Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, Merville Casualty Clearing Station, North France: LETTER to Mother, Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.
Christmas Eve 1915
Bless you my Mother. Bless you my Father. Bless you my Sister. Bless you my Brother.
My Very Dear Mother & all of you,
I have just come from a very pleasant little service in the Chapel. Our C. of E. Chaplain came round rallying us all to go to the service on the Eve of Christmas & how they all flocked down the stairs & through the Cloisters – & the little Chapel, no larger than the Lady Chapel at St Paul’s (1) was crowded.
We all sang ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night’ (2). I doubt not that everyone was thinking of their Home, his dear Father & Mother, & if they had any brothers and a sister like me. The Chaplain himself said we shall all be thinking of our relatives & friends, no matter how far away with foreign countries between & the deep & the spacious ocean too, in spite of that our hearts will be as near as if we were with you.
Yes dear Mummy, you & Dad an all of you are as close to me & my heart is as warm towards you as if you were as plain as my comrade on the next stretcher here to me.
Mum, although I have no pleasures of Home with you, I have had a very pleasant afternoon & Eve. We have had a gramophone on this afternoon & one record touched ours hearts so much we had it on again. The records are double sided, as you know, & one record had two songs about ‘Mother’ – ‘When did you write to Mother last?’ & ‘Break the news to Mother’ (3) It was the first one we were so taken by.
We have a table in the centre of the room (which is now crammed with decorations) & a red blanket serves well for a table cloth. Well there I sat at this table with my head between my hands, resting my chin on the palm of my hands & I listened as the words sang ‘Just think of all the things she did for you’ and then the other song – ‘There’s not another Can take the place of Mother. Then say to her how I love her And break the news to Mother’.
Then we had the other records dealing with Christmas, but they did not get an encore like the songs of Mother did.
Yes, we have books to read & I was admiring a picture in The Graphic (4) of ‘An Ideal Christmas’. ‘The return of the First Born from the Field of Battle’. There in the firelight was the eldest son with his two little brothers eagerly listening to his adventures, the Father was on the sofa with his head turned from his paper to his eldest boy, & Mother too, whilst his eldest sister had stopped playing at the piano.
How do you like the picture I sent you on Thursday? I did not know who to send it to, but whenever I see anything beautiful I think of those at Home & think they will appreciate it more than anyone else.
So Mum, I believe I am not wrong in guessing that it will be Ida’s Birthday on the 28th & I believe it is Innocents’ Day then (5). Sorry I cannot find anything so far to send her, but if you wish you can give her that picture, Ida being a lover of pictures, and say that it is a present from Mum & me.
Yes, I shall be thinking of you tomorrow – The Day, the Birthday of Our Lord – early in the morning at 6.45 am at Holy Communion – & very likely Sydney will too. The Chaplain sais there will be dinner for all the patients at 1 pm & Father Christmas will visit the wards at ‘Blind Man’s Holiday’ (6) i.e. 4 pm so we shall have a bit of Christmas out here.
Part the Second.
I shall put up my stocking for fun tonight. The Chaplain comes round with cigarettes every night when we are about to go to sleep.
Goodnight to you dear Mum & all of you, may you have a sound good sleep, St Benedict (7) to keep away the evil goblins and a happy, a very happy awakening on the morning of Christmas Day – heralded by a carol – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ (8) . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I will leave my letter to finish tomorrow.
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.
ISBERQUES: 20th-24th Dec.1915. Platoon & Company Training.
A poignant picture here of Pte Bertie Hibbett thinking of Christmas at Home in Walsall (note service at 6.45 am!), making decorations and head in hands listening to gramophone songs about ‘Mother’ with other young patients.
(1) The Lady Chapel remains as my father would have remembered it, with its intricate domed-ceiling of inlaid-veneer. The rest of St Paul’s was wonderfully transformed in 1994 -1995; now called The Crossing at St Paul’s (a Christian Centre for Social Justice & Place of Worship) it serves the industrial & commercial centre of Walsall , the Old Butts & the Chuckery. See Hibbett Letter: 26th Aug. 1914 for further details.
(2) While Shepherds watched. Carol Text based on Luke 2.8-14 by Nahum Tate 1652-1715 (Irish Hymnist/Poet Laureate to Queen Anne. Published by Tate & Nicholas Brady in ‘Supplement of New Version of Psalms of David.1696’ . Music Old Winchester. The only Christian hymn authorised to be sung in Anglican Churches. (Before 1700 only Psalms could be sung).
(3)Break the News to Mother. Chorus: Just break the news to Mother, She knows how dear I love her, And tell her not to wait for me For I’m not coming home. Just say there is no other Can take the place of Mother, Then kiss her dear sweet lips for me, And break the news to her. Tragic ballad of boy soldier who died ‘saving the flag‘ in Spanish-American War, when United States intervened in Cuban War of Independence. Treaty of Paris, 1898, marked the collapse of The Spanish Empire & allowed U.S. temporary control of Cuba. (NB Can find no reference to the first song).
(4) The Graphic: British weekly newspaper, published 4th Dec.1869, by William Lucas Thomson (Artist/ wood engraver/social reformer), angered by treatment of artists in The Illustrated London News.
(5) Holy Innocents Day, 28th Dec. commemorates story of Massacre of the Innocents by Herod the Great (died 4.BC). Story is peculiar to Matthew 2.26, where Jesus is presented as the Jews’ Messiah and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Not found in Flavius Josephus AD 37 -100 (Romano-Jewish scholar, historian & hagiographer).
6) Blind Man’s Holiday: time between daylight & candlelight (i.e 4.00 pm in December) when a partially sighted person could not be expected to work. cf Webster’s Dictionary.
(7) St Benedict, AD 480- 543. Italian. Patron Saint of Europe. Called ‘The Founder of Western Monasticism’. The Rule of St Benedict was renowned for its ‘spirit of balance & reasonableness’ & adopted by many religious foundations. Can find no specific connection with hobgoblins (mischievous imps, spirits, bogies, evil trolls, traditionally associated with Halloween & Christmas Eve).
(8) Hark the Herald Angels Sing.1739. Text: Charles Wesley, (brother of John Wesley founder of Methodism) , adapted by George Whitfield. Music: Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847, adapted by William Hayman Cummings 1831-1915 (English musician, tenor & organist at Waltham Abbey. Chorister under Mendelssohn’s baton.
NEXT POSTS: 25th, 26th, 28th, 30th, 31st Dec. 1915 will be published as soon as possible.