The Revd J. J. KEY: LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle, Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire.
St Paul’s Vicarage, Walsall.
20th July 1916.
My Dear Bertie,
A partially written reply to your last letter had been on my desk for a long time and you must think me a bad correspondent.Still never a day passes when you and the other men we know and love are not in my thoughts and mentioned in my prayers.
We have all thought you should have had some leave long, long ago– I suppose real or imaginary difficulties have arisen.Now you are back in the homeland, bearing marks of the unthinkable experiences you have passed through.We hope your wound is slight and that you have not much pain.
No words can describe the pride we have in you all and the gratitude we feel for all you have so splendidly achieved.Your father goes on bravely & cheerily with his heavy work (1) and your mother has been simply wonderful in the midst of her anxieties.
Things go on happily at the Churches in spite of the absence of so many men.Tonight we have a meeting of a few still here to put into shape our parochial branch of theC.E.M.S.(2) and develop our plans for theNational Mission (3). It is a great opportunity and I pray God will guide us to use it aright for His Glory. Sunday Schools go on well and the Open Air Meetings are very encouraging this year. (4)
Mrs Key and I look forward to hearing news of you and Sydney soon and the pleasure of welcoming you home.
With our kind remembrances & good wishes for a speedy recovery.
Ever yours, very sincerely,
J. J. Key.
News that Serjeant Sydney Hibbett was Missing on 1st July, presumed Killed in Action, was obviously not yet widely known. The family was waiting for official confirmation from the War Office. See Menu Page: ‘In Search of the Missing’.
(1) Arthur Hibbett was Chief Education Officer for the Borough of Walsall. See Menu Page: ‘Walsall Education Office 1900-1921. Arthur Hibbett Press Cuttings’.
(2) C.E.M.S.Church of England’s Men’s Society. Formed 1899 by Archbishop Frederick Temple.
(3) ANational Mission of Repentance & Hope, Oct.1916: launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson & the Archbishop of York, Cosmo Lang.
‘We are to repent not because we believe we are guilty of provoking this war but because we, together with other nations that profess to be Christian, have failed to learn how to live together as a Christian family, how to set forth Christ to the peoples who do not know Him.Because it is clear that the Spirit of love does not rule our relations with one another at home, anymore than it rules the relations between nations’.
‘We look forward to a new England & a new world’. As well as repentance ‘the Mission projected a much needed message of hope during the grave time of war’. The nation was invited ‘to reflect their attitudes, weaknesses & passions & repent in hope of a better world’. The Archbishops recognised that many (like my father & his brother) conscripted in hope to fight to save not only their country but also the world. A Monument of Fame: The Lambeth Palace Library blog: 13th March, 2016.
The Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington Ingram: ‘The Mission is to be like the coming of Spring – a drawing out of sweet influences & powers inherent but dormant in the Church & Nation.’ ‘Its effect was not to be produced primarily by big drums or the oratory of mission preachers’ -‘each diocese is to revive itself in its own way, believing that under the breath of the Spirit“a desert may rejoice & blossom as the rose”. Church Times, March, 1916.
(4) St Paul’s Sunday School: my father had passed his Sunday School Teacher’s Examination, ‘First Class’ in April, 1914.
BATTALION REFITTING: 20th – 24th Oct. ALLOUAGNE. In Rest Billets.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.
21st Sunday afterTrinity. Oct 24/ 15.
‘Turn again then unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath rewarded thee’.First Psalm for this morning (1).
My Dearest Father & Mother,
Isn’t Ida a brick.I was so proud of my sister on hearing she was commended by the manager in making or helping to make bombs, that I mentioned the fact that I had a sister who was helping to make bombs to my comrades. One chap gave a brilliant reply and said ‘she is making them while her brother is throwing them’.
(2). Sydney, good old boy, showed me the pin of the first bomb he threw.
I am writing this Sunday letter in another barnsome distance away down the road from where Sydney is. I was writing a letter yesterday evening when the candlewent out. I thought I had better go & buy another,1½ d each & call to see if there are any letters for me.
When I got to the Batt. the post had not yet been sorted & I was about to go & buy a candle when the chap told me there were two letters for me, so I went in the Farm House where Sydney was, for the chap told me that my brother had got them.There in the corner of the room wasSydneypoking into ahuge box of all sorts of good things, and round him weretwo or three little children, inmates of the farm.
I was not long in opening & reading the jolly long letters from Mother & Ida, with Dad’s few lines of phraseology & Basil’stwiddly bit – on a spare sheet of paper ripped out of his swot book I suppose. Yes Mum I got the one sent to Rouen safely,what a long one too, your poor knuckles must have ached, for I know what it is to write lengthy letters myself.
Sydney, naughty boy, is a secretive person,I did not get to know of the letter he got from you last Wednesday until next day & then I had to ask him.He means to keep all reference to his Commission as secret as possible, wise chap, so wise that he would not tell me. I happened to pick up a long envelope with one of Dad’s ‘Editor-like’ letters in and some forms. Sydney was soon on to me. Well he told me he is waiting to see what Mr Crump* sais to the Colonel* (3).
Mummy, if you could have got all those people, who kept coming to see him when he was at Home, to have stood outside the farmhouse window & let each one peep inside & see Sydney there, sitting on a chair nursing a poor little laddie who looked at Sydney so lovingly, – well, those with a touch of humour would have roared with laughter and those with a natural inclination for all that is beautiful would have come away with a lasting impression of a picture of true tenderness & boyish love of kiddies. I think Sydney would not take much coaxing to be a Sunday School Teacher.
I had a letter from Mr Hurst* saying how the staff of teachers seem to be lacking energy. Mr Darling *(4) will want someone to take the place of the late Mr Cozens* (5). IfDodger can see his way to help at St Paul’s S.S, without hindering his preparations for another smack at the exam,well Mr Darling& I would be delighted.I hinted the matter in a letter to Mr Darling on Trafalgar Day. As a matter of fact Mr Darling said to me that he would be calling on Basil, he was so taken with him & was a rival of Mr Cox* of St Mark’s(6). And then Dodger would be doing a bit more of helping in this War, like Ida, who has so finely set an example.
I think Ida, if she were a boy, would soon win the VC, she always manages to distinguish herself in most things she takes in hand.
Yes Mum the 1st Lesson of last Sunday was very interesting about the shepherds, wasn’t it? (7). It reminds me of Sunday School work again & is a good lesson for us. Did you compare the 1st lesson with the 2nd one (8) & see how St Paul differs from those negligent shepherds? Aren’t the Psalms for this morning appropriate for a Service of Thanksgiving after the fight? ‘I am well pleased that the Lord hath heard the voice of my prayer’ is a striking verse for the firstverse of the 1st Psalm of the morning (9).
If you look up your diary, Mummy,you will find out that last year, at this time, I was spending Sunday with you.I was on Home Leave.
I enjoyed a lovely slice of pork pie for my supperyesterday (Sat) & brought back with me half theloaf of brown bread and two eggs & some delicious thick broken chocolate. I enjoyed one of the eggswith my baconat breakfast this morning & took the chocolatewith me to the field where we had been training in bomb throwing all day & I am now enjoying the brown bread & the other eggfor tea, 4.pm.
I shall have to pop down to see Sydney again this evening to taste & see how nice that large cake is. I had an appletoo, I must not miss that out & I saw something which I don’t expect I shall see when I go down tonight. Sydney will have demolished both box& creamas well, with his apologies & my forgiveness.
I hope you are all enjoying another Happy Sunday. I guess Harold is with you today isn’t he? Never mind, Mummy, if I am not with you to go toChurch& hear Our Bishop (10), I shall be with you in spirit, especially when the lessons are being read for I am going to read them out of myKhaki Pocket Bible (11).
Have I said all?To make certain to you where I am, I am apart fromSydneybut can go & see him in the evenings.My address is to the Batt. just the same as to Sydneyonly of course I am ‘Private’ – & be sure you address it ‘Sergeant Sydney’.
Well her’s tiv us, all on us, May us nivver want nowt, but parcels from Harm. Norn on us, nor me norther. An if yer do owt for nowt, Do it for yer sen(12).
The above is splendid economy for these days.
I am short of a shirt. And a toweltoo will want. And hangme I want a hankietoo. I am not joking but shall be pleased to get them instead ofcakes next time.
Best love to all,Bertie.
Thanksgiving Services & Memorial Services followed each other relentlessly at Home – while Pte Bertie looks ahead to the Church & Life after the War.
NB*Starred Names see Menu Pages. Note: ‘Dodger‘ is one of Basil Hibbett’s nick-names.
(1) Psalm 116. v.7.
(2) Ida Hibbettseems to have been spending all her time on War Service: Red CrossVADnursing, helping to create a Card Index of Men Available for Military Service at the Local Government Office – and now making bombs.
Small bomb factories were set up in local workshops but I have yet to discover where Ida went to make bombs (most likely she was filling shells, like the 6″ howitzer shells made at Viscount Godfrey Chetwyd’s National Shell-Filling Factory, Chilwell, Nottingham. Commissioned 20th Aug. 1915). Ida was to die in 1921 from cancer caused by this work.
(3) Lt Col. Elden Annesley Crump3/5th Bn Reserves. (prominent Walsall family – to whom Arthur Hibbett may have applied to re his son Sydney’s Commission). Lt Col Sir Stuart Wortley. C.O. 1/5th S. Staffs.
(4) The Revd E. More Darling.Vicar of St Paul’s, Walsall. (5) Tim Cozenshad been a Sunday School teacher in Walsall. Killed in Action 13th Oct 1915.Pte Bertiecould however have been referring to Tim’s father, Henry Cozens prominent in Walsall Church.
(6) Mr Cox: Head of St Mark’s Sunday School, Walsall – rival for Basil’s help there? (7) Ezekiel34 v. 13. ‘Lessons Proper for Sundays’. Anglican Book of Common Prayer. 1662. (8) Pte Bertieappears to be referring to2 Thessalonians 11 (not the Lesson Proper for 21st Sunday).Maybe he was following an altered reading list, published in Walsall’s Church Magazine.
(9) Psalm 116. v.1. (10) Bishop Lionel Crawford.1864 -1934,Suffragan Bishop of Stafford, Diocese of LIchfield.
(11) Khaki Pocket Bible. ‘It is hard to understand British society at the time of World War One if you subtract the Bible from it.’Dr Michael Snape, Reader in Religion, War and Society at the University of Birmingham.
‘When war broke out in 1914, every member of the British Armed Forces was given a Bible as an essential part of their kit’. (Total: 6 -7000 Bibles a day were published by The Bible Society. 34 new translation of languages & dialects i.e. one new version of the Bible every seven weeks. <https://www.biblesociety.org.uk>
‘ The Bible was a defining influence on British culture across class divides. From the public school to the Sunday school, from art and music to political debate, the Bible was in the blood of British people‘.
‘It was hugely consoling for individual soldiers,’ Dr Snape says. ‘There are poignant stories of bodies being recovered of men who had died with a New Testament in their hands. What else could you do if you were alone, badly wounded and going to meet your Maker? ’
(12) Pte Bertie’s adapted version of a Yorkshire saying (in Black Country dialect?) passed down our family & often quoted for fun.Meaning:Here’s to us, all of us. May we never want for anything(but parcels from Home), none of us, nor me either. And if you do something for nothing do it for yourself.cf Hibbett Letter: 14th May, 1915. cf <https://www.bbc.co.uk/north Yorkshire>
NEXT POST: 27th Oct. 1915. Family Dandelion Wind-clock & Food to the Front.
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.