Tag Archives: Tunnelling Companies.



‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.

NEUVILLE ST VAAST 1916:  ‘3 mines blown up while up in our tour . . .  the one on Sunday April 2nd affected  me more.  Sunny all day.  Had offered Lieut. Wilkinson*(1) & Rowley*(2) a  Major Drapkins corkhoffe? cig at Stand To (3).  When mine went up shook us to and fro. I made for my rifle in support trenches. Burnt . . . carrying in exposed position. (4).


Canadians at Vimy Ridge using crater as machine gun post.
VIMY RIDGE: Canadians using Bomb Crater as Machine Gun Post.
Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett 1965
Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett.

My Memories of the First World War. The Revd A. H. Hibbett. 1967.

I shall never forget my experience at Neuville St Vaast, . . . when I went with a party underground to listen for the enemy tapping their way in underground passages towards our Front Line.  It (was a) dark night which made it all the more ‘exciting’.  Whose mine would go up first, theirs or ours?  Our feelings were indeed tense. 

Pass the word down for Bomber Ford”, came the command from the officer in front of our column, as we lined up to throw hand grenades over the parapet. “Pass the word back I aint,” retorted Bomber Ford from the rearThe German mine went up first – and we tried to occupy the crater before the enemy advanced to take possession of it.  It is strange to think that I might have thrown one of my sister’s hand grenades at Neuville St Vaast. (5)

www.panaraio.com bomb craters at openair museum Zillebeke. hill 62.68330909
BOMB CRATERS,  Zillebeke Open Air Museum/ Hill 62.<http://www.panaramo.com&gt;



Researching 1/5th South Staffords and reading this experience of my father at Neuville St Vaast leaves me with nothing but compassion for those who died on both sides and incredulity that anyone could possibly survive such horror.

(1) 2 Lt J.W.H. Wilkinson was wounded. (2) Lt. Arthur J. Rowley: current Censor of Pte Bertie’s Letters.

(3) ‘Stand To’ was at dawndusk everyday/ when all soldiers must stand ready for enemy attack. Pte Bertie normally would have had had his rifle with him but maybe as one of a ‘Bombing Party‘ he was carrying hand grenades to toss into a new crater before rushing forward to claim it.

Greys Major Drapkin Tobacco Cigarette Tin.
Greys Major Drapkin Tobacco Cigarette Tin.

(4) ‘Burnt’: text here is indecipherable/ not clear whether he or his rifle was burnt in ‘exposed position’. Could be ref. perhaps to the wound Lt Wilkinson received?

(5) ‘My Memories’: Neuville St Vaast. This was one of the very few stories of the War my father told me as a child.  Compare Hibbett Letters 20th -31st July 1915 & ref. to 172 Tunnelling Company. R.E. See also website ‘The Long Long Trail’. The Tunnelling Companies RE.  Photo: Vimy Ridge Bomb Crater Machine Gun Post.<http://www.pinterest.com&gt;


South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

TRENCHES 063. 064. 065.

1st Apr. Sat: Very quiet indeed.

2nd Apr. Sun: 6.50 pm.  The Enemy exploded a mine on the south side of B4. This was immediately followed by a second explosion  S.W. of the same crater. The Platoon standing to at the North end of 0. 63 immediately rushed up to where the SW entrance to the crater had been but found this blown up and the bombing post there buried.

The connecting trench W. of the crater to 0.64 had also completely disappeared. The fumes from the crater were stifling2/Lt Knowles, who led the Platoon which reached the crater lip, found it impossible to enter and several men were in a state of collapse, so he lay down with his party and bombed into the crater.  The enemy opened heavy fire with rifle grenades and trench mortars from sap on the right side of the crater, also a machine gun from the direction Point 5.   We then established a bombing post and a Lewis gun on the N. lip of the crater and dug a communication trench round to 0.64, establishing communication with that trench the passage of which is very difficult at present by day.

The platoon Standing To at S end of 064 when the explosion occurred rushed along PAYERNE but found the end of the crater blocked and a heavy fire of trench mortar and rifle grenades directed on this point.  The Y sap in the WINDOW was attacked by grenades but the enemy could make no progress there. This part of the line was much troubled with trench mortars and a machine gun from the direction  of B. 6.  The artillery put up a very effective barrage, after half an hour the rate of fire was reduced and everything was quiet by morning .

La Targette British Cemetery.
LA TARGETTE. BRITISH Cemetery, Neuville St Vaast.


OFFICERS KILLEDLt A. A. Smith. (Author of War Diary Appendix 4. March 25th).  WOUNDED2/Lt J. W.H. Wilkinson.

OTHER RANKS KILLED: 9871 Pte l. Medlicott; 976 Pte J. Wooldridge; 886 Pte J. Mc.Neil9004 Cpl J. T. Knight; 95 Pte J. Dawes.  MISSING – BELIEVED KILLED:-  9006 L/ Cpl B. Hopley; 9013 Pte W. H.Turner; 1180 Pte J. H. Bird; 9048 Pte A. J. Belcher; 9702 Pte L. Smith8478 Pte H. Ball.

OTHER RANKS WOUNDED:- 8016 A(cting) C. S.M. Burton L.F.; 6443 Sgt. J. Williams; 8833  Sgt W.H. Perry; 9248 L/Cpl J. Wentworth; 7820 L/Cpl F. Fisher; 742 Pte  R.G. Collier; 926 Pte C. Hathaway; 8187 Pte T. Rotton; 615 Pte E. Wilkins; 819 Pte F. Bishop; 941 Pte  T. Homer; 428 Pte B. Brooke. 819 Pte W.H. Thompson; 9031 Pte A. Holmes.

SLIGHTLY WOUNDED remained at duty:- 982 Pte J. Powell.

German cemetery, neuville St Vaast.
WW1 GERMAN CEMETERY Neuville St . Vaast. <http://www.alamy.com&gt;

NEXT POST: 9th APR. 1916.


 Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT:  LETTER to IDA HIBBETT, on her own at 95, Foden Rd Walsall. (Mother, Father & Basil on holiday at Whitby). 

In the Trenches.  Whizbang DugOut (1).

IDA HIBBETT. 27 in 1914.
27 in 1915.

My Dear Sister,

By the time this letter gets to you you will have settled down at home.  I guess you are on your way from York – it is about two o’clock now pm.

I read your letter to Sydney.  How queer, Ida, I suppose you saw the Field Postcard with the line :- ‘I am being sent down to Base’. This ought to have been crossed outIt was a mistake, a rather foolish one of mine, but queer enough I did not know I had made a mistake till Mother mentioned it in her letter  – & on the very day I got Mother’s letter a strong rumour got to my knowledge that I was going to the Base for a rest & yesterday I went before the Doctor & eventually I have my name down to go to Base (2).

  –  I conclude I am going but do not know exactly when.  I have heard that I shall be going while in the trenchesAnother queer part about the  matter is that I had long been recommended for a rest  & had been before the Doctor before I sent the PC to Mum .

Well, Champion, how have you enjoyed your stay at Ashton & YorkI should think you have no difficulty whatever in travelling now.  Did you pass through Crewe again ?  – & have a tray brought to you?

You will feel  the difference being at home, practically alone, after being with the relatives in the hub bub of the great centers.  But I guess you will have the Overends* to tea in our sunny gardenYes, I well remember May* (3) coming to tea & we had the basket table out & the silver.  I shall indeed appreciate dining at table with a white cloth, flowers & chinaHere I squat tailor fashion with my mess tin lid in which I eat my bacon & pontoon.WW1 brazier

You tell us not to eat so much cake, very well then we will take your wise advice, but we get to long for such luxuries after biscuits & cheese  – & yet we can eat anything after a long march,  – as for the case for Auntie’s cake – ate that at night after marching up the trenchesInstead then of cake we should very much appreciate one or two of your tea cakes with currants in – & you can put some caraway seed in mine.

While in the trenches, last time, I was called to the Brigade Headquarters (4), together with three other chaps from the other Battalions, as being picked for surveying work (5) I was to go & have my rest with my Battalion & then when I come back to the trenches I shall be liable to go & do some surveying I have not been called to do this surveying as yet.

Can  you read my writing?  Yes I am afraid it will take some effort to improve upon this. I get agitated somewhat & when I start a letter I lose patience trying to express the great stock of news I have in my mind.  

Sydney forgot to return the Copy (6) Mother sent & so I will return it in the green envelope, in which also is enclosed the souvenir card I meant to send you.  I thought of sending it to Auntie* & then Miss Foster*, but I have decided to send it to you because I dare say you will like to have it on your mantelpiece in your bedroom.

You can send the Copy off to Mother who will be at Whitby won’t she? with Dad & DodgerI would like to send them a letter while they are there but I am running rapidly short of notepaper & this pencil is getting short too.

I hope Dodger has done well at the Grammar School & passed with Honourswhat say you?   Yes,  he was the scamp who chased the pigs at Uffington (7) – those good old days when we used to number off the days for the holidays & stop away from school on the day we travelled. 

German Raid on whitby 16th Dec. 1914.
German Raid on Whitby 16th Dec. 1914.
Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey after German Bombardment. Dec. 1914.

I wonder if Basil will do what he said in one of his past letters  i.e. if they bombard the town again – to lie down full length in the grass on top of the Cliffs & watch the excitement .

Leuy Cozens 1914
Captain Leslie Cozens. ‘Tim’.  Family friend of Hibbetts.

Capt. C. (8) is back now & he does look ‘andsome on horseback does Tim.

Tell Dodger he can send us some picture PCs. – they come in handy for decorating our dugouts & are a pleasure to look at them.  I have several up in mine now.  I have still the one of our home with an Alexandra Rose (9) in it from one of my scholars, and Tamworth Castle (10), Sutton & Sunday School group.

Tamworth Castle PC.
Tamworth Castle .

Hoping you will have a ’appy time on your ony own.

Best love,  Bertie.



The Hibbett Family were not deterred by the War from taking their usual summer holiday. It is likely that they purchased the  German Bombardment Book of Photographs, in aid of Whitby victimsat this time.

(1) Whizbang: Tommy’s name for a small high-velocity shell, which made a whizzing sound in flight & a bang when it hit.

(2) Rouen on SeineB.E.F. Main Base. (3May/ Mary Overend*. (4) Brigade HeadquartersRailway Cutting, Hill 60. (Divisional Headquarters was at Ouderdom). (5Surveyors were being brought together from different battalions to form special units & Tunnelling Companies. Pte Bertie Hibbett was a mining surveyor apprentice before the War

(6) Gazette Press Cutting re:- Colonel Wade & his son Jack Wade (missing on Eastern Front). (7) Uffington: village near Stamford, then in Rutlandshire.  Home of Uncle TomHibbett cousins.

(8) Captain Leslie (Tim) Cozens*, 1/5th S.Staffs ‘A’ Company. QMS scholar, Sunday School teacher, Walsall. (9) Queen Alexandra’s Rose: charities & hospitals for poor. (10) Tamworth Castle: Norman Castle overlooking River Tame, Staffordshire. 2nd largest motte & bailey castle in Uk to Windsor).  <www.visittamworth.co.uk>

NEXT POST: 1st AUGUST 1915: Wizbang Dugout, Hill 60 & Family Holidays.


South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

S.W. SLOPE OF HILL 60. TRENCHES:  35, 36  & 37 with their Supports.

17th July Sat: Relieved 5th Leicester Regt. Trenches 35, 36, & 37 with their Supports about 11.45 pm.

18th July, Sun :  V Quiet day. Enemy aeroplane appeared hit by Anti-aircraft guns, descended quickly behind German lines.  Howitzer battery (1) fired with good effect on enemy trenches on our left at 9.00 pm. N. W. wind.  CASUALTIES:  KILLED: No 8536  Pte. J. Wilkinson. WOUNDED: No 9709 Pte W. Ball.

19th July, Mon: RE reported having bored through to enemy mine in gallery in front of 37 Trench. No working was heard from enemy mine. Our Listening (2) near old mine crater reports all quiet.  Enemy shrapnelled old 35 communication trench about 12.5 pm.  RE removing explosives from enemy mine. S.W. wind.                           

BERTIE HIBBETT: 19 in 1914.
20 in 1915..

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to Arthur Hibbett & Marie Neal Hibbett. 95, Foden Rd. Walsall. 

In the Trenches.  Monday Washing Day. July 19/ 15

My Very Dear Mother & Father,

It is a lovely sunny evening with beautiful blue sky & fine with white clouds. Just before tea – no about 3 o’clock, I went to Sydney’s dugout, a very comfi one in comparison to others.  If it could have some green baize round the mud walls it would compete with an officer’s

Sydney had all his picture PCs hung up over his head.  We had a nice little talk with Charlie Harrison* (Dad’s clerk) and an NCO chum of Sydney’s, Clive Hammonds* of Lloyds Bank, a sergeant; – he was relating what he had heard from a Sergeant Major about the War.

Piccalillie Advert. Crosse & Blackwell 1867.
Piccalillie Advert. Crosse & Blackwell 1867.

Sydney had a tune on his mouth organ & we had some bully beef with some of Harrison’s pickles called Cross & Blackwell’s Piccalle (sic) (3). Then Charlie & I came away to our dugout until tea time  – which consisted of little bits of biscuit, gooseberry jam & some butter.  For Sunday’s tea I used some of your tea & sugar & we had a ration of milk, the whole making a delicious drink. 

With Harold’s Mineral Spring Health Granules & his bottle of Lemonade Crystals I can make a lovely morning’s drink. 165_medium There are two wells in these trenches & we can get as much water as we like up to a certain time at night  – ‘Stand To’ I believe.

Well I am sorry I have told you so much about our doings so far.  I intended starting by saying how delighted I was on receiving your two letters.  [While I was at Sydney’s dugout I asked him if he had got any letters, he pointed to his overcoat pocket & I pulled out two letters & an envelope with this note paper in]. Two very nice letters, ones which I was looking forward to as I lay down in my dugoutI had not had one from you since 14th.  So the weather was fine at home for my & your birthdays.  It rained at breakfast here but turned out sunny & windy & we both had a very enjoyable tea together in Camp. 

How lucky I was to spend the day at rest  – we had come from the trenches during the night & on your birthday we went digging all day.

I shall be pleased to get a letter from Ida.  I hope she had a fussy welcome at Ashton* & will she go on to York next (4)?  Auntie said something about her going there.   I pray that Jack Wade* is safe & will be found & that the anxiety in Ashton will not last long.

Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.
Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall.

I pray also that Basil will succeed well in his exam & his health will not crash down for Mother & Father’s sakes.  You are pleased I am sure that he will be nearer home if the exam is at the Grammar School (5).

You will have him arrive sooner to tea  and he will spend more time over his breakfast.

Dear Mother how very good of you to send a parcel –  another one so soon after the two ripping ones.  We have demolished all the contents of them & we shall look forward to going back to where the parcels are awaiting us, –  with the one from your kind friend Mrs Jones*(6).   You will tell me when you get the letters acknowledging your parcels?  I guess you got them on the 16th –  the day you wrote to Sydney & meSee if you can tell me exactly when you got all my letters from the date I send you the card.

By-the- by did you really get that card on your birthday? – if so what luck eh!

I say isn’t this letter cramped! – I have put these little bits in since I concluded my letter proper.  Did I mention that I gave Leonard Bailey* your generous little gift & he was delightedIsn’t he a funny chap & he didn’t wish me many happy returns either, but I forgive him, with all my heart I do.

How many more Washing Days will it take before I see you all againMr Nightingale’s little daughter* used to count by washing days for the holidays to come.

Best love Bertie.                            Censor: S.O. Allday



My father has covered every available space with his rambling ‘little bits‘ and appears increasingly anxious about receipt of his Letters to & from Home.This Letter was posted in a white envelope; presumably Green envelopes had not yet been issued in sufficient quantity.

(1) Howitzer Battery: artillery piece between a ‘gun‘ and a ‘mortar‘; designed to propel projectiles at high trajectories, with steep angle of descent.  (2Listening Post.  Pte Bertie Hibbett often volunteered for this dangerous underground duty.  cf. Previous Hibbett Letters & A Little Book of Words & Doings. Tunnelling Companies were very active in 1915, laying mines under enemy lines.

(3) Piccalillie: English version of an Indian Pickle. Etymology: ‘Paco-Lillo‘ 1578; ‘To pickle a Lilo’, an Indian pickle‘.1694. Ingredients: chopped vegetables, usually cauliflower, marrow, mustard & turmeric. Crosse & Blackwell estab. 1706. cf Wikipedia.

(4) Ashton under-Lyne; former home of Marie Neal Hibbett (nee Yoxall). York: former home of Arthur Hibbett.  Ida Hibbett is visiting relatives; Jack Wade* (missing in action) is probably her cousin.  (5) 95, Foden Rd is about 500 yrds up hill from QMS (now the Girl’s Grammar School). 

(6) Mrs Jones*.  A little bit of oral family history Apart from being a ‘kind friend’ of my Grandmother, and sending parcels to my father in WW1, I knew nothing about this lady until today when my older brother casually remarked that he thought Mrs Jones came from Ashton under Lyne  – and was the ‘Nurse Jones’ who came to help my Mother when I was born. My brother also informed me that I did meet my grandparents before they died in 1940. At 6 months old, the family took me to visit them in Rhyl.  But we had to leave suddenly – it was Sept 2nd, 1939, the day before World War 2 broke out. Changing trains at Chester or Manchester, my 8 yr old brother remembers the station crowded with refugees.

NEXT POST: South Staffords War Diary 20th July -31st July 1915 will be posted on 20th JULY 2015.