Tag Archives: Neuve Chapelle Trenches 1915.

23RD NOV. 1915: A MERRY PARTY OF TOMMIES AT ‘A ROUGH TIME – A COLD TIME – A NIGHTLY TIME’.

South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

BRIGADE  RESERVE : LORETTO ROAD

22nd Nov. Mon:  V. Quiet day. Enemy shrapnelled Communication Trenches. Relieved by 4th Batt. KINGS LIVERPOOL Regt from LIVERPOOL STREET to CHURCH ROAD.  1/5th Bat NORTH STAFFORDSHIRE Regt took over trench NORTH of CHURCH ROAD. 1/6th Batt. SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE Regt took over trench SOUTH of LIVERPOOL STREET.

23rd Nov. Tue: LORETTO ROAD.  In Brigade Reserve in  ‘C’ SUBSECTOR Rest Houses.

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BERTIE HIBBETT: 19 in 1914.
BERTIE HIBBETT:
19 in 1914.

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT:  LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95  Foden Rd Walsall.

Tuesday Night. November 23/ 15

A Merry Party of Tommies.

My Dearest Mum, Dad & all,

What  really ripping parcels you have sent lately, and the best of it  – they have really come at a very happy & convenient time.  The one & the only one which was brought into the trenches that day. Indeed the towel came also very timely  to cleanse my very dirty black fuzzy wig & the toffee too came at an acceptable time,  a rough time, a cold time, a time when my tummy felt cold & frozen, a nightly time. 

Zebra Polish Tin c. 1930.
Zebra Polish Tin.  c.1930.

And oh the handsome Zebra Polish tin, – so neatly packed with rich, delightful, delicious, appetising confectionery – came at a most welcome time & a jolly time.

We came out of the trenches yesterday & after a long tedious march through the long. . . (censored). . . with our packs & overcoats on as usual, we settled down for the night in this barn where I am writing  – or trying to write a letter of thanks, expressing my heart’s love to you for such good, homely comforts.

Round the barn are seated Tommies & in the centre is a blazing warm coke fire.  Such a comfy sightA sight which has set our hearts aglow and which had made us feel like having a sing song of some sort.  At length the Corporal proposed a little concertAfter much persuasion I volunteered to give them one.  I only wished ’’The Highwayman’ (1) had come timely too, at any rate the recitation I gave these men was fresh to them.  Oh how they clapped & how their attention was drawn, they listened with keen interest & all was quiet.

Mum, the Pork pie came ‘at the right’ as Dad puts it.  The Parcel came by the second post when we were all laid down to sleep, but with the help of the candles, thanks so much for them, I laid the parcel outVernon, I am glad to say, got with me for the night & we enjoyed a slice of pork pie eachEverything in the parcel came in nicely, something suitable for each meal of the day; the pork pie & a hot drink of coffee with the milk you sent for dinner, those tasty crisp flat cakes for a sweet after breakfast, the wholesome fancy bread loaf & butter for tea, the apples, one each eaten on waking up this morning. 

Sllep Trenchese93063fb23c8b5fbd33cccfeb68c38a2
Poor Vernon had caught his chill & lost his voice sleeping in trenches like this. <https://www.pinterest.com&gt;

I could only find Vernon’s nose to rub the cold little apple on, he had huddled himself in the blanket overcoat & had his sleeping helmet on, his head was buried in his clothing.

The thick lovely chocolate came nicely between meals & a lump helped to stay Vernon’s coughVernon, poor chap, has lost his voice again & has a cold the same one he had at Saffron Walden (2); don’t say anything to his people, he would be huffy with I – oh my!

Mum, it was a homely tea.  I toasted the two slices of the lovely loaf & spread some of the lovely home butter on & then, Mum, I had that which you love, Damson Jam on TOP of the jolly lot.  Then I had some of the simply superb Genoa  nut cakeVernon said it was very nice & the bread too.  But, poor boy, he could not enjoy a second or rather as much pie as I offered him.  It was fine & he did enjoy it all the more.

Don’t be, I hope you aren’t, anxious about your long & many lettersyou have so laid your spare time, yes & even taken some of your time for attending to domestic affairs.  How my heart leaps in gratitude to you when you talk of being busy in making things for Xmas time.

Just had a most jolly letter from Sydney, he told me not to send it Home it was so childish.

9.0 pm. The conclusion of this letter has been delayed through fatigue duties  & V & I have been transferred from comfy billets to next door where there is no fire

Well Ta Ta.  Goodnight pip, pip.  I pray you will have a good night’s sleep, although you might get this in a morning.

Best love to all, will write to Dodger soon & send a Boomerang to Champion in reply to her champion epistles.

What oh! Jolly old Flo.

Bertram Arfer.

PS   Nil.  Napou.  Finis.  Oosh Cha. (3)

I will gollop down the last piece of bread & butter with cake betweenand Verney will share in & we are both settling down to sleep the night through.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

Pte Bertie’s jolly rhymes & school-boy jargon reflects his happy mood at the success of his Concert party-piece, despite the move fromcomfy billets&blazing coke fire‘ – on which he had no doubt made his toast

(1) The Highwayman. Alfred Noyes: 1880-1958. cf Letter: 5th Nov. 1915.  (2) Saffron Walden, Essex. Training. Letters: Dec. 1914 Jan 1915.

(3) Nil (Latin ‘nothing more‘); Finis (Latin ‘the end’); Napou: soldier French for ‘finis; Oosh cha: a tea-time cheer?/ from Hindi cha/tea?  Ta Ta/ Pip Pip are cheery farewells; but what is ‘Jolly old Flo’?

NEXT POST:  27th Nov. 1915.

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14TH NOV. 1915: IN THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND: UP TO MY EYES IN MUD MUDDY-MUD – & RATS!

South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

NEUVE CHAPELLE TRENCHES

12th Nov. FriEnemy very quiet. HILL STREET REDOUBT taken over from 1/6th Batt North Staffordshire Regt. and fire trench from HILL STREET to OXFORD STREET from 4th Batt Kings Liverpool Regiment.  CASUALTY: KILLED:  9308 Pte E Stevens.

13th Nov. Sat:  Enemy very quiet.

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings : Neuve Chapelle Trenches. Listening Post.  Trench full of water; bay at end of Seat 6.  Corp. Brewin* in charge.’ 

LETTER to Mr & Mrs ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. 

24th Sunday after Trinity. Nov 14/ 15

‘Unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness’. 1st Epistle. Col.13.1.

My Dearest Brave Mother, and Ida, as well as Daddie and Dodgy,

Mud, mud, muddy, muddy – MUD & clay toonow laugh!  Up to my eyes in mud.  There are two Tommies squatting in a muddy, muddy, mud-hole trying to write letters HOME with our hands all over mud & clay, just like gloves Yes I am not going to be done inI am not going to break the record of Sunday letters, and today especially.  I received Ida’s letter & Basil’s enclosed yesterday & read them with jollification, they did make me feel happier afterwards.

Vernon & I – Vernon, I am fonder of him nowfelt awfully fond  of him last night when we had to do the work of impossibilityThe Slough of Despond – clear some thick clay out of a trench (1).

A parcel, the only one in the post, came this morning – a sergeant brought it up – it was MINE – I saw with delight Dad’s writing.  But I had to hurry & go on a working party from 9 – 12. 30 this morning so I opened it this dinner time.

Stop a minute while I just pop one of those lumps of toffee Mummy’s homemade butterscotch made with butter, treacle & sugar – what nice sugar it is in the parcel.  What lovely TOFFEE dears. I’ve just given Vernon a Chief of Whip Cig.  I don’t smoke on Sundays.  Aren’t I narrow minded eh!

Now I will answer & tell you about everything.  I could write lots & fill heaps & piles of note paper but have got only three left like this.  I read Mum’s & Ida’s letters in the parcelMum’s of Oct 31st.  and Champion’s long, interesting letter.  I vidided (sic) a lovely applethey are nice & juicyamong two other muddy Tommies because, you see dear Mum, I’m like you, you said you would have liked to be with me looking round the shops in Rouen, to share with the pleasure,  –  so I cannot, I could not enjoy your parcels if I eat all myselfI want others to see & taste how good the things are I have from Home.  I made some coffee out of the parcel you sent to Sydney & I did enjoy it. – – – –

Shall have to stop here, I have been called to the working party again to fill sand bags.  When we come back I shall have a good tea out of the currant bread & fresh butter.

10.30 pm.  Oh dearest Mummy I could say heaps & heaps.  Post came while I was on fatigue tonight & I got your letter dated Nov 10th, also another letter but I read yours first & cannot wait until I have read the other but I must finish this first.

Well Verny & I had a ripping tea out of the currant bread & butter, which he said he quite enjoyed, he also wants me to convey thanks to you for an egg I gave him – he loves eggs.  Also I gave him a hankie because we have been using an old rag this wet weather & poor boy he is longing to hear from home & get a parcel.  Hospital has upset such a lot.

WW1 brazier
WW1 Brazier. Ghosts of World War 1 <http://evangelineholland.com&gt;

The toffee was lovely & I wished I had taken some out on fatigue as I thought of doing, but decided to save some for an emergency. The jujubes are good too.  Oh of course I have not finished the tea, but I thought I would have a change & make some coffee.  We have been working all day & had very little time to fetch & boil water.

Vernon was giving up the idea, but I made up my mind to have a hot drink of some sort, so I coaxed a chap for the use of a fire & some water & consequently, with the timely aid of Mrs Hurst’s* milk, I made some Homemade Cafe de Luxe, better far than the Cafe au lait tinned you know. 

Dearest Mum, & all of you I’m afraid I shall have to conclude my Sunday letter, but must just have a word about rats.

 . . . . . .    Oh! rats, owls & cats.  Lean rats, fat rats, scrabbling rats, squealing rats, biting rats & gormandizing rats.  Muddy rats and  – oh! mice, little mice, wee mice, muddy mice & sprinting stealing, thieving mice & oh my! can you just picture a bright moon & a frosty night, an owl is seen to fly over the trench & our heads & gives its weirdtoo hoot’ & a stealthy pussy cat, a black cat, comes crawling on the top of the trench of sand bags after vermin.  . . . . . . 

Rats: & Rat catcher WW1.
Rats & Rat Catcher WW1. <http://www.digventure.com >

Such is the life, but  very VERY HAPPY & Jolly at times because of news from Home Sweet Home.

Oh Mum, & all of you I pray that you will comfort one another, especially Ida.  I think she is really splendid, her letters are so chatty & interesting, (of course I firmly believe she has no influence under or from Phyllis C* (2 ).

So Mr Henry Cozens* wanted my address.  I think this other letter is from him, let’s see.  Oh so it is & such a pleasant one too.  Yes, Capt. Tim*(3) made himself like one of the Privates when talking to us.  Sydney will be excused writing lengthy letters in Hospital, but I think I shall have to stop now.

Our late Capt L. (4) kindly asked after Sydney, but all I could say was that I had not heard from him yet, but read about him from a Sergeant who said he was having a ripping time,  ‘I hope he will have a still better one at Christmas if he stays there till then’.

 – – – I must not leave out the tinned cream.  How funny Mummy it goes well with fruit but not so with teaVernon had cream because of the fruit  – – –

You will not have had my letters so promptly & this one will be sometime for I am, as you will know by the nature of this letter, in the trenches.  I count it ‘Happy to Endure’ (5) & have had  speedy answers to my prayers when feeling or inclining to feel in the blues. 

War can be turned to a blessing & makes several differences in one’s character.  I am fonder of Vernon now.

Hoping you had a happy Thursday with H. & H. Bore* and a Happy Sunday.

Best love from Bertie.

PS  Got FPC from Sydney tonight as well.  He sais ‘I am quite well.  Letter follows 1st opportunity.’

PPS  I scented the lovely Khaki hankies with White Heather Scent (6).  The towel is a nice one.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

The Hibbett family is brought poignantly close together when Pte Bertie receives Basil’s letter & Sydney’s posted on from Home and returns them with his own & the mud of a Neuve Chapelle trench.  My father’s blues –  and his emotional dependence on his family at this time  – can be seen in the family endearments & language of childhood  – and his delight in Mother’s Guy Fawkes Toffee.   

John Bunjan.
John Bunjan.

(1) ‘Slough of Despond’ – miry bog/swamp of despair into which Christian sinks under the weight of sin & guilt in Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan’s allegory of a Christian’s journey through life. Written in Bedford Jail. 1678.  <http://www.chapellibrary.org >

The mud & heavy clay Ptes Bertie & Vernon had to clear would have been almost certainly contaminated with dead vermin, human waste and even parts of human bodies, missing on both sides since the offensive of March 1915.

Neuve Chapelle after Battle March 1915.
Neuve Chapelle after Battle March 1915.

(2Phyllis Cozens? sister of (3) Tim Cozens* Killed in Action 13th Oct. 1915. Battle of Loos/Hohenzollern Redoubt (cf Letter: 10th Aug. 1915). 

(4) ‘Late Captaini.e. not ‘dead’ but promoted to Major Cecil Lister*.

(5) James 5.11King James Bible. ‘Happy to endure’ (with the patience of Job). (cf  Col. 13.1. quotation above).

 (6) White Heather Scent from Whitby, sent by Ida to help cope with the stench of trench life. (See Letters: 29th Aug. & 6th Sept. 1915).

NEXT POST: 16th Nov. 1915. YMCA Postcard.