1st – 4th June. In Rest Billets. Battalion training.
‘The end of all things is at hand’. (1)
‘. . . ye remember that I told you of them’. (2) Epistle and Gospel for:-
Sunday after Ascension Day. June 4/ 16
My Very Dear Mother & Father & Basil,
I picture you three this time; I fancy Harold does not go Home and spend tea with you every Sunday. I went to see Sydney this afternoon at his billet; he was however in a field opposite, writing in answer to a long letter. I asked him my usual, i.e. if he had had anything in the post, & he gave me Dodger’s most jolly letter of 28th May (last Sunday).
Dodger, you did make I larf & Sydney too smiled when I repeated what you said about that incident at Abergele (3). Sydney also showed me several PCs, one was a photo with Vernon, oh how his old face came back so. By the by Norman* is not at all a bad letter writer & he too can send long epistles.
I had a very kindly & most lengthy, extraordinarily lengthy letter from Miss Foster*, with some toffees & a Tin of Three Nuns Tobacco (4). Alas! I have not a decent pipe, but you need not send me a pipe as I m-m-mi-ight be Home next week at this time.
I wrote to Miss Foster yesterday but forgot to mention the Colwick Cheese (3). Miss Foster was told that the Colwick Cheese would turn very ‘high’ & she did not wish the Regiment to be wiped out just by a Colwick Cheese. She wanted to know if I knew of anybody receiving a cheese that smelt; just write & tell her in your next that I have not & I will give up the expectation; Miss Foster can cancel the idea & tell her we shall not need a Colwick Cheese to make us run. Tell her that the jokes about the cheese made me nearly split with laughing.
Sydney, knowing that I had ‘petit d’argent’ & my unexpected Home Leave coming any day now, generously presented me with a handsome note, five francs; which is, in English money, 3/7d. (5)
What a lot of fuss & talk etc in the papers & by people at Home over this Daylight Bill (6).
Punch (7) has a great deal to say about it and chaps from Leave have said how puzzling it was, the clocks had not been altered & they were all giving different times.
Latest news of Leave is that I am leaving the Batt. on Tuesday – if all goes well & Leave is not stopped.
I will close now with Best love to all.
Always your affec. Bertie.
PS: Should I have the luck to go Home next week, I wish to have just a quiet time with you at Home. I shall not put myself about to speak to friends, only keep my promise of invitation. I feel that I couldn’t bear to have the bell ringing everyday with people to see me, a Private. Buy in no extras. Take things as a M of C. (8).
Please, thank you, dear Mum, I had rather wait till I see you before you give me a prayer-book (9). I am trying to make this one last the record. Nice letters of the Evans aren’t they?
The apocalyptic language used in this letter indicates how well an ordinary soldier like Pte Bertie Hibbett understood that a Major Battle was about to take place on the Western Front and that great loss of life was inevitable. For him there was no way out. Even if he got Home Leave it would be very short and he would have to return to the Front. His longing is for a quiet time and the comfortable commonplace of Home.
(1) ‘The end of all things is at hand’ 1 Peter 4.7: . . be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves’. Possible date: Roman Emperor Domitian’s persecution of Christian Church. AD 81 -96.
(2) Sunday after Ascension: Gospel: John 15.26. ‘Ye remember that I told you’. ‘When the comforter is come, he will testify of me. . . the time cometh that whoso killeth you will think they do God service . . . When the time shall come ye may remember. . . ‘
(3) Abergele Holiday Aug 1914 when someone sent the family a very ripe cheese? Colwick Cheese: a soft curdy cheese bowl-shaped for sweet or savoury fillings/ 17th Cent). Colwick: a village south of Nottingham.
(4) Three Nuns Tobacco: Advert reads: ‘Philosophy, under the most trying conditions, is to be found by distracting the mind from the contemplation of immediate disaster. Give a man a pipeful of Three Nuns – the familiar fragrance woos back the mind to the comfortable commonplace . . . puts fresh heart into a man and gives him assurance that there’s a good time coming’. NB. It took my father until the 1950s to give up smoking.
(5) Five France Note worth 3/7d (i.e. 43p today). Selling now on ebay for $159/£109.
(6) The Daylight Bill 1916: pioneered by William Willett 1856-1915. (Property developer Sloane Street, London 1880s). An attempt to aid economy/farming by increasing daylight hours. Greenwich Meantime was advanced one hour in Spring & put back one hour in autumn.(i.e. 21st May & 1st Oct 1916).
(7) Punch 1916: ‘So simple and successful has been the progress of the Daylight-Saving Scheme, under which the clock is to be put forward an hour during the summer months, that a movement is on foot to help the War Office prophets by putting the War back a couple of years’. NB 1914 prophets had said ‘The War will be over by Christmas‘.
(8) The Book of Common Prayer. 1662: from which Pte Bertie appears to have taken most of his biblical quotations. He knew & took comfort from the fact that his family would be reading the same passages designated for the day.
NEXT POST: 4th June 1916. Enclosed Letter to Basil/ Dodger.