Tag Archives: Sap Trench.

1st JULY 1916: FONQUEVILLERS CHURCH CRYPT: FIRST FIELD DRESSING STATION.

J. V. WILSON, CHAPLAIN TO THE FORCES, 1/6th SOUTH STAFFS, FIRST FIELD DRESSING STATION FONQUEVILLERS CHURCH CRYPT: PLAIN POSTCARD (FPO) to A. HIBBETT Esq, Education Officer, Town Hall, Walsall, Staffs, England. (Posted 3rd July).

                                                                                     July 1st 1916.

I have just seen your son Bertie in Hospital (1). He is wounded in the right wrist, but otherwise is alright & I think you needn’t worry about him. He is being sent on to another Hospital so don’t write till you hear from him.

He just saw Sidney for a few moments this morning. He was alright.  I hope you will have Bertie back soon.

J. V. Wilson C.F. 1/ 6 South Staffs.

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MY MEMORIES OF THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME: 1967.

The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett.
The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett. 1960s.

‘The Men of the North Midland Division of Territorials did not turn their backs on the enemy. On a large board, posted against a wall of the ruined Church at Fonquevillers, was printed in large letters: ‘TO BERLIN – UP TRAFFIC ONLY’.

Up Traffic Only Fonqu
Fonquevillers Church. Up Traffic Only. Pen & ink sketch. Arthur H. Hibbett. 1918?

‘The climax of my war experience came on the first of July, 1916, when the Battle of The Somme began in earnest.  We learnt later that the whole of the British Army was to advance that day (2).The ‘Mad Staffords’ of the 46th Division went forward to capture Gommecourt.

The first of July 1916 was a bright, sunny day.  We had been allowed to buy biscuits in Fonquevillers village at the back of the lines.  I bought some, calledPetit Beurre‘, and they came in usefulWhenever we buy them now they always remind me of the time I was waiting to go Over the Top’.

We had been waiting in our trenches, facing the Germans, for many weeks before the Charge. During that time I was detailed off to do an official drawing of the German Front Line, showing Gommecourt Village and Wood with the Sunken Road beyond, the German enfilade trench and with all the trees as exact as I could.  This was my small contribution in preparation for the ‘Big Push’. I had the use of a periscope, and was disguised as a sandbag in case I had to look over the top of the trench to see the formation of the trees and the trenches more clearly (3).

Illustration for 'Sniper Atkins' doggerel by Arthur H. Hibbett May/Ju ne 1916.
Illustration for ‘Sniper Atkins’ doggerel by Arthur H. Hibbett. May/ Ju ne 1916.

It was while I was making this sketch that I was amazed to see some very old German soldiers, with long white beards, using mechanical excavators in their front line, and making great loads of earth fly up in the air.

I also spotted a dead cow’s head, which I presumed was used as a German sniper’s post. I feel pretty sure that it was from there that our parapet was peppered with German bullets whenever I attempted to put up my periscope.  “Keep away from Hibbett and his periscope !” was the general cry.

What terrified me more than the enemy shells and bullets was the sight of our men allowed to drink over much. It was a mistake to have given our men leave to drink alcohol before the Big Push. Some of them, delirious with too much to drink, were throwing mud at each other and I was afraid that they would throw mud at meIt was sights such as these that have made me keep off beer ever since.

Leicester Regt badge
Royal Leicester Regt. Tiger Badge.

I got wounded on that day. I was going forward in the trenches towards the front lines.  A Leicester runner, hastening to deliver an urgent message, his voice competing with the noise of gun-fire, came shouting from the rear: “Bend your backs, me lads! Bend your backs!  The Tiger’s face doesn’t turn away from the enemy!” (4).

Sap-Trench.
Sap-Trench. Shallow trench hastily dug before the battle to get troops further out into No Man’s Land without detection. This may be what my father called a ‘nam trench’?

We all bent our backs in the trench and the runner, I can see him now, ran along our backs, head and shoulders above the trench, exposing himself to the enemy, while shells kept bursting on either side of him.

The Germans trained their machine-gun fire into our trench (5). My hands got scratched with the barbed wire contraption getting caught in the sides of the nam trench (sic) (6). The situation got hopeless.  We were advanced beyond Gommecourt Wood and found it was no use carrying the chev de frieze any further (7). I got lost in the confusion of the bombing.

wiki Official_Photographs_taken_on_the_Front_in_France_-_A_German_front_line_trench_before_Gommecourt_(15560801016)
German Front Line Trench before Gommecourt. <www.en-wiki>

I got to where I believe was the point our Front Line faced the German enfilade trench I had sketched in the days before (8) There to my amazement I saw British soldiers lying close on the floor of the trench, like sardines in a tin – some dead and some dying with groans. 

A sergeant called out to me from a dugout“Come in here or you will soon be like those lying there.” To my lasting remorse I was forced to tread on the bodies of those poor men.  My right wrist was bleeding badly from a shrapnel wound and a chum called (Arthur) Venables*  (9) tied an emergency field dressing on it. I learned later that he was killed and I pray he may be rewarded in heaven.

My experiences before and during the Battle were terrible to me, but curious enough I felt serene until I was told to make for the First Field Dressing Station. I made my way in haste to get out of the trenches: full of our dead, all with tarpaulins and ground sheets over them.

Fonq-Church-painting.imgres
Fonquevillers Church of Our Lady. Watercolour. Adrian Hill. Imperial War Museum.

I stood waiting in the mouth of the trench near to Fonquevillers Church and the Dressing Station in the Crypt, and there I was interviewed by Padre T.Howard* (10)(whom I was to meet again, after the War, at Lichfield Theological College). 

I received treatment against tetanus, then it was a great relief, despite the cobbles that shook my wounds, to leave the Battle behind, and be sent by Ambulance to an open field to await the train which was to take us to Hospital.

Typical WW1 Motor Ambulance.
Typical WW1 Motor Ambulance. http://www.en-wiki.

I shall never forget seeing the wounded lying in the sunshine in that wide fieldIt was just as if so many washer-women had laid out their ‘whites’ on the ground to dry – men with wounded arms, legs and heads all bandaged up.

There on his horse sat the Colonel* (11), staring at the sorry sight. Then I saw, lying on the field, Alan Machin*, an old Grammar School Boy of QMS, Walsall (12).

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

Pte Bertie Hibbett appears to have got further, than I first thought, across No Man’s Land before he was wounded. In his Memories he describes the British Front Line Trench opposite the German enfilade trench as full of dead & dying. He mentions German machine gun fire & enfilade fire. This was about 9.30 am. 2 hours after Zero hour accord. to S. Staffords War Diary. NB Being ‘beyond Gommecourt Wood’ is puzzling until one remembers the objective was The Z.

Gommecourt Village, Park & Wood today from the air. Fonquevillers bottom left. 1/5th S Staffs Assembly Trenches & 'The Z'  & 'Little Z' objective marked .'Aerial Photo:
Gommecourt Village, Park & Wood today from the air. Fonquevillers bottom left. 1/5th S Staffs Assembly Trenches & ‘The Z’  & ‘Little Z’ objective marked . ‘Aerial Photo:

That the 137th Brigade attack had failed was reported to Major General Sir Stuart Wortley at 8.55 am. 1st Wave 5th N. Staffs were in advanced trench. 2 Waves were in Old British Front Line (with Pte Bertie Hibbett wounded & Corp. Venables). The 6th North Staffs were stopped; if in German First Line then not supported.  Orders made to open artillery fire on whole of western edge of Gommecourt Wood.  At 9.33 am 5th N. Staffs were unable to move forward because of congestion in forward trenches. At 9.35 am 6th S. Staffs reported not enough men to continue attack.

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ARMY CHAPLAINS.  5,000 Chaplains served in WW1, many going straight from their parishes without training. 168 or more lost their lives. Their original role  was to take services & burials well away from the Battlefields. Increasingly in 1914-1918 War Chaplains felt compelled to serve on the Front Line, experiencing the full brutality of War. Burials of soldier’s pals, where they fell, was important for morale but extremely dangerous. The service would be a simple prayer taken from Revelation 14.13: I heard a voice from heaven saying: ‘Blessed are they that die in the Lord, even so saith the Spirit for they rest from their labours’.  See Hugh Pym BBC <http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides&gt;

(1) The Revd J.V. Wilson, C.F. used the term ‘Hospital’ in his FPO to Pte Bertie’s father, no doubt to re-assure him that his son was being well cared for. But this would be a reference to the very basic First Field Dressing Station in Fonquevillers Church Crypt  – or the Field Ambulance (stationery tent/ not vehicle) in a field away from the Front; where the wounded would have been collected from the whole of 46th Midland Division.

Pte Bertie’s train might have gone from Arras, in which case it is possible my father might have known the underground ‘Hospital’ in the tunnels below La Grande Place (where names of wounded soldiers are scratched on walls). Since he never mentioned this it is more likely to have been Bethune? It took a painful ‘one & a half days’ for him to arrive at a Hotel cum Hospital on the cliffs at Le Treport, near Rouen.

(2The Battle of the Somme extended from Fonquevillers/ Gommecourt in the north  – to beyond Mametz in the south/ i.e. not the whole of the Western Front.

(3) Pencil Sketch: After the Somme Battle, one lesson learned was that every soldier, not just Officers & N.C.Os, was given a maps of enemy trenches which he was expected to learn.  My father kept a copy of this drawing very carefully for 50 years. Sadly it went missing following a Toc H Exhibition in Skegness in 1960s. Reward to anyone who may know of its whereabouts. Size 5″ x 12″ approx . Please contact: <e.f.webb@btinternet.com > .

(4) Royal Leicester Regt. ‘Tiger’ Hindoostani Badge. Awarded 1825 for services in India. 

(5) Machine gun fire at approx. 9.25. See Staffords War Diary. 1st July 1916. (6) Nam’ trench? Maybe my father meant a ‘sap trench’/ a shallow trench dug hastily at night before a Charge to help men gain further ground across No Man’s Land without detection (in this case about a 1000 yards. 

(7) Cheval de frise: barbed wire entanglement nicknamed ‘knife rest’;(ref. medieval defence against cavaliers). Before a Charge, each soldier had to carry forward a piece of equipment from piles at entrance to trenches: e.g. wire cutters/ shovels/ – or these iron stakes. <https://WW1 revisited.com>.

(8) German Enfilade Fire: at approx 9.30 am. See previous 1st July Post.

(9) Padre Howard*: one of a number of Padres who comforted my father in extremity; whose faith & courage no doubt re-enforced his own sense of calling to the Anglican priesthood. (10) Corp. Arthur Venables*: See Pte Bertie’s Tribute ‘To Fallen Comrade’, Walsall Observer & S. Staffordshire Chronicle. 12th August 1916. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial to Missing. 

(11Lt Col Richmond Raymer. Evidence that Col. Raymer, though wounded, was still on duty on horseback/ in command 1/5th S. Staffords. Major Adabie* ordered Major Lord 1/5th S Staffs ‘to find his wounded C.O Lt Col Raymer, to order an advance led by 1/5th Bn & supported by 2 companies of 5th Leicesters.

cellar-Coy-HQ-Fonq-www.iwm.orgmid
Company HQ Cellar, Fonquevillers. Louven Court Chateau.

This order issued at 2.30 pm:  ‘Add all details of previous waves from this morning’s attack to new 3rd wave. Take forward all Lewis Guns you can find.  Instruct first wave to take all men forward they find in the New Front Line. Officers and N.C.Os must reconnoitre with periscopes all gaps in our wire and in the hostile wire so as to be able to lead the men through.  

See Staffords War Diary, previous 1st July Post/ List of Casualties below/ & Alan MacDonald: ‘A Lack of Offensive Spirit’.

(12) 2/Lt Alan Machin*: wounded with a ‘Blighty’, died 1918 in UK/ influenza epidemic? Mentioned many times in Hibbett Letters.

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APPENDIX 3.  

1/5th Bn. SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGT. July 1st 1916.

LIST OF CASUALTIES.  ** Known to Pte Bertie Hibbett/ amongst original Walsall volunteers/ QMS Cadet Force, 1914. NB. recognition of Shell Shock.

Officers Killed: Capt F. Eglington.

Missing, Believed Killed: 2Lt G.T. R. Knowles. Missing: Lt J. F. Thorne; 2/Lt F. A. Fawcett; 2/Lt H.Allen** (Commemorated Lochnagar Crater by QMSchool, Walsall, 2016) ; 2/ Lt T.R. Sanger**; 2/Lt S. J. Ellison.

Wounded. Lt Col.R. R. Raymer**; 2/Lt. L.A. Evans; 2/Lt H. G. Cozens**; 2/Lt L. W. C. Capsey; 2/Lt J. R. Cartwright; 2/Lt E. J. U. Turner; 2/Lt A.E. Machin**.

Capt. Wistance ()
Major. W. Wistance.

Wounded (Shell Shock). Major W. A. Wistance**; Capt. C.Lister**.

Other Ranks: Killed 12. Missing 23. Wounded & Missing 1 (Sgt Sydney Hibbett. Commemorated Lochnagar Crater by QMSchool, Walsall, 2016).

Wounded 105 (Pte Bertie Hibbett). Wounded (Shell Shock) 20. Total: 178.

SUMMARY OF CASUALTIES JULY 1916: Officers Killed 1. Missing, Believed Killed 1; Missing 5; Wounded 7; Wounded (Shell Shock) 2.

Other Ranks. Killed 13; Missing 23; Wounded & Missing 1. Wounded 108; Wounded accidentally 1; Wounded (Self inflicted) 1. Slightly Wounded, remained at Duty 4; Wounded (Shell Shock) 20; Injured, remained with Battn. for light duty. 1.

Signed: J. Lamond. Capt Adjt for Major (Lord) Comdg 1/5th Bn South Staffordshire Regiment.

NEXT POST: 9th July 1916. 

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30TH MAY 1915. FRIENDLY FIRE & FAVOURITE FOOD.

South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

WULVERGHEM TRENCHES 

22nd May, Sat:  N. M. Farm 10 A.R. and 10A support shelled. CASUALTY: 8533 Pte H. Rochford  (wounded?). 23th May, Sun: 50 yards of enemy parapet blew up on our left.  Artillery on both sides very activeInaccuracy of our supporting Battery reported to 1st Brigade RFA (1) & 137th Inf. Bde.

Trench 8 Wulverghem. May 1915.
 Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Trench 8 , Wulverghem, May 1915. http://libguides.juniata.educ/

24th May, Mon:  Enemy shelled Trenches 8 (Bertie’s), 9A, 9B, 10B and 10B (support) damaging parapets and traverses.  Inaccuracy of our own supporting battery again reported. Relieved by 6th Souths about 11.20 pm.  ‘A’ Coy  (Bertie’s) remaining in support. CASUALTY: 7787 Pte (Dr) A. Fitzer (2) slightly wounded.

25th May, Tue: In Hutments, Bulford Camp. (‘A’ Coy supporting 6th South).  26th May, Wed: ‘B Coy relieved ‘A’ Coy in support. 27th May, Thur:  In Hutments, Bulford Camp. 28th May, Fri: Proceeding to trenches in relief of 6th Souths at 8.15 pm. CASUALTY:7251 Sgt B. Stephens wounded.

29th May, Sat: Wulverghem. Enemy shelled 9C, otherwise quiet day.  ‘C’ Coy, 8th R. Brigade (3) attached for instruction in Trench duties.  30th May, Sun: Very quiet day.  CASUALTY: No 9218 Pte E. Hayes wounded.

Sap Trench into No Man's land. Soldiers had to bend their backs.
Sap Trench into No Man’s Land.  Soldiers had to bend their backs before ‘going over the top’.
BERTIE HIBBETT: 19 in 1914.
BERTIE HIBBETT:
19 in 1915.
A.H.H. Own War Diary: A Little Book of Words & Doings‘. ‘Trinity Sunday. 30th May 1915. New sap (4).  Picket duty in the rye in front (5). Found good souvenir of nose of shell. Read Revelation’ (6) .  

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT:  LETTER to Mother, Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.

Trinity Sunday.  May 30th / 15

My Dear Mother,

A lovely sunny afternoon again with a cool breeze. I am with Vernon & one Cecil Jackson*, a bank clerk in the United Counties (7).  I can picturemysel’ coming away from Sunday School for it is after 4. 0’ clock.

I have just re-read your letter & Basil’s jolly one. Some weeks ago a Tommy made the pun that ‘Kitcheners were with us‘ – yes in packets; we get some of the ‘Express & Star’ Martins cigarettes once a week – but last night Kitcheners, in the flesh and blood, came from London lot of  RBs. (8)

Yes we all miss Lieut P.* both officers and men (9). He was our Captain’s right hand man & before you told me he was a clergyman’s son he put me in mind of the Rev. E.M. Darling* in his manner, stature & many other characteristics.  

Mother Abergele 1914
Mother : Marie Neal Hibbett, Abergele. August 1914. Watercolour. Arthur H. Hibbett. Aged 19.

You must go on the usual procedure for the Summer holidays (10).  I’m sure you will need a rest and Father too.

I wish I could say more on the matter but I’m afraid this letter won’t go in the green envelope now I’ve put something in about the army (11).

Basil will enjoy hay-making with Les (12).  I heard from Allen*, with whom I had a long chat on Thursday evening, that Tom (Ser) is not well, got something the matter with his leg & injured his left hand.  He’s as bad as if he were out here I’ll be blowed.

I was on duty as a picket this morning & had to lie in the long tall rye, the sun beating upon my neck.

St Athan; Trinity Shield.
Shield of the Trinity. Creed of  St Athanasius.

I pictured you in St Paul’s singing the Creed of St Athanasius (13) & I guess you will perhaps go to Rushall Church (14) for an evening walk as well as to the service, if the weather is like it is here.

We have had orders to do away with pants & I shall be sorry if you have sent some off to Syd before you heard from me.  The weather is so hot that I am without vest & tunic.   I had a lovely wash with a tablet of oatmeal Mrs Hurst* sent me, another generous lady.

Should you get this letter before you buy or send a pipe then, Mother, as you do not care for a ‘man’ to smoke a pipe don’t go to the expense of getting one, but if you have already taken steps then send the pipe.

I enclose an extract from Harold’s letter I got the time we were in the trenches the Sat before Syd’s birthday.

We relish the following  – & Oh dear Mother, it is so kind of you to say it is a pleasure to you to think out what to send us in parcels – Lemon curd, I tin of Cafe -au- lait, I tin Pineapple with tin cream, Bird’s Lemonade with sugar or  1 bottle of Symington’s Lemonade crystals, 1 loaf currant bread, tea cakes.  I for my part like caraway seed in them and occasionally could you put a cake in?  Although we’ve had 3 cakes Syd couldn’t keep them so long & besides he gave a slice all round the hut with his usual generous manner. (I helped him).  A cake makes the parcel complete, but see that it’s packed well (of course forgive me just saying so for you always send a well packed parcel).

We could do with some sugar to go with the Lemonade or Cocoa and the Cafe au lait needs a little; also if you send any currant bread, or tea cakes, butter would be a great welcome.  Many thanks for the last lot of butter & bread which we greatly appreciated.

Now I’ve said my say with regard to Parcels I can’t help but feel ashamed of my greediness.

Now make a nice Sunday tea.

Bertie Hibbett's drawing of a tea cup. Aged 8.
TEA CUP & SAUCER blue pattern for ‘Dear Mother from Bertie’:  Drawing by Bertie Hibbett.  Aged 8 or 9.

Goodbye for the present.  I pray that Mother will have a quiet, goodnight’s sleep.  

Your affec.  son,  Bertie.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

(1) RFA: Royal Field Artillery. (2ADoctor‘ (medical or academic) was not automatically an Officer. (3R.B. – Rifle Brigade. See Forces War Record website & http://www.1914-1918. The Long Long Trail.(4) Sap: a shallow  trench dug from the Front Line into No Man’s Land to approach enemy without detection. Trenches: useful info. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki

(5) Picket Duty: Sentry Duty (to warn of enemy advance –fully armed in pairs, 2 hrs) . Pte Bertie Hibbett appears to be out of the sap in No Man’s Land with only the rye for protection. (6) Book of Revelation: the only Book of Prophecy in New Testament. An Apocalyptic Vision of a New Heaven & a New Earth.

(7) United Counties Bank, Wolverhampton. 1907 -1916 when acquired by Barclay’s Bank, together with Birmingham District, Counties Bank & Bradford Old Bank. See Lives of the First World War  <https://www.archive.barclays.com&gt; .(8Rifle Brigade. http://www.1914-1918. The Long Long Trail. Another indication that QMS 1/5th S.Staffs differentiated themselves from Kitchener’s New Army?

(9Lieut. Parr* compared with the Revd. E. More Darling*, Vicar of Walsall. His‘A’ Coy. Captain was Captain Cecil Lister DSO*.  

(10) Family Summer Holidays alternated between Abergele, Wales and Whitby, Yorkshire.  (11Green Envelope:  First issued April 1915. Soldiers were on their honour to write only personal matters. (12) Les & Tom Ser. ref. to Staffordshire farm where Basil (future agricultural engineer) helped out at weekends & holidays?

(13) Athanasian Creed: (Latin: Quicunque Vult). Book of Common Prayer, 1662.  Summary of Christian Doctrine of Trinity & Christology, to counter heresies re Nature of God.  St Athan- Symbol Interpreted[Traditional authorship St Athanasius, 296-373 AD, Archbishop of Alexandria, now questioned. Used in Western worship since 6th Cent. on Trinity Sunday & other festivals. Rarely used today] .

(14) Rushall Church, Walsall where Ida Hibbett is buried & SgtSydney Hibbett is commemorated (a mile from 95, Foden Rd, Walsall).

NEXT POST: 3rd June 1915. Update Welcome.