Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to IDA HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall.
Sunday Dec 19/ 15
My Dear Sister Ida,
My sincerest apologies for inability of sending you a proper Christmas Card. Yet I know happily enough that Champion will be chivalrous enough to accept my very best wishes, which are not any the worse than mine of last Christmas, rather better this year. I did so much want to send you something in the way of a card & being therefore on the ‘que vive’ I send this rather than ‘leaving it behind me’ anywhere (1).
Putting all joking aside I do feel sorry for you, Mum & all of you that such good Christmas luxuries have not arrived for the boy who would appreciate them best. I can picture you all packing those two parcels & imagining all sorts of happy results. My shining face on seeing the cake, almonds & raisins, choc. figs & dates. Yes, I remember all the things Dodger told me in his letter, how ‘wicked’ of him to mention them, it has had a somewhat Tantalising effect upon poor I.
Oh not so much that I care – I’m thinking of you all & of course – – – ha hem I’ve forgotten what I’m going to say (pons assiniorum (sic) – just bin’ to be ‘dressed’. (2)
So I’ve missed my eatable part of the Christmas gifts. Everyone who has sent me gifts so far must have thought I should get quite enough to eat & so they have sent such DRY stuff, a Stationary & Cigarette case & cigs. Of course – I’ve got it now – I can eat the pages of writing paper by writing long Christmas letters, as for the cigarettes if I can’t eat them I can heat ’em can’t I? & smoke everyone’s health at Home, sending warm fumes from each cig I smoke & too I can verily heat up the pages of writing paper with Warmest Wishes for a Merry Christmas.
I am away from my Batt. of course now I’m in here & shall very likely miss another little Sing Song. I guess you will enjoy your sens (3) with fireside sing songs in the Study & Basil will of course lay aside all swat for the evening – the Eve of Christmas I mean. I can hear that usual party of voices singing on Venables’ lawn (4).
– – – ‘Ben Battle was a soldier bold And used to war’s alarms But a cannon ball took off his legs So he laid down his arms. (5)
(Yes, I, with my septic feet, have laid down my arms, but I shall have to wash my limbs all the same)
And now I cannot wear my shoes Upon my feet of arms. (I’m wearing big white woollen socks, something like bed socks.)
So round his melancholic neck A bandage did entwine. (Sores on my neck again). So they buried Ben at the four cross roads With a stake in his inside.’ – – –
I wonder if I shall get pontoon for Christmas dinner.
I shall finis now with my congratulations to you for your good work at Munitions (6), hoping you will get your full reward by having a really good time at Christmas.
Your vewwy affwec bwuvver, BerTRUM.
In his letter to his sister Ida, Pte Bertie gives a delightful picture of how the Hibbett Family & Friends enjoyed Christmas. He hides his misery and serious condition with classical references & humourous poetry but I think Champion Ida, VAD Nurse, would not be fooled.
(1) A Paper Cross/ Bookmark given him by Merville Hospital Chaplain? (mislaid at present).
(2) Pons asinorum. Latin lit. ‘Bridge of Asses’. Name given to Euclid’s mathematical theorum – (5th proposition, 1st Book of Elements) -‘that the base angles in an isosceles triangle are equal’. ‘Asses’ Tag applied to ‘Medieval schoolboys who . . . had difficulty understanding the proof – or even of the need for the proof’. An alternative name (which better suits Pte Bertie’s painful situation in Hospital) is Elefuga ‘escape from misery‘ which Roger Bacon in c. AD 1250 derived from the Greek. < http://www.britannica.com/topic/The Bridge -of-Asses >.
(3) ‘Sens‘ – selves. Black/ North Country dialect.
(4) Venables’ lawn. Next door neighbours in next street off Foden Rd/ parallel to Rowley Street, Walsall. Arthur Venables was to save Bertie’s life. 1st July 1916. Battle of Somme.
(5) A Pathetic Ballad. Faithless Nellie Grey by Thomas Hood. 1799-1845. English Port & humourist. Adapted by Bertie to fit his trench foot misery. cf Letter: 29th Nov. 1915/Father’s Birthday.
(6) Munitions: Ida Hibbett’s bomb-making was most likely in a small converted workshop in Walsall.
NEXT POST: 19th Dec. 1915: No 3. Letter to Mother. ‘God will let you see me in His good time’