29th March, Mon. Entrenching exercise. 2 Coys moving. 2 Coys afternoon trenches opposite one another 40 X apart (yards?). 30th March, Tue. Entrenching practice and Bomb Throwing practice.
31st March, Wed.Constructing Barbed wire Entanglements, construction of hurdles& improvement of trenches,morning. At 1.15pm orders received to march to Bailleul . Moved off at 3.30 pm. Arrived Bailleul at 5.0 pm. Billeted there for the night. Certain proportion of Officers went to Neuve Eglise to inspect trenches & take over huts for Battn.
March Diary Signed by R.R.Raymer*, Lt.Col. Comdg. 1/5th Bn. South Staffordshire Regt.
BULFORD CAMP: NEUVE EGLISE 1st April, Thur. Morning in Billets. Bn paraded at 2.30 pm & marched to ‘Bulford Camp’ one mile SW of Neuve Eglise – vacated by2nd Bn Kings Own (R. Lancaster Regt). Arrived Camp 5.0 pm. (1)
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to FATHER, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall, (H.W.W.Parr censor)
April 1stThursday Morning.
My Dear Sir,
We are on the move again. I believe we are going into the trenches again & will probably be in on Good Friday and Saturday. I expect to see Sid today. He is still away (1). We were digging trenches yesterday morning & had to hurry back to the barn & go without dinner & dress in full pack & be off.
So what became of your handsome parcel? I carried it along the march for some distance & then it dropped. A. D. Jones then gave a hand (2). I managed to get it here safe & thought best to open it just to see if anything important was inside. What a fine handsome neatly made up parcel it is, some of Dad’s handling I bet; nothing whatever smashed. I just had one cake & opened a neatly rolled handkerchief & read Ida’s letter.
– Yes it would be better to send separate parcels to my opinion, but what say you ?
Dear Dad, it is encouraging just to see the way you address our parcels, forit reminds me of your deep consideration for us & pleasant cheerful face, as though as to express the idea that after all there is no reason to pine over this war. Of course the sooner its over the better, but we must not come to terms of peace on any ground – and then again what is the fighting?
Let’s hope forEternal Life& we shall see one another again in happiness.In past wars there have been men return home safe and sound. Let’s hope that Sid & I will. But what I cannot get cool about is the thought of seeing chums wounded when I myself am not & to return home after seeing fallen chums.
Vernon, Sid and I – wasn’t it lucky we all got together weeks last Tuesday night when we went to the trenches last time.
I was kindly remembered by Mr A.E. Hurst last Sunday. He sent me an interesting letter & a parcel full of good things, stationery, text books and some Cadbury’s Chocolate. I’m glad you got the newspaper. I will begin to conclude my letter now. I still find it difficult to write short letters.
Afternoon. Another long march just finished. Am in a most comfortable wooden hut.A cannon has just gone off, shook the place my word! the loudest I’ve heard. With the old QMS boys again.
Tell Mr Venables* Arthur B.looks very well. We’ve all got parcels. I’ve had to carry Sid’s parcel again, this time I tied it on my pack.
I wish you and Mother & all at home, as well as Harold & Miss Bore, a very pleasant Easter, hoping you will spend it all together round the tea table & remember Sid and me at Church.
The weather is simply lovely and bright; rather warm on the march. We had had very cold weather & I have had chapped hands early part of the week. Basilwould like to be with us, but there are more than myself who think it best & fortunate that he is under age & not with us. I still think of his exam and hope it will come off lucky.
I wrote a letter to Miss Foster before this, & just after the post came I got a parcel of Cadbury Chocolate for Sid and me. Sid is still away. After opening the parcel I put the handkerchiefback again & paperon top & wrapped it up again. I think I shall open it now for I don’t know what we shall do next. Oh how nice it would have been to have had Sid with me & to spread the lovely napkin & divide the luxuries for tea.
I have carried V. Evans’ parcel & Sanger’s. Vernon is with Sid & Corp. Sanger*. I shall have to close now with the very best of wishes & happiness. I am keeping jolly well. There goes another Jack Robinson – I don’t think! (4)
PS Have written to Miss Foster & will write to Mother later.
(1) Neuve Eglise Fr. /Nieuwkerke Flemish. (2) Sydney Hibbett (with Vernon Evans & Sanger) was no doubt involved in preparations for move to Bulford Camp, & Wulverghem Trenches, opposite Messines.
(3) Bertie was trying to carry a parcel about 8 miles to Bailleul on top of his full pack.By the time he finished this letter he had carried it another 9 miles to Bulford Camp. (4) A ‘Jack Robinson’: 1st WW nickname for a shell or bomb . (Identity 18th C. real person lost: term assoc. with immediate/ sudden change ‘as quick as you can say Jack Robinson’).
NEXT POST: 2nd APRIL, 1915. Also Update of Welcome Page.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: Long Letter Part 1: (Pages 1-13) to BASIL HIBBETT at 95, Foden Road, Walsall.
29, Gold St. Saffron Walden. Essex. Dec 11 / 14 Pay Night I don’t think (1)
My Dear Dodger,
All though tired, I will keep my promise and write to you, I shall get interested myself, as I write on, so here’s luck! (2)
We have had the hardest day for some good many weeks. After stepping over from Bishop’s Stortford (the place you know where Cecil Rhodes’ father (3) was Vicar) we had the following day off but had to go to the Baths. I must say that this town, which is another regular farmer’s centre, is far better than Bishop’s Stortford. The Baths were fine, I did not mind having a dip, & a good rub down. Sid did not come down, he had a bad cold, which we’ve all got. Our friend, Eddy Hateley*, has had sick leave for the day & was in luck’s way, I can tell you – you’ll know later on in this letter.
After leaving the Baths we had to stay in billets for fear of further orders. The Lieutenant (Parr is his name*) and such a lankey chap but very gentlemanly & got plenty of common sense, superior to most other officers – well Parr came in – we all jumped up – he caught us round the kitchen fire – said that we must stay in as Captain Lister *would be coming round to say something – Lister never came.
In the morning we broke the rule and went to have our “stickey backs” taken (4). You’ll know what those are when we send them. Don’t try & guess & guess & let the cat out of the bag to the others will you? – we want it to be a Xmas surprise.
Did you read in the “Daily Mail” about Free Passage home for soldiers.I do hope its true don’t you? On the same morning we went to the Museum they’ve got here – beats Tamworth’s show – Rhinoceros, Giraffe, Eventure (sic) (5) etc – all stuffed though. Birds with most gorgeous & beautifully coloured plumage, & some humming birds, so small – from America. And I saw an umbrella bird – however it could see I don’t know; it had feathers over its head like a lady’s hat coming right over the eyes & I could only see its beak. It also had a long feather, like a small ostrich plume, coming from its breast & hanging in front like a leg. It also stood on one leg. There was also a stuffed boa constrictor killing a stag. Wild cats (hideous creatures) badgers, foxes etc. etc. I also saw the Kaiser (eagle), a good subject for my original cartoon which I enclose (6).
Saffron Walden has got a handsome Market Square, a much finer Corn Exchange (with a handsome little Tower) than that of B(ishops) S(tortford) –
– and old fashioned Town Hall, with wooden beams (see Sid’s PC ) – a Market Drinking Fountain in the centre and other municipal things. Yes! Saffron Walden is a swanky place; you know it’s where the Lord Howard de Walden lived once, at Audley End (7). By what I’ve seen of the PCs it’s a magnificent mansion extending over a large area; with such an extensive Estate that it forms a district of Saffron Walden.
Another mansion is about 4 miles away where Sir Carl Myer lived (8). He has been in trouble or rather lost all his property, for he had all his investments in Germany & so has had to have all his property sold here. Lord Braybrooke (9) now lives at Audley End, at least I mean Lady Braybrooke, for his Lordship has gone to Egypt.
I’ve not finished yet!
Saffron Walden also boasts of a fine College called the “Friends’ School” founded by Quakers & you know how rich they are. And not very far, at a place we passed on our way from Bishop’s Stortford, there is a Grammar School founded in 1588. It has been enlarged since, as can be seen by the new brickwork; the architecture of the facings is similar to Walsall Grammar School. There are some very, very old places in this old farm Town.
In the Museum – I forgot to tell you this – there is an old arrangement for roasting the Christmas Beef. The meat is put between four strong wires which altogether revolves – the whole arrangement is driven by a chain round a thing like a coffee grinder. I’ll send you a P.C. of it soon. Very interesting to watch it.
Well you’ll think we’ve been having a jolly easy time of it, if I don’t tell you of to-day’s doings. We told the people of this billet to wake us at 7.00 like Thursday morning, but about 5.45 this morning, orders were given at the door, breakfast at 6.am. A tap came at our bedroom door & I jumped out of bed (Sid thinks I’m a marvel) and lit the candle. I like getting up in the candle light. (I guess you are looking surprised after writing so mysteriously as the above. Yes the kind lady has got us two “comfy” beds).
Well we got down in plenty enough time for breakfast.Sid had got some choice bacon the night before; better than the scrubby little bits of fat & burnt rind we have had before. Beg pardon, I must not really make remarks about food, but still. Well we had a really bostin breakfast (10). I had some coffee which I have never tasted for breakfast since I left home. At the Drill Hall, Bishop’s Stortford Refreshment Stall I had a cup of coffee 1/2d nearly every night.
Soon after breakfast “Fall In” went, 7.20 about. How funny it seemed tramping down the street in the star light. I nearly won a medal – it’s the proper thing when going on parade to slope arms every time & then come to the “at easy” when in the file – well on passing a corporal, who was marching to the parade with arms at ease, I jokingly told him to slope arms & passed on. I saw Capt. Lister – of course I need not have saluted, because coming on parade is an every day occurrence. Perhaps if I had had done, I should have been wearing that medal of honour, what oh! I don’t think.
Another occasion when the Coy. had marched to the Batt. parade ground, ‘A’ Coy was standing at ease & had not got an NCO in command at the time – when up came the Colonel (11)*. The majority still kept at the easy, strolling and propping themselves up with their rifles, but I set the example, but rather sheepishly I came to the attention & our Colonel touched his hat as he saw me. Ah! I nearly touched for the medal again – perhaps this time it was because I did not come up smart enough!
Part of ‘A’ Coy. were told off to ‘C’ Coy, that notable Coy. of which that notable personage Capt Billy Wistance* is in command, – a jolly ‘nice’ chap though.
We marched on & on & on, till at last we recollected that we were going along the same road we had come from B.S. to here. Some of the Ptes punned about returning to that old place;– ‘oh! we are just going to pay the old place of Bishop’s Stortford a visit to see how they are getting on and how they’ve fared since we soldiers left it’. But we turned to the left after marching about 5 miles & went to a little village called Widdington. Now I’ve not got a cold all this much. It is Widdington I tell you, not Wittington (12), there are no barracks there you know.
What a rough time we had there. Eddie Hateley would have just died through it. We stood in the shivering cold for a jolly long time & then were kindly presented with a pick – – – AND a nice shovel as well mind you & were told to carry our chum the rifle on our back & sling over the left shoulder. Thus we began to tramp & tramp & tramp through pools & pools & roads, I mean cart tracks, of mud, mud, mud & worst of all through a wood – on & on we went, our shoulders crying out to be released of the burdens – for we had got the full pack & 150 rounds of ball cartridge for fear we were leaving Saffron Walden – but alas! we were on our way to Dig Trenches.
We managed to balance ourselves on the cart tracks. We halted in the wood & strict orders were given NOT to make a row of any sort, but some idiots could not control their poor selves from rattling the shovels & jabbering silly talk & grumbling about their unhappy condition. We then had to crawl down a slippery, muddy bank & up again through a hedge & then we formed up in Coys: & had a little rest at LAST!
It was not long before we were on the last move to the field where the trenches were to be dug. Billy Wistance spoke a cheery bit to us, that we must buck into it, for the trench, which was to be 3’.8” or so deep & 2’ wide, must be done most part to-day – for we should have to spend Saturday on it to get finished. So away we went, hack! hack! hack! & shove! shove! shove! & chuck! chuck! chuck! – for 1/2 hour off & 1/2 hour on.
Our Colonel, who always enters into such things, got up a spade & did a good bit of digging – in fact he beat me. (V.Evans* made a bit of a sarcastic remark & grinned about this). Well – the other officers saw the poor Colonel (who is said to be over 60 & was on the retired list) & followed his example. Captain Lees* got his coat off & sleeves to work & Norman Smith*, who is now with us as a 2nd Lieut, also swanked a bit, while 1st Lieut Pearman Smith* was very busy giving instructions.
The shape of the trench was very peculiar, something like the sketch (13). Well after much sweating away in the cold air we went to have dinner; another tramp through the wood (our rifles were not fit to be seen) & the mud. We halted in a field – even the smell of pontoon was enough to make my mouth water. I spied the officers with their hands full of ham sandwiches & a lump of cake on the top. Ah! I said before dinner, ‘I guess the officers wish they were having something hot like the soup of pontoon’. I soon changed the idea though for the soup tasted sweet. Ah! how horrid, & the meat soon went cold & the spuds were steamed in jackets & no salt or bread. You should, or rather can imagine, Sid carving away at a huge leg of mutton, with a knife, he did not stick it long. Knives were wanted & Sid gave up his for some time.
It was not long after dinner before we were on the way back. How long it seemed in front of us, all the way back passed Widdington, turn on the main road, passed Newport & turn to right again up a jolly long hill, down & up again. Most of the time not one of us muttered a word, except at a halt under a bridge – raining all the time – had our oil sheets on. When we were entering the town we let ourselves go & sang all the comic songs. ‘Here we are! here we are! ringing wet’ – and so on.
The Landlady of our billetwas extremely considerate & kind – came to the door to meet us & Mr Penning* (14) took the oil sheets & hung them up to dry – and cleaned our boots for us at night. We had a bostin tea & have had porridge for supper (we bought this ourselves). These last 2 nights I had something you like very much for my supper. Cold Rice Pudding.
Mr Penningis just like Father for keeping awake when things concerning other people are on the move. He wakes us up at 7. 0 regularly, & is awake for any knock that may come before that time.
Continued on12th Dec. 1914.
NB* Details of Soldiers are updated in the Staffordshire Soldiers Page, as they appear in the Letters.
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.