PLATOON SERJEANT W. PRICE: LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT at The Cenacle, New Brighton, Cheshire.
Same Address (1). 17/ 8/ 16.
Received your letter & parcel this afternoon & P.C. yesterday. Glad to hear your comfortably settled and hope your wound will make a good cure, but not too speedy a one.
It is very good of you to think of us here, it is usually the case for those who are fortunate enough to get back to Blighty to forget those left behind, but there is at least one who remembers and I thank you for it on behalf of the boys and myself. At present I am on a course away from the Batt. but expect to rejoin in a few days, probably Sunday, so will take the cigarettes, etc. with me.
I sincerely hope your brother is at the Base Hospital (2). I explained as well as I could in my letter to Miss Foster*, although I had no idea where he was until I had your letter. Please God all is well with him and that he will make a good recovery.
I didn’t have anyone killed, the day you were wounded, in the platoon, but one man is missing. I haven’t heard anything of him yet, that was the man who put his field dressing on you, A.V. (3).Yes Gurley* & the boys are all keeping well. I don’t know Ball* but will let you know soon. I don’t know how the other three instructors got on.
No wonder you say you are happy, what with your people being near you and the weather and the place – you could not well be otherwise. I hope the only shadow that is marring your happiness will soon be dispelled.
You know my home is not far from New Brighton. Widnes, the other [side] the Mersey from Runcorn, is where I live (4).
I know all around New Brighton, Seacombe, Wallasey etc. quite well.
I could envy you if you had not richly deserved your rest. As you say war seems far distant from such surroundings.
No we have not been in a charge since you left us.I will answer for it that correspondence is kept up between the platoon & yourself. I will write occasionally, if it is only a note it will act as a connecting file so we shall not lose touch.
Yes I wish the boys could be with you to enjoy the privileges of the hospitality shown to us all by those at home. You know I can speak from experience as I was in hospital five months. You made my mouth water speaking of chicken etc, but we are out here for a purpose, let us get this done then we will think of the luxuries of life.
Yes Randle* found his way alright. I cannot tell you anything about the roll call, you must guess that (5). I will tell Bird (6 ) what you asked me to.
Don’t think you were scoffed at for living as He would have us all live, far from it. We all admire you for the strength of will you exercised to do so, and I greatly admire you for the (card?) incident. I used to ‘say things’ myself at times, but you must remember I was a Platoon Sergeant. Still I always tried to live as I should live.
Before I close, Bertie, I should like to say that what I said in my two letters to Miss Foster* was quite true, and you must not underestimate your own qualities as a soldier. I am always candid in my opinion of everyone and I can honestly say you were always a good soldier and one of the best.
Please accept the kindest regards of all the platoon and myself.
Serg. W. Price.
PS. Your card enclosed.
The Hibbett Family was hoping against hope that the verbal report Pte Bertie had received of Sydney’s death was not true and that he might be lying injured somewhere in a Hospital in France.
This Letter indicates the lengths Bertie’s Platoon Serjeant W. Price went to help families & friends as they tried to discover the whereabouts of their loved ones. He had already written twice in reply to Mary Foster, Bertie’s Godmother, and here he promises to keep fully in touch with Bertie. His relationship with my father is yet further evidence of the respect and understanding which existed between officers, NCOs & men of 1/5th S. Staffords who volunteered in Walsall, August 1914.
WW1 Historian Peter Barton, in a recent authoritative & well documented TV series, suggests that the Battle of The Somme did not end on November 18th 1916 but continued until the following February 1917; when the Germans made a strategic retreat to the Seigfried/Hindenburg Line. <www.the guardian.com>19th July 2016, review of revised 2006 Somme Panorama.
This further length of time, before it was safe to search the Gommecourt Battlefield for those who fell in No Man’s Land, would account for Sydney’s loss of identity and his burial beneath a wooden cross inscribed ‘Unknown Serjeant, South Stafford’.
(1) Same Address: i.e. 1/5th South Staffordshire Battalion, B.E.F. the exact location can be found in the War Diary for 17th Aug. 1916.The battalion had moved on up the Line immediately after 1st July. (2) No 6, 9 and No 12 Base Hospital, Rouen. Pte Bertie was in all three from Aug – Oct 1915.
(3) A.V. Arthur Venables*, Walsallpal (put a field dressing on my father’s wound in the midst of battle, 1st July 1916). Commemorated on The Memorial to the Missing, Thiepval; in Walsall Town Hall & on Walsall War Memorial. <www.webmatters.net>
(4) Widnes, Cheshire, north bank of River Mersey.(5) Roll Call: i.e. of the Platoon after the 1st July 1916 Charge, Gommecourt.See Casualties 1/5th S. Staffords War Diary Post :1st July 2016.
(6) Padre H.E.Bird* (Chaplain QMS 1/5th S Staffords). See Letter to Pte Bertie, 19th July 1916.
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:-
14th-16th Tue & Wed. Mar. Battalion to Divisional Reserves. 3 Lewis Teams and Guns relieved 3 Lewis Guns and teams of 5th North Staffordshire Regiment in the trenches.
17th Mar. Fri.Battalion in Divisional Reserve.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to IDA NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
St Patrick’s Day. Friday Mar. 17/ 16
Psalm 131verse 4 & 5 ‘. . . Let the righteous rather smite me friendly and reprove me.’ & v. 7 ‘But let not their precious balms break my head. . .’
‘Though he fall he shall not utterly be cast down.’(Psalm 37.24) (1)
‘Forgive and Forget.’ ‘The reproof of a good man resembles fuller’s earth’, it not only removes the spots from our character, but it rubs off when dry.’ (2).
‘It is sorrow which makes our experience, it is sorrow which teaches us to feel rightly for ourselves & others. We must feel deeply, before we can think rightly.’ Wilkinson’s Wayside Ministries. (3)
My Dear Sister,
You have written me some most advisable letters which have, as Miss Foster* once termed it, ‘dressed me down’.But I felt a wee bit hurt about this last one of yours; now deary,don’t be alarmed for it was much for my own good.
You raked up past memories of the petty quarrels Vernon* & I had. Those were in England before we came to face the seriousness of life more – in the fighting line.
Forgive and Forget, I say. Yes, dear Ida, there isa great deal under that exterior, so quiet, of his. I will not say anything in criticism of that, I will practice to be broader minded. I may rightly say‘the waters have come over my soul’ (4) – and they are like a cataract or torrent, for I had a letter from Vernon yesterday & although he said something ending up with ‘between ourselves’ I will let a little of the secret out to you. I told him I should have to pray hard for humility & now, after reading your letter which I got at ‘Tattoo’, I feel more uneasy, –but, as the old saying goes,‘peace will follow storm’ (5).
So I hope that the morning will bring freshness & a good resolutionto rise, for I had nearly fallen to the lowest when in England with Vernon. But WAR has proved a blessing to me in more ways than one.
Now I must say something about each delightful item in your jolly letter.
Poor Sydney’s departure made me feel sympathetic for him, & you all,yet I could not help thinking of Miss Foster’s*comic postcard – ‘Which shall it be ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ or ‘Abide with me’?’ I enclose her PC.
I wrote Vernon a long letter last night in reply. I had not written to him since I left the Batt. because I thought my writing to him would be an insinuation & he would ‘Break Out’ in his generosity to send me something, he being in England.
Harold puzzles me. Mum, in one of her past letters,told me how he was cross with Sydney for not acknowledging his parcels etc. Well, I wrote to Harold, about the time I wrote to you, Mar 3rd, in reply to his letter of Feb 16th, addressed to Notts & Derbys.In that letter of hishe said he had some things waiting for me & he would send them as soon as he knew I was settled & heard from me. This, your letter of Tue. Mar 14th, has come in 3 days. I don’t know whether to inform Harold or not. Should he have sent me his promisedparcel, & it had gone astray, he will think I, too, do not appreciate his parcels & am lacking in consideration, for if I find time to write to you & other people I have time to answer his parcels. – But – How Tantalising he is. I have been looking out for his parcel as day comes & goes, just as Mum told me to do with regard to hers, & have been disappointed, in a sense, each time.
I have not yet written again to Harold. I don’t like to, but I am waiting, – waiting for a result. I guess I shall hear of somethingTOMORROW.
I knew you would go to St Paul’s and how did you & Mum like Mr Darling’s* sermon (6)?By the by, that reminds me, he told me not to write a long letter but ‘just send me a line with your address’. I wrote the ‘line’, but forgot my address; could you give it him at your earliest opportunity please?
Although I shall be pleased to see Sydney,I was hoping and still hope his ‘little business’ (7) will soon come to settlement. I dreamt last night I saw him, & Basil came as well.
Your letter, with reference to the photo (8), also did me good after all, for I can’t be TOO CHEERFUL with the right sort of CHEER, but I do not think I shall send Miss Foster* a duplicate of the one I sent you. I shall wait until I can send her aCheerful Face.
Best love to all, Bertie.
Remember me kindly to the Overends* & Evans.*
This Letter is an example of family relations under strain – and how hard it was for Pte Bertie Hibbett to explain – and for those at Home to imagine, let alone understand, exactly what it was like for their loved ones fighting at the Front. Ida Hibbett had obviously taken Pte Bertie to task for being annoyed with his pal Vernon (for telling the family more about himself than he wanted told cf Letter of 5th Mar.). This upset him but true to character he accepted the ‘dressing down‘. He also realised that the War had made him understand how he must ‘forgive & forget’.
(1) Psalms of Penitencefor Lent most likely quoted in Walsall Church Magazine. (2) ‘The reproof of a good man’. The Biblical Illustrator. Commentary on Titus: Joseph S ExellMA 1819 -1887: Methodist Minister/ onetime served in Walsall.
(3) Wilkinson’s Wayside Ministries.American Missionary. (See previous Letter).(4) ‘The waters have come over my soul ‘. Psalm 69.1. Lamentations 3.54.(5) St Francis de Sales. 1567 -1622. Introduction to the Devout Life. Ch XIII.
(6) The Revd E. More Darling, Vicar of Walsall’s retirement sermon.
A Little Book of Words & Doings.Treasured Sayingsin Letters from Home: Mother re Rev. Darling’s Farewell Sermons. ‘When Mum got up to go to Holy Communion with Basil & Ida. Raining. “I enjoy walking in the rain. We got up in good time & had a good breakfast & then we all went off to Church again & locked up the house. Mr Darling has taken all the services today. I am sure he must feel very tired tonight & with the strain of saying goodbye, but I hope we shall often see him.” ‘
(7) ‘Little business’:Sydney’s Commissionapplication,if successful it would mean training in England.
(8) Photo of Pte Bertie Hibbettwith his Hindustani Sikh friend Buckshee Ichbye Sing Waltu, Marseilles.
NEXT POST: 26th 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.