6th June Tue: Marched to new billets at SOUASTRE , arrived at 10.pm.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Hand delivered in envelope addressed: ‘To Dearest Mummy from her loving Bertie’.
I had another volunteer to pose for me for this. Drew it in less than 10 mins.
Tuesday June 6/ 16.
WHEN SHALL I GO ON HOME LEAVE ?This year? Next year? Sometime? Never? Nearing the Top. (1)
My Very Dear Mother & Father & all of you,
Your ripping parcel came this dinner time. I have just read the letter. Am sending this letter with another comrade out of ‘A’ Company who is going today on leave.Remember me writing at Easter saying ‘Let us hope (D.V.) that I shall see you at Whitsuntide’ (2).
All my comrades & Sydney say I shall be going Home this week. The boy who is going today says I follow tomorrow. He lives near Home & said he will take it to my Home if he does not post it. He will most likely tell you I am following him on Leave tomorrow.
You had an idea we were about to go to the trenches! Well as a matter of fact we move from this Place of Rest towards the line today. Time was getting rather anxious about Leave.I have washed a shirt, that comfortable shirt you sent last, so that I can wear it for when I go.
I might go to have tea with Sydney this evening, but on these ‘moving’ days we are busy packing up etc.
I will conclude now. I think I have said too much with regard to Leave. Sydney’s Leave came suddenlybut as you seem to be anxious for news of my Leave I have told you as much as is wise to.
We all know of the Naval activities & I am pleased we won (3).
Goodbye for the present. Thanking you all again for your kind wishes.
I see Dodger had a go at printing the label this time.
Your affec. Bertie.
PS Send Ida this month’s Pickwickian Leaflet (4).
The tension & anxiety for Pte Bertie Hibbett must have been almost impossible to bear a hundred years ago – on the move but not knowing where – to ‘Leave Parade’ & Home – to the Front & Battle with always the thought that he might never see his Home again. He plays a childhood game, does a sketch & washes a shirt; homely comforting activities.
(1) Nursery Counting Game: Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief. Fortune-telling Song counting plum stones, daisy petals or grasses etc. to answer questions: What will I be when I grow up? or When will I marry? ‘This year, Next Year Sometime, Never‘. Rould Folk Song Index No 802.
‘Nearing the Top‘ double meaning here for Bertie – ref to nearing the top of the grass and ‘Going over the Top‘ into No Man’s Land and to Battle.
(2) D.V. Deus Vult Latin ‘God wills it’/ ‘God willing’ Whitsuntide:50 days after Easter (Pentecost/ ‘pente’ Greek for fifty). Major Christian Festival. Celebrates the Gift of Holy Spirit on disciples of Christ. Acts 2.1-31.
(3) Battle of Jutland: North Sea off the coast of Denmark. 31st May -1st June, 1916. Largest Naval Battle of WW1, Both sides claimed Victory, with great loss of life.
Royal Navy, under Admiral John Jellicoe, lost 14 out of 28 battleships and twice as many lives as Germany (which lost 7 out of 16 dreadnought battleships) but British achieved long-term aim to prevent Germany gaining access to Britain & the Atlantic.
(4) Pickwickian Leaflet for June 1916has not survived.
18th May Thur.12.45 am to 1.30 am: Enemy fired 18 canister bombs(1) which fell between ‘A’ Company’s advanced posts and company Headquarters.All communication trenches damaged.1.45-2.15 am 12 canister bombs fell between No 4 and 5 posts. No damage. 10.15 pm – 10.45 pm 12 canister bombs fell between No 4 and 2 Posts. LIVERY STREET damaged (2).
19th May Fri. 8.30 pm: 6 canister bombs fell between No.1 and No 2 posts. No damage. Our Artillery retaliated on GOMMECOURT PARK.Enemy whizz-banged (3)in vicinity of Headquarters. Relieved by 1/5th SHERWOOD FORESTERS (4). Marched to billets at SOUASTRE (5).
20th May Sat:SOUASTRE. Marched to new billets at LUCHEUX (6). Arrived at 2.0 am.
21st May Sun: LUCHEUX. In Rest Billets. Battalion Training.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings. New draft of officers. Saw Lieut. Sanger* with whom I had a nice chat; he was later over No 2 Platoon. Illustrated Sniper Atkins and substituted a verse about the Kaiser in place of ‘Atkins loves his pal the rifle’ (7).
LETTER to MARIE NEAL HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘. . . among the sundry and manifold changes of the world. . .’(8). ‘I have yet many things to say unto you’ (9).
Collect and Gospel for:– 4th Sunday after Easter. May 21/ 16
My Very Dear Mother,
How very, very sorry indeed I felt, when I read your letter(in with Ida’s)dealing with the manner Sydney behaved. Yes Sydney is often thoughtless & I think it is rotten to have divided affection. I say ‘Mother the Queen of the Home – Ist A1.Then if you like —someone else A2, but to me Dad & Mum are equally A1. ‘Ah wee’, as the French say, the first few lines of Chapter XXII are disappointing.Yet a Mother can forgive & that will turn the story beautiful.
The weather is excellent, fine & sunny & of course I am wondering what sort of Sunday you are having.Oh No! Jones* left the letter untouched, I arrived in time. I did not understand the matter about the photo, I overlooked that & was more interested in the other news in the letter. Jones*is going to give me Sydney’s watch today. I shall try & get it before tea-time just for curiosity in case you think of it in conversation during tea hour. I told you before that I have written to the 3rd Field Ambulance. I have received very nice letters during the week from Miss Foster*(one of hers was returned to her).
Miss Bore* sent a PC & letter & Pearson’s Magazine (10) to the Hospital on the 5th May. I got it yesterday. [Ed. i.e. 17th May].
Jolly old Vernon wrote a nice long letter from Ripon, No 6 Coy. No 1 Hut, No 3 Camp, Northern Command Depot (11).Perhaps you would like to write to him. You told me in one of your letters he was not any better & that he had been sent to Ripon. His brother Norman* is Editor of the Junior School Magazine. I am patronising his office by sending him my doggerel ‘Sniper Atkins’ – Illustrated. You may think I am vain to send it, but my idea of giving them pleasure exceeds the former idea of vanity& I thought if the C.O. commended it(& every Tommy I have shown it to has been highly amused & many have suggested that I should send the poem to some paper)that I should.I conclude that I humbly beg the Editor, Mr. N. Evans* to give me his opinion as to whether my doggerel is worthy of being published in his respected School paper.
Sydney once told me not to be so ‘gushing’ in my letters to him, & about him at Home.But Vernon is worse to me than I was with regard to Sydney. He apparently has changed right round. In spite of the old saying that we love one another more when parted. I think Vernon will remain true now (this is between you & me Mum).
Going back to ‘Sniper Atkins’ again. I may say that I have made an Illustrated Copy for you Mumfirst, but should you discover that someone else has a copy before you, it will be because I wrote it on paper to fit an envelope. This size notepaper will not go into a ‘green’ envelope without folding.
Doesn’t Arthur Brown* look old in the Observer? & I didn’t know he was Sergt.On leaving the Batt. he only had 2 stripes showing. Of course he was once Acting Orderly Sergeant.Well, I looked over & over again at the photos but could not recognise Brown until I began to read the names underneath.
This morning I received the Refill for the Boots Cooker.I have noticed that the labels always come & do not get torn off. This reminds me that I made a delicious mess tin of coffee for supper with that you sent me; Cliff Hackett*was only too willing to give me ‘du lieu’ (12). Cyril Hinde*returned from Leave a day or so ago. Yesterday I went & talked with him in the field by the huts. He wishes me to say that he was sorry he could not find time to see you.
I am afraid my Sunday letter is not altogether a success.I cannot write properly today somehow, this being a ‘green’. I may enquire of you if that Refill was rather expensive, & ifI have asked you for anything that taxes your pocket? But the advantage of the Refill comes when you send anything to be made into hot drinks& there are no fires to be had; also when our tea& bacongo cold or if we wish to make Welsh Rare Bit.
Oh I won’t arf make ye larf (at least I’ll try my best) in my next letter,but my sketches would not be Sundayfied if I enclosed them with this. I am getting quite aRival of Bairnsfatherand what two tasks have appeared at first incapable of accomplishment have both come out successful to the commendation of all. I have sent Field PCs to all those who wrote last week. I must not forget to tell you I had a letter from Mrs Hurst* today & she told me of her meeting with you & Ida on Monday. Her letter, curious enough, was dated May 17th.
I hope poor Sydney had a Happy Birthday and got your parcels safely. I well remember last year how I smoked his health from a pipe for the 1st time and how the Overends sent him a cake & toffees etc.
Talking about a pipe, you need not send me another – certainly of course not.I am so sorry Ida’s cigarettes have also gone astray.But there seems to be hope after having Miss Bore’s letter & Harold’s parcels from there (13).
Going to hear Mr Darling* preach at Streetly this evening ? (14).
Aren’t these large buttercups (from the trenches)?
Best love to all, Bertie.
According to 8th Sherwood Foresters this part of the Line at Fonquevillers was reported to be ‘about the quietest on the whole of the Western Front’. For the 1/5th South Staffords, it must have been a very welcome relief after the traumas of Vimy Ridge. Apart from the bombardment of 18th & 19th May, many ‘A Quiet Day’ enabled Pte Bertie Hibbett to lose himself in his ‘two tasks’ – writing his Sniper Atkins doggerel and illustrating it in a way that he hoped would make people laugh. He recognised that it was not ‘Sundayfied’ – not really in keeping with Christian values even when read ironically. It makes me recall my question as a child of how many people my father had killed in the War – & his reply that he thought he ‘might have killed one’!
My father’s growing maturity is seen in his attempt to resolve misunderstandings between his brother Sydney & his Mother – and his happiness in resolving those between himself & his best pal Vernon, through their experience of war.
(1) Canister bombs:fired from German trench mortars or minewerfers, exploded ‘with devastating effect causing almost visible shock-waves through the earth. . . very slow moving through the air. . . possible to watch bomb as it approached, turning end over end’ as it fell – but its ‘unnerving tendency to swerve at end of flight’ made direction of escape a matter of guess work. Alan MacDonald:A Lack of Offensive Spirit?
2) Livery Street: communication trench leading to Front Line atFonquevillers. Other names:Stafford Avenue, Lincoln Lane, Leicester Street, Derby Dyke, Roberts Avenue, Rotten Row, Regence Street, Raymond Avenue, Crawlboys Lane. All needed extensive repair before the ‘Big Push‘ to come.
(3) Whizz-bang:Tommy’s slang for light shells/ named for sound made when fired from smaller calibre field guns.
(4) Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby) Regt. 1881: Pte Bertie Hibbett was attached when 1/5th Staffords went to Egypt, Dec 1915/ Jan 1916.
(5) Souastre: small village, Pas-en Artois, over exposed ridge, 2 miles west of Fonquevillers/ damaged. (6) Lucheux: medieval town in Picardie, 18 miles SW of Arras. 12th cent Church & 15th cent Chateaux with moat. Relatively undamaged. See Map: Hibbett Letters 10th May,1916.
(7) Sniper Atkins: (not yet established whether Express & Star or QMS School Magazine published it). Text: Sniper Atkins. Composed by a Sniper.
Sniping Allemands All day long To the tune of British guns. Cooly sniping with A song, Sending greetings to the Huns. I shot 2 shots 3 shots. Sniper Tommy spots a Bosche And gains a ripping goal And he sees him dive – splosh! Down his muddy hole.I shot etc.
Placing five rounds in tin can Then another up the spout Tommy spies another man So gives the Bosche an awful clout. Tommy has a lucky ‘go’ His sharp eye spots the Kaiser. Tommy say Just ‘arf a Mo’ Take this to make you wiser. I shot 2 shots 3 shots etc.
Atkins with his glasses spies A Jerry working party. Keenly marks it with his eyes Just ‘Wait & See’ me hearty. I shot etc. Opponent snipers in some trees Little knowing of their fate, When Tommy snipes at what he sees They’ll sing no more their hymn of hate. 1 Shot 2 shots 3 shots etc.
Atkins aims at a machine gun & hits the Hun behind it. Oh! my word what jolly fun It fairly makes his sides split. I shot 2 shots 3 shots.
(8) Collect for 4th Sunday after Easter.Book of Common Prayer 1662:‘O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful man; Grant unto thy people that they may love the things which thou commandest & desire that which thou dost promise; that so amongst the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys may be found. Through Christ our Lord. (9) Gospel of St John 16.12-13: quotation continues:‘When the Spirit of truth is come, the Spirit will guide you into all truth’.
(10) Pearson’s Magazine:founded 1896 by Sir Cyril Arthur Pearson, blind newspaper magnate, 1866-1921. Founded Daily Express. Founded St Dunstan’s for soldiers blinded in WW1 (now Blind Veterans UK).Publishedshort stories/articles on literature, arts/ politics of ‘socialist bent/ advertisements for patent medicines & ‘get rich quick’ schemes/ first to publish a cross-word.
(11) Northern Command Depot Ripon: for Service/ Labour Units. Also for re-habilitation of soldiers too fit for Convalescent Camp but not yet fit enough to return to their Unit/ the Front.
(12) ‘du lieu’ ‘in the place of’:Cliff Hackett* had given him hot water earlier in week.(13) No 3 Field Ambulance/ Hospital where Pte Bertie went to rest his trench foot and shattered nerves after Vimy Ridge.
(14) Church of All Saints, Streetly: built 1908.6 miles north of Birminghamnear Aldridge & Sutton Coldfield. Named from Icknield Street /Roman Road.
NEXT POST: 24th May 1916.
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.