21st -31st May: Battalion Training. In Rest Billets.
‘Home Sweet Home’ (1)
Woden’s Day. May 24/ 16.
My Dear Mother & Father,
Mum’s long letter of last Sunday 21st was beautiful & interesting. I received it this evening after a good day’s work. We have been inspected by the Gen. of the BEF (2).
So very, very glad to hear you had a sunny Sunday and a ‘happy’ day on the 17th.
I liked the account of how you got my letter from the lady postman (3). How delightful to have had Sydney’s favourite hymn (4) on the Sunday following.
Your letter had the opposite effect to the one previous & seemed to have had that ‘forgiveness’ I told you of in my last letter which has turned the story beautiful again, & how queer that I should have written about it last Sunday too.
Yes, I guess you would miss Ida, & do you know I had an idea she had kept her intention from you for she never mentioned you in her letter as reference. Well I do praise her up to a certain extent & if she were a boy she would undoubtedly win a medal on Active Service.
Sorry you have been ill, but I love you for the way you took it so lightly by your writing. Bravo Dr. Utting*! (5)
Yes, Ball* was always decent to me, he is only a Private like I am, but one of the decent chaps among the ranks. He is dark haired & has a rosy fresh complexion, hasn’t he? Yes, I will do as you said & he will deserve all I give him poor chap. Yes, he is quiet & that’s the best of him, all the others are rowdy. As for the Hinds I think Cyril* is the better.
Ah! your description of Basil cutting the grass & of your sitting in the garden gave me much pleasure.
I am looking forward to the lilies. This is the Land of the Lily (6), but I have not seen any yet this year. I think the lily (the symbol of this country) is the ‘Arum’ – that which you decorate the altar with.
Mrs Hurst* told me it would soon be the Sunday School Festival & Mr Key* loves white flowers.
Am pleased you like Mrs Hurst, she is very much like Mrs Jones in her manner of writing.
Thursday. You told me in one of your past letters that I could have one of the washing squares as you had sent Sydney some. The one I have is simply a ‘tres bon’ idea. I found, when I had a bath last night, that it is much easier to get a lather with it than without, & also there is no waste soap as I put my soap inside the ‘bag’ & that which gets smeared on the square is used next time.
I told you in my last letter but one that Lieut Sanger* wished to be kindly remembered to you, at any rate I will give him the ‘Boomerang’ (wish). It was sometime after that I saw Allen Machin*. I think S(ydney) is the best of the lot & Allen looks fine.
We have been out of the trenches since Saturday night & have done a route march each night for 3 nights. It is cooler to march at night. I guess you have wondered whether we march at night or not & you would think all sorts of things, not missing out that we are cheerful. And we are not always singing ‘Tipperary’ (7). There are always some of us who find out something fresh & they are not always songs.
One night a few of us imitated the rocket we saw at the Arboretum Flower Show (8). I think someone behind us must have seen an artillery rocket, at any rate it was not long before nearly all of us picked up the joke. A long whistle for the rocket &, as we imagined the illumination to burst & show all its different colours gracefully fall to earth we should utter that expression of those who saw fireworks – ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw’ – & then the excited quick Hurrah! at the end.
At another time I fancied I could smell the old ‘bread & milk’ I loved when a little school boy. I could indeed smell a kind of burnt bread & burnt milk. Sorry I lost the choc and Terry’s sweets with the parcel, but I am hoping they will turn up after me writing. And I suppose you sent some Monkey Brand for my mess tin (8). I need also some Emery Cloth (9).
I have at last managed to sketch something original but of course I could not better Bairnsfather’s features in his sketches. Have drawn two, one you could send to Miss Foster*, if you think she would like it, & the other for yourself. Choose which you like the better, the one with ‘Yours faithfully’ in front has the more original sketches in & I have substituted a verse for a better one about the Kaiser(10).
I am expecting Sydney soon, as his course should not last more than a month.
Best love to all, Bertie.
PS Did you get the ‘green’ to Ida dated about 14th? [Ed: if so then it hasn’t survived].
The inspection by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig was a clear sign that the Battle of the Somme was imminent. Pte Bertie Hibbett has to send Home for more emery cloth & cleaning powder to spruce up his uniform & equipment.
1/5th South Staffords, at Lucheux (on top of the usual bombing, sniping & bayonet practice) were kept fit by night marches, whilst during the day they cut wood for hurdles & fascines; these were used to strengthen the long communication trenches over the dangerously exposed ridge from Souastre to the Front at Fonquevillers.
My father was happy in his peace-making efforts at Home. He took comfort from signs of Spring & thoughts of Home Sweet Home which in the song gave him ‘the peace of mind dearer than all‘ – but in his letters from now on there seems to be a growing acceptance that he would not see his Home again until after the coming Battle.
(1) Home Sweet Home:1823. Lyrics: John Howard Payne, 1791-1852. American dramatist, poet & actor. Music: Sir Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 -1855.
(2) Field Marshall Sir Douglas Earl Haig Commander B.E.F. replaced the First Commander, Field Marshall Sir John French after the Battle of Loos, Oct. 1915.
(3) ‘Lady Postman’: 35000 women were drafted in during 1914-1916. The Post Office was ‘the largest single employer of labour in the world‘. Dealt with 5.9 billion items of post, responsible for nation’s telegraph/ telephone system/ savings bank & 1000 branch post offices. By 1917 19,000 mailbags crossed the Channel everyday. See websites: <http://www.postalheritage.org.uk <http://www.worldwar1postcards.com/soldiers-mail.php >
(4) Sydney’s favourite Hymn: ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King’. 1744. Chorus: ‘Lift up your heart lift up your voice. Rejoice again I say rejoice!‘. Words: Charles Wesley. 1707 -1788. Based on Philippians 4. 4. See Hibbett Letter: 23rd April 1916.
(5) Dr Utting: Hibbett family doctor/ later tended Ida in her last illness. Utting & Hibbett family grave/memorial, Church of St Michael the Archangel, Rushall, Walsall.
(6) Land of the Lily: Fleur de Lys/ Iris or Arum Lily/ symbol of France. See Hibbett Letter: 14th April 1916.
(7) ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. Music Hall Song: Jack Judge, in collaboration with Henry James Williams. 1912.
(8) ‘Monkey’:at least 3 different items with this brand name. Rather than tobacco, the context implies ‘Monkey Soap’, a scouring soap (produced in 1899 by Sydney & Henry Gross, Philadelphia, USA/later called Port Sunlight Soap) – or even black tooth powder for cleaning a mess tin. See Hibbett Letter: 21st Oct 1915.
(9) Emery: ‘dark granular rock‘ used to make abrasive powder (corundum/ aluminium oxide). Rock mined over 2000 years in Turkey & Greece (Island of Naxos), world’s main supply. Used in Asia for grinding rice. Emery Cloth: coated abrasive, bonded to cloth, for hand use.
NEXT POST: 28th May 1916.