Post by intern Tracy Ashby
In 2007, the Department of Special Collections acquired a collection of letters that belonged to Bert Hebbes, a British Rifleman during the First World War. The Bert Hebbes WWI Letters archive, Coll No. 2007.017 is now available on our Archival Catalog.
Bertie (Bert) Hebbes was born in Eastleigh, Hampshire, England on February 17, 1893. He was the youngest of 11 children to Walter (b. 1849) and Emily Hebbes (b.1851). His father, Walter served as the local Postman in Eastleigh. His siblings were Eva Hebbes Fordham (b. 1873), William Hebbes (b. 1874), Ada Hebbes (b. 1876), John Hebbes (b.1878), Ethel Hebbes Fisher (b.1880), Emily Hebbes Richards (b.1882), Walter Hebbes (b.1884), Percy Hebbes (b. 1888), and Stanley Hebbes (b.1890). Before the war began, Bert worked at a Book Stall.
Do not confuse either father or brother with Walter Henry Hebbes, Eastleigh, Hampshire (b. 1899), parents John and Mabel, sister, Ada M. (b. 1900).
He joined the war in January 28, 1916 and served as a Rifleman in the 1/8 Battalion Hampshire Regiment in the 163rd Brigade of the 54th East Anglian Division. His first letters began in July of 1916, where he was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt. The 54th Division became a part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) where he occupied the Suez Canal defenses, as part of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. In 1917, the 1/8 Battalion marched across the Sinai Dessert to Gaza, and fought in the First, Second, and Third Battle of Gaza from March to November of 1917. They remained in Palestine until the Turks were defeated in September of 1918 when the unit sailed back to Alexandria, Egypt.
After the war ended, Bert stayed on with the 54th Division when the Egyptian Revolution began, and rioting broke out in January of 1919. They remained in Cairo until the rioting ended. He was then sent to Khartoum, Sudan where he stayed until his demobilization in November 1919.
In March of 1919, during the Egyptian Revolution, Bert’s father died. Because he was the eleventh child of Walter Hebbes and the severe conditions in Egypt, he was not granted leave for his father’s funeral.
When Bert was not working, he read up on England and church news and politics, wrote letters to his family and drew in his sketchbook. He loved to garden and frequently spoke of his tulip garden back in Eastleigh and local flowers and vegetation where he was stationed in his letters. He was dedicated member of the Church of England and was involved in the Church Army Recreation Huts. He frequently attended services and volunteered to help with services and play the organ.
Bert lived a long life and died in February 5, 1977.
This collection presents a unique perspective on the First World War in the Middle East. It also provides insight into how the British perceived Middle Eastern cultures.