Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT (enclosed with one to ARTHUR HIBBETT).
Rise and not Rest, but press To Heaven’s height, far & steep.’Robert Browning. (1)
Ascension Day.The Glorious First of June, 1916. (2)
My Very Dear Mother,
Another queer coincidence. I received your delightful letter with the one of Dad’s enclosed, at the same time as Mrs Evans*’kind letter, with Norman’s*enclosed.And you & they were thinking of each other in all the letters– ‘compris’?
I thank you immensely for the lilies – although they looked the worse for wear the chief thing was that they were sent from Home with your heart’s love.
Norman*told me thatSydneywould return to the Batt. on Wednesday, that was yesterday, and so he did. My word he looked all the smarter after his course of instruction, which he was ‘full up’ with talking about.
Now, do you remember how I told you in my past letters that when he or I return after being away from the Batt. as luck would have it, he or I go away shortly afterwards, & there we keep going at it, alternately. Matters seem like occurring again.
The Instructors gave him an excellent report.I saw his bayonet last night & my word it was a fine sight to see.I pity the poor Bosche who has its brilliant blade in his ribs. He showed me the bayonet when it had been given him & it was very rusty then, but last night I saw the result of ‘elbow grease and emery cloth’ – as Sydney terms it.Jones*, like Ball*, as you said,behaves as though Sydney was a towering fine big chap.Jonesis not so bad, you see theSamuda Cigs (3)turned up all right & Joneswas good to see into some cigarettesfrom Miss Foster* that were stolen by someone else.
I happily had a letter from Vernon at the same time as the parcel from his mother.Vernonis very like his father –solicitor like, but that doesn’t mean to say I do not like Vernon – far from it now. Ah dear Mum, War is a blessing looking at it in one light. Refer War to that text in the Psalms –‘The Lord is loving unto everyone & His mercy is over all his works’ (4). Vernon, I rememberedshowed tact, & I learnt a lesson from that tact when we went on Home Leave via London last Jan. (5)
I enclose a fern this time. How are the ferns getting on?Ah how you loved to water them & I hope I shall be watering them for you & cutting the grass& so fulfilling your wish that you could see me very soon.
I will close now with my fondest love to all.
Always yours affectionately, Bertie.
Motto for Ascensiontide:– ‘Their life is – to wake not sleep, Rise & not Rest, but press From earth’s level, where blindly creep, Things perfected more or less To Heaven’s height, far & steep.’ R. Browning.
In this letter to his Mother, Pte Bertie Hibbett concentrates on the message of hope he finds in the poetry of Robert Browning – reflecting as it does the Ascension of Christ, the reconciliation of God & Man. He does his best to cheer his Mother by sending her a fern in exchange for her lilies, passing on the praise of Sydney – and the good news of stolen parcels recovered.
‘Count your blessings!’ was a favourite saying of my father and here he finds blessings wrung out of the War; mainly his deepening friendship with his old school pal, Vernon Evans, a friendship that was to last the rest of his life.
(1) Robert Browning: English leading Victorian poet/playwright. 1812-1889.‘Rise & not rest’is verse from Reverie, which begins‘In the beginning God created the heaven & the earth‘.
(2) Ascension Day/ Glorious First of June: See Hibbett Letter to Dad, 1st June 1916.
(3) ‘Samudas’ refers to Cigarettes: once again Pte Bertie provides an answer to a query raised in an earlier letter.This poor reproduction ofa Tobacco Pipe Advert ‘Let me fill your pipe‘ was published by Jacob & Joseph Samuda Co. Ltd tobacco merchants.
(4)Psalm:145.9.(Psalm for the 30th Morning. Book of Common Prayer, 1662).
(5) i.e. Home Leavein Jan. 1915 before Embarcation to France, March 3rd.1915.
21st- 31st May: Battalion Training. In Rest Billets.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘Yea and slew mighty Kings, for his mercy endureth for ever’. Psalm 136.(2)
‘For the Lord be high, yet he hath respect unto the lowly; as for the proud he beholdeth them afar off’.Psalm 138.
‘I am not alone, because the Father is with me’.‘I will pray the Father for you, for the Father himself loveth you’. (3) Gospel for:- 5th Sunday after Easter. May 28/ 16.
My Dear Mother & Father,
I guessed it was Empire Day (4) on Wednesday when I sent you my ‘Doggerel Illustrated’ –one copy, whichever you choose, was for Miss Foster.
After a long day’s work in a big wood, making hurdles for trenches, I came back rather tired with the expectation of the parcel you told me to look out for.
Lo! what a pleasure indeed to find it when I returned, just in time for a comfy luxurious Sunday tea;I washed my sweaty hands, wood stained through chopping, & then took the parcel into a neighbouring field & there I did enjoy the things – and so fulfilled your wish.
You remembered it seemed, that I love those ginger cakes with icing on top.Are they any dearer now?Bates* used to have them for lunch & send me to Pathesons (5) for them. Many thanks for the favourite chocolates& the very acceptable and ‘suitable’ lime juice pastilles; both Dodger & you still remember what I like inconfectionery.
So also the DUCKY eggswhich I am keeping to enjoy for tomorrow’s breakfast.After a thirsty daythePineapple chunkswere delicious. Thank you for the notepaper. Could you send some envelopeswith the next lot?
Now, dear Mum, the thought of those sketches in Fragments of France (6) more particularly thewording underneath,did enter my mind asvulgar. Lieut Sanger*told me he (Bairnsfather) had been libelled for one of his sketches.
I do hope you will not think my pictures, illustrating that poem of mine, are vulgar also,but mine are chiefly originals.
You will recognise one or two of them as copies from Fragments of France.One of theSnipershad it sent to him. The features in my pictures are similar to Bairnsfather’s. What do you think of the verses?I wrote to Miss Bore* last night & sent her a copy.
I had two lovely letters from Miss K.E. Brookes*fromMalvern & today the parcel of cigarettes, (which were from Samudas(7) & first intended for me & which Miss Brookes said had been returned to her, for what reason she did not say)came with your parcels & were readdressed to Sydney and I had his lot. Miss Brookes sent me a PC of Malvern also;they are doing their bit well I think.
Yes I ‘compris’ your meaning of the amusing display of swank and ‘offishness’. Do you read the texts at the top of my letters? – see what I have written about the ‘Proud’ in today’s Psalms.
Empire Day generally turns out sunny. We had it sunny too.You were all alone you said, – see that part of the Gospel. I particularly thought of you when I read it & the text has been mine before the war & since.
I was very, very pleased indeed to hear that Sydney got his birthday parcelson the very day.I have written twice since he left me. Once on his birthday & one previous, which I hoped he would get on the day. Do you know Mum, between we selves, I think the reason Sydney has gone in for the Course of Armoury (8) (and in hopes to be an Armoury Sergeant)is to get out of the way of these new draft officers. But excepting Lieut Sanger*of course, who wished he had Sydney as his Platoon Sergeant. Sanger is over us now – 2 Platoon.I remembered you to him & he often asks me concerning you both.
I had a nice long letter from Auntie (Pattie) about Military Sunday (9). She said she could not help,with others, feeling sad at the sight of so many soldiers – not so much of those particular soldiers, but it reminded her of the War.
There are not so many rats in this barn, why I can’t say. I have not seen one yet. The sketch I drew of ‘A night attack repulsed’is typicalof a usual night’s rest in the last barns previous to these.
Oh Auntie doesn’t know yet that Ida is away doing farm work& she said how pleased matters turned out for Basil, he could go out with Ida. So is Basil full up with Wednesday afternoons now like Sydney & I were?Does he go firing at Tame Valley Range? (10).
You can write long letters Mummy but do they interfere with your ‘business’?Yes I told you in my last that the (cooker)refill arrived safely.Apparently you did not get my last Sunday greenletter before Wednesday. You would get it on Thursday I guess rightly eh?
How queer that you should be thinking of the same subject as I have been thinking about this last week & today even.No I have not a stripe yet, I still class as a ‘Tommy’.
You need not send me any money thank you very muchMummy. I should only spend it on things which you could send me inparcels, for instance I want some‘Soldier’s Friend’a kind of ‘Perka’(sic) (11), only in tins, for brightening my buttons.
I will close now with my Best Love to all. B.
PS I saw Ball* yesterday morning since his return from Leave. He told me he met a ‘Lady’ in Lichfield & that he went intoFather’s Office (12). I offered him a few chocolates at tea time.I guess your ear would burn at tea time for I guess we were, both sides of the water,enjoying a niceSunday’s tea.
God bless you all. Bertie.
Both Serjeant Sydney & Bertie Hibbett, still a ‘Tommy’, had yet to hear about their application for Commission in 1/5th & 3/5th South Staffords, respectively. It appears the ‘new draft of officers’ displayed ‘swank and ‘offishness‘ – a proud lot, not to be compared with those who came out with the Staffords in 1914. From this letter we learn that my father was worried his Mother might think his ‘Sniper Atkins’ ‘vulgar’. Also that Ida’s new voluntary work was in the Women’s Land Army, a decision she had kept from her Mother.
(1) Lucheux: medieval village, approx.13miles from the Front. Place for rest & training – with a 48th Field Ambulance (37th Division) Hospital. Here the 137th (Staffordshire) & 138th (Lincoln & Leicester) Brigades (46th Division) createda large scale model of German Lines at Gommecourt for Battle Practice.Frenchfarmers called the 46th Division ‘Les autres Bosches’ for taking up valuable arable land. Lucheux Woods were exploited for cutting sapplings for hurdles & ‘revetments‘ (trench supports). See Gerald Gliddon: Somme 1916 A Battlefield Companion. 2012.
(2) Psalms for 28th Day, Evening Prayer (Book of Common Prayer)are again applied by Pte Bertie to comfort his family & make sense of his life. (3) I am not alone/ the Father loveth you:Gospel of John, 16.32.
(4) Empire Day: celebration of British, Empire 24th May 1904 -1958. Inspired by Earl Meath (friend of Baden Powell). To remind children that ‘They formed part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious Empire.”, and that “The strength of the Empire depended upon them, and they must never forget it.” <http://www.historic-uk.com>
(5) ‘Pathesons’: Walsall Bakery? Bates* could be Bertie Hibbett’s former supervisor in Mining Surveyor’s Office, Lichfield Street, Walsall. (6) Fragments of France: CaptainBruce Bairnsfather. Published in The Bystander. 1916.<http://brucebairnsfather.org.uk> & Hibbett Letter: 17th May 1916. (7) ‘Samudas: familiar name in Walsall/ Birmingham area. No direct reference found.
(9) Military Sunday: national Fund Raising Day for Soldiers? (10) Tame Valley: South of Tamworth on Staffordshire/Warwickshire border. Firing Range for Army/ O.T.C. Queen Mary’s School Walsall. (11) ‘Perka‘ text unclear/ could be ‘Perika‘/ brand name for cleaning polish?
(12) Town Hall, Walsall.1905.Arthur Hibbett’sEducation Office was at the back of the building to the left I think.
Serjeant SYDNEY HIBBETT: LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd.Walsall.
Convalescent Camp. Rouen. Saturday. Nov 27th/ 15.
My very dear own Parents,
I am feeling much better todayand can safely say I am quite well. I came out of the special treatmentward today and am now with the ‘Z’ Company again (1).
There was a concert in the YMCA last night so I went over and enjoyed myself. I don’t think I shall be here very long now as I don’t particularly desire it and want to get back to business. I wish it was the old Works again though (2).Then there is mycommission: I want to see how that is going on, though a sergeant has a lot of privileges, I find (3).
I am looking forward rather to the morning service tomorrow: it was beautiful last Sunday, though I was so bad I could hardly stand. We have the Chaplain, a kindly old man, to play the harmonium & this, with all the band’s flutists, makes a most beautiful and tuneful melody.
The big YMCA hut is crowded with convalescents and we have a very similar service to the Matins at home. You know I delight to hear & sing the Psalms & a service without these & the Venite is no service to me(4).But last Sunday reminded one very much of the service at St Paul’s.
Ah yes! be happy that you have a good church and a nice service to go to on a Sunday; I think of it you know & can see you all in church in my mind’s eye: thefamiliar, well known people, the Farringtons, Fentons, Middletons, the Miss Hills and Co and so on.
They all perhaps think – ‘same place, another Sunday, same people, the same old round’. How I enjoyed the service that morning I went when I was on leave!
Tell Harold I wish him the best of luck and hope he won’t be forced to join the Army.The way some of the crippled soldiers have been treated by the War Office is enough to deter anyone from joining the Army.What will become of a great many of the poor fellows who are not able to help themselves, I don’t know: I shouldn’t like it. (5)
Yes next time there’s a War I shall stand on the footpath and shout Hurray! and wave my hand to the passing troops & stay at home – & send them cigarettes! And that is as far as I shall go.
Tell old Hal (6) to write me a line as he owes me a letter. Jolly old boy. Hasn’t poor old Alan been home yet? Perhaps he will be in time for Xmas.
I suppose you are having one of your usual Saturday afternoons again – nothing much to do and Hal is over at Sutton I expect, andDad is reading his Times in the red chair by the fireand I hope you will both be going a walk soon.
What does Dodger do on a Sat. I suppose he kicks a ball about up at the old field,but I forgot, they have a new ground now (7). Ida will be making bombs perhaps, good old sort.
Well there is not much to say now it seems – the fellows are off to the pictures in Rouen & are marching down with the band. I never go myself. I think I will close now: the next time I write will probably be at the Base, we shall see.
Goodbye, dear Mother and everyone, and I hope you have a nice Sunday. Keep Harold at Home & don’t let him be in a hurry to join.
Best love from Sydney.
PS I had a letter from Miss Brookes* (8), a very nice one too. What about mywatch?
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT & 1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY
NEUVE CHAPELLE TRENCHES
25th Nov.Thur: Relieved the 1/5th Batt. North Staffordshire Regimentin ‘C’ SUBSECTOR trenchesat 6.40 pm.
26th Nov. Fri:Quiet Day. Enemyplaced considerablenumber ofH.E.aroundBREWERY.CASUALTY: 8646 Pte W. Edwardswounded by shrapnel.
27th Nov. Sat:Quiet morning.About mid-dayenemywhiz-banged field West of BATTALION HEADQUARTERS. At10.0 pmslightly increased activity ofhostile gunand rifle fire.
The young Queen Mary’s School Cadet is now an experienced soldier and this Letter is that of a man who has fought his way for 2 days or more – along Big Willie in the Battle of Loos-Hohenzollern Redoubt. Howeversad, however disillusioned with the Army and the War Office he may appear to be, there is no question that Serjeant Sydney Hibbett knows his duty: he must get well, further his commissionand get back to the Front to look after his men.
(1) ‘Z’ Company of Royal Engineers: a special unit specialising in use of gas & flame projectors (to create walls of fire)came into being in response to German gas attacks, 22nd April 1915.(Long Long Trail/ Royal Engineers/ website).
(2) Mining Engineering Works/Old Park Works, Wednesbury, Staffordshire.
(3) Serjeant (official spelling in WW1). 2nd in Command of a troop or platoon (50 men). Privileges: presumably these included exemption from censorship of letters ?
(4) Matins: common name for ‘Morning Prayer’ in Church of England Book of Common Prayer.1662.Originallya monasticliturgy at cock-crow/ also called ‘lauds’ (from Latin meaning ‘praise’). Oxford Dictionaries: Origin of word ‘matins’: Middle English from Old French ‘matines’, influenced by the Latin ‘matinutae’ (morning prayers), from Mutata/name of the Roman Dawn Goddess. Nice!
The Venite, Exultemus Domino ( ‘O Come, let us Sing unto the Lord’) is the 1st line of the opening Psalm 95. ThePsalms Sydneyloved (he probably knew many by heart) would be those of the Psalter in Book of Common Prayer (ordered to be read or sung through once a month) rather than those in King James translation of Old Testament Book of Psalms.
(5) Crippled Soldiers: 30% of British Soldiers were wounded in WW1. Before 1915 they relied on Soldiers & Sailors Help Society. The State reluctantly began to take some responsibility and Pensions were introduced. But many of the disabled & their families suffered great hardship. Those with ‘shell-shock’ were ignored or treated with suspicion as ‘malingerers’. See Jenny du Feu ‘Factors Informing Rehabilitation of British Soldiers of WW1‘. <https://www.medicinae.org >
(6) Hal: Sydney’s abbrev. for elder brother Harold. (7) QMS New Sports Ground:in same place as today? (8) Miss K. Brookes*: family friend & well-respected Sunday School Superintendant at St Paul’s Walsall.
BATTALION REFITTING: 20th – 24th Oct. ALLOUAGNE. In Rest Billets.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
21st Sunday afterTrinity. Oct 24/ 15.
‘Turn again then unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath rewarded thee’.First Psalm for this morning (1).
My Dearest Father & Mother,
Isn’t Ida a brick.I was so proud of my sister on hearing she was commended by the manager in making or helping to make bombs, that I mentioned the fact that I had a sister who was helping to make bombs to my comrades. One chap gave a brilliant reply and said ‘she is making them while her brother is throwing them’.
(2). Sydney, good old boy, showed me the pin of the first bomb he threw.
I am writing this Sunday letter in another barnsome distance away down the road from where Sydney is. I was writing a letter yesterday evening when the candlewent out. I thought I had better go & buy another,1½ d each & call to see if there are any letters for me.
When I got to the Batt. the post had not yet been sorted & I was about to go & buy a candle when the chap told me there were two letters for me, so I went in the Farm House where Sydney was, for the chap told me that my brother had got them.There in the corner of the room wasSydneypoking into ahuge box of all sorts of good things, and round him weretwo or three little children, inmates of the farm.
I was not long in opening & reading the jolly long letters from Mother & Ida, with Dad’s few lines of phraseology & Basil’stwiddly bit – on a spare sheet of paper ripped out of his swot book I suppose. Yes Mum I got the one sent to Rouen safely,what a long one too, your poor knuckles must have ached, for I know what it is to write lengthy letters myself.
Sydney, naughty boy, is a secretive person,I did not get to know of the letter he got from you last Wednesday until next day & then I had to ask him.He means to keep all reference to his Commission as secret as possible, wise chap, so wise that he would not tell me. I happened to pick up a long envelope with one of Dad’s ‘Editor-like’ letters in and some forms. Sydney was soon on to me. Well he told me he is waiting to see what Mr Crump* sais to the Colonel* (3).
Mummy, if you could have got all those people, who kept coming to see him when he was at Home, to have stood outside the farmhouse window & let each one peep inside & see Sydney there, sitting on a chair nursing a poor little laddie who looked at Sydney so lovingly, – well, those with a touch of humour would have roared with laughter and those with a natural inclination for all that is beautiful would have come away with a lasting impression of a picture of true tenderness & boyish love of kiddies. I think Sydney would not take much coaxing to be a Sunday School Teacher.
I had a letter from Mr Hurst* saying how the staff of teachers seem to be lacking energy. Mr Darling *(4) will want someone to take the place of the late Mr Cozens* (5). IfDodger can see his way to help at St Paul’s S.S, without hindering his preparations for another smack at the exam,well Mr Darling& I would be delighted.I hinted the matter in a letter to Mr Darling on Trafalgar Day. As a matter of fact Mr Darling said to me that he would be calling on Basil, he was so taken with him & was a rival of Mr Cox* of St Mark’s(6). And then Dodger would be doing a bit more of helping in this War, like Ida, who has so finely set an example.
I think Ida, if she were a boy, would soon win the VC, she always manages to distinguish herself in most things she takes in hand.
Yes Mum the 1st Lesson of last Sunday was very interesting about the shepherds, wasn’t it? (7). It reminds me of Sunday School work again & is a good lesson for us. Did you compare the 1st lesson with the 2nd one (8) & see how St Paul differs from those negligent shepherds? Aren’t the Psalms for this morning appropriate for a Service of Thanksgiving after the fight? ‘I am well pleased that the Lord hath heard the voice of my prayer’ is a striking verse for the firstverse of the 1st Psalm of the morning (9).
If you look up your diary, Mummy,you will find out that last year, at this time, I was spending Sunday with you.I was on Home Leave.
I enjoyed a lovely slice of pork pie for my supperyesterday (Sat) & brought back with me half theloaf of brown bread and two eggs & some delicious thick broken chocolate. I enjoyed one of the eggswith my baconat breakfast this morning & took the chocolatewith me to the field where we had been training in bomb throwing all day & I am now enjoying the brown bread & the other eggfor tea, 4.pm.
I shall have to pop down to see Sydney again this evening to taste & see how nice that large cake is. I had an appletoo, I must not miss that out & I saw something which I don’t expect I shall see when I go down tonight. Sydney will have demolished both box& creamas well, with his apologies & my forgiveness.
I hope you are all enjoying another Happy Sunday. I guess Harold is with you today isn’t he? Never mind, Mummy, if I am not with you to go toChurch& hear Our Bishop (10), I shall be with you in spirit, especially when the lessons are being read for I am going to read them out of myKhaki Pocket Bible (11).
Have I said all?To make certain to you where I am, I am apart fromSydneybut can go & see him in the evenings.My address is to the Batt. just the same as to Sydneyonly of course I am ‘Private’ – & be sure you address it ‘Sergeant Sydney’.
Well her’s tiv us, all on us, May us nivver want nowt, but parcels from Harm. Norn on us, nor me norther. An if yer do owt for nowt, Do it for yer sen(12).
The above is splendid economy for these days.
I am short of a shirt. And a toweltoo will want. And hangme I want a hankietoo. I am not joking but shall be pleased to get them instead ofcakes next time.
Best love to all,Bertie.
Thanksgiving Services & Memorial Services followed each other relentlessly at Home – while Pte Bertie looks ahead to the Church & Life after the War.
NB*Starred Names see Menu Pages. Note: ‘Dodger‘ is one of Basil Hibbett’s nick-names.
(1) Psalm 116. v.7.
(2) Ida Hibbettseems to have been spending all her time on War Service: Red CrossVADnursing, helping to create a Card Index of Men Available for Military Service at the Local Government Office – and now making bombs.
Small bomb factories were set up in local workshops but I have yet to discover where Ida went to make bombs (most likely she was filling shells, like the 6″ howitzer shells made at Viscount Godfrey Chetwyd’s National Shell-Filling Factory, Chilwell, Nottingham. Commissioned 20th Aug. 1915). Ida was to die in 1921 from cancer caused by this work.
(3) Lt Col. Elden Annesley Crump3/5th Bn Reserves. (prominent Walsall family – to whom Arthur Hibbett may have applied to re his son Sydney’s Commission). Lt Col Sir Stuart Wortley. C.O. 1/5th S. Staffs.
(4) The Revd E. More Darling.Vicar of St Paul’s, Walsall. (5) Tim Cozenshad been a Sunday School teacher in Walsall. Killed in Action 13th Oct 1915.Pte Bertiecould however have been referring to Tim’s father, Henry Cozens prominent in Walsall Church.
(6) Mr Cox: Head of St Mark’s Sunday School, Walsall – rival for Basil’s help there? (7) Ezekiel34 v. 13. ‘Lessons Proper for Sundays’. Anglican Book of Common Prayer. 1662. (8) Pte Bertieappears to be referring to2 Thessalonians 11 (not the Lesson Proper for 21st Sunday).Maybe he was following an altered reading list, published in Walsall’s Church Magazine.
(9) Psalm 116. v.1. (10) Bishop Lionel Crawford.1864 -1934,Suffragan Bishop of Stafford, Diocese of LIchfield.
(11) Khaki Pocket Bible. ‘It is hard to understand British society at the time of World War One if you subtract the Bible from it.’Dr Michael Snape, Reader in Religion, War and Society at the University of Birmingham.
‘When war broke out in 1914, every member of the British Armed Forces was given a Bible as an essential part of their kit’. (Total: 6 -7000 Bibles a day were published by The Bible Society. 34 new translation of languages & dialects i.e. one new version of the Bible every seven weeks. <https://www.biblesociety.org.uk>
‘ The Bible was a defining influence on British culture across class divides. From the public school to the Sunday school, from art and music to political debate, the Bible was in the blood of British people‘.
‘It was hugely consoling for individual soldiers,’ Dr Snape says. ‘There are poignant stories of bodies being recovered of men who had died with a New Testament in their hands. What else could you do if you were alone, badly wounded and going to meet your Maker? ’
(12) Pte Bertie’s adapted version of a Yorkshire saying (in Black Country dialect?) passed down our family & often quoted for fun.Meaning:Here’s to us, all of us. May we never want for anything(but parcels from Home), none of us, nor me either. And if you do something for nothing do it for yourself.cf Hibbett Letter: 14th May, 1915. cf <https://www.bbc.co.uk/north Yorkshire>
NEXT POST: 27th Oct. 1915. Family Dandelion Wind-clock & Food to the Front.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, No 6 GENERAL BASE ROUEN: LETTER to MOTHER & FATHER, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Monday Sep. 6 / 15
My Very Dear Mother & Father,
Another repetition of having to include a Monday’s epistle with a Sunday’s.If I had managed to get a green envelope yesterday the 1st part of this letter would have gone.
It seemed as though the letters I wrote yesterdaymust stay to acknowledge the ripping parcel I got this morning. The eggscame in good condition, – just the shellsbroken, but that’s all – no mess whatever. Hard boiled eggs seem to be in ‘great demand’ (as Miss Bore* sais) among theSoldiers. A chap had some sent him too this very morning that I got yours.
I feel I ought to answer the parcel straight away, although I have not broken into all the lovely contents.Oh MummyI am in raptures again. I guess you are smiling to know that your effort in sending such good ‘stuff’ has been another good success. There was some crossings out on Dad’s address – how dare they spoil such neat writing, but I got it safely. I shall have to write another letter shortly to say how I enjoyed the ‘assortment‘ – you have good taste forbiscuits, they are fine.
I was amused at the Whitby Heather scent – after sending the Whitby Heather soap. I guessDadtwitched a smilewhen he got to know you weresending me scent, but I was sincerely delighted with such a sentiment. Mummy & Champion’s doing I bet. And I was doubly gladon getting a handkerchief& more so being khaki.I intended getting one with my next pay if I get any. I needed a hankie so.
I was very happy indeed to see Dodger’s few words& promising me aletter. I guess he was writing it for me when I was writing to him, this letter enclosed yesterday afternoon.
I have already bought a fewapples, I think fruit will do me good. Poor Sydney again. I was rather or felt glad now that he kept Mrs Hurst’s parcel & shared the contents with ‘Brewin*’.
I enclose Sydney’s very, very nice letter.It is isn’t it? eh what? I want you & Ida to try and persuade Mrs Hurst*not to trouble about sending another parcel to this address. You may think I’m mercenary, for being inclined to expect another as Sydney had the other. As Sydney sent me her lovely letter I must write back, but if I were to tell her myself not to send me another she might take it as an insinuation – at least I do. And you can tell Mrs Hurst it was very kind indeed of her to offer to send me The Graphic (1) . Of course now that I am out of Hospital where I got reading matter I could do with something to read, but I leave that to you.
Now when our Company Sergeant Major* went on Home Leave (sergeants 1st then privates) he saw you Mother –& told me so on returning to trenches. He said he was thinking of going up to you & telling you how I was, but he did not like the idea when he thought of the life out here.
Now, as you read inSydney’s letter, he too has gone where Corporal A. Penning* is(2). But I think his death did not linger with pain, as I have no doubt Mrs Penning’s son did. Gee* was his name,a relative of Queen Mary’s O.T.C. Drum & Fife Instructor.
I am sitting on a box in a Sergeant’s tent.I was interrupted half way through this letter by thesergeantwho handed me this box & told me to go & sit inside the tent– as I was squatting in the grass just outside. It is sunny & fine but we have had some heavy rains lately.
Now I must write to Sydney. I am glad you got a letter from him. I told him to write to you & me & got his letter with your parcel.What a happy coincidence eh! When I read that you are kept happy in hopes of seeing Sydney & meI do pray that happiness will be fulfilled. ‘Put your trust in the Lord & He will fulfil your heart’s desire’ (3) and the 34th Psalm, for today – ‘The Lord delivereth the souls of His servants; and all they that put their trust in Him shall NOT BE DESTITUTE’.(4)
Best love to all, Bertram.
PSOh I am glad Sydney had opened Mrs Hurst’s parcel of chocolate(see the stains of chocolate from his finger prints)sardines (they would not make my boils any better) condensed milk (he needed that to make his tea taste nice) and yes, I am doubly glad because his rations were thin & nasty.I hope he gets a Com.You see, I told you so didn’t I – if not then I tell you now, that he wanted me to go toBlighty. I know the reason & sympathise with him & it is that feeling of his that makes me want to be with him, a sort of reaction.
We were sleeping in those beds last year at this time Mother although firing our course and in training.
Two pictures.Two Serjeants: one saving a Mother from further anxiety – and another fetching a box for a young Private to sit on and inviting him into his tent to write home. Such simple acts of thoughtful kindness fill me with gratitude to allthose who helped my Dad cope with the disappointment of not getting Home to ‘Blighty‘ with Boils.
(1) The Graphic: Illustrated Weekly Newspaper. London. famous for centre-page illustration of theSinking of the Luisitania,May 1915.
(2)6515 Company Serj. Major H. Gee. Killed : 26th Aug. 1915. (‘Shot through the lungs’, Sydney’s letter 29th Aug.). Arthur Penning: only son of Mrs A. Penning, Pte Bertie’s landlady, 29 Gold Street, Saffron Walden.
(3) Psalm 37.4-5. (4) Psalm 34interestingly is an acrostic poem with each verse beginning with successive letters of the Hebrewalphabet.
Lance Corpl SYDNEY HIBBETT 1/5th & SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.
6th Sept. Mon:In BRIGADE RESERVE – detail as 1st.CASUALTIES: WOUNDED: 8909 Pte V.C. Hough, 9149 Pte L.J. Bayley; No 9585 Pte C.F. Girling. Relieved the 6th North Staffs in the trenches at 10.15 pm.Slightly wounded 8067 Pte J. Bradley,remain at duty.
NEXT POST: 7th SEPT. 1915. In Red White & Blue – no mistake.
17th May, Mon: ‘C’Coy remained behind in support of 6th South.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: ‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’. Bulford Camp.Parcels from May Overend*, York & Mrs Machin*.Cakes handed round, toffee & smokes. Sang ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’. I smoked Syd’s health, lying down beside him, went out to speak to Jones’ brother, felt giddy & had to walk round rock! Dick Houghton – a jolly humorous chap.’
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MOTHER & FATHER. (13 pages).Messageon outside ‘Open with care – pressed flowers‘. (NB Flowers cut out by his Mother 1915, ‘replaced’ by EFW 2015).
May 17th/ 15.Mafeking Relieved. (1)
My Dear Mother & Father,
Sydney’s Coming of age – to think of it –there seems to be a beautiful atmospheric effect. Although far apart Mother & Son are joined heart to heart.
Mercy and Truth are met together, Righteousness & Peace have kissed each other, Truth shall flourish in all the earth. (2)
I pictured you all singing that on Sunday. I read the Psalms, both for Matins & Evensong (3).Sunday seemed more like Syd’s birthday, for we received your extremely welcome parcels– guess what time? -why after ‘Stand To‘ about 4. in the morning – when Motherand all of you arefast asleep.
The day too turned out lovely, bright & sunny. My generous brother shared his birthday parcel at tea-time & the Listening Party had a most enjoyable tea in the evening sun. Sydney, the very name of strength, courage & gentlemanliness.
Mother dear, you will be all the more delighted to know that Syd is favoured by the Listeners above any other NCO for duty with the party.Norman Cope*was quite anxious to know if Syd was the NCO to take us out one night. The Lance Corporals take it in turn to go with the Listeners. Syd came with us twice. How unique it would have been if Syd had been with us on Listening post & seen the dawn of his 21st birthday, but such was not to be. Sydwas never taken to drama & sentiment of that kind; an ordinary ‘common or garden day’ is his choice.
I sometimes have the idea that Syd was made for a soldier – tall & broad of stature.
I shall not forget the dayhe went Home for 24 hour leave.That day we were on guard at the Post Office in Saffron Walden – the time came when it was my turn to take my beat in front of the Post Office during the daywhen there were many people, both civilians and soldiers passing. The Sergeant of the Guard (a very kind & genuine man, who had the faith & pluck to say prayers in the hearing of 2 or 3 Companies of the Battalion billeted for the night) – the Sergeantrequested that, for the improvement of the reputation of the Battalion Sydshould take my place.
Although it hadsnowed the night before, Syd’s bayonet was as bright as ever, his pack was as neat as neat could be & in fact his general appearance was smart. Away he went & began his beat. My tall & broadly built brother, pacing up & down, was an honour to the Guard.
I have an idea that the next morning, at rifle inspection,our Platoon Commanderlifted Syd’s bayonet on high & showed it to the Platoonas an example. I may add that Vernon at tea on Sundayshowed me his bayonet & said his effort at keeping it clean was through Sydney’s example.Vernon was not a Listener. Sid had a little tea with the Listeners, then we invited Vernon to Sid’s hut & had a quiet & enjoyable tea together. Vernon brought some whipped cream& we had it with the apricots. He did enjoy the whole of the tea, especially the lemon curd. Syd cut a slice of cakefor him & he relished the whole lot & he could not resist one of Ida’s chocolate biscuits,which Sid & I think are lovely. All the Listeners who ‘partook’ of dear Mother’shomemade lemon curdabsolutely relished it. We fortunately had a ration of butter& Norman Cope had a lovely loafsent him.
As for the tea, or rather drinkables, Sid & Ienjoyed a mess tin full of tea made with the teayou sent. Arthur Brown* or Brewin as we call him (who is also very generous) made coffee & cocoa.Vernon jokingly suggested that I ought to smoke Syd’s health & he offered me a cigarette.
Oh Mother, I have tried hard to tell you in the best & most fluent way I can,but I conclude it is afailure. We spent a really happy Sunday – till up to night time when Norman & one or two Listeners expressed their disappointment at Syd not coming out with us on Listening Post.
– – Just got a parcel (the postmark looks like Redditch & the writing like one of the Overends*). Syd got Auntie’sparcelcontaining two pocket handkerchiefs& a couple of bananasin a card board box. Marvellous –absolutemarvel! – the cake was not allbroken. Generally all that’s left of a cake sent in a cardboard box is a bag of crumbs, squashed completely. We shall enjoy Auntie’scakefor they are always nice & fruity.We have not yet finished the birthday giftsfrom home. There are the Pineapple chunks which we shall share with Vernon & his cream.
Here goes– ‘Sydney tall & broad of stature, Of NCOs a favoured watcher. Sydney too is good at sniping. Pops off Huns just like he’s typing.‘
– – Another parcel & a letter for me & a parcel for Syd. So that makes 3 parcels & a letter come since I started this letter – coming like the – no I won’t say – those horrible things that never stop coming – only the opposite kind.
Let me finish my blank verse. Syd,I conclude could not have had a happiertime than spending his 21st serving his King & Country & helping to do his little bit to guard his dear home to which he said sincerely he would like to be there now.
NB I have just read the letter from you, dated May 15th. Now I am certainI wrote to you acknowledging the ripping parcel of fruit, chocolate, Velma coffee aulait & Ida’stea cakes were lovely. I wrote toHarold & Fred York. I cannot very well repeat the letter but it was one I especially wanted you to keep for it was written when the trench was being shelled. I did not say anything closely referring to the incident.
Is that the 1st letter you have missed receiving? I have often thought of telling you to state the date my letters were sent to you & just refer to something I said so that I can tell what & everything about the letter sent. Yes I’m certain I wrote & am awfully sorry dear, dearMother, but you mustn’t expect that everything runs smoothly always.
I do not feel like writing many letters, but I trust that if Harold does not hear from me you will say that I wrote & will write him as soon as possible. I’m sorry Syd did not write. Didn’t you even get a field PC?The letter might have got buriedlike the Malted Milk tablets.
I say just carefully read through all my letters written after May 6th – the day we had the excitement.I have had an idea there has been one or two or more letters you have not received – do write a PC straight away. I also wrote, by the by, a letter to Mrs Jones* the same day.
Twilight in the hut. Vernonespecially told me to mention in this letter how very much he enjoyed the things we gave him for tea today. Syd cut into May Overend’s handmade cake & handed a piece all round the hut. Vernon had a slice of Auntie’s cake& some pearsfrom Mrs Machin*. He also told me to be sure to thank you for the box of Rowntrees chocolate.
This letter is getting long for the censor but I must tell of THE thing for Syd’s 21st.I smoked his health. I want Dad to know of the ceremony. You remember me mentioning in a past letter that Brewin had a spare army issue pipe, he had smoked it a little so he gave it to me. I have had it in my haversack for quite a long time & brought it out this evening. Well – Vernon supplied the bacca, a good bacca – Boardman’s – & filled it for me. Then Syd lit the pipe for me while I drew; after some awkwardness I managed to smoke it fluently. There I lay stretched out in the hut by Syd & wished him Many Happy Returns & Good Luck.
Everyone was humorously surprised. Some suggested that I should have had a cig to start with, but I thought Dadwould rather have me smoke a pipe to begin with – Dad having not smoked a cig in his life.
Hurrah! I got through it & smoked it all! Vernon, Syd and I, henceforth called the Trio, spent Sunday & today together as happy as can be – with one or two exceptions.(4)
I will now close, but I must say that generally we have Church Parade on Monday & it would have beenstill happier if Syd & Icould have attendedHoly Communion. I have just read a verse out of Psalm89 for the 17th evening, verse 25:- My truth also and my mercy shall be with him, And in my name shall he be exalted. May Syd spend his next birthday in England & be there before his 22nd year is out!
Six Parcels for Syd; 2 from Home;I from Harold, (which he was anxious about Syd getting on the 17th & Syd did – a lovely cig. case); I from Overlands, absolutely ripping; 2 tins of coffee au lait;I packet Russian cigs;I tin of sardines; 2 packets of BlackCat ? with Dict –(unreadable); 2 tablets of soap; 2 packets of Peters Choc.; 1 packet of Bournville choc. ; 2 pencils, one in case; A large slab of May’shomemade caramel toffee; I large handmade cake; Iparcel from Mrs Machin* containing tin of pears; I tin of toffee. I tin of Gold Flake; 4applesetc. ; 2 boxes of State Expressfrom Miss Bore*. letter from Miss Foster* & Parcelfollowing.
See Over . . . anything else to say? – the censor is my dread.
Again IT IS WORTH REPEATING the lemon curdis lovely & Syd is enjoying it, send some more Choc biscuits next time Ida. & DadI should like your opinion on my smoking.
What a ripping lot of letters.Vernondid enjoy the tea in the dugout this afternoon. Plenty of little souvenirs for you, make fine brooches. I could have captured a man one night.
Now to Syd – For he’s aJolly Good Fellow.God save the King.
Brother clasps the hand of brother, marching fearless through the night. (5)
Typically, Bertie’s thoughts are all of his Mother & of Sydney, as he tries to reassure his parents that Sydney’s 21st Birthday was a happy one, and their food parcels and gifts were a resounding success. His proud description of his brother tells a great deal about the difference in their character & physique. Apart from the smoking ‘ceremony’ Bertie says hardly a word about himself except cryptically – out of the blue – ‘I could have captured a man one night‘.
As a child, I once asked my father how many people he had killed in the War and he answered, surprisingly to me & with a strange look on his face, that he mighthave killed oneman. However the shell-shock, that must have begun during this 2nd Battle for Ypres, lasted all his life.
(1) Seige & Relief of Mafeking, South Africa. Boer War.Lord Baden Powell with 1,100 troops & Cadet Force of Boys,(12-15 yrs old) defended Mafeking for 217 days, Oct.1899 – May 1900.Baden-Powell became the nation’s hero & my father helped the Boy’s Scouts when a curate at Alford, Lincolnshire. (2) Psalm 85.10. (3)Psalms78-85 Book of Common Prayer.1662. (4) ref. no doubt to the constant noise of shelling & the death of Lt H. Parr. (5) Hymn: Through the night of doubt & sorrow’. Bernhardt, 1826. (trans.from Danish by S. Baring Gould).
I am taking this, the first opportunity to answer your last two letters to me.Many thanks for your interesting chat and also for your good opinion of our doings. It cheers one up & eggs one on to know that you are all thinking & praying for us when you have time.
I was very glad Harold got my letter & ‘love’ & that you saw it.Ask him if he got my instructions about Eddie & George not touching my Velox motor as it is important (3) & (4).
I received (also Bert) your letter yesterday; the post always arrives about tea-time here at the Rest Camp. I was glad to hear from the Overend girls & I sent Winnie a Field PC by return, thanking her for the chocolate, or rather acknowledging the receipt of same & her letter you enclosed. It is very nice to know these people think of you.
As for courage & determination, I don’t think we remember that when they are shelling us, as I described to you before. If you areon sentry you have to still look over the parapet or through the loophole, as a matter of course, just to see if the beggars are watching the shells burst & then of course you take a sight on the blighter & perhaps over he goes – & there’s another for Whitby Abbey!(5).
The Lydditeare the worst shells as the fumes make your eyes smart so that you cannot see properly (6).
Our partner ‘E’ Coy.was shelled again onWednesday & though not a man was hurt their dugouts & parapets were thrown down & in an awful mess.Several shells did not burst – there was a distant boom, a swish overhead, bump, but no explosion. Very funny to see the chaps’ faces when it didn’t burst. Well we came out of the trenches for the 3rd time on Thursday night at the usual hour when you would be asleep in bed. What would happen if all of us went to sleep then?
My platoonhas not been in the trenches this time. When the Batt. went in last Sunday night we stopped at a farm in the rear which was our billet for the time (6). We slept in a barn & though bullets at times flattened themselves on the walls & in the yard we managed to keep clear of them, except for one or two who were hit in the arm & head. They are bullets that don’t strike the trenches’ parapets, but flying over continue until they descend in the farm which is close to a very much shattered village (7).
This village (about as big as Uffington(8) would be very pretty in peace time & especially now in the Spring but Good Lord! it is now a disorderly heap of bricks & wood.Every house is shattered, the church has one wall of the tower left, the clock remains at 6.10, the windows are broken & bent beams lie all around; graves have disappeared & only a great hole remains. The chairs inside are matchwood. The Catholic Priest’s house opposite was a very beautiful residence once, but all his pictures & library & household effects are littered about – valuabletheological books are there – still whole, but neglected & dusty. Then his garden is still beautiful with flowers and shrubs but littered with biscuits (9) & refuse. In short a ghastly mess.
Well on Monday, a beautiful hot day, & very still & quiet except for an occasional ping from a passing bullet, I had the job of getting all the good timber floors & doors etc out of these houses & handing it over to the R.E. to make trench gratings etc from. Will finish this tomorrow as I am wanted outside. ***************
Sunday 6.pm.We have been building up the parapets in our reserve trenches from 10 am till 3 pm & so I am rather tired. The Germans sent some shells over us which exploded near the village.The holes could be seen & the earth & stuff went skying up.We were all digging hard, about the time you would be having dinner, when suddenly we heard the swish of the first shell coming over– down we all jumped into the trench & crouched thinking we were their blessed objective –but it passed over & I was just in time to see the shell burst near the village a few hundred yards away. Well we had it like this for about half an hour, our Territorial battery replying & then it ceased.
It has been very warm today – the artillery of both sides, especially our own, has been very busy lately & today also.We could see the gun flashes & hear the blessed shells.
I received a nice writing pad & material from Miss Negus (10) today & also a lovely box of chocolates & parkinfrom Auntie Pat* yesterday – nothing is left now! They had Church parade while we were away digging, so I have read the Psalm over for today myself (11).
Bert’s feet are still bad & he does not do many parades so that he can get them better. Nothing to worry about.(12)
Must close now. Best love & wishes,
Your loving brother, Sydney.
(1) BruceBairnsfather. Bullets & Billets. 1916. Chapter XXIII has a similar but more detailed description of the state of the Wulverghem Church & Priest’s House, 1915. The Project Gutenberg ebook produced by Jonathan Ingram, Steven desJardin & Distributer Proofreader.
(2) Himley Hall, Dudley, Staffordshire: Home of the Lords of Dudley* (since 16th Cent. Owners of coal and iron mines) – playful contrast with Sydney Hibbett’s present billet!
(3) Eddie & George – possibly young Hibbettcousins in Yorkshire. (4) Sydney Hibbett’s Velox was one of only 21 automobiles made by Velox Motor Company of Coventry (established1902. Directors: George H. Davie & A.F. Harris). Grace’s Industrial History Guide.
(4) Whitby –16th Dec. 1914 suffered 7 minute Germanbombardment from sea, . Abbey seriously damaged. (5) Lyddite is picric acid (Greek for ‘bitter’ reflecting taste/smell): formerly called ( TNP) 2,4,6 trinitrophenol – primarily an explosive, also used in medicine/anaesthetic.Lyddite Shells were high explosive shells, capable of piercing armour, used in Boer War & WW1. Common Lyddite shells detonated/ fragmented into small pieces in all directions (but no fire). See Pte Bertie Hibbett’s letter of 23rd April, 1915.
(6) Souvenir Farm/ Ration Farm? (7 ) Wulverghem. (8) Uffington in Lincolnshire (2 miles east of Stamford, i.e. close to Rutland – early 19th century home of Hibbett family).
(9) Biscuits. It occurs to me (brought up in a Vicarage) that these could be large unconsecrated Priest’s wafers ready for the Mass – even if a more humble biscuit they create a poignant image.
(10) Miss Negus(unable to trace). (11) Psalm for 24th day of month: Ps.116 -119. Book of Common Prayer, 1662.
(12) Bertie Hibbett’s April letters make no mention of his sore feet (no doubt to allay his Mother’s anxiety) but to be excused parade is indicative of ‘something to worry about‘.
NEXT POST: 25th APRIL 1915. Letter from Godmother Mary Foster, Fernleigh, Nottingham.
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.