cement, then the noble knight would not even have a chance to ‘Wait & See’ what his Case meant, and repent.
Women War Workers(4).What does Tommy on Home Leave think of ‘her’ who salutes and exclaims ‘Sir’ in the street, whenever they meet to greet him? Although I heartily agree with Women War Workers & congratulate their good workat the same timeI should not like to see ‘Pickwick’ in masculine dress salute me at the door and address me as ‘Sir’ when I go on Leave.Pickwickyou remember, when the Club was in being, was the name given to Ida.
On the Recruiting Crisis(5).Rise fellow men! Our country yet remains. By that dread name We wave the sword on high, And swear for Her to live, For Her to die(6).This Easter tide ought to give us, along with its bright weather, a stimulus.This Spring we hope is the Herald of Victory before the Autumn. In any case `Victory’ will, in the end, be for the ‘Allies’.
Members Birthdays. Today the weather is beautiful, just the ideal May Day weather, & I hope the members of the Pickwick Club are enjoying Happy Birthdays.
Where Home Epistles Go!‘I wonder what my son is doing at this very minute’,sais a Motherwho has just sat down to write a letter to her son at the Front. There are many who ask this to themselves & there are many at Home who wonder, not only where their friends & relatives are, but where their letters find them. I have received letters in places you would not dream of. The number of letters I have had while in the trenches are many, so also those received while encamping for the four or five days before going into the trenches again.
I have had letters while in barns of old farms,in caveslike those of Linley Caverns (7) besideshuts, theatres, schoolsanddugouts. The daughter of Flo’s’ letter (8) I read at the entrance of a cavern, a letter from Father was read in a half tumble down dugout dripping with water and amidst the sound of rats squeaking.Many letters have been read by a log fire in an old barnand by the brazier in the trench.I shall never forget the letter I read as soon as daylight was strong enough.
It goes without saying that all the letters are welcome to Tommy, he is so eager & keen to open them that he takes first opportunity no matter what is preventing. I once read a letter on the side of the road when I went for rations & had one handed to me from theQMS.
A detailed account of one or two letters ‘where they went to’ will be given in each monthly issue of the paper. Look out to see where your next letter reached me.
More Articles. The Pickwickian Leaflet, as its name implies,consists of literature on one page only. I have only been able to give a few articles this time. but I shall try to put more articles in next month; but it will be a case ofMultum in Parvo (9).
Yours sincerely, Winkle (10).
(1) The Pickwick Club: See Hibbett Letters 23rd April 1915; also 7th, & 13th Sept and 26th Dec. 1915.
Transcription left: October 1905. The Pickwick Magazine. Editor: Sam Weller MPC (May Overend*). Motto: NIL DESPERANDO (Never Despair).
Sam PickwickPresident: I Hibbett. Augustus Snodgrass Member: Sydney Hibbett(8 yrs). Sam Weller Member: May Overend. Tracy TupmanMember: Bertie Hibbett (7 yrs). Sam Wardle Member:I. Cozens*. Nath(anual) Winkle Member: D Cozens* (10 yrs). NB The Cozens were sons of W.H. Cozens*, Superintendant of St Paul’s Sunday School Walsall, lived at Furzedown, Streetly Lane, Sutton Coldfield, mentored Bertie Hibbett’s Sunday School work from 1913.
(3) Sir Roger de Coverley: character in The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, The Spectator 1711 (daily publication byJoseph Addison (1st May 1672- 1719) & Richard Steele ). An English Squire with values of old country gentleman, ‘lovable but ridiculous’, politics ‘silly but harmless’. <http://http://www.enwiki.com> and http://www.enotes.com/topic/sir-roger-de-coverley/critical essays> ‘a gentleman of Worcester, of ancient descent, a baronet/ ‘quaint & lovable representation of Tory landowning class an aimiable but rather inneffectual anachronism’. Also a English/Scottish country dance, published c 1695.
Oliver Goldsmith 1728-1774: Anglo-Irish novelist, poet, dramatist. (NB I am unable to discover connection with Sir Roger or with 1916 newspaper).
(4) Women War Workers/women in uniform. See Hibbett Letter Cartoon 28th April 1916.
(5)The Recruitment Crisis 1916. Military Service Act (27th Jan. 1916): compulsory conscription of 19- 41 yr old men/ no choice given re service, regiment or unit. Age lowered to 18 yrs on 25th May 1916. Tribunal Appeals (re illness, disability, ‘starred occupation’ – essential work on Home Front) meant Military Act failed to deliver numbers required. <http://www.1914-1918.com> Long Long Trail.
(6) Rise fellow men! –Sir Thomas Lawrence Campbell,1777-1844, Scottish Poet – re Battle of Maciejowice, Poland 10th Oct. 1794 (Russians defeated the Poles).
(7) 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> Urban Exploration at Linley Caverns. 1957(Walsall Observer:16th Aug.1957).
(8) i.e. Flo’s daughter’s letter: Flo? (9) Multum in Parvo:Latin ‘Much in a small space‘. (10) Winkle:a Pickwick Club name for Bertie. NB the Pickwick Club note above, gives him as Tracy Tupman.
NEXT POST: 10th 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.