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 that Sydney would 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. Jones is not so bad, you see the Samuda Cigs (3) turned up all right & Jones was good to see into some cigarettes from 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. Vernon is 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 remembered showed 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 of a 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 Leave in Jan. 1915 before Embarcation to France, March 3rd.1915.
NEXT POST: 4th JUNE 1916.