Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Wallesley, New Brighton, Cheshire: LETTER to ARTHUR & MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Monday Morning. 20.11 16.
National Mission (1):– ‘God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in His Church, even to the reforming of the Reformation itself; what does he then but reveal Himself to His servants, and as His manner is, first to His Englishmen.’ Milton’s Areopagitica (2).
My Dear Mother, Father, & hmm . . . Isn’t it awkward to begin for you are all dear to me.
I dreamt such a dream last night. I dreamt I saw a host of cavalry, the men wearing glittering gold helmets like the French Cuirassiers (3).
I thought they were Germans at first, then French, as I saw them in the distance on the road, then as I turned in the opposite direction who should I see but Sydney mounted on a charger with a banner in his hand & what appeared to be a helmet covered with leaves (4), he came galloping along & gave me the impression he was a messenger to tell us the enemy was near. The dream went on, he & I were on the top of an old barn, then we were with father.
I had not dreamt of Sydney much since you left New Brighton & I wished I would & so I did last night. I should so much like him to keep me company today & give me advice on matters.
Yesterday I spent a very quiet Sunday, although it rained. I read Milton’s works in the afternoon & Mother’s book The Prince of the House of David (5), in the evening. I have got to the letters where Adina loses all hope in Our Lord & where she resolves not to believe in the righteousness of men. How she sorrows to think that so good a ‘Man’ was ‘dead’ & she was still alive. I think of Sydney now & compare: it is comforting to know he is not really dead, but if we allow ourselves to disregard Christianity he will then appear dead to us, just like Adina, who was either ignorant or doubtful as to Our Lord’s coming Resurrection.
Christmas is drawing very near now; my arm is growing gradually stronger, but still has not yet healed up – keeps breaking out in little holes – all I have is a hot fomentation & some lotion to stop it from going septic. So Doctor Utting* could easily do that (6): now what I am aiming at is – could Dad write to Schlater* (7), 3 Earlston Rd. Liscard N.B. for just 3 or 4 days at Home or even 2 if I should happen to be here by Christmas. The other day he said :- ‘I know you would like to be here for Christmas (or something to that effect)’. Perhaps it is rather early as yet. We will consider the matter eh!’
I had a very nice letter from Okoo* (Basil) yesterday. He’s a decent sport to do me some photos. Nurse Wilcox* wishes to have one.
Not being able to think of more to say excepting we too are having dull & cold weather. Oh! just had a letter from Mary* ( Godmother Foster), they had snow in Nott:(ingham).
Best love, Your ever affec. Bertie.
‘The War will soon be over now’ wrote Sgt Sydney Hibbett in his last letter home before the ‘Big Push’ of 1st July 1916. Both Pte Bertie Hibbett and his brother had volunteered in the hope to fight and save their country & the world. With the Battle of the Somme failing to make any real headway from the very first day, after so much expectation of success and with such horrendous loss of life, there was a growing awareness in a grieving nation that the War could not be over soon.
This letter shows how close Pte Bertie Hibbett was to his brother, Sydney (only 13 months between them) and how he endeavoured to make sense of what had happened to them both. Characteristically he takes comfort from his vivid dream of his brother as a knight in shining armour – and creates links between John Milton’s 17th Century call for ‘a reforming of the Reformation’ and the Church’s present call for National Repentance & Hope.
(1) The National Mission of Repentance & Hope launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson & the Archbishop of York, Cosmo Lang. Oct. 1916. See A Monument of Fame: The Lambeth Palace Library blog: 13th March, 2016.
‘We are to repent not because we believe we are guilty of provoking this war but because we, together with other nations that profess to be Christian, have failed to learn how to live together as a Christian family, how to set forth Christ to the peoples who do not know Him. Because it is clear that the Spirit of love does not rule our relations with one another at home, anymore than it rules the relations between nations’.
‘We look forward to a new England & a new world’. . . ‘The nation was invited ‘to reflect their attitudes, weaknesses & passions & repent in hope of a better world’. . . ‘ . The Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington Ingram said: ‘The Mission is to be like the coming of Spring . . . that under the breath of the Spirit “a desert may rejoice & blossom as the rose”. Church Times, March, 1916. [See also Hibbett Letter 20th July 1916, from the Vicar of Walsall, the Revd J.J.Key] .
(2) John Milton, 1608 -1674. English poet, man of letters, civil servant to Oliver Cromwell.
Milton’s Areopagitica: ‘For the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing‘ was a passionate philosophical defence of the right of freedom of speech / an appeal to Parliament to rescind the Licensing Act of 16th June,1643, on state control of printing, speech & thought. See <http://www.stlawrenceinstitute.org>
(3) French Cuirassiers: Cavalry Armour Bearers similar to Medieval Men at Arms, last fielded in WW1 (‘from ‘cuirass’ breast-plate armour).
(4) Sydney’s Helmet covered with leaves (laurel wreath of victory) reflects symbolism of Green Man with leaves pouring from his mouth/archetypal image of Renewal & New Life. cf Sir Gawain & the Green Knight/ 14th Cent. Arthurian Poem.
(5) ‘The Prince of the House of David, or Three Years in the Holy City’. The Revd Professor Joseph Holt Ingraham (F. Clinton Barrington)1809 -1860.
Title reads: ‘being a Series of Letters of Adina, a Jewess of Alexandria, sojourning in Jerusalem in the days of Herod, addressed to her father, a wealthy Jew of Egypt (Manasseh Benjamin) and relating, as if by an eye-witness, all the scenes & wonderful incidents of the Life of Jesus from his Baptism in Jordan to his Crucifixion on Calvary.
(6) Dr Utting *: Hibbett Family Doctor in Walsall. Cared for Ida during her last illness,1921 (cancer from working in ammunitions factory). Their graves both lie in the Churchyard of St Michael & All Angels, Rushall, Walsall, a Sunday evening’s walk from 95, Foden Rd.
(7) Dr N.C. Schlater*: Pte Bertie’s Doctor at the Cenacle Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, about to arrange an operation on his arm & wrist before Christmas 1916.
NEXT POST: 21st. NOV. 1916. The Times Report: The Battle of Ancre, the end of the Battle of the Somme.