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 One Family at War

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Individual Stories Ė WW1
Part 1

Major Joseph Frederick Aglio Dibdin

26 years old on entering
Attached to 2nd Battalion Welsh Regiment, 
3rd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment 
2nd Brigade Machine Gun Corps.

Family photograph when a young man

Joe was slightly wounded in the head in about April 1916 but planned to be back in action within a few days and then it seems he was wounded again and somewhat more seriously in late 1916.

Joe's optimistic letters coupled with those from his brother in law Stanley may well have had an influence on Lionel A Dibdin  joining up because although he was always concerned about doing his duty he did not seem to relish the war and the other two.

13/04/1916 France in Hospital

Dear old Leo
What a pig you must think me for not writing before. To tell the truth I have been pretty well on the jaunt day and night just lately until a splinter of a shell got me in the head on Saturday evening and I am now enjoying a lazy time in Hospital. I am glad to say that wound is only superficial and healing well and I expect to be back to duty in a few days.

Iím not quite sure about taking a Regular Commission yet, and this apparently is the only way I can make a permanent transfer. There were all sorts of carrots held out to us at the start but as the W.O. end of the organisation of the Corps is still somewhat in the air we feel somewhat uncertain and I donít think it can do any harm to wait especially as we have the divisional General and Staff ready to back us up in necessary. And more depends on chances of a job at home too. Iím out for the dollars.!!

Hearty congrats on your prospect of a commission. Thatís really good and with luck we shall all three be in at the finish, and I believe that is not so far off as some people think. We just donít worry about the politicians out here, canít afford to; weíll settle them when we get back. Iíve had rotten luck about leave, was due to leave here last Monday, but of course my boko stopped that and now theyíve stopped leave. Still Iím next to go, so I may get away soon.

I hope that you and Cis & the kiddies are all keeping fit. Please give them my love, and remember me to everyone.
Your ever loving brother      Joe

It is interesting that the general feeling was that the war would be over soon. He seems ever the optimist and expects that all three brothers will survive and that after the war there will be enough people and energy to sort out the politicians. In the mean time the attitude is still that the job is important, worth doing so let get on with it.
The three brothers and brother-in-law Stanley did all physical survive but it should be remembered that despite the optimism of 1916 the war lasted over another two years. Rex was, by the time of this letter, already seriously injured and Lionel was gassed in mid 1917

18/05/1916 From Field

2nd Brigade Machine Company - British Expeditionary Force

To The Bungalow 
Fort Amherst
Old Brompton Chatham

NOTES: At the time of this letter;
Joe had been slightly injured in the head in April
Lionel at this time was at Chatham on Cadet training before being called up
Rex was in Hospital in Sheffield having been badly injured.
Fort Amherst was a major military structure constructed in 1756

Dear Old Leo

Just a line to say I hope you have settled in quarters all serene. I was glad to hear you got into the bungalow. I guess it was worth leaving early for that. I had a tophole journey back here, got an extra day in Boulogne & sneaked an extra night up the line before rejoining, just missed the bus to billets bad luck wasn't it so I came on the next morning by motor lorry. Business has been fairly quiet out here bar a little bombing occasionally and a little shelling and we have got topphole weather, really hot. The only thing about that is that it makes the cellars somewhat stuffy.

I hear that Rex got back alright, and he is going to check about a commission as soon as he gets to his depot so it's a bit of a race between the two of you, and I live in hopes of promotion some day, so I think the winner should stand drinks and be damned to the act. By the way we have a horrible rumour out here that they are going to stop the sale of whiskey at home, do you know if it is true? If so we shall have to make further friends of the mammon of unrighteousness as embodied in thee person of our friend Brown what say ?

I trust that Cis and the kiddies are fit well and jolly as usual. Give them all my love when you write.

There's no news out here beyond what you see in the papers, only many wonderful and incredible rumours amongst the men as to what we are going to do & when we are going to do it, and these are re-edited weekly. If the old division had done half it was prophesied to do, it would have been all round the world and back by now.

Well very best of luck old man, and cheerio for another merry meeting in the near future, from your ever loving brother    Joe.


04/09/1916 From field

A.A. Gun = Anti Aircraft Gun - These ranged from an automatic .303 machine gun on a tripod to larger "pom-poms" later in the war.
M.G.C. = Machine Gun Company
Tamp is a plugging process used with clay to intensify an explosion.
Joe emigrated to America after the war to work as a professional civil engineer

Dear Old Leo
I feel an awful pig for not having written to congratulate you before now. Iíve been meaning to write every day but you know what it is with a dozen things to do all at once and never knowing what may happen, one is rather inclined to forget everything except just the job in hand. However, hearty congratulations now on getting through Chatham successfully and getting your commission. Iím afraid I rather took your success for granted and was not particularly elated, rather more satisfied and pleased than anything so emotional as excited. What a pity poor old Rex couldnít get his as well isnít it but as I told him heís done his whack well and many men would consider him lucky to have got through so well.

Itís raining all heavens at once just now, we are sitting under a baby tarpaulin a few miles behind the line dodging the drips. We had some Hun plane over this afternoon and our A.A. guns got onto them damn quick. They dropped half a dozen bombs which failed to burst and cleared off like smoke. Our chaps donít give them a chance; They are on them before they can do anything and the Hun almost entirely confines himself to occasionally cruising about behind his own lines. He wonít fight our planes even when he has superiority of numbers.

I had intended to finish this letter in bed but as my hut is about 200 yards off, Iíve no mac here and its raining blue hell and there are three wide trenches to jump. I am waiting till it stops, and another little drink wonít do us any harm. I should not care to be a Hun tonight, no trenches, and shelled like blast. Iím not surprised they give themselves up, poor devils, they have a rotten time.

I think it is just topping of Cis to hang on to the Gas Coy. I hope she is keeping fit and jolly in spite of trying times. I wish I could get a rise somehow. I donít see much chance of a Captaincy yet unless I get home or posted to another Coy. You see the powers that be have limited, for some reason of their own, the rate of promotion in the M.G.C. and barring casualties the chance of promotion out here is somewhat slow. Still I hope for the best and a good time some day, though it makes me a bit sick to see some of the blighters who come out here in command of M.G.Coys.

Your asked about the sort of work we do out here, it mostly consists of getting our guns in and out of badly shelled trenches and emplacements without getting them damaged. It is very difficult to lay down general principles, common sense and experience are the most valuable assets out here and combined they will carry one through almost anything. One thing may be valuable; a narrow deep trench that men can just move about in but it must be deep, seven feet or more if you like, is about the best protection from modern shell fire, and have it well traversed, no deep dugout, and they are the only type that are any good against big shells, should be less than 25 feet down (chalk gives more protection than clay), a shelter proof against field guns and splinters may be made by building a square timber frame well braced and roofing it with steel rails laid touching one another and wired together and lightly covered with earth to conceal it. Donít put sandbags on top they merely tamp the shell and increase the downward force of the explosion, give the shell every chance of exploding upwards. I have an emplacement built on these lines which was hit direct by two field gun and then a 4..2. The result was six rails moved and one beam split, I understrutted the beam, replaced the rails and it was as good as ever.

Well, Iím off to bed, old boy, and damn the rain. Cheeryoh and best of luck and love to you and Cis and the boys from             Joe


01/10/1916 From field

Note: Lionel was in Rouen at this time.

Dear Old Leo
So you have got out at last eh! Well I can only wish you as good luck and a better time than I've had, although I've nothing much to grouse about. We have just come out of the line, and are going back for a real long rest. We have not had more than a fortnight out since the middle of February, and that only once, so you can guess we are ready for it.

You can get some idea of what it is like by the fact that the 2nd Brigade in two trips totalling 4 1/2 weeks in the line lost over 100% of its war establishment, and is now composed almost entirely of new troops, and they want licking into shape a bit although they have got plenty of grit in them. There are only three out of the original 10 officers of this company left, the C.O. the adjutant and myself and I have only about a quarter of my original section left. Still I am please to say that they have all got blighty touches.

Things are going awfully well now, I firmly believe we can take any German position we like any time., and the advance is going regularly and steadily along the whole line. The German infantry and machine gunners are thoroughly demoralised and as for their aircraft, they might just as well be without it. The old Sussex advance something like a thousand yards in broad daylight the other day, just strolled over in two lines with rifles slung and smoking pipes & cigarettes total casualties about 50, they reach the German line to find it empty except for dead wounded and souvenirs, and the German artillery barrage missed them every time, first in the front then behind, then in front and then behind again, it was more like a country wallk than fighting.

Well Cheery oh ! old man and the very best of luck. We expect to be round Abbeville in a few days, it might be possible to get over but I donít know for certain. Still you may turn up there to join us perhaps, if so weíll fix things all right I guess

Love to Cis and the boys when you write. Very best of Luck                Joe


06/11/1916 From Field   B.E.F.

Marian referred to, is their sister who would have been 34 years old and recently married to Paul Montford.
Lettie is another sister, an opera singer.
Tine, Christine, is another sister who it is believe ran (owned) a school locally.
Marg, Margaret, the youngest sibling, was just 20 and working in a bank.
Rex must have left the army, injured, between July & Nov. 1916.
"bar to the M.C." = Military Cross and Bar

Dear old Leo
How are you getting on ? I have just returned from leave, 10 days, not so bad eh!
Marian has been rather bad, heavy congestion of the lungs, colitis trouble and the other as well, but she had made some improvement before I left home. I am pleased to say that they have got her into the nursing home next door and I think she ought to go on well, at any rate the nurse does not expect any further complications. She is naturally very weak, but this is only to be expected. Paul has been laid up with a cough so that puts more worry on poor old mum and you know how she will not rest until it is absolutely necessary.

Lettie turned up for three days. She is very well indeed and doing well with the company. Tine is just digging along at the school and doing fairly well and Marg is making good at the bank. I saw Rex twice. You know he has got a job at the bank of N.S.Wales and has hopes of getting on well. They are settling down in one of old Marvinís houses at Barnes at a minimal rent.

By the way did I tell you I have got the bar to the M.C. ? Just jealously of Stan & Mont Marvin thatís all, must balance things up somehow.

Have you heard how Stan is getting on, I meant tot get over to Cis and the boys but you know what it is on leave, the week has gone before you can settle done. I guess you were lucky joining up just in time for divisional rest, just the opposite case for me. I have returned to find the division moving up again. Still, Ďitsí a rotten war isnít it!

I suppose we shall do see-saw for a bit, you up and me down and vice versa but keep you eyes open and Iíll keep mine open too and we may jump into the same shell hole together yet. Well, best of luck, old boy, and give my best love to Cis and the boys, from your ever loving brother. Joe.



Letter to Rex and Elsie 22 Dec 1916

Officers Hospital Sauvic
BEF France

Dear Rex and Elsie,
Cheeryoh and merry Christmas and hereís how and howís how. Got settled done comfy again with a big fire in the dining room grate and the old fur rug in front and the cat on top (of the rug I mean not the grate) and the old armchair and Rex inside and Elsie on top and oh itís a happy little home. And , Elsie, does he still have brekker in pyjamas or is he civilised yet ? I guess Iíll just have to worry you some day if only for old times sake, when we used to sit round the fire and grunt and grouse about our rotten luck. What times they were werenít they! And what a good job we didnít know what was coming or we should probably have grunted still more eh?
Well I got your letter all correct and just mopped it up and soaked it all in and now itís oozing out back to you again in my usual sort of hash.
Iím having a fairly decent time here, out of bed and getting about a bit, but rottenly run down and they arenít right yet, though improving. I donít know how long theyíll keep me here, the Doc. wonít say anything, but when I do get out I understand I go to the M.G.Base; I mean to have a try for something there if I can get it.
Howís old Mont ( Elsieís brother) getting on ? Give him my love and wishes and congrats on getting home and say cheeroh to him and the little missus for me. ( I bet that makes her mad).
I had a letter from Leo who writes very cheerily and seems devilish keen. I bet he gets on alright, trust him.
Well Bless you my children, thereís no news here. We just take walks to the front, watch the shipping, get bored go and buy sausages for tea and come back again, sleep & eat and scrap one another. We must scrap somebody!
So cheeryoh and the best of luck and the best of love from your ever loving old fool of a brother, Joe. 
If you find this epistle too feeding by the time youíve got to the end, donít read it.
3-I-0-0 UMPH


28/03/1917  2nd Machine Gun Company

Dear Leo
Just a line to let you know I am out and fit and at the base and leave for the old Company tomorrow. I haven't the ghost of an idea where they are, but I expect they will be in the thick of it as usual however "quo fas et gloria ducunt"

How are you getting along old man ? I rather envy you getting into the advance. The things we've all been looking forward to and just as it comes phut I'm back in hospital. Still I can't complain, I've had a top-hole rest which has done me the world of good and feel fit right up to the mark again. You will be interested to hear that I have _not_ got promotion, _cannot_ get leave under any conditions from the base and am _still_ a wretched section officer, but perhaps Pearson and the Colonel will have something to say on the matter. In the mean time I am just as optimistic as ever waiting for something. Howís old Cis I had a topping long letter from her some time ago and I think she is just splendid. I suppose you keep pretty busy on new works, but it must be a tremendous advantage to get out of the miles of mud eh?

Well 'old maní not much news from here, itís a desolate spot, but Iíll let you know how things stand up the line as soon as I join up.

Best of luck old boy from you ever loving brother       Joe.

Not only did Joe get the Military Cross with Bar but also became a Major by the end of the war.

Joe seems to be more upbeat than his brothers and judging from the fact that he was in the machine gun corp., which was an extremely dangerous position, he must have liked the immediate excitement. With regard to his attitude he seems very similar to his brother-in-law, Stanley M Haycraft.

It is of some consolation that Joe did survive the war despite being at considerable risk. On 22 February 1919 he was "disembodied" from the army and went to New York in the same year.

Later records show that he came back to England sometime and on 23 August 1925 married an American Garnett Fowler and emigrated with her to USA arriving in New Orleans on 23 April 1929.
They settled in Tulsa Oklahoma  and he worked in Civil engineering in the Louisiana area. There are records that over the next few years, because of the depression and his work they moved around in the area, some of the time being with Garnett's folk at Forest Hill LA. and some of the time at an office in New Orleans.

1 August 1930 they had a daughter Marian.
In May 1932 Joe was in the US Veteran Hospital Alexandria Lane with problems with his leg, presumably a hang over from the second injury ( of which we have no details ) in the war.

His work included sewers in Tulsa and lock gates and flood defenses in New Orleans.

Further details of Joe and Garnett

It seems that he was a remarkable person and we can be ever thankful for his life.