12th June. Sat: In Hutments Bulford Camp. Proceeded to trenches in relief of 6th South. ‘B’ Coy Somersets attached.
13th June, Sun: Enemy fired single shells at varying intervals, commencing just after midnight at the Diagonal.
Germans wearing dark grey caps with red bands and patent leather peaks (1) observed behind their parapet opposite C.4. Diagonal shelled at 1.30 pm. Enemy aeroplane reported over village. CASUALITIES: KILLED 9074 Pte H. Walter. WOUNDED: 8719 Pte J. Sherratt and 7984 Pte J. Pargeter.
Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MOTHER, Marie Neal Hibbett, 95 Foden Rd. Walsall.
2nd Sunday after Trinity. June 13 / 15
My Dear Mother,
How can I thank you for the lovely letter, & how surprised I was on seeing another parcel on Sat. I was thinking on Sat. breakfast that we shall have to wait another fortnight. Yes you’ve spoiled me at any rate. I can’t do without a bit of luxury with my tea or dinner.
I was exceedingly interested with the newspapers you sent. Very sad though about Colonel Wade* (2) . I guess you would like to keep the photo so I send it back. How curious, on the one side of the paper was all about war whilst the other side was mostly concerned with home & peace. I mean the procession of Sunday School children. I well remember dear Mother you telling me all about the banners & the long procession of gaily & neatly dressed children & the meeting places.
I am aware that it is St Paul’s Sunday School Festival today & I picture them going up to the altar with flowers & singing ‘Here, Lord, we offer Thee’ (3).
I do hope you will have my parcel safe & the roses will be fresh. I have written more than twice to the Vicar* since on active service & I guess he has not written back because of Mrs Key’s sorrow on losing her brother. Very sad. I read the letter in the magazine you kindly sent me, thank you very much Mother for the Mag.
A month today will be your birthday won’t it? I set to work on this letter before having my tea. How nice it was to know that you can tell when we go in & out of the trenches, but dear Mother, the usual run has been changed. I am now one of the ration party again at the farm (4). I wonder if you remember me writing before when on ration party. How queer we had currant bread then too. Oh the currant bread is absolutely ripping & not at all stale.
Yes I think we gave Brewin* some of the good things on Sydney’s 21st because Sydney gave a slice of cake & a huge lump of toffee all round. Vernon & our favourite Corp. had a large share, as for Ford E.* he is in another Company & we did not see him.
Sydney & I had a happy chat with our old friend R. Ball*. Ida remembers him. Could you send him a few De Riske? (5) cigarettes (I don’t know the correct name) . (6) Matchin* told me to convey his thanks for the cigs & he will write later. Father knows Allen*, he wanted to know how you and Father were. I told him Dad was busy with exams. (I had previously got your letter saying so).
You popped in your letter a hurtful question as to what I should like for my birthday. Well you know I like lemon curd, I like the bit of currant cake you sent addressed by Ida in the flat box, the cheese tarts were fine & with the short cake arrived wonderfully well. Well excuse me being mercenary & yet, to save you getting puzzled, if you want to send us both a parcel put a pot of curd in & a small currant cake with nuts in, tin of pineapple & cream, currant bread & butter. Is that too much?
Yes I remember having the scholars around me on the lawn & the maid coming shyly to serve (7). Did you manage to get through Hospital Saturday? (8). Yes it must have been undoubtedly trying. I guess Basil’s fingers were busy elsewhere, it will soon be the examination. I hope and pray he will pass successfully. I reckon it is as vital as this war.
Well I must close now. I owe letters to Harold and York. I will get my tea & enjoy the rest of the good currant bread & brown bread. This is your pencil I am writing with, thank you for the paper too. I don’t know how I should have managed to tell you & answer all you enquiries. You will be able to tell how long your parcels take by the Field Postcards – of course not getting them in the trenches they have to wait till we get back to Camp.
I say Mother isn’t it queer we are often of the same mind – during the hot weather Vernon & I were on Listening in a shell hole & we wished all that we liked. I said I should like some lettuce, radishes, young onions. If you put some in a bottle or made a salad of some – what say?
I have read all the service, excepting Morning and Evening Prayer. I picture you listening to the story of Sisera, how he fled & his army was scattered & for the evening lesson Deborah’s Song of Praise (9). I derive a lesson from the two that we should always be thankful and sing praises.
I see Ida’s face smiling up & Mother’s looking straight at me, in my little khaki case (10).
Your affec. Bertie.
Recent Letters Home reveal an exchange of parcels, flowers, roses & lilies as well as an exchange of photographs & letters. Otherwise this is a typical Bertie Hibbett Letter, full of thanks for food parcels and cravings for fresh salad; taking comfort in pictures of life at Home – and in coincidences which he calls ‘queer‘ – as he answers his Mother’s questions about his friends at the Front.
(1) 1/5th Staffords notice a change B German Uniform. Portrait of German/Jewish artist/ engraver, Herman Struck by Lovis Corinth, German 1858-1925. (2) Colonel Wade: (info. pending).
(3) Hymn written for a Flower Service at St Luke’s Chelsea, London. Words: Abel G. Blunt, 1879. Music: Blumen. Uzziah C. Burnap, 1895. ‘Here, Lord, we offer Thee all that is fairest, Bloom from the garden, and flowers from the field; Gifts for the stricken ones, knowing Thou carest More for the love than the wealth that we yield.’
(4) Ration Party: Souvenir Farm? cf Letters: 5th; 23rd April. (5) De Reszke: Jan Reszke (Jan Mieczyslow) famous Polish Tenor. 1850 – 1925. YouTube recording 1901: Cigarettes manufactured in Piccadilly, London. Adverts: ‘Just as good & pure a cigarette as was specially made for & always smoked by that great singer’; ‘Mines a Monor . . . why don’t you try one of mine?‘
6) Alan Machin* correct spelling. (7) Ref. Bertie’s 19th Birthday Tea ,July 1914, at 95, Foden Rd.
(8) Hospital Saturday Fund. Inspired by 12th Earl of Meath, Victorian Social Reformer. Saturday was traditional pay-day and the working-class donated a ‘penny in the pound’ to ensure a Free Hospital. The Manor Hospital Walsall, 1863, was an early example. It seems that Pte Bertie’s Mother found collecting ‘trying’.
(9) Anglican Book of Common Prayer. 1662. Reading for 2nd Sunday after Trinity: Judges 4 – 5 tells of Deborah, poet and prophet – who inspired an Israelite Victory over the Canaanite, Sisera, and all his iron chariots. Her Song of Praise is considered one of the oldest pericopae in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) – with its powerful tale of three women in time of war: Deborah, ‘a Mother in Israel‘ , Jael, who kills the sleeping Sisera with a tent peg and Sisera’s Mother who waits for him in vain.
(10) This particular photograph is lost but those illustrated here were with Pte Bertie Hibbett when he ‘saw Ypres Cloth Hall shelled to the ground‘. Grateful thanks to my sister, Rosamund Neal Hibbett, for getting Dad to label things in the 1960s.
NEXT POST: 17th June 1915.