A LETTER to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT from KATHLEEN E. BROOKES*, Fern Leigh, Walsall. (1)
‘In the Garden at Fern Leigh’. June 23rd 1916.
I have been hoping each day to hear that you were at Home and then I could have gone to see you & shake hands and thank you personally for ‘Sniper Atkins’.
I think it is ever so good & I am much obliged to you for sending it to me. I am afraid it must have taken up a lot of your time – the illustrations are capital & I never knew you were a poet before!
I daresay you will find this letter rather disjointed.
We are busy carrying the hay today and between times I take up this letter. I have taken up work at Gaunts Farm (2) (my sister has too) so we have very little spare time.
Of course we are not hard at it like Ida (3), we take alternate days & work all morning & then in the afternoons (not very regularly)we go across & milk the cows.
At least we feel we are doing something for our dear old country.
I had a most interesting letter from Sydney.He also wrote to Father – it was very good of him to bother.It is hard lines not to have had ‘leave’ I should think you are getting accustomed to being disappointed.
Perhaps you would like to know what some of the old Bible Class lads are doing (4). Harold Hackett* is in the 21st Lancers & is in India. Willie Hackett * has been in France – now has his commission in the 9th S. Staffs (or 10th), Eric Day* is in Ireland, Attwood* and Norman Smith* in France. Donald* in England still, Rupert Edwards* still in Salonica, Frank Ellis*has been in France, now inMesopotamia – the others I think you know – I cannot find out about Philip Day*.
Well I must stop – with all kind regards and best of luck.
Yours very sincerely,
Kathleen E. Brookes.
A Letter from the Walsall Home Front from one woman keeping busy bringing in the Harvest as the Country waited for news of the ‘Big Push’.
(1) Kathleen Brookes: Superintendant, St Paul’s Sunday School, Walsall. Her Father was prominent in the Church & one of Bertie Hibbett’s mentors.
(2) Gaunt’s Farm: near Sutton Coldfield? (connection John O’ Gaunt,1340-1399 1st Duke of Lancaster?). See Hibbett Letter: 2nd Oct. 1915.
(3) Ida Hibbett:now a Land Army Girl bringing in the harvest, having also served as a Red Cross VAD & an admin assistant at the Walsall Borough Council. Served also in an Amunitions factory, 1915. See My Memories. 1967.
(4) Bible Class Lads: Bertie Hibbett’s fellow pupils in her Sunday Class at Fern Leigh. I have yet to check CWWG website for these names.
21st -31st May: Battalion Training. In Rest Billets.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MARIE & ARTHUR HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
‘Home Sweet Home’(1)
Woden’s Day. May 24/ 16.
My Dear Mother & Father,
Mum’s long letter of last Sunday 21st was beautiful & interesting. I received it this evening after a good day’s work. We have been inspected by the Gen. of the BEF (2).
So very, very glad to hear you had a sunny Sunday and a ‘happy’ day on the 17th.
I liked the account of how you got my letter from the lady postman (3). How delightful to have had Sydney’s favourite hymn (4) on the Sunday following.
Your letter had the opposite effect to the one previous & seemed to have had that ‘forgiveness’I told you of in my last letter which has turned the story beautiful again, & how queer that I should have written about it last Sunday too.
Yes, I guess you would miss Ida, & do you know I had an idea she had kept her intention from you for she never mentioned you in her letter as reference. Well I do praise her up to a certain extent & if she were a boy she would undoubtedly win a medal on Active Service.
Sorry you have been ill, but I love you for the way you took it so lightly by your writing. Bravo Dr. Utting*! (5)
Yes, Ball* was always decent to me, he is only a Private like I am, but one of the decent chaps among the ranks.He is dark haired & has a rosy fresh complexion, hasn’t he? Yes, I will do as you said & he will deserve all I give him poor chap.Yes, he is quiet & that’s the best of him, all the others are rowdy.As for the Hinds I think Cyril* is the better.
Ah! your description of Basil cutting the grass & of your sitting in the garden gave me much pleasure.
I am looking forward to the lilies.This is the Land of the Lily (6), but I have not seen any yet this year.I think the lily (the symbol of this country) is the ‘Arum’ – that which you decorate the altar with.
Mrs Hurst* told me it would soon be the Sunday School Festival & Mr Key*loves white flowers.
Am pleased you like Mrs Hurst, she is very much like Mrs Jones in her manner of writing.
Thursday. You told me in one of your past letters that I could have one of the washing squares as you had sent Sydney some.The one I have is simply a ‘tres bon’ idea. I found, when I had a bath last night, that it is much easier to get a lather with it than without,& also there is no waste soap as I put my soap inside the ‘bag’ & that which gets smeared on the square is used next time.
I told you in my last letter but one that Lieut Sanger* wished to be kindly remembered to you, at any rate I will give him the ‘Boomerang’ (wish). It was sometime after that I sawAllen Machin*. I think S(ydney) is the best of the lot & Allen looks fine.
We have been out of the trenches since Saturday night & have done a route march each night for 3 nights.It is cooler to march at night. I guess you have wondered whether we march at night or not & you would think all sorts of things, not missing out thatwe are cheerful. And we are not always singing ‘Tipperary’ (7). There are always some of us who find out something fresh & they are not always songs.
One night a few of us imitated the rocket we saw at the Arboretum Flower Show (8). I think someone behind us must have seen an artillery rocket,at any rate it was not long before nearly all of us picked up the joke. A long whistle for the rocket &, as we imagined the illumination to burst & show all its different colours gracefully fall to earth we should utter that expression of those who saw fireworks – ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw’ – & then the excited quick Hurrah! at the end.
At another time I fancied I could smell the old ‘bread & milk’ I loved when a little school boy.I could indeed smell a kind of burnt bread & burnt milk.Sorry I lost the choc and Terry’s sweets with theparcel, but I am hoping they will turn up after me writing.And I suppose you sent someMonkey Brandfor my mess tin (8). I need also someEmery Cloth (9).
I have at last managed to sketch something original but of course I could not better Bairnsfather’s features in his sketches.Have drawn two, one you could send to Miss Foster*, if you think she would like it, & the other for yourself. Choose which you like the better, the one with ‘Yours faithfully’ in front has the more original sketches in & I have substituted a verse for a better one about the Kaiser(10).
I am expecting Sydney soon, as his course should not last more than a month.
Best love to all, Bertie.
PS Did you get the ‘green’ to Ida dated about 14th? [Ed: if so then it hasn’t survived].
The inspection by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig was a clear sign that the Battle of the Somme was imminent. Pte Bertie Hibbett has to send Home for more emery cloth & cleaning powder to spruce up his uniform & equipment.
1/5th South Staffords, at Lucheux (on top of the usual bombing, sniping & bayonet practice) were kept fit by night marches, whilst during the day they cut wood for hurdles & fascines; these were used to strengthen the long communication trenches over the dangerously exposed ridge from Souastre to the Front at Fonquevillers.
My father was happy in his peace-making efforts at Home. He took comfort from signs of Spring & thoughts of Home Sweet Home which in the song gave him ‘the peace of mind dearer than all‘ – but in his letters from now on there seems to be a growing acceptance that he would not see his Home again until after the coming Battle.
(1) Home Sweet Home:1823. Lyrics: John Howard Payne, 1791-1852.American dramatist, poet & actor.Music: Sir Henry Rowley Bishop 1786 -1855.
(2) Field MarshallSir Douglas Earl Haig Commander B.E.F. replaced the First Commander, Field Marshall Sir John French after the Battle of Loos, Oct. 1915.
(3) ‘Lady Postman’: 35000 women were draftedin during 1914-1916. The Post Office was ‘the largest single employer of labour in the world‘. Dealt with 5.9 billion items of post, responsible for nation’s telegraph/ telephone system/ savings bank & 1000 branch post offices. By 1917 19,000 mailbags crossed the Channel everyday. See websites: <http://www.postalheritage.org.uk <http://www.worldwar1postcards.com/soldiers-mail.php >
(4) Sydney’s favourite Hymn: ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King’. 1744.Chorus: ‘Lift up your heart lift up your voice. Rejoice again I say rejoice!‘. Words: Charles Wesley. 1707 -1788. Based on Philippians 4. 4. See Hibbett Letter: 23rd April 1916.
(5) Dr Utting: Hibbett family doctor/ later tended Ida in her last illness. Utting & Hibbett family grave/memorial, Church of St Michael the Archangel, Rushall, Walsall.
(6) Land of the Lily: Fleur de Lys/Iris or Arum Lily/ symbol of France. See Hibbett Letter: 14th April 1916.
(7) ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.Music Hall Song: Jack Judge, in collaboration with Henry James Williams. 1912.
(8) ‘Monkey’:at least3 different items with this brand name. Rather than tobacco, the context implies ‘Monkey Soap’,a scouring soap (produced in 1899 by Sydney & Henry Gross, Philadelphia, USA/later called Port Sunlight Soap) – or even black tooth powder for cleaning a mess tin. See Hibbett Letter: 21st Oct 1915.
(9) Emery: ‘dark granular rock‘ used to make abrasive powder (corundum/ aluminium oxide). Rock mined over 2000 years in Turkey & Greece (Island of Naxos), world’s main supply. Used in Asia for grinding rice. Emery Cloth: coated abrasive, bonded to cloth, for hand use.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, No 3 FIELD AMBULANCE N. MIDLANDS DIVISION: THE PICKWICKIAN LEAFLET to IDA HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd Walsall.
Envelope: THE PICKWICKIAN LEAFLET, Active Service Supplement of The Pickwick Magazine,Organ of a Pickwick Club. (1)
cont: No 1. ISSUED MONTHLYThis month’s leaflet is dedicated to ‘OurDodger’ and ‘May’ O. On back: ‘Oh! If you like you can send this to May Overend*’ (2).(Censor A. S. Hoads)
Many Happy returns to Basil & May but we hope that we shall be enjoying ‘Peace’ next May Day. I wish I had made a decent article but being on Active Service I can’t start afresh see over . . .
NO I. MONDAY MAY 1st 1916. MONTHLY.
News from the Papers.Not a reflection uponDe Coverley (3). I could not help thinking that this name of ‘Sir Roger’ has been disgraced. Goldsmith’s ‘Sir Roger’was a good man, but the one who was put in the Tower of London ought instead to be shut up in a case of cement, then the noble knight would not even have a chance to ‘Wait & See’ what his Case meant, and repent.
Women War Workers(4).What does Tommy on Home Leave think of ‘her’ who salutes and exclaims ‘Sir’ in the street, whenever they meet to greet him? Although I heartily agree with Women War Workers & congratulate their good workat the same timeI should not like to see ‘Pickwick’ in masculine dress salute me at the door and address me as ‘Sir’ when I go on Leave.Pickwickyou remember, when the Club was in being, was the name given to Ida.
On the Recruiting Crisis(5).Rise fellow men! Our country yet remains. By that dread name We wave the sword on high, And swear for Her to live, For Her to die(6).This Easter tide ought to give us, along with its bright weather, a stimulus.This Spring we hope is the Herald of Victory before the Autumn. In any case `Victory’ will, in the end, be for the ‘Allies’.
Members Birthdays. Today the weather is beautiful, just the ideal May Day weather, & I hope the members of the Pickwick Club are enjoying Happy Birthdays.
Where Home Epistles Go!‘I wonder what my son is doing at this very minute’,sais a Motherwho has just sat down to write a letter to her son at the Front. There are many who ask this to themselves & there are many at Home who wonder, not only where their friends & relatives are, but where their letters find them. I have received letters in places you would not dream of. The number of letters I have had while in the trenches are many, so also those received while encamping for the four or five days before going into the trenches again.
I have had letters while in barns of old farms,in caveslike those of Linley Caverns (7) besideshuts, theatres, schoolsanddugouts. The daughter of Flo’s’ letter (8) I read at the entrance of a cavern, a letter from Father was read in a half tumble down dugout dripping with water and amidst the sound of rats squeaking.Many letters have been read by a log fire in an old barnand by the brazier in the trench.I shall never forget the letter I read as soon as daylight was strong enough.
It goes without saying that all the letters are welcome to Tommy, he is so eager & keen to open them that he takes first opportunity no matter what is preventing. I once read a letter on the side of the road when I went for rations & had one handed to me from theQMS.
A detailed account of one or two letters ‘where they went to’ will be given in each monthly issue of the paper. Look out to see where your next letter reached me.
More Articles. The Pickwickian Leaflet, as its name implies,consists of literature on one page only. I have only been able to give a few articles this time. but I shall try to put more articles in next month; but it will be a case ofMultum in Parvo (9).
Yours sincerely, Winkle (10).
(1) The Pickwick Club: See Hibbett Letters 23rd April 1915; also 7th, & 13th Sept and 26th Dec. 1915.
Transcription left: October 1905. The Pickwick Magazine. Editor: Sam Weller MPC (May Overend*). Motto: NIL DESPERANDO (Never Despair).
Sam PickwickPresident: I Hibbett. Augustus Snodgrass Member: Sydney Hibbett(8 yrs). Sam Weller Member: May Overend. Tracy TupmanMember: Bertie Hibbett (7 yrs). Sam Wardle Member:I. Cozens*. Nath(anual) Winkle Member: D Cozens* (10 yrs). NB The Cozens were sons of W.H. Cozens*, Superintendant of St Paul’s Sunday School Walsall, lived at Furzedown, Streetly Lane, Sutton Coldfield, mentored Bertie Hibbett’s Sunday School work from 1913.
(3) Sir Roger de Coverley: character in The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, The Spectator 1711 (daily publication byJoseph Addison (1st May 1672- 1719) & Richard Steele ). An English Squire with values of old country gentleman, ‘lovable but ridiculous’, politics ‘silly but harmless’. <http://http://www.enwiki.com> and http://www.enotes.com/topic/sir-roger-de-coverley/critical essays> ‘a gentleman of Worcester, of ancient descent, a baronet/ ‘quaint & lovable representation of Tory landowning class an aimiable but rather inneffectual anachronism’. Also a English/Scottish country dance, published c 1695.
Oliver Goldsmith 1728-1774: Anglo-Irish novelist, poet, dramatist. (NB I am unable to discover connection with Sir Roger or with 1916 newspaper).
(4) Women War Workers/women in uniform. See Hibbett Letter Cartoon 28th April 1916.
(5)The Recruitment Crisis 1916. Military Service Act (27th Jan. 1916): compulsory conscription of 19- 41 yr old men/ no choice given re service, regiment or unit. Age lowered to 18 yrs on 25th May 1916. Tribunal Appeals (re illness, disability, ‘starred occupation’ – essential work on Home Front) meant Military Act failed to deliver numbers required. <http://www.1914-1918.com> Long Long Trail.
(6) Rise fellow men! –Sir Thomas Lawrence Campbell,1777-1844, Scottish Poet – re Battle of Maciejowice, Poland 10th Oct. 1794 (Russians defeated the Poles).
(7) Linley Caverns, Aldridge, Staffordshire. Extensive 19th cent. limestone workings now flooded: ‘an incredibly dangerous place’. Used for storing bombs in WW2. See <https:brownhillsbog.com> Urban Exploration at Linley Caverns. 1957(Walsall Observer:16th Aug.1957).
(8) i.e. Flo’s daughter’s letter: Flo? (9) Multum in Parvo:Latin ‘Much in a small space‘. (10) Winkle:a Pickwick Club name for Bertie. NB the Pickwick Club note above, gives him as Tracy Tupman.
NEXT POST: 10th May 1916.
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.