Herbert Hibbitt, known as Bert, died in 1923 from the effects of being gassed during the First World War. He was born in Oakham in 1889, the son of Harry and Louisa Hibbitt and had three brothers and two sisters, William, Maud, Betsy, Fred and George. His mother died when Bert was a boy and by 1901 he was living with his uncle and aunt, John and Louisa Hibbert in Simper Street. The 1911 census shows him living in West Road, Oakham and working as a butcher. He was a Territorial in the 1/5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment and so when war was declared on 4 August 1914 he immediately volunteered to fight. Herbert arrived in France on 28 February 1915 when the battalion became part of the 138th Brigade, 46th (North Midland) Division. He was wounded in 1917 and sent home to recover where he met and married his wife, Mary Siddall from Darley Dale, Derbyshire, who was a Red Cross nurse who helped care for him. In January 1918 he returned to France and was wounded again a few months later, possibly by gas. In August and September of 1918 he was at the Northern Command Anti Gas Training School, presumably passing on his experiences of being gassed in battle (see photos below). Bert was demobilised with a certificate of disembodiment from the army in February 1919 (see photo below). He went to live at Wirksworth in Derbyshire where he worked for a time as manager of a butcher's shop owned by London Central Meat Company until ill-health meant he had to give up work altogether. He had been deeply involved in the local football club, serving at times as secretary and chairman. The local paper reported he died after a protracted illness from the after-effects of gas poisoning. He was buried on his sixth wedding anniversary. He and his wife had a son who was three at the time of his father's death. Because he died in 1923, Herbert Hibbitt is not one of those remembered on Oakham's war memorial but on Remembrance Sunday 2015 his name was read out along with all the rest of the town's casualties.
We are grateful to Sharon Hibbitt, Hertbert's great granddaughter, for this information, the pictures, and her account of retracing Bert's war. She says: "He wasn't listed in his home town and he didn't die on the battlefields so his name is forgotten. He died two years too late to be remembered as a hero in the churchyard. That doesn't feel right. What he did do was to fight for King and Country from 4 August until demobilised in 1919. Thanks to the gasses he was sent home to recover and met his wife, bitter sweet to say the least because what brought them together so cruelly parted them on what would have been their sixth wedding anniversary. So now I will continue on my journey to bring this man, my Great Grandfather, out of the cold and hope he will not be forgotten again and can find some recognition of the sacrifice he made for us all."
The pictures below show the anti-gas training school; Herbert's disembodiment certificate; Bert himself; his wife Mary; Bert and his son; a letter saying he was off to France; four postcards he sent from France; newspaper cuttings reporting his wedding, his death and his funeral; and Herbert's death certificate.
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