11th Apr. Tue: V. Quiet Day. 12th Apr. Wed: Enemy shelled Support/ Communication Trench. Trench 063 Grenade and Aerial Torpedoed (1).
14th Apr. Fri: Snipers claim to have hit man looking over parapet behind B 4. Otherwise all quiet.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT’SWAR DIARY: A Little Book of Words & Doings.
April 13th. ‘First Birthday (2), Harold’s, Thursday at Mont S Eloi ruined Monastery looked very picturesque with Spring plumage. On MP duty Arras Rd. Wrote home Sunday previous & hoped Harold would be at home for his Birthday & so it turned out’.
LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & BASIL HIBBETT. Censor H. Chorlany.
Friday April 14/ 16
‘Protect & preserve the soul of Thy servant amidst so many dangers of the corruptible life, and, by Thy grace accompanying, direct him in the path of peace, to the land of everlasting brightness. Amen’.Thomas a Kempis (3).
My Dearest Mother & Basil,
And of course all of you really.Although I intended this, my next letter, to be for Basil I have changed my mind owing toHarold’s Birthday. I meant to write yesterday, so sorry, but time seemed to have gone short after doing duty. I wrote to Harold though, but could not find much to say. Alas! another 13th of April finds us in the land of the lily (4). Leave also has stopped for an indefinite period.
I have a notebook (5) in which I wrote the above prayer in Rouen. I thought of Harold when I read it yesterday. I hope he had a nice birthday & being Thursday I wonder if he went over to see you? Next Friday (6) you will be ‘manging’ Hot Cross Buns eh! We are having typical Aprilweather with perhaps a little above the average rainfall & wind.
I am on duty behind the line while the Batt. is in the trenches (7).
I met Sydney with the Coy. last Sunday night carrying a parcel from Harold. I also had one from Miss Foster* containing Pear’s Soap, Cigsand a Boots Heater (8).
How queer! – I dreamt a vivid dream of Miss Foster* last night& in that dream the memory of my ill manners & behaviour I had, while she came to visit us last time, came back to me. I dreamtI wasvery ill mannered, but in spite of itmy Godmother seemed to overlook my behaviour & she was most sympathetic.
Let us hope that if she comes to Walsall when I have Leave I am more of a gentleman (9). After 13 months of this life here it frequently comes across me, very suddenly, that I am very low off the mark of good manners.
Ah! now I see there was more than I thought in Vernon, although he went about it in a strict way of correcting me. I ought to have reaped out the good parts in his correction.
I have been looking out for your parcel, the transport passes our place, but I shan’t be disappointed if Sydney gets hold of it, he has been a long time without a parcelfrom Home,although he has had something fromMiss Thacker*often of late, &Mrs Hurst*.His photos are tres bon & I like the carbon.
I will close now & try to get this off today; enclosed you will find some more silk cig. cards (10). I was thinking of making a wax taper holder by stitching them together, it would make a unique ‘Easter Egg’, but I am short of cotton& needles.
Oh! by the by, that reminds me – could you please send me aHousewife(11) & some brown wool to mend your woollen gloves dark brown. Yes, I have them still & needed them these last two or three mornings, the wind was so cold.
Best love & wishes to all.
Basil – you mustn’t attest on May 1st. I shall have to talk the matter over if I see you before then.
Ta ra Bertie.
Pte Bertie Hibbett wants his brother Basil to wait until he is conscripted rather than attesting as soon as he is eligible (i.e. on his 18th birthday).He wants to ‘protect & preserve’ his brothers from all the dangers of War. He cannot do this in a letter which his Mother might read and the censor might destroy but he can warn about War’s corrupting effect on character. War has made Pte Bertie feel ‘very low off the mark of good manners’.
(1) Aerial Torpedo:a ground to air missile as illustrated above, rather than one dropped by plane over water. See <http://www.flikr.com>
(2) First Hibbett Birthdayof year: Harold, 13th April.Basil,1st May 1916 when he would be 18 and could attest as a volunteer in the Army.
(3) Thomas a Kempis: 1380-1471. Dutch writer, (named after Kempera his home-town in Germany) – copyist (of Bible 4 times). Known for popular devotional work:‘The Imitation of Christ’. ‘I have sought peace & found it not save ‘in a little corner with a little book’ (Latin/Dutch mix: in angelio cum libello).
(4) ‘Land of the Lily’ –fleur de lys –stylised lily /iris: national flower of France.
(5) ‘Notebook’ i.e.A Little Book of Words & Doingsbegun when Pte Bertie was in Hospital in Rouen, Aug – Oct 1915. (His original War Diary ‘lost in the straw of a barn 1915’ cf Hibbett Letters 17th March 1915. (6) Good Fridayhomemade Hot Cross Buns.
(7) Mont St Eloi:a ruined monastery near Neuville S.Vaast. Tower used as observation post over-looking Vimy Ridge. German shelling reduced its height nearly 30 feet from 173 -144 ft. (53m – 44m). (8) Boots Heater:cf Hibbett Letter 18th Nov.1915. <http://www.frontlinecrates.com>
(9) Good manners.Dictionary of Etiquette. Compiled by Marjory Luxmore. 1914. Pte Bertie’s Quotations front & back: ‘Manners maketh man’William Horman,Headmaster of Eton & Winchester. 1440 -1535; ‘None as great as gentleman soldier’:originunknown;‘Endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ’. 2 Timothy 2. 3-5. ‘Follow the examples of General Gordon & Earl Roberts, Wellington & Nelson.’ Pte Bertie’s advice to himself before embarkation to France? Inscription names Colonel Crawley & Capt C. Lister and gives details not found elsewhere e.g. Pte Bertie Hibbett ‘No 1. Section. ‘D’ Platoon’ in 1914-1915.
(10) Silk Cigarette Card: ‘small piece of printed/woven ‘satin’ (rarely silk) given away free in cigarette packets, sometimes on a backing card’ cf ebay: Military & Regimental Cigarette Silks of WW1.
(11) ‘Housewife’ /’Husif‘: Sewing Kit. My Dad was good at sewing and once made me a pencil case out of a date-box which he covered with material carefully stitched together & labelled with my name. A holder for spills/ wax-tapers (for lighting candles) would not have been beyond him.
3rd Apr. Mon . Enemy quiet except for sniping. A 10 pm enemy exploded a mine in front of the 51st Brigade.Artillery fire for 15 minutes very heavy, our support and communication trenchesbeing in some places considerably knocked about. Our trench mortars and artillery kept up acontinual fire all night on the enemy’s trenches.
CASUALTIES: OFFICER WOUNDED: 2/Lt A.T. Shortman. OTHER RANKS KILLED:9676 Pte G. Bate.WOUNDED: 8833Sgt A. Perry; 9248L/Cpl G. A. Wentworth.
4th Apr. Tue: Enemy Artillery very active 0.65 and 063 being heavily shelled. A whiz-bang exploded in O.S. 65killing 3 and wounding 6.Our artillery replied effectively and enemy’s shelling ceased. At 10.20 am enemy aeroplane fell on left of Battalion Headquarters. Battalionrelieved by 1.6th South Staffordshire Regt., relief complete9.15 pm.Battalion in Rest Huts by 12.15 a.m.
CASUALTIES:- KILLED: 554 L/Cpl L. Sutton ; 9254 Pte A.H. Price; 938 Pte S. Bates. WOUNDED:-7519 Sgt F. Madeley; 8236 Corpl A. James; 9147 L/Cpl L.T. Morgan; 1005 Pte E. Badger; 1023 Pte R. May; 7761 Pte A. Gould; 1123 Pte J.H. Perchase.
5th, 6th -7th Apr. ECOIVRES. In Divisional Reserve. Battalion Training.
9th Apr. Sun: Marched to Trenches in relief of 1.6th South Staffordshire Regt. 0.63. 0.64. 065 TRENCHES.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings.
Treasured Sayings in Letters from Home:Mother re The Mines:
‘God keep you under the shadow of his wings (1).I will let Miss Foster* know you are safe & sound’. Ida. ‘How thankful we are to have your precious letter this tea-time.’
LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ARTHUR HIBBETT. FPO A 13/ AP 16. Censor J. T. Douglas.
5th Sunday in Lent. April 9/ 16
‘Next to the Sunlight of Heaven is the cheerful face’.Wayside Memories.
My Very Dear Mother and Father,
Our short but enjoyable Rest is soon o’er and we, or rather theBatt, goes into the trenches again tonight for a short time.I & five others are doing guard behind the line for a ‘Rest’, so dear Mum you have less to be anxious over.
Most likely your parcel you promised to send last Monday will reach the Batt. today.Should Sydney find it a little difficult to get the parcelto me I have told him to have the contents himself & only keep such things that will keep in a convenient space.I had aparcelfrom Aunt Pattie* on Friday & a letter on Saturday.
I admired Sydney’s Photosvery much; the carbon tint gives them a High Cla(r)sseffect. I am so sorry I spoilt the only surviving photo of myself & the Sikh during the ‘Bust Up’ (2)– I was going to send it toMiss Foster* if you thought the ‘wee sad look’ would not impress her much.
It is Harold’s Birthday on the 13th is it not? I suppose my letter, which I wrote him today, will arrive too late, but never mind, better late than never. They say I am in the next six for Home Leave so take things in patience & hope & D.V.I shall perhaps spend Easter with you (3).
I will close now, with Best love to all.
I hope you have had my letter in answer to your combined one fromIda & Basil & Mum.My next will be to Basil.
Ta ta. Bertie.
PS.We found a Recreation Hut rigged up when we returned from our tour & we have had Sports & Concerts.
You should see the ‘frog eaters’ do the Tango in time with our Band & they do appreciate our Sing Songs – so much that one or two gave us a song in their language;they use more action with their arms & limbs than we do & how Tommy claps and laughs.
In April, Pte Bertie Hibbett’s ‘Rest’was Guard Duty at Mont Eloi Monastery behind the Neuville St Vaast lines and later M.P.Duty on the Arras road.
Reading between the lines: – though not recorded as ‘casualties‘ he and the ‘5 others’ down for Home Leave were probably kept back from the trenches on 9th April because they showed signs of ‘shell shock’. In his War Diary 2nd April, my father admits theexplosion of Germanmines underground affected him deeply. He had felt it his duty to be cheerful and to comfort his pals but the strain had taken its toll – that and his trench foot may have earned him his extra ‘Rest‘.
(1) Psalm 17.8 & 91.4.‘Under the shadow of thy wings’An image ofGod as a Mother Bird (favourite saying of my father); image also in Genesis 1.2 ‘hovering over the face of the waters’ at Creation and in Mother Hen Parable of Jesus, Matthew 23.37 & Luke 13.34: ‘How often have I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood’. A pre-Bronze Age divine image of the Great Mother, before devaluation by patriarchy & the rise of the ‘male‘ God in world religion & mythology. cf The Myth of the Goddess. Evolution of an Image. Anne Baring & Jules Cashford. Viking 1991.
(2) ‘Bust Up’:German Mines2nd – 4th April when Pte Bertie lost the remaining photo of his pal Bukhshee Ichbye Singh Waltu in bombedSupport Trench. (3) D.V.Latin Deo Volente. ‘God willing’.
NEUVILLE ST VAAST 1916: ‘3 mines blown up while up in our tour . . . the one on Sunday April 2ndaffected me more. Sunny all day. Had offered Lieut. Wilkinson*(1)& Rowley*(2) a Major Drapkins corkhoffe? cig at Stand To (3). When mine went up shook us to and fro. I made for myrifle in support trenches. Burnt . . . carrying in exposed position. (4).
My Memories of the First World War.The Revd A. H. Hibbett. 1967.
‘I shall never forget my experience at Neuville St Vaast, . . . whenI went with aparty underground to listen for the enemy tapping their way in underground passages towards our Front Line.It (was a) dark night which made it all the more ‘exciting’. Whose mine would go up first, theirs or ours? Our feelings were indeed tense.
“Pass the word down forBomber Ford”, came the command from the officer in front of our column, as we lined up to throw hand grenades over the parapet. “Pass the word back I aint,” retorted Bomber Ford from the rear. The German mine went up first – and we tried to occupy the crater before the enemyadvanced to take possession of it. It is strange to think that I might have thrown one of my sister’s hand grenades at Neuville St Vaast. (5)
Researching 1/5th South Staffords and reading this experience of my father at Neuville St Vaast leaves me with nothing but compassion for those who died on both sides and incredulity that anyone could possibly survive such horror.
(1) 2 Lt J.W.H. Wilkinsonwas wounded. (2) Lt. Arthur J. Rowley: current Censor of Pte Bertie’s Letters.
(3) ‘Stand To’was at dawn & dusk everyday/ when all soldiers must stand ready for enemy attack. Pte Bertie normally would have had had his rifle with him but maybe as one of a ‘Bombing Party‘ he was carrying hand grenades to toss into a new crater before rushing forward to claim it.
(4) ‘Burnt’:text here is indecipherable/ not clear whether he or his rifle was burnt in ‘exposed position’. Could be ref. perhaps to the wound Lt Wilkinson received?
(5) ‘My Memories’: Neuville St Vaast. This was one of the very few stories of the War my father told me as a child. Compare Hibbett Letters 20th -31st July 1915 & ref. to 172 Tunnelling Company. R.E. See also website ‘The Long Long Trail’. The Tunnelling Companies RE. Photo: Vimy Ridge Bomb Crater Machine Gun Post.<http://www.pinterest.com>
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY
TRENCHES 063. 064. 065.
1st Apr. Sat:Very quiet indeed.
2nd Apr. Sun: 6.50 pm. The Enemy exploded a mine on the south side of B4. This was immediately followed by a secondexplosion S.W. of the same crater.The Platoon standing to at the Northend of 0. 63 immediately rushed up to where the SW entrance to the crater had been but found this blown up and the bombing post there buried.
The connecting trench W. of the crater to 0.64 had also completely disappeared. The fumes from the crater were stifling. 2/Lt Knowles, who led the Platoon which reached the crater lip, found it impossible to enter andseveral men were in a state of collapse, so he lay down with his party and bombed into the crater. The enemy opened heavy fire with rifle grenades and trench mortarsfrom sap on the right side of the crater, also a machine gun from the direction Point 5.We then established a bombing post and a Lewis gun on the N. lip of the crater and dug a communication trench round to 0.64, establishing communication with that trenchthe passage of which is very difficult at present by day.
The platoon Standing To at S end of 064when the explosion occurred rushed along PAYERNE but found the end of the crater blocked and a heavy fire of trench mortar and rifle grenades directed on this point. The Y sap in the WINDOW was attacked by grenadesbut the enemy could make no progress there.This part of the line was much troubled with trench mortars and a machine gun from the direction of B. 6.The artillery put up a very effective barrage, after half an hour the rate of fire was reduced and everything was quiet by morning .
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS CASUALTIES:
OFFICERS KILLED: Lt A. A. Smith.(Author of War Diary Appendix 4. March 25th).WOUNDED: 2/Lt J. W.H. Wilkinson.
OTHER RANKS KILLED: 9871 Pte l. Medlicott; 976Pte J. Wooldridge; 886 Pte J. Mc.Neil; 9004Cpl J. T. Knight; 95Pte J. Dawes. MISSING – BELIEVED KILLED:- 9006L/ Cpl B. Hopley;9013 Pte W. H.Turner; 1180Pte J. H. Bird; 9048Pte A. J. Belcher; 9702Pte L. Smith; 8478Pte H. Ball.
OTHER RANKSWOUNDED:- 8016A(cting)C. S.M. Burton L.F.; 6443Sgt. J. Williams;8833 Sgt W.H. Perry; 9248 L/Cpl J. Wentworth; 7820 L/Cpl F. Fisher; 742Pte R.G. Collier; 926Pte C. Hathaway; 8187Pte T. Rotton; 615Pte E. Wilkins; 819Pte F. Bishop;941Pte T. Homer; 428Pte B. Brooke. 819Pte W.H. Thompson; 9031Pte A. Holmes.
SLIGHTLY WOUNDED remained at duty:- 982Pte J. Powell.
SUMMARY of CASUALTIES in MARCH: OFFICERS KILLED – Nil. WOUNDED – 1. OTHER RANKS KILLED – 1. WOUNDED – 7.
Signed:H. Lord, Major, Cmdg. 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt.
MARCH APPENDIX 4. Report on Bombardment of B.6. on March 25/1916 0.64. (Additional material to 1/5th S Staffords War Diary record, 25th March. 1916. e.f.w.)
At 2.20 p.m. I saw my Company file out of Trench 5 down the B. des ONDES. I left behind in the fire trench and Trench PAYERNEthree double sentry posts and one bomb post (2 men). In the Company Hd Qr dug-out I left 2 runners, 2 orderlies, one signaller and one officer. The F.O.O. took up his station at X marked 1 on sketch map, outside the dug-out. I left a chain of sentries down the B. des ONDES for communication.
The bombardment began at 3.0 pm and the 9.2x fired in all about 15 shells,4 of which were blind. Of the first 9 shells – 2 went into the crater, and 3 were behind our fire trench to the right of the dug-out. The ninth hit the parapet just to the right of the dug-out entrance and exploded, burying Lieuts Wilkinson and Dawson, a piece of the same shell wounding Pte Simpson S. H. at point X 2 on sketch map – this man was acting as connecting file. Previous to this the F.O.O.* had phoned that shells were dropping short, but was unable to speak direct to the battery. (*F.O.O. Forward Observing Officer).
Signed. A. A. Smith Lt O. C. ‘B’ Coy. In the Field 25/3/16 5.25 pm.
Lt A. A. Smith,Officer Commanding ‘B’ Company1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment wasKilled in Actiona few days later on2nd April, 1916 when 2 German mines were exploded underground.
The British Army kept the TrenchNames ‘B(oulevard) des Ondes’ & Trench ‘Payerne’ after they took over Neuville St Vaast & the Labyrinth from the French 10th Army in March 1916.
La Targette French Cemetery, Neuville St Vaast (with 42 thousand French WW1 soldiers, buried in strikingly moving patterns)lies next to the British War Cemetery. French Colonial Troops are buried in the Muslim Section where their head stones are turned to face Mecca.
29th Mar. Wed: Battalion in Brigade Reserve. Carrying party took explosives up to B.4. Battalion, (less ‘A’ Company and 2 platoons of ‘B’ Company, which were placed at the disposal of Officer Commanding 6th South Staffordshire Regt)stood to at‘Alarm Posts’ at 6.30 pm.Germanmine under B.4. successfully camoufleted(1) at 6.30 pm.
CASUALTIES resulting from bombardment. WOUNDED: 9609Corpl. J. H. Naylor;8816 Pte H. Flynn;770Pte J. Jones; 9693Pte H. Johnson.
30th Mar. Thur: TRENCHES 063, 064, 065. Battalion relieved 1/6th South Staffordshire Regt in the trenches. Relief complete 9-45 pm.
Pte BERTIE HIBBET: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. Censor Arthur Rowley*.
Thursday Mar 30th/ 16. Excuse bad writing & soiled paper. I will let you know more on Sunday.
My Very Dear Mother,
On coming from duty in the trenches early yesterday I found the draft of men in this place – some of them were sleeping, including Sydney, so I did not disturb him until he woke of his natural will.
When he did wake we greeted one another quietly, cheerfully & with the usual xxxxxxx. Then we had a quiet chat. I took particular notice to see if there was any difference in him, but could not tell very well in the candlelight.He gave me dearIda’sXmas Cardwith the scented sachet inside, – how ‘bon’, many thanks toSister (2). I gave him the rest of yourEmbassy Cigs & have since made hot drinks & cocoa.
The weather is sunny & bright during the day with a little snow & rain getting on towards night.
For my part, as yet, the only difference I have noticed in Sydney is that he is more quiet than he usually was, but he still cracks out in touches of humour & I fairly split my sides once.
I noticed,in one particular case, thathe became absent minded; it was when I got hima pair of Jack Boots to go into the water logged trenchesand when I wanted them back he could not tell where he left the pair I gave him, but he had a pair on when he came back, & said those were a pair someone had carried up for him. But, dearest Mum, I am telling you candidly what I think or rather feel for him – do not be at all anxious. He is in splendid physique & has taken the roughness we have experienced last night surprisingly cool (2). I have felt sorry for him since he came back to such an extremity.
I shall have to close now.
I am in need of a clasp knife.Could you get me one with just oneblade &a tin opener.
Best love & kisses, Bertie.
PS Sydneyis attached toNo 3 Platoon A Coy. (4)
Pte Bertie Hibbett had not seen his brother Serjeant Sydney Hibbett since he was sent to hospital in England with ‘catarrhal jaundice’ in Nov. 1915.
(1) ‘Camoufleted’: mine exploded underground. (2) Ida’s Xmas Card: indication that the family did not know where Bertie was at that time. (3) ‘Roughness’ & ‘extremity’: German bombardment 29th Mar. see S Staffords War Diary above.
(4) Sydney Hibbett in ‘A’ Coy, therefore on 29th Mar. attached to Officer commanding 6th South Staffordshire Regt. when German mine camoufleted under Crater B.4.
28th Mar. Tue: Battalion in Brigade Reserve. Carrying Parties. Draft of 191 men arrived at 8.20 pm. V. Quiet Day.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to ARTHUR & MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
The way may be rough, but it cannot be long And then oh how joyful the Conqueror’s song. (1)
Behold, we count them Happy which endure. James 5:11.
Mar. 28th 1915
My Very Dear Mother & Father.
After coming from fatigue I read Mother’s two very long but interesting letters(& touching too they were) before settling down tosnooze, although it was3 in the morning. I was sending you a greenon Sundaybut have kept it for this to answer, in a more detailed way, yourripping parcels& letters. You will get my letter of yesterday & Sunday together before this.
1st I will answer Mum’s letter of 14th.That, which you started with, holds good in my case:-‘My head seems to be so full of things that I hardly know what to say’(& how to begin) (2) .
– Now I must go back to theSunday letter of Mum’sto say thatI too went toHoly Communion so that makes a third & Providential cause of your going, for it was the Sunday night we went to the trenches. I was very pleased & amused on reading that you got a letter from me on Sunday. I should like you always to get one on a Sunday, as well as for me to write to you on a Sunday.
Do you know, dearest Mum, & all of you, that I am sorry for Dear Sydney & that sorrow sometimestakes away the hopes of the pleasure of seeing him – I mean the pleasure of seeing him.
Glad you like Thacker*no doubt then, if you should like him, Sydney would, as he told me in his Christmas letter.
I expected to see dear Sydney when I came off fatigues last night.We live in a cavewhile inreserve & do fatiguesat night. The way down to this dark hole is long & ‘squeemish’ & at the endI quite expected Sydney’s voice to be heard. Well, I suppose he will come today.Yes, I am so grateful he is Sergeant & he has a nice chum Burton*, who was made Sergeant Major after the bombing accident (3), & was formerly Sergeant when Sydney made chums. Burton is TT & only smokesselect tobacco & a Woodbine now & again, he does not care for dearcigs.
Yes the shirt is most lovely & comfortable & what I say is:- ‘A Comfortable Shirt is half the Battle’. A light pair of pants is my next requisite for underwear. The socks I must especially thank you for, with the exquisitely beautiful scented soap within, for they have come at a very acceptable time amidst rain, water & dirt —— I am telling you more about me sen.
Oh dearest Mum, I should so like to write you a letter you would really like & which would prove a comfort to you dear ones.Wouldn’t Ida & Dad say that, if I said more about myself & what I do, I might take a stride too far & then you would feel more anxious & unhappy. And then there is the Censortoo; some censors I’m afraid would burn the letter if it contained news of importance to the enemy – or hints even. But as you were so brave & collected dear Mum during that alarm (4) I will venture to tell you more aboot me sen,without gobbling up the fishing rod & hook, as well as the fish.
I shall need more candles if we are down here for any considerable time. Another reason why I couldn’t write to you,as I would have liked, is thatwe could not get any lights & it rained up at the top. I wrote my Sunday letter at the entrance – tell Ida it’s like Linley Caverns (5) & would be jolly for a picnic in Peace time, – but oh its far from a pic-nic in War time.
You are most self-sacrificing to put butter in the parcel & eggs too, my word. If you like you can send currant bread& I will eat this without you putting butterin the parcel.Dadsaid he hoped I had as much pleasure in consuming the contents as you have in packing them up. Ah I am more than indebted to you & can hardly find words. I fairly shivered with emotion on opening your parcel & reading the letters. The parcels acted as a good stimulus when I was on that tiresome fatigue & I thought of Miss Foster’s* apt quotation in Wayside Memories. ‘And then Oh how JOYFUL the Conqueror’s Song’ – & indeed it was like a beautiful song which was wafted with theparcel& good thoughts from Home.
Can you read this awful letter dears? – surely I am not so ‘bad’ as George*(6) & Mrs Jones’s* writings.Do you really & honestly think the photo a good one and DO I GIVE you a cheerful impression when you see me? I did think of Miss Foster* but I did not want to send her a photo which would make her think I was a WEE bit sad (7). Shall I send her that photo? I have one left in that little khaki case of mine.
Yes, I still have your dear faces left & my poor, poor Prayer Book & khaki Bible look all the worse for wear and I am anxious that they will last until I come on Home Leave.
Oh dears, I have a little better & hopeful news. Home Leave, as I told you in my last letter, is going at amore satisfactory pace & if it does not stop suddenly, like it has done in times past,I shall, or rather hope to, spend Easter with you & oh how joyful it will be if we spend Easter Sunday together & go before the altar to thank God for His mercy.
I told you in my last that Sydney sent me a F.P.C. from the Base with the line‘letter follows at first opp.’ so I took it that it was another of Sydney’s ways of taking the letter to be himself following. I will let you know as soon as he comes and at my 1st opportunity. Yes, I expect Sydneywill be exceptionally full of talking,although he is not one for ‘gassing’ as I am. I hope his Com. will push on with greater speed now our Colonel*(Lt Col.R.Raymer) is back.
Now I must say how my heart leaps to you in congratulations for your extra good work at Mrs Venables* (8) Yes, if you can spare me one of those squares I should indeed be delighted with one & treasure it to think of you whenever I use it (9).
I am glad you have lost that wretched snow & hope Spring weather will soon be there for you to enjoy. Yes SPRING, & I hope it will bring me with it. How most Providential, you being so cool during the Raid. I too have been surprised at myself for I could not have been frightened if I tried during some shelling we had.Ifelt it a duty to cheer up those who were nervous.You were most apt in your description, yes, it is just like a Peacewithinone (10).
I think I mentioned the bombing accident before, but of course I refrained from telling you details for two reasons,we are forbidden to mention casualties in our letters until we see them published in the papers,& also I thought you would be more anxious with the suddennews from me.
Remember me kindly to Mrs Brown* & the Venables*. I should think Arthur*(11) is one of the youngest subalterns in his Regiment.You say you feel very, very sad at times dear Mum, well, I too felt sorry that you were like that, but I do not disbelieve my prayers have not been heard. I must persevere more (12) Yes, I think Sydney & you all, will feel the parting sore for a time, but I hope it will be short.
I conjure up all sorts of things that I will do when I go Home to you. How it puzzles me to get Homeclean & how I shall have to try to dodge being seen & pressed on going from the Station to the House. How I shall pop into the Arcade Restaurant (13) & buy you some pork pies and then go to Sammons for some tomatoes & flowers.I might think of playing a practical joke, but now I think it would be best to go straight forward.
Now for your delightful letter of 19th. So Dad was playing hymns – ah!they seem to have their truer meaning nowadays & I think we shall‘sing them with the understanding also’ (14). Although it has been such a long time since I heard the Psalms sung I can remember some quite well & they remind me of Sydney liking them.How beautifully happy, yes, that is how I felt when I read that you were happy although it rained on Sunday. You see you kept your promise that is why, &jolly old Basil,he did do a ‘dodge’ out of his cosy bed and dodged first. I remember well you saying you liked walking in the fresh rain.
Yes, Mr Darling*would feel mentally tired, as well as physically. He told me so one night I went to my Preparation (Confirmation) Class & it was Lentthen too. I am sure he takes it more of a duty now-adays. Of course you will tell me if Mr Dixon*gave a stirring sermon & brought a crowded church (15).
Sydney is true in saying he finds his position as Sergeant an advantage, but he will, and will have done,by what I gather from your letters found correspondence goes against the grain at times & the amount of mind concentration upon his extra duties will cause him & anyone to be inclined not to bring his thoughtson behalf of Home etc into action.
I am glad you are all well generally, but sorry Mum has those nasty pains. I am wondering if Sydney will be attached to either another Coy. or Platoon, if so you must send smaller parcels. Compris! I shan’t mind a toss – its the thoughts I care for – except when the rations are na pous ‘finis’ & bread is scarce (16).We are having better & bigger rations of bread now as we go into the trenches.
I should so much have liked to have sent my contributionfor Mr Darling*. I was very touched on reading that Sanger*did not go to see you. Well never mind, everything is for the best.
No, (this time) it didn’t even enter my mind that your parcel was a long time in coming.I mean since your promise of a parcel.You will no doubt be thinking I am a long time in acknowledging yours, but do forgive me dears, I do try. Yes, I am sure God is keeping us all safe & I am grateful Sydney had a safe crossing & I have come out safely from six days in the trenches & every night on fatigue so far.I am quite well enough to manage & peg this War out.
I must now answer Harold’s letter & parcel containing Milk Tablets,which came in useful to quench my parched lips on fatigue.Please dears, I advise you not to depend too much upon the clothwrapping when sending parcelsas the cardboard box is liable to get smashed.
Best love Bertie.
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s family wanted him to write more ‘about me sen’ (more about myself). But true to character this letter is full of the thoughtfulness and understanding of others that my father invariably showed in his life.
NB My father had expected to see his brother arrive with the draft of 181 men reported in S Staffords War Diary for 28th Mar.1916.
(1) Conqueror’s Song: Hymn:John Newton 1779.Former Slave owner turned anti-slavery.Collection of Hymns by John Wesley. 1875.
(2) ‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.Hibbett Letter 13th March. 1916 1916. (3) Bombing Accident:Hibbett Letter 28th Feb. 1916. (4) Zeppelin Raid Walsall.19th Jan. 1916.
(5) 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> details of Urban Exploration at Linley Caverns. 1957(16th Aug.1957 edition Walsall Observer).
6) George Lammerman(Ida’s friend from childhood). (7) ‘Wee bit sad’: Ida’s comment on Bertie’s photo with Hindustani Sikh at Marseilles. 27th Feb.1916.
8) Mrs Venables*:ref. to Bertie’s Mother helping at her Knitting Workshops & Sales for Soldiers, 1914-1918. (9) Face-flannel squares.
(10) ‘Peace within’: See below Little Book of Words & Doings & Page: My Memories A.H.H. (I remember from childhood how my father’s sermons were often about ‘Peace’).(11) Corp. Arthur Venables dressed Pte Bertie’s wound 1st July 1916. Later Killed in Action.
(12) ‘Very, very Sad’: ‘Little Book of Words & Doings’.Hibbett Letter 27th Mar.1916.
(13) Arcade Restaurant, Walsall.Sammons (Brothers?): Walsall Greengrocer. (My father’s dream of arriving in Walsall on Home Leave and buying pork pies, tomatoes & flowers I find particularly poignant).
(14) ‘Sing with the understanding also’. I Cor. 14.5. St Paul ‘I will sing/prayer with the spirit and use words with the understanding also.(15) The Revd E. More Darling, (Vicar of Walsall )last Services on Retirement.
(16)‘na pous finis’:British soldiers’ slang for French saying -‘no good/ rubbish’.
Pte Bertie Hibbett’s ‘Little Book of Words & Doings’. Treasured Sayings in Letters from Home.March 1916.
‘My head seems so full of things that I hardly know what to say. Mother’.
The Zeppelin Raid: ‘Do you know dear Bertie, Mother was the best of all of them. When the raid came I seem to have had strength given to me. I do not think Basil was frightened at all – he wanted to know where the things were going . . . Dad looked white & pinched round the nose & Ida took hold of my hand & cried & said ” Oh Mum I am frightened” and I said ” Never mind my love, we shall be all right” and I felt such a peace in me. Mother. ‘
NB Computer problems meant this Letter was posted with:-
26th Mar. Sun: NEUVILLE ST VAAST. Battalion in Brigade Reserve. Carrying and digging fatigues.CASUALTY: 7801Corpl. G.H. Maybury severely wounded.
27th Mar. Mon: In Brigade reserve. Carrying and digging fatigues. NEUVILLE shelled at 6.15 pm and again at 8.45 pm.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ALL , 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Monday Mar. 27/ 16
Just bide a wee and dinna fret. (1)
My Very Dear Mother & All of you,
Received your very nice parcel last night, after coming off fatigue.Circumstances are very hard for writing letters and oh HOW I did wish I could write a long letter just to your liking, but there has been no outward post lately.
I wrote yesterday& was forwarding the Com(mission)formin the green envelope,but will wait till I have answered your very long & nice letters of14th & 19th Mar.
I also had Harold’s parcel last night.I am absolutely at my wits end to know how to answer all the correspondence received of late. Miss Foster’s*lettersof Friday are waiting to be given in.
Must stop now as the orderly will be wanting the letters to be given in.
God bless you all.
Ta ta Bertie.
PS You will no doubt be seeing some of the 1/5th in Walsall on Leave.Don’t be alarmed, the Leave might stop any time, but gratefulto say, if it keeps on at the rate it is doing now,I shall probably spend Easter with you. D.V. Miss Foster*will tell you also as I told her in my letter.
Also I expect to see Sydney today & will ‘see how he looks’ and tell you as you wished.
Outward Post from Neuville St Vaast Trenches was stopped by ‘circumstances’ (i.e. the heavy shelling of the enemy, constant need for fatigues to repair trenches & bring in supplies) – but the Army seems to have made sure the Inward Post arrived with Harold Hibbett’s promised parcel and Letters from Home.
(1) ‘Bide a wee & dinna fret’. ‘Wait patiently a little while & do not be anxious’ (about Pte Bertie’s Home Leave & Sydney’s return to the Front). CNDC California Digital Newspaper Collection. California Farmer & Journal of Useful Sciences Vol 48. No 1. 2nd May 1878. Anon. 19th Cent. Scottishemigrant? Until I read this letter I thought this familiar saying came from my Mother’s Scottish side.
Is the road very dreary ? Patience yet.Rest will be sweeter if thou art a-weary, And after night cometh the morning cheery, Then bide a wee and dinna fret.
The clouds have silver lining, Don’t forget; And though He’s hidden, still the sun is shining; courage instead of tears and vain repining, Just bide a wee, and dinna fret.
With toil and cares unending art beset’! Bethink thee how the stormsfrom heaven descending Snap the stiff oak, but spare the willow bending. And bide a wee, and dinna fret.
Grief’s sharper sting doth borrow From regret; But yesterday is gone, and shall its sorrowUnfit us for the present, and the morrow? Nay; bide a wee, and dinna fret.
An over-anxious brooding both beget A host of fears and fantasies deluding; Then, brother, lest these torments be intruding, Just bide a wee, and dinna fret. — Leisure Hours.
‘A SHORT HISTORY OF THE STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT’. Regimental War Museum, Whittington, Lichfield.
NEUVILLE ST VAAST & THE LABYRINTH (1).
MARCH 1916: ‘The South Staffs then went into the trenches at Neuville St Vaast – holding the line which was known as the Labyrinth.. . .’
‘The shocking condition of the trenches atNeuville St Vaast was caused by the severity of the weather and owing especially of the enemy. The 6th South Staffs underwent some of their worst experience. The snow storms of the period and the hardship was keenly felt. Bosche’s activity underground added to the strain.Mines are the most unpleasantform of trench warfare.South Staffs were blown up no fewer than 9 times.’
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.
19th Mar. Sun.Proceeded to the Trenches EAST of NEUVILLE ST VAAST in the relief of 6th South Staffordshire Regiment.
20th Mar Mon: NEUVILLE . Enemy bombed Y Listening Post,damaging the barriers of N. 5. Trench.Enemy snipers active, our snipers shot a German opposite B.4.
21st Mar. Tue: ST VAAST. TRENCHES No. 4.5.6.Enemyheavily shelled with H.E. No 4. Fire,support and communication trenches from 11.0 am to 12 noon.Our artillery support very bad,3 of 5 shells burst inside our own lines. At 3.45 pm No. 5 and 6 Trenches cleared to enable our 9.2’s to burst Crater B.6. One 9.2 shell burst behind No. 6. Fire Trench, no damage. CASUALTIES: No 54Pte J. Brettle killed; No 161 Pte M McNally wounded.
22nd Mar. Wed: Very quiet day. 23rd Mar. Thur. About 12.15 pm our artillery sent over 5 whiz bangs. Enemyretaliated with 4. H.E. which (landed) in rear of No. 4. Support. Otherwise very quiet day.
25th Mar. Fri. About 7.10 am enemy opened brisk grenade attack. Our grenadiers replied vigorously. Artillery support good. Our guns bombarded the Crater B.6 at 3.0 pm and 9.2’s firing 15 shells, 4 of which were blind and 3 falling short, the ninth shell burst short,striking the parapet to the right of the dugout of Officer Commanding 064 Trench,burying Lieuts F. Wilkinson andA. L. Dawson,Forward Observing Officer 2nd Lincoln Battery, a piece of the same shell wounding 6954 Pte S. H. Simpson.The Forward Observing Officer had previously phoned that shells were dropping short, but was unable to speak direct to the Battery.
Battalion relieved in the trenches by 6th South Staffordshire Regiment at 11.20 pm and went into Brigade Reserve. Battalion in billets at 1.0 am, 26-3-16.CASUALTIES: Lieut. F. Wilkinson and 6954Pte S.H. Simpson wounded, also ArtilleryOfficerLieut. A.L. Dawson wounded.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT’SWAR DIARY: ‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.
March 19th 1916:Sunday evening. Went into trenches at Neuville St Vaast. On Sat received parcelfrom Mrs Jones*. Neuville St Vaast all in ruins to the ground. Bertie on Listening Post.
Treasured Sayings in Letters from Home:
Mother re Bomb Accident (2).‘Life is very sad now, but as Sydney said, he loves the Psalms & I said which is your favourite hymn Sydney? & he said, at once. “ Rejoice, again I say, Rejoice” so I say. “Rejoice again I say Rejoice” (3) “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing” (4).’ Mother.
LETTER TO MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall. Censor Arthur J. Rowley.
In the Trenches. 3rd Sunday in Lent. Mar 26/ 16
‘Faith looking upward saith,‘Good is everything, Let it come, God ordereth the days’. Wayside Memories.
My Dear People,
I wonder if you ever think that it happens, some Sundays, circumstances make it very difficult to get a letter written to you. I am determined to write to you to day. I receivedDad’s letter last Tuesday. His report is ‘untrue’.
On Friday I had a very nice surprise of another parcel from Miss Foster*, with a tin of Youmi Turkish cigs for Sydney. Miss Fosterthinks he is with menow. I got a F.P.C. (5) from Sydneythis morning saying he was at the Base.I noticed he crossed out ‘Received letters, parcels, telegram’ although I wrote to him about Mar 5th to Derby.
How is Harold getting on? – just remember me kindly to him.Although I rarely mention him in my letters I am generally thinking of him & always mention him in my prayers. It does puzzle me about his promised parcel& I am beginning to think he cannot have had my letter of Mar 5th.
Trusting you are having a pleasant Sunday.I enclose the form for Com(mission).
Yours affec. Bertie.
The 1/5th South Staffords took over the trenches of Neuville St Vaast at the same time that the Canadians took over Vimy Ridge. ‘Circumstances’ (i.e. crater warfare, heavy bombardment, shelling, grenadeattacks and casualties when 1/5th Staffords Artillery shells fell short) made it difficult forPte Bertie Hibbett to write Home.
NB The name ST VAAST was to resonate with my father twenty years later when, in 1936, he became Vicar of St Vedast’s Church Tathwell, near Louth, Lincolnshire.
ST VAAST(Flemish, Norman, Picard)(English Vedast, Foster) AD 453 -540, was responsible for the conversion to the Christian Faith of the Frankish King Clovis. (St Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, appointed him 1st Bishop of dioceses of Arras & Cambrai). Many churches in Northern France, including the Cathedral at Arras, are dedicated to him, whereas he is Patron Saint to only two churches in the UK:St Vedast Foster Lane, London and St Vedast, Tathwell, where I was born on his Day, 6th Feb.
(1) The Labyrinth, Neuville St Vaast, on the slopes of Vimy Ridge, north-east of Arras:- a grim underground fortress of caves, tunnels and entrenchments cut into the chalk in ‘a lunar landscape of water filled shell-holes & destroyed trenches’ – compounded by ‘stench of rotting bodies’. A place of ‘horrific fighting’ and crater warfare, with 1/5th Staffords blown up 9 times. Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Listening Post would have been deep underground.
Vimy Ridgeis a 9 mile/15 km long hump-backed barrier, rising from the valley of River Scarpe to a peak of 145 metres to drop abruptly into the valley of River Souchez. An area fought over since Roman times, it commanded the Douai Plain and protected Lille and the coalfields of Lens. cf <http://www.battlefields.com/the-battle-of-Vimy-ridge>
OCCOCHES. 6th Mar. Mon. Battalion marched to new Billets at WAMIN (1).
7th Mar. Tue. Battalion Training. 8th Mar. Wed. Battalion marched to new Billets atMAGNICOURT (2). 9th Mar. Thur. – 10th Mar. Fri. In Billets. Battalion Training.
11th Mar. Sat. Battalion marched to new Billets at AUBIGNY (3).12th – 13th Mar. In Billets. Battalion Training. Battalion marched to new Billets at ECOIVRES (4).
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT:
‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.
March 10th 1916. ‘Mum got a letter from me, rare occasion. Sydney left Derby after being in England on sick leave.’
Treasured Sayings in Letters from Home:‘My head seems so full of things I hardly know what to say. Mother.’
LETTER TO BASIL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
In the Field.Monday Mar 13/ 16
‘Next to the Sunlight of Heaven is the cheerful face’.Wayside Ministries (5).
My Dearest brother Basil,
Three puffs of an Embassyand I will start ‘mon ecrire encore’.
You will think I have caughtWriting Feverno doubt, but I have just inwardly digested the QMS Mag you kindly enclosed in Mum’s parceland consequently I feel magnetised to the ‘Wire of Correspondence’ fixed between ‘Home Sweet Home’ and WarwornFrance.
What do you think of the articles in the Mag this time? Do you remember how the ‘Knowalls’ once called it a bore to read them & the Editors had no ‘savvy’ whatever as to ‘Editorial’?
After reading Lieut Thomas’ & Lawley’s account of their experiences (7) & then commencing to read the School Notes, the effect was ‘vice versa’as to the time I was at QMS. Do you compris my meaning? You, for instance, are sometimes naturally bored a little at reading Editorialletters about School, butthe letters from the Front to the QMS Editor are to you ‘tres bien interestant’. But the vice versa effect was not to the extreme, in fact I was deeply interested in Lawley’s vivid account of the Charge last Sept. (8).
The Debating Society’s Summarywas also jolly to read & I was so struck by it that I wished I could, at the very moment, send something in the way of a contribution, & then I decided to wait until I have Home Leave, at which time I will see if I can give them an Autograph Album after the example of the Spencer Club (9) – for the purpose of the members writing their names in after each Debate, & an illumination on each page.
The Poets in Queen Mary’s School seem to keep up the fine record of blossoming original verse (10).I should like to send a contribution to the Editor’s Letter Boxbut I count myself as no great writer & also come to the conclusion my sending a letter to appear in the ‘swanky’ pages of the Mag would have an embarrassing effect. I noticed your noble name in the list of new scholars under the noble title of School House; which House should be the prouder after the reception of your noble self, what what!
You have some ‘knutty’ ideas & phrases in your letters to me of late – they are worthy of being mentioned in the Magazine.
I will close now. Although I have written this today I doubt if I shall send it along to you for a time, because I havetwo letters to send Home. One to Dad, in reply to his ‘elongated’ envelope & one to Mum, in answer to the parcel of Mar 5, which, as I say again, was an ideal pancake (11).
Ah! dear Dodger, I trust you will use your gifted energy at comforting Mummy & use your tact if you are called up on you coming of 18 years of age. My best wishes for your success in the examsat School for your sake & Mum’s & Dad’s. (12).
Tell Ida she must send me a written formal apology for saying I am a WEE bit SAD.But of course you quite know it is all a mere joke on my part. Ha Ha!
Ta ra. Bertie.
PS This evening I received a sweet little letter from Molly (13) with her usual beaucoup kisses.She followed my idea of sticking a stampon the back of the envelope – one of a pussy cat.I think I have been the cause of renewing that craze, what think you?
TUES. “STOP PRESS” Got Mum’s letter of Friday about Sydney coming. Hope he will have a safe journey.
Pte Bertie Hibbett is now within 25 miles of the Western Front and the trenches of Neuville St Vaast and Vimy Ridge.
(1) Estree-Wamin: farming village/commune in Pas de Calais (Roman site – ‘estree’ is from ‘strata/street’).10 miles north from Occoches. (2) Magnicourt-en-Comte: commune in Pas de Calais. 13.05 miles north from Estree–Wamin. (3) Aubigny: commune in centre of Mont St Eloi area.11 miles south-east from Magnicourt. (4) Ecoivres: hamlet in commune of Mont Saint Eloi.6 miles east from Aubigny. Total March of 40 miles approx.
(5) Wayside Ministries. Called Wilkinson’s in Letter 17th 1916. Christian Mission literature/under influence of 18th Cent. American Jemima Wilkinson? Quoted in Walsall Church Mag.? (6) Lieut ( W.G.?)Thomson & (H.H.?) Lawley. QMS scholars /Info. pending.
(7) Battle of Loos-Hohenzollern Redoubt,13th Oct. 1915. (8) The Spencer Club. QMS Club? Bertie Hibbett was fond of creating ‘illuminations’ and after the War he kept an Autogaph Album of drawings, contributions and signatures of friends, some collected during the War.
(9) QMS Magazine December 1914. SONNET
Oh hear the wailing cry of agony Which swells above the cannon’s sullen roar, Above the piercing sounds of bloody war, And fills the hearts with deepest melancholy; Which drowns our feeble cries of victory, Whereby, poor thoughtless fools we set such store, Yea, opens to our eyes Death’s gaping door, Dark with the growing clouds of misery.
It is the sorrowing people’s pained cry, Who mourn the loss of all their bravest youth, Snatched by untimely death that knows no ruth, E’en while they fought for Home & Liberty. But better far they should thus honoured fall Than deaf remain to their dear country’s call. Anon.
(10) ‘an ideal pancake’: ref. to his Mother’s parcelof good things for Shrove Tuesday ‘Pancake Day’. 4th Mar.1916. (11) Senior OxfordExaminationMatriculation. (12) Molly Evans.Bertie’s pal Vernon Evans‘ little sister.
NEXT POST: 17th Mar. 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.