Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to his sister IDA, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.
Tuesday May – Now Was It? – Is It? 11th / 15 (1)
My Dear Sister,
I must really try & send you a ‘boomerang’ if I can put it like that. I mean your last letter was extremely homely & interesting & not only so, but long. Of course I re-read it again, then handed it to Sid & he has read it. Sid is writing to Harold.
The evening today is glorious again, same as yesterday when we attended Church Parade in the field, within sound of guns & nature going on as usual. After the service our Colonel spoke of the Allies’ advance (2). The sugar– sweets & pastels are lovely. I thought they would last a long time, perhaps until we go into the trenches again, but they are so ‘nice’ they are going pretty quickly. You needn’t give up sending a little chocolate though Ha! ha!
I had a little chat with Ford E, (Mother mentioned in her letter) – he himself is all right. I think it takes some pluck to be what he is (3). Don’t you think we have got a lot of patience? No self assertions, but we could tell you ‘lots’ if the censor would allow, but you see we can’t. Both sides must wait patiently until peace reigns once more.
Does Harold still take in Punch? – because there was a chap (in the Company commanded by the Captain Mother has mentioned more than once in her letters (4) – this chap has contributed a humorous story, his initials being G. Wiley of 5th South. (5)
I guess Harold* is in lovely Yorkshire by now. Last night I made my 2nd attempt to shave. I mean a real attempt. I have lathered myself & just touched the razor before, many times, but on Sunday I started to shave. I persevered under the irritable persuasion & criticism of Syd & amid the friendly laughter of the OTC poking themselves round the hut.
Well last night something told me not to shave yet a while, but rather answer your letter, but as things turned out I thought best to shave 1st & favour the Army. I was going on beautifully, lathered all my face & was about to make a stroke with my razor when – the alarm went. Syd will tell you that in his letter – (something like the fire alarm in schools). Well I left all my shaving tackle & fled – with the unfortunate result that I had to parade for kit inspection at 6 o’clock this morning.
All of us out here know of the loss of the Lusitania (6).
We wear respirators to prevent the effects of gasses. We have not yet come into contact with these asphyxiating gasses (7).
By the by, talking about shaving, could you & Harold subscribe & send me a safety razor sometime? We can get spare time; very funny – we have more spare time in the trenches than in Camp, so if you send a Times now & again in your parcels it will not only serve as packing, but we shall be pleased to read the articles.
I shall have to start a fresh page now!
I have not smoked a cig. since I joined, but a stretcher bearer told me once that now the heat of summer is coming there are many different smells arising, as well as the gnats. I made a resolution not to smoke until I came back to Walsall at the end of the war.
We get some cheap cigs often with the rations – ‘Roll Call’, (8) ‘Kitcheners’ etc, but if I start I will either have a good cig. with holder, or smoke a pipe. Now Arthur Brown* gave me a pipe.
I should be less anxious if Dad would tell me his advice on the matter. Shall I start smoking or not? I come to the conclusion that I am not far off being the only chap in the Battalion, if not in the Division, who does not smoke. Arthur Penning* was a non-smoker until he came out to the front.
I am looking forward to Dad’s photo as well as Mum’s & did Harold get his uniform? Good luck to Dodger. Do you remember Guy Butter (9) whom Mr E. N. Marshall* said he ‘admired his generosity’? – well it was his coming of age, last week.
I guess you have seen more than one photo of some of our casualties in the Observer. Vernon & several men get the paper & I felt flattered to see my name in the Roll of BCS Old Boys let alone that of QM (10). Our friend Norman Cope* was upset somewhat with the exciting time we had last time in the trenches (11).
Do you know that Mum wrote on Wednesday & Dad wrote on Friday. We got Mother’s first & then Dad’s. Lastly we got yours on the day between, the very day we shall never forget. If you come across anything in my letters to you or Basil that will cause Mother anxiety then read the letter out & miss those parts.
Syd is getting favoured among the men, but he has to take his turn in doling out the meals, which is pretty rotten, you’ll understand. I will stop now.
Best love, Bertram.
To Smoke or not to Smoke. The habit of cigarette smoking took off in the 1914 -1918 War (despite warnings about the dangers of smoking) no doubt mainly because of the appalling stench of the Trenches. My father thought he must be the only one in the whole Division (18,000 soldiers) who didn’t smoke – but ‘under age’ he felt it his duty to ask his father’s advice. It took him 40 years to give it up. Under the title Comforts for Tommies many Cigarette Funds were set up.
(1) Post stamp ed 15th May ie when 1/5th back in the trenches. Censor W.E. Wright had to check carefully no one mentioned casualties & serious damage to Trench 8 on 6th May.
(2) Allies Advance: Allies launched a joint offensive on Western Front on 9th May 1915 and the 2nd Battle of Ypres ended on 24th May 1915. (See Battle of the Western Front. The Great War 1914-1918 website). (3) cf. Post 9th May. (4) Captain Lister or Captain Wistance. (5) G. Wiley. Punch Archives.
(6) R.M.S. Lusitania. British Ocean Liner (reclassified ‘Armed Merchant Cruiser’, 1914 )- torpedoed by German U-Boat, 7th May 1915 off Irish coast. Loss of life: 1198. [Built & launched Clydebank, 7th June 1906, John Brown & Co. Designed Leonard Peskett for N.Atlantic Trade. Blue Riband Holder]. See Article: Philip Oltermann Guardian 7th May 2015. And http/www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/lusitania-murder-on-the-high-seas/
NB Bertie Hibbett’s future father-in-law (my maternal Grandfather) Chief Engineer, Mercantile Marine, Frank Arnold Goodison, saw Lusitania go down; narrowly missed death himself from torpedo attack – received recognition for his actions.
(7) cf South Staffords War Diary for 22nd April, Post 3rd May.
(8) Cigarettes: ‘Roll Call‘/ ‘Kitchener’s‘. See The London Gazette Card Co. Ltd (Lord Kitchener’s woven silk issue, 1915). (9) Guy Butter QMS Old Boy? (info pending). (10) BCS: Blue Coat School, Walsall. QM: Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall. (11) Shell Shock from 8 hours shelling. Welcome Page for May 1915.
NEXT POST: 14th MAY 1915. The Listener’s Lounge.