Tag Archives: Trench Foot.


Bertie HibbettPte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to IDA HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall.

Sunday Dec 19/ 15

.Champion Ida Hibbett VAD Nurse.
‘Champion ‘ Ida Hibbett VAD Nurse.

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 viveI 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 careI’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).

Euclid imgres(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. 

Thomas Hood 1799-1845.

(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’


South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.


15th -18th Dec 1915. Platoon & Company Training continued.

19th Dec. Sun: Marched to billets at ISBERQUES sic (1).

Bertie in Uniform

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to BASIL, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.

Sunday Dec. 19/ 15

My Dear Basil,

Basil Hibbett Age 18. 1916.
Basil Hibbett at 18 yrs. 1916.

How dare such a reflection of trench life reach as far as you on the muddy footer field, larst SaterdiHad you waders (2) on any of you?  For us there were not enough to go round so some had to ‘grin & bear it’.  I was one on ’em & so in conseq: but chiefly through the march that Sunday (3), the day after we left the trenches, this Sunday finds me in Hospital with sore feet & other sores.  So that answers your first request in your jolly delightful letter of last Sunday.

Sydney, Bertie and Basil.
Sydney, Bertie & Basil in tent on Abergele Beach.  August 1914.

I wonder where you are at this very minute. I am sitting in a sunshiny room at a table in the centre & trying to scribble you some enjoyable Tosh (4)

All your letters have been delightfully interesting and full of jollityMy word, Basil, you write as good & as bad as I do, so Q.E.D.  I can read them delightfully well, but poor Sydneydon’t joke about him beingyeller’ (5), yet of course I quite see you took it in all good humour.  Your other request was a smileso I cut myself out of the photo of us three taken in the tent at Abergele (6).

Yes, the Trio (7) that kept so long together at Luton, & out here, are parted for Christmas & I am sorry I could not convey your kind thoughts to Vernon.

Alladin Lamp gas mantle.
Alladin Lamp Gas Mantle.
American Wall Gas Lamp.
American Wall Gas Lamp.

Again to your jolly letters, I shan’t forget your dream of Dad, Mr Boothroyd* & the Gas mantle (8).


One of my good wishes to you this Christmas is that you have happy dreams without disappointing awakenings.  Don’t grind your teeth – Dodger dreams a dream on New Year’s Eve, he walks down stairs & when he gets half way he sees a masked phantom (9) within the porch.  In the dining room Mum is writing one of her usual long letters (at the late hours of the night) to one of her boys at the front.  She has written  . . .      (end of Letter is missing)



This is the first of Four Christmas Letters Pte Bertie wrote to members of his Family whilst in Merville Casualty Clearing Station. The trench foot & boils that had kept him in Rouen from August to October had returned (probably had never gone away). All three of the Trio, Sydney, Vernon & Bertie were now in Hospital and separated for Christmas. The disappointment must have been intense, with not even the hope of a Christmas Parcel or Letter from Home to cheer him. In his Letter to Basil he hides his misery and his serious condition with banter, dreams and a ghost story. 

(1) Isbergues. Isberques: 10 miles (19 km) NW of Bethune. Connected to the English Channel & North Sea by Canal d’Aire. Pte Bertie must have been judged unfit for this march of 11 miles from Rue des Vaches and sent straight to the Brigade’s Casualty Clearing Station.

(2Trench Waders Imperial War MuseumGhosts of 1914. <https://www.ghostsof1914.blogspot.com&gt;

Trench Waders.
Trench Waders.

(3) 5th Dec. 1915: 6 hour waterlogged March from Neuve Chapelle to Rues Des Vaches. (4) ‘Tosh’: nonsense/ rubbish’. 

(5Sydney’s ‘Yeller’ (yellow) skin caused by Jaundice/ infection of the liver (Catarrhal Jaundice).  (6) Abergele Holiday Photo. August 1914. 

(7) ‘The Trio’: Sydney Hibbett, Vernon Evans & Bertie Hibbett. cf. Letters from Sept 1914 to end of Feb. 1915/ Training in Bedfordshire & Essex.

(8) Gas Mantle. Gas Lamps had fragile mantles, lit by matches. (9Masked Phantom: possible ref. to gas masks just issued. See Drawing 20th Dec. 1915.

NEXT POST: 19th Dec. 1915: No 2. Letter to Ida Hibbett.





South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DAIRY


1st Dec. Wed:  In Brigade Reserve.  Relieved 1/5th North Staffordshire Regt in Trenches at 6.3 pm.

2nd Dec. Thur: NEUVE CHAPELLE.  Quiet.  Midday enemy crumped (1) rear of our right – no damage.

3.0 pm 20 British aeroplanes flew over, returning  3.15 pm.  Rain all night.Brit planesimgres

3rd Dec. Fri:  Very quiet.  At Stand To tested enemy with 5 rounds rapid.  Very little reply. CASUALTY: KILLED: 9465 Pte J. Hodson.

4th Dec. Sat: Battalion was Relieved in Trenches.

5th Dec. Sun: LORETTO ROAD.  In Brigade Reserve.  Marched to Billets at RUE DES VACHES (2).

Rue des Vaches from Loretto Rd
Route March from Loretto Road Billets to Rue des Vaches Billets. (6 miles approx.) Red Line (right) marks approx Front Line.  Dec. 1915.

Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings. Nov 11th-Dec 4th. Our old Colonel Crawley* (3) came  & shook hands all round at Lastrem nr Neuve Chapelle. He was then on Staff over Base. ‘How awfully unfortunate’, he said to Vernon, in Neuve Chapelle trenchesVernon had old   complaint of losing his voice & had a trench foot. 

LETTER to Arthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.

                        2nd Sunday in Advent. Dec 5/ 15.

My Dear Mother & Father,

We have been marching from 10 this morning till 4 this afternoonCame out of the trenches yesterday, Saturday, slept a rough night. Was paid & issued with deficiencies last night also.

Very pleased to get Dad’s long letter on Friday night, the length of it surprised me as he generally sends short epistlesI read the letter in a ‘rat-hole’ of a dugout, taking some of my hour’s rest as I was on sentry duty all night – 2 (hours) on, 1 off.

‘For rough work only and no marks given for work done on this page’ (4) quite amused meI think Dad’s letter deserves full marks.  Am looking forward to the promised parcel.

I heard from Sydney the same day, but in the morning, correspondence with him seems to be very queer, the Con. Camp which he is in cannot be at the Base. I sent him a Field PC on Nov 23rd  – & in his letter of 29th he said he received a FPC of mine on 28th (most likely the one I sent on the 23rd).  Well I got the FPC back on the night I got Dad’s letter &  I (had) addressed it to Z Coy. Conval: Camp – marked on it was ‘Line’.  I should like to write to him & send him some of his letters from friends, but cannot rely onConvalescent Camp Rouenwhich he has written at the top of his letter.

I was very interested to hear about some of the Walsall people.  Bates* (5) was probably on Home Leave; he joined the Inns of Court OTC & was at Berkhampstead last time I heard from him (at Hospital).

K Own R Reg Mus. Ouderdomko0860-026
Kings Own Regiment at Ouderdom, Ypres. 1915. Courtesy Regt. Museum Collection.

I think Ida is keeping a pace (6) parallel to the strain of the men at the frontcongratulationsNow I must draw my tea rather late to day, because of the march. I then shall look out for the post as the rations & blankets will have to be drawn at the same time. We have had sheepskin coats (7) given us again, but have given them in again now, owing to our moving.

I think I will leave off now & let this be another Sunday, Monday letter.  I wonder if you got my letters from Stir Up Sunday & the one I wrote on Dad’s Birthday enclosed in a green?

I thought of you all in Church on the march.  Basil’s chatty lettersI treasure his description of the commotion in Church caused by a cat (was it?)did amuse I.  I have not yet had Miss Foster’s scarf. She would be indeed a lightening knitter if she had knitted the scarf by now, very good of her isn’t it?

Yes, Coms: are rather com: everyone seems to be going in for one out here (8).  You did surprise I, when I saw Basil’s writing on the outside of the envelope.  I thought you were going to leave it until I came on Home Leave, & then again I have not said I particularly wanted one. 

I shall have to be concluding now, poor Mum, I thought, writing at such a late hour.

Train 1914-1918.c6e0ac50fdb9f3812d94052949b9c4be
WW1 Open TruckTransport. & standing, 1916. NB helmets instead of hats.

Well we are now in barns & move again tomorrow, very likely entrain (9)

I am sleeping in the loft & the orficers sleep, dine & enjoy ’emselves in rooms set apart in the farm house.

I hope you have not been anxious not hearing from me & answering Dad’s letter, I have not had an opportunity of writing. 

Many thanks for the pencil & paper.  I shall be able to send greetings now to all friends at Christmas, but I have an idea I shall be at Home to see them then.

Best love,  Bertie.



Serjeant Sydney Hibbett’s exact whereabout begin to raise anxious thoughts in Pte Bertie when his Field Postcard is returned from Rouen Base and he is on the move from Neuve Chapelle. He needed to consult his brother about applying for a Commission as his parents wished him to do (probably in the mistaken belief that he would have a more comfortable time as an orficer (sic)).

WW1 battlefield N Chapelle.nc_crossNeuve Chapelle’s shattered Crucifix would be a lasting influence on my father and his Good Friday Posters: Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?’ (Hebrew Bible Lamentations 1.12.  Date trad. after Fall of Jerusalem 586 B.C.).  

Cross Neuve Chap. lead_largeSee The Cross at Neuve Chapelle, the story of how the Germans used the Cross as a marker for shelling & how the British dealt with the problem <https://www.the atlantic.com>

(1) Crump: Soldier’s Slang for German 5.9″ shell (or sound of it bursting/onomatopoeic). http://www.wakefieldfhs.org.uk/warslang.

(2) Rue de La Planches des Vaches: ‘Cattle Drove‘, broad country road, 6 miles north of Bethune, off D945 to Estaires. This route ‘march’ from Loretto Road (8 miles approx.) took 1/5th Staffs 6 hours, a trial indeed for Pte Bertie & his ‘awfully unfortunate’ pal Vernon Evans, with fever & trench foot. Compare Welsh soldier’s description of march to trenches ‘impossible without going through 4-5 feet of water‘. No Man’s Land littered with’bloated bodies’. Carmarthan Pals <https://www.books.google&gt; Steven John. page 44: 19th Dec. 1915.

(3) Colonel Archer Parry Crawley*: came out of retirement at 60 to command South Staffords Territorial training in Bedfordshire & Essex,1914. In Feb 1915, became Officer Commanding No 2 Base Depot at Rouen; also temporary Brigadier General for 1-5 Entrenchment Battalions. Wore ‘swanky pattees’, Letter 5th Feb. 1915.

(4) Heading for Examination paper: cf Sydney Hibbett’s first Letter Home, asking permission to join up. 19th August 1914.

(5Bates* (Alan?). Family lived at Aldridge, nr Walsall. Father grew roses.(6) Ida’s Voluntary War Service filled all her time; included Borough Council Office/admin. Derby Scheme Recruitment; VAD Red Cross Nursing; Bomb-making  – as well as teaching Church Sunday School. 

(7) Sheepskin/ Goatskin Coats: evidence of extreme cold of a Flanders’ winter 1915. cf Letter from Havre 3rd March.1915.

(8) Kitchener’s New Army (as distinct from 1st Army of 400,000 soldiers which serviced the British Empire i.e Old Contemptibles) was led by temporary officers, recruited from public schools/ often university graduates with some military training in the O.T.C.  A portion of officers were from the ranks (‘temporary gentlemen’).  Royal Sandhurst gave just one month’s intensive training, so desperate was the need to replace horrendous losses of 1914-1915. 

WW1 Life expectancy of Front Line Junior Officer: 6 weeks. Source: Dr Anthony Morton, Curator Sandhurst Regimental Museum. <http://army.mod.uk/documents >

(9) Entrain:  possibly in uncovered wagons as illustrated or in cattle trucks.

NEXT POST:  7th Dec. 1915.






South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th  SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.


19th Nov. Fri: Relieved 1/6th Batt North Staffordshire Regt in the ‘B’ SECTOR trenches at 6.45 pm.  20th Nov. Sat: Enemy working parties heard knocking in stakes and revetting sic (1).  Enemy shrapnelled right of SECTOR 55. CASUALTY: Pte S.W. Clarke wounded.

21st Nov. Sun:  Quiet day. Enemy shrapnelled Fire and Support Trenches, slight damage. Officers Patrol commanded by 2nd Lieutenant S.P. Smith penetrated enemy’s work opposite the NEB and found it unoccupied.  It had evidently not been occupied recently as it was waterlogged and in bad repair.  The G.O.C. commended the officer in charge for the good work of his patrol. CASUALTIES: 8827  Sgt S .J. Hattin slightly wounded; 8741 Cpl S. Gee slightly wounded.


Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to  Arthur & Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.

Stir Up Sunday (2).  Nov 21st/ 15.

My Dear People,

I guess you have thought my letters a long time in reaching you.  It is because we are in the trenches & I have been ‘on the go’ all day long.  You will have heard by now how I got that large parcel with the towel & hankies in. (The hankies I scented with the White Heather Scent).

Vernon has been most generous with his parcels & to think he has been without for such a long time. Vernon said that A. O. Jones* went to see his people& Father went when he was there.

Could you send me another indelible lead and also some more notepaper & envelopes.  You see I do not mean to stop writing my Sunday letters.  I know Mum is thinking of us especially today & wishing that this War would  STIR UP & get finished, instead of sticking in old Mother Earth & wasting valuable time.

Players Navy Cut Tobacco.






I have sent Sydney some of Miss Foster’s* Player’s Cigs & the rest I filled the tin with the Chief Whip.  Miss Foster sent a small tin of bivouac cocoa (3), three packets of biscuits, Cadbury’s Choc, toffee & apples.

I am enquiring after more definite news of Serg. Tim Fenton – so far I am very sorry I have heard nothing of him (4).

 I am just puzzling my brains on what to send Dad for his birthday which I believe is the 29th.

Guess what I had for second course today? Tapioca Pudding made with the milk from a little of Vernon’s cookery His people seemed to have, by some mysterious means, got to know all I have previously told you.  Another thing which would come in beautifully for breakfast this winter is a packet of Quaker Oats (5). 

Oxo Tower London.
Oxo Tower, Riverside Wharf, London. 1930.

That reminds me, on sentry last night & this morning we had brought round to each sentry, some Oxo (6) at 12 & some Rum & coffee at 5  – & we needed it too (7).  

Well I will close.

Sorry Sydney ’s letter got muddy like this one is getting, there’s mud everywhere.  Hoping & trusting you are enjoying a Happy Sunday.  I guess you have Harold & Miss Bore* with you.

Ta Ta,  Bertie.

PS Monday Breakfast:  Toasted cheese, bacon, & cafe au lait (Vernon’s).

I was on sentry last night again.  I only wished I had had a lump of your home-made toffee in my mouth.  I can’t say where Sydney is now.  I was only wondering whether he was on his way to England the other night. 

Many thanks for the Parish Magazine. I read that article which you marked in ink, very good advice, but dearies, such references to ailments such as LUMBAGO, RHEUMATISM, BRONCHITIS, INFLUENZA, ELEPHANTITIS  – & coughs in heads, coughs in ya toes & coughs everywhere tend us to dread them.

We have lately had our feet greased & fresh socks issued (8). I am afraid I shall be asking you to do too much (in the way of knitting) if I ask for another pair of socks.  Perhaps Auntie or Mrs Barrans* could send a pair.  At any rate I am looking forward to the parcel you told me to look out for in your letter of the 12th & also am picturing you knitting busily away at the Helmet.

Horlicks Bottle c .1915.
Horlicks Bottle c. 1915.

I think Harold could send the Horlick’s Malted Milk Powder & the St Ivel Cheese,  if you send the Quaker Oats, sugar etc.

Quaker Rolled Oats.
Quaker Rolled Oats. 1915.

Vernon & I, in fact all of us, are so indebted to those who send us good things that we find it pretty difficult to express ourselves.  Vernon cannot find anything else to say but ‘Many Thanks’, he is always saying that.  Now don’t go & tell his people because I happened to have a chance glance at his letters. Ho Ho!

Well ’tis cold for writing so will stop now. This is another Sun: Monday letter.

Best love to all, Bertram.

PS  I have received all your letters since Oct 31st – so many there are that I missed reading the one on the 3rd & found it after I had written my rig-ma-role of a letter of Nov 14th Sunday. I will be more direct & to the point in future dearies.   B.



(1) Rivetting: fixing a metal pin to hold two pieces together i.e. when building /repairing a trench or fixing wire stakes (the kind of noise my father would be listening for on Listening Post duty – and no doubt trying to differentiate it from sounds of underground mine-laying). 

(2Stir Up Sunday: Sunday before Advent, (the beginning of the Christian Calendar)  – Collect for 25th Sunday after Trinity, Book of Common Prayer, 1662 :- Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people: that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Traditional time to stir Christmas puddings & fruit cakes and make a wish). 

(3) Bivouac Cocoa: compressed cocoa.  

(4) Serj. Thomas Fenton.  At 19 yrs of age he was one of the Army’s youngest NCOs.  Killed in action Battle of Loos-Hohenzollern, 13th Oct 1915.  Andrew Thornton <https://hellfirecorner.com&gt;. No record on Commonwealth War Grave website.

(5) Quaker Oats: registered  as ‘Figure of a man in Quaker garb’ at US Patent Office, 1877. (‘Symbol of good quality & honest value’ /at a time of adulteration of cereals). First trademark for a breakfast cereal.<https://www.quakeroats.com >

(6) OXO:  Meat extract (liquid) created by Justin von Liebig, 1840, /a solid cube in 1910.  Original 1915 OXO Tower at Riverside Wharf, London; now design studios. <https://www.oxotower.co.uk&gt;  

(7)  Army Rum Ration: Tot of rum issued from gallon stoneware jars to troops in trenches each morning at ‘Stand To‘/time when enemy most likely to attack. First mention of rum in Hibbett Letters/ issued to sentries. Evidence differs: cf The Role of Rum. Great Forum The Long Long Trail ‘Old Sweats’: General 23rd Jan. 2009. <https://www.worldwar1postcards.com&gt; and <https://pointsadhblog.wordpress.com&gt;.

daily mail mud in trenches.images

(8) Trench Foot/ feet greased: 20,000  British soldiers (including my father & his pal Vernon Evans) were treated for trench foot between 1914 -1915.  Cause: ‘cold, wet & insanitary conditions’, ‘standing in water-logged trenches for hours on end’, ill-fitting bootsdistinct risk of gangrene & amputation.  Army ordered each soldier to have 3 pairs of socks a dayboots dried every 4 days in Rest Camp and to grease their feet with whale-oil.  Each Battalion used an average of ten gallons of whale-oil a day. Situation improved with better drainage of trenches.  <https://www.spaticus-education.com&gt;.

The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett.
The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett. 1960s.
Unsuccessful attempt to straighten his feet.
An attempt to straighten toes with steel pins.  A.H.H. drawing.

NB. Forty years on, my father had an operation in Boston Hospital to try to undo WW1 damage to his feet.  It was painful & unsuccessful but true to character he made a joke of his ‘pins’.

NEXT POST: 23rd Nov. 1915.