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 One Family at War

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Individual Stories – WW1
Part 1

Lionel (Leo) Aglio Dibdin

Enlisted at the age of 35 

It seems that his heart was set on joining the Royal Engineers with a commission as a lieutenant.
Lionel Dibdin, who had a wife and two children, joined up in 1916, 

More of the life of Lionel Aglio Dibdin

Family photograph when a young man

Documents relation to Lionel's war time work

Documents relating to Lionel's work on Airfields 

 

From the beginning of the war Lionel had participated in the Beddington, Carshalton Wallington Volunteers. 

The Volunteers were groups of local people set up as military units in many towns around England. Called Defence Leagues, Town Guards or Civic Guards they were similar to the Home Guard in the Second World War except they sprang up independently but determined to learn how to shoot and operate as military units “so that an invader would find, in addition to the regular forces of the United Kingdom a sturdy body of manhood prepared to dare all in order that homes should be inviolate and our womanhood saved from the horrors of the Belgian atrocities.”

They were of the order of 700 men in the Beddington, Carshalton Wallington Volunteers

He also had previously worked in the special constabulary.

Between 1909 and 1914 there is evidence that he spent much of his time on the Slate Bed Sewerage business although in 1912 during The National Strike, he seemed to have been a member of the Special Constabulary, and became a leader of a volunteer police force
which was involved in the protection of the strike breakers at the London Docks, spending time on an accommodation boat called The Lady Jocelyn.
It would seem reasonable to suppose that the building trade was having difficulties during the war and so Lionel must have been worried about income. It became apparent that there was a desperate need for engineers on the front and Lionel was obviously wishing to be of use inserving his country.

His brother Reginald (Rex) Dibdin who also had married before the war, had already joined up and as can be seen from his letters from the front, he did not advise Lionel to enlist. Rex's letters.

Also at about this time Lionel received a letter from his other brother Joe who had been injured at the front.
Joe was not by this time married and was obviously a more adventurous personality. He later emigrated to America and is remembered with affection as being a fun person by his niece when he visited this country. Rex by contrast could well have been a depressive by nature.

Letter to Lionel from his brother Joe in the 2nd Brigade Machine Gun Corps.

13th April 1916 From France in Hospital.
Joe reports that he got a shell splinter in the head and so is in Hospital for a bit. The wound was superficial so he expected to be back in action within a few days. Joe congratulates Lionel on being accepted for training for a commission. It is interesting to note that the general feeling was that the war would be over soon and that he was pleased that all his brothers and family would be in at the end.

 Little did they all realise that there was another 20 months of the hell to endure. Amidst all the problems of the front, there was still the time and energy for Joe to consider whether or not to go for a regular commission, and consider all the organisational politics at the front.

Despite the letters received from Rex, Lionel, by early in 1916, had applied for Training as a Cadet and in May of that year went to Chatham for Training.
Another influence on Lionel would have been his brother-in-law Stanley M Haycraft.
Stanley was, as will be seen from his letters to his sister Cecily (Lionel’s wife), a very happy go lucky individual with an upbeat attitude to the war. He was a Royal Engineer, doing exciting work on the front and wrote on Lionel’s behalf and got a recommendation through a contact in the Institute of Civil Engineers.

Lionel received letters from his Brother-in-law Stanley M Haycraft, from France:

9th Oct 1915 to Avondale (Lionel’s House)
A letter discussing the work going on behind the lines –“ Hutting and Draining” and that there is lots of work for Lionel out there.

9th Feb 1916
He has heard that Lionel is applying for a commission in the Sappers and notes that everyone who has a “TC” has been sent by the WO to see Dr. Tudsbery first. This person had said that the supply of unmarried men had been exhausted, so Lionel would be certain to get a commission. “You will like the Sappers, it is a ripping life”. “There is a man named Perrot a T.C. captain who has a staff of navvies cutting drains behind the line. He has been most successful at lowering the water level and has taken on what we never have the time or men to do.”
He had written to Rex.

26th Feb 1916
Stanley congratulates Lionel for getting in! “You are in for a jolly good time and thank heaven that you are in the Sappers. I would be bored anywhere else even the Gunners.”
He asks Lionel to pass on what new things he learns at Chatham because when Stanley was there is was the beginning of the war and they were all just learning.

6th March 1916
His letter indicates that Lionel is serious about the need for a posting in the army and that there is going to be a big need for drainage engineers. He points out to Lionel that he will be able to “save” out there as they spend very little. He is pleased that Cecily enjoys the work. He is working under Captain Perrot. 
Enclosed was a copy to Dr Tudsbery asking his to recommend Lionel referring to the fact that he had worked under him on several drainage contracts and that his knowledge of Earthworks, Strains of Materials and Water Drainage would be useful in the field.


11th March 1916 to Avondale
A seven page letter giving a detailed account of the requirements for Lionel when he starts training and is called up. Listed with costs.
“Sword is useless except as an ornament. You an always borrow one for Church Parades at Chatham” 

30th April 1916 to Avondale
Asking if there was any news of a Commission. 
There was a lot of shelling and the safest place for him was on the roof where he could watch the shelling at sunset. He had a “novel and “deep”ly interesting job on” !
He reported that they had just heard of the fall of Kut.
[ Bolstered by 30,000 reinforcements, Turkish troops besieged Townshend's forces in Kut-al-Amara before the Allied troops could act on the British War Cabinet's advice to withdraw further down the Tigris. The siege of Kut-al-Amara lasted 147 days, before the 11,800 British and Indian troops inside the garrison town finally surrendered on 29 April 1916. ]

Finally he mentions that Alan (Allan) Haycraft (his cousin) was coming out to the division next to his.
[ Allan Haycraft died in Action on 1st July 1916 ]

1st May 1916
Stanley has just heard that Lionel is going to Chatham this week. 
Where he is, they are waiting for shells to start dropping. They are next to a huge burnt out factory as large as Vickers at Erith. They made engines and motorbikes and he had been prowling around retrieving bits including a complete motorbike engine.
Strangely this was the same town as Dr.Tudsbery was in before he was “crocked”.

17th May 1916 to Chatham
Glad that Lionel is at Chatham – he was there too, although he also stayed at Gillingham. Advised Lionel to make clear note of what he learnt, as people tended to forget things in the field – like what size of charge to use!.

24th Aug 1916 
A discussion on types of boots to use in the trenches – when 2 or 3 feet of water and more. He was glad that Lionel was about to go out to France and that he would enjoy it there better that in England.

On 15th August 1916 Lionel was sent his call up papers and he was told that he would be required to join for service on 30th August. 
On 31st August, he had arrived at the Officers Mess Royal Engineers Deganwy, North Wales and felt that this was a great improvement after Chatham.

By the 1st of October 1916 Lionel was on duty in France.

Reference needs to be made here to a very sad letter in Lionel’s possession, ( dated 12/19/16 ) from Alice Wedge of Darlington asking after Sapper Gardner No. 101.120 No.2 Section 225 Field Company as his family had not heard from him for 5 months and his parents who were in South Africa were worried. “Wishing you and all the Boys the best of Good Luck and a speedy home coming”.
This letter received by a new recruited 2nd Lieutenant must have been distressing and a parallel can be drawn with the tasks performed by his son-in-law ( whom he never meet ) Lieutenant Anthony Guise in the 2nd World War in writing to his deceased soldiers families. 
(War Graves Records show that a Sapper Gardner did die in July 1916 but we cannot be sure if this is the same person).
The following letters from Stanley indicate that Stanley in 1917 Stanley was back in England for quite some time.

12th February 1917  From Avondale
To Lionel
Stanley had been staying a week with Cecily and was passing on to Lionel local and family chat and activities. It seems that Stanley is travelling about on a motorbike.

12th February 1917   From Spurrier's Sun & York Hotel - Chatham
To Lionel
By now Stanley was down at Chatham and wrote to apologies for sending the last letter to the wrong Company. He had sent Lionel some “solid fuel”. He has reported for light duty at S.M.E. and is posted to 1st Reserved Batallion. He offers to get Lionel anything he need as and send it out to him.

18th May 1917    From Chattenden Barracks Nr Rochester To 39 Divisional School
To Lionel
Stan congratulates Lionel for his "mention in despatches". He is enoying the work at Chattenden where they are building bridges.
"I have made several new type bridges & the latest is a 40 ft. span one - wood & steel 1 1/2 inch rod lattice bridge to take Heavy Commercial Lorry.
I have 2 parties pontooning at Upnor - 1 party steel girder bridging at Ravelin Brompton - 1 party suspension Bridge- 2 parties on Trestle Bridge & a Railway Bridge here. 
The work is topping
I have a Zenith 3 1/2 HP now & I get to Sutton in 2 hours from here."
Stan saw Cecily and WJD & Marian, 3 weeks ago just before they moved from Belmont.

12 September 1917  From Officer Mess Chattenden Nr Rochester

To Lionel
He hopes that Lionel gets leave soon as Cecily is looking forward to seeing him.
Stanley is running some training at Chatham as there is no Major is available. He is very busy as he is about to get married to Jean Miller on Saturday (15th Sept) at Scotch Church in Dollar Clackmannanshire near Stirling then they are going to Buxton for 5 days before going back to rooms near Rochester.

 


Letters to Cecily give some idea of what life was like although it is not often that he gives details of his work. One can tell from the letters from all the family members that there are times when they need to “let out” what life is like and how they feel, but generally I think those at war wished to protect families at home from the real horrors.

On 8th January 1917 Lionel’s son, Stanley, died at home of pneumonia at the age of 6. Details of the impact that this had on Lionel and the family have not been established, but there is reason to believe that it was considerable.

Some time between On 9th April 1917 Lionel was "Mentioned in Dispatches" but he let this be known around the family only after it was officially announced some time later.



On 4th August 1917 the War Office wrote to Cecily to report that Lionel was admitted to hospital in Bologne “suffering from gas poisoning (wounded) slight”
In a letter to Cecily on the 10th August Lionel refers to playing on the beach with some 4 to 7 year olds making sand castles. “All the world is upside down here, no shells no gas, no mud and I am free from bad smells and sights.”
Reference to the WAAC girls, their class and to whom they are allowed to talk.

On 11th August 1917 the War Office wrote to Cecily to say that Lionel was discharged ready for Active Duty.

It is noted that Cecily was, at this time, in Saltburn staying with her sister Edith.
On the 13th August 1917 in a letter to Cecily, Lionel refers to playing make believe war on the beach with children and giving them sweets. There is also reference to views about the war held by men in England being similar to those around him. At that time he was put as Officer in Charge of a train journey through France. Letters indicate that Lionel did not actually go back to the front after being gassed. By the time Cecily got this letter, she was back at home at Avondale.

It becomes apparent in letters from his brother in law Lewis about this time that Lionel had not been home for six months.
By October 1917: he was under hospital care in England and subsequently withdrawn from active service on the continent and sent to the War Office to work in the new Aviation department. 
In January 1918: again it was found that he was unfit for active service but fit for home employment. 
There is a letter from the War Office sent to Lionel at the Herbert Hospital Woolwich.
During 1918, he was researching the drainage on proposed airfields around the country and reporting on work that was needed. It seems that this work for the Aviation Programme started in about September 1917. This is a list of airfield sites, dated January 1918.
Documents relating to Lionel's work on Airfields 
After the war, during the early part of 1919 Lionel was still considered officially to be in the Royal Engineers (for the purposes of Rations) but in March and April was visiting the Maudsley Neurological Hospital and in April was discharged unfit for service.
Documents relation to Lionel's war time work

Excerpts from Letters from Lionel to Cecily during his war years

His tone in the wartime letters was very different from those of his brother in Law Stanley M Haycraft who was very gung-ho and seemed to enjoy life on the front as long as someone at home, namely his sister Cecily, was running around doing things for him. Lionel had been well advised by his brother Rex not to join up, but I think that Lionel felt it was his duty and made a good job of what he had to do for a year before he was gassed. This took its toll but he worked on in the army until after the war. There is evidence in the letters that business was not good near the beginning of the war and that Cecily and Lionel were short financially for quite a while.

02 July 1915 From Victoria Hotel Whitchurch
One year before he joined up in the army.

Lionel has been away from home, presumably on business. He hope to be home in a couple of days and is missing her and the children terribly.

31/08/1915 Royal Hotal College Green Bristol

Married Cecily on 31 Aug 1909

Our Wedding Day 1915
My Darling Wife    For 6 whole years
Although parted by more than a hundred miles I can feel that our thoughts & involuntary feelings are holding us united & near. I feel as though you were about a yard away & within reach. As you are at home this nearness feeling may not be so strong in your case but I am in a strange place.

When we think of Stanley and Peter darling I am sure we may know that our 6 years have not been wasted so far as the outside world is concerned & when I think of you I know that so far as I am concerned I have been greatly blessed & have a great deal to thank God for as when we jointly knelt at our first bedside & asked his blessing & guidance. That I think was the most holy moment of my life.

With all my love darling   Lionel.

07 June 1916 From Chatham


31 July 1916 Officers Mess Royal Engineers Deganwy N.Wales

Just arrived at Deganwy and found it comfortable with pleasant people and plenty to do, living in tents.He shares a tent with Pierce who was ill at Chatham during the exams so had to pass on record. Slight concern that his things had not arrived.Stanley's camp bed is useful as they were in tents without floors.

07 August 1916 Officers Mess Royal Engineers Deganwy N.Wales

He report to Cecily that he has been isolated due to an infection but feels well.
He hopes that Cecily and the boys have not got German Measles.
After a month he hopes to get proficiency pay making 1 shilling & 6 pence a day more which should just keep them going.
Soon here hope to be allowed out when noone is about and in the mean time he is studying military law and economics. He is looking forward to getting back to his men who are all like big children ( good and bad) but he likes them all.
He hope to get a horse to get about to feel less isolated.

13 August 1916 From Deganwy

A long letter asking Cecily to come up to Deganwy to stay for a bit. It would be like another honeymoon with no business.

25 August 1916 from Deganwy

He referred to Cecily being there.
He asked for a large packet of Songs at once; the concert was to be on Tuesday.

01 September 1916 from Deganwy

Lionel thanks Cecily for the songs. He expects to go to France before the end of next week.
He wished Cecily Many happy returns and hopes that they will be together for the next one. He was glad that Mrs Midd was with her and hoped that she would be able to stay. He has had a job attached so will not be able to leave camp which suits him.

19 September 1916 from Deganwy

He was about to leave for France – He liked the look of the new Armoured Car – and was pleased with his revolver.

25 September 1916 From RE Mess No4 General Base Depot Rouen
Monday
Rouen is about 60 miles up stream of Le Havre on the Seine.

This letter is a description of his arrival in France and journey to Rouen.
He refers to Cecily getting back to Sutton ok, presumably from Waterloo Station.
Arrived Southampton 12.45 pm Thursday
Went on board 5.00pm
Sailed 7.00pm
Havre 2.00am
Try to make a start 9.00am but because of fog returned until 7.00pm
Anchored in the fog until 11.30pm until 9.00 am next morning
Got to quai at Rouen at midday.
Saturday march to camp 4 mile out.
Monday Morning Parade 7.50 with 190 officers on training - bayonet training
Went through a covered trench full of gas which blacked his buttons and made the clothes stink.
His does not expect to leave for several days more and asks if Cecily saw much about the Zepelin raids.

29 September 1916 From British Officers Club Rouen

Written at 8.30pm when his party is about to work up to 10 or 12 or later, then a 4 mile march back to camp. The place is pleasant and he hopes to soon be back on leave but must do his bit first.

04 October 1916 From RE Mess No.4 General Base Depot Rouen

He is pleased everyone is well and is going to write congratulations to Stanley ( this must be for a war award ).
He is pleased his kit turned up as it is expensive to buy more.
They are just hanging about feed & sleep & parade & lectures. One of the Officers takes a fatigue party to the Docks at night. 5.45pm to 5.30am. There are also route marches and censorship duties. He refers to some of the letters as some humorous, some pathetic - husbands whose wife's will not write or who scold, or there is other trouble - He can get depressed by such letters.
Many are pure love letters but he cannot take too large a dose of all the letters at a time.
(Note: A.B.Guise who would have being Lionel's son-in-law, had Lionel lived, refered to doing the same work in the 2nd World War as a 2nd Lieut.)
He lives in a a canvas hut made of a wooden frame, canvas covered with a wooden floor and 2 doors. Large enough for 4. A cold bath every day. - sometimes a hot one.
He has been to church on Sunday evening in a tiny church and pushes Cecily to try to have confirmation so that they will be closer spiritually. This seems very important to him and feel that it would help in life generally.

11 October 1916 from Rouen

He referred to Mrs Midd being with Cecily and how was little Midd. ( this would have been Mac Middleton)

This is a very moving letter as Lionel writes how good it was to see Cecily in Deganwy and London. He went on to write that their love was growing and would continue to do so and how significant it was that Cecily had taken on work with her own initiative. He mentioned that when leaving Deganwy his Officer in Charge Lieut Carlisle say that he was one of the most popular officers to leave the centre.

13 October 1916

In the letter Lionel refers to the Holt papers being in the office. There was reference to Holt in the pre-war letters. He asks about the photographs and whether he could have one of her and the boys.

15 October 1916 From field.

By now Lionel has moved on from Rouen

He writes to let Cecily know that he is fine and enjoying the food. He has been out for walks and riding as the weather is fine. "I place all my trust in God & am sure I shall have his help at all times of danger that may come my way & I know it must make a tremendous difference to a man."
Love to the boys.

19 October 1916 From 225th Field Coy R.E.

Lionel is asking of news of Cecily, the boys, Gertie & Lewis and their boys, Medmenham and Bernard (Cecily's family)
No news but very wet and his dugout leaked a bit.
He hope that she is comfortable at the office and then he relates romantically how her imagines her in all sorts of ways and places at home. He still has not had any letters since Rouen.
When he arrived he was recognised by the capt. Of the company L'Argent, from when they work together 14 years before on hydraulics.His Captain Hammond, acting as Major, is very pleasant 25 years old.
Lionel then discusses a number of other officers in the Coy. Which has been out there for 8 months.

He has seen flying machines and balloons and hears the continual sound of guns.
Lionel then asks about family and neighbours and talks optimistically about being home and the availability of work when the war is over. He is asking for chocolates etc and writes as if the present situation is not to bad and all rather interesting - ( He has only been there about a week)
He has the daily job of censoring letters.

He asks that Stanley be told that he has a German Rifle and is enjoying being a soldier.

NOTE:
From the point of view of the archivist, this sort of letter is devastating. Within 3 months, little Stanley will have died of pneumonia and within a year Lionel will have been gassed.  It was then that he had time to question for himself what the war is all about, and why people could not behave peacefully.
It seems that only his tremendous faith in God keeps him going through some of the next year.

This next letter shows the the reality of war seems to have suddenly hit Lionel.
He must have seen, heard about and experienced things that were really upsetting.

22 October 1916 From Field
One of the few letters written by Lionel in this vein, as if he felt his life was seriously at risk.

"I have received your letter of the 14th. I am in an English dugout & have been consolidating our newly won position in the front lines. I have had some narrow escapes & lost men from the infantry paarty under me but so far all of my own section are safe. I work on the ground above Thiepval Wood one of the worst places on the Somme & if it wasn't for my trust in God I should be really frightened as enormous ??? of shells come over. Well darling I am just about to take my section out to consolidate some trenches we hope to capture today & I am writing to let you know dear that if I don't come back I go with full trust in God and his kindness & believing that he will comfort you & ours. Tell our boys that their father died like a Christian soldier doing his best for his country & men & full of love for his darling Wife & sons & Father & Mother & Brothers & Sisters & all family & friends.
I attended Holy Communion on the morning I left Rouen & I have felt Christ's presence ever since at all time in all dangers & I trust you & our boys may always feel the same. Most of my men are married & have children so we all understand one another & know that only God counts & this is shown more & more out here.
I am glad I came whatever happens so that I may leave pride in your heart & our boys may always have this example.
Well darling Cecily I cannot say how happy you made me all our married life. I realise it more now & how proud I am of the way you wished me God speed at Waterloo & have faced the war. God bless & guard you darling wife & sons. May he give you the peace which passes all understanding & which the world cannot give.
Farewell darlings, God bless you is the greatest wish from you husband & Father

Lionel A Dibdin"

The following card was found in one of Lionel's letters to Cecily. 

I should be mentioned that Angels had a significant role to play within the war and did much to increase the morale of the soldiers.

 

The Angels of Mons

It was in the period of this hectic retreat, when the British troops would have been so vulnerable to a pursuing enemy, that something extraordinary occurred. British troops claimed that they had seen an apparition in the sky of three angelic figures who appeared to ward off the attacks of the enemy. The retreat was successfully accomplished and the British troops lived to fight another day.

05 November 1916 From Field

"My dug out is of course English and jolly good, not deep but let into a hillside about 12 to 14 foot square with 4 bunks in it and only two of us living in it at present."

Joe apparently had a bar to his MC

He believed Joe and Stanley were having a rough time.

10 November 1916 From Field

He indicated that the post is a bit behind but then he is in a dugout at the time. It’s a bit foggy and he would like a cake sent. He hopes to be back soon.
Un-decipherable photo enclosed.

13 November 1916 From field

He is still in a dugout. He has had a letter from Joe. He asks for some socks - medium thickness.

19 November 1916 From Field

Thanks her for cake socks & chocolates. He is back in Corp. rest and expect to be putting up huts etc. Had a little snow.
At the end of the letter he reports that they are busy putting up 36 huts.

29 November 1916 From Field

His is still resting building huts.
He gives news of other officers he is billeted with.
He hope all is well, and says it is rough luck about the bombs.

"I do not know what to say about Stanley going to Boarding School. He is very young & although the discipline might be good he would run the risk of picking up bad habits & ideas which might be more lasting than his present willfulness & which he would not grow out of.

I am inclined to think it better for him to jog on at home for a while as he will grow out of habits he gets from other children at day school and a short spell of boarding school when he is older will give him discipline when he will benefit more educationally as well"

NOTE:
Stanley died within 2 months.
The attitude towards boarding school and disciple is interesting as it pervaded that class,at that time, and Joan, their third child was sent away when about 11 in 1931. These attitudes carried on for yet another generation, so Joan thought it correct to send her son to boarding school at the age of 7 years old.
Also it should noted that the boarding school idea came from Cecily Haycraft and it is felt that whereas the Dibdins were artisan and artistic by nature and culture the Haycrafts seemed to a more of the "born to rule attitude". Stanley Haycraft had just returned from Egypt where his was working for British interests and some members of later generations worked in similar fields.

06 December 1916 From Field

He hopes that Stan gets his leave and comments that he is pleased his O.C. Capt Hammond is to have a well deserved 10 day break. He says he is happy for their son Stanley to go to school at Saltburn. He indicate concern for local friends and family and asks if Cecily will consider getting confirmed. His faith was obviously of great support
"All sort of places, dugouts, tents, huts etc all used for different churches and I know without the help & strength to face danger which is given by God, few men would stand the strain long although they might always admit it."
He refers to the need to read the paper to see what the cabinet is doing.
"Good night darling, God Bless & guard you and ours"

12 December 1916 From Field

He thanks Cecily for the parcel and for the letters, containing out of date news which had been returned.
He is concerned for Cecely's health and says if worried she must she Dr. Moon. He is pleased that she is finding out about confirmation and hopes that when the war is over it will like starting a new life. He would like her there to share in life - he plays a lot of chess. Leave is on and if the war continues long enough he should get his turn in 2 months or so.
He is using Stanley's camp equipment and is sure that she would like to sleep in the bed.
Please send a couple of pencils as they are difficult to get.
They had a little snow. He was to take 75 of their men to bath tomorrow ( not swimming) and plans to get some Christmas cards.

17 December 1916 From Field

In this letter he referred to Joe being in Hospital and hoped he got a staff post in England. "I wish you and the boys a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous and Victorious New Year. I shall find it interesting to spend Christmas out here and shall as usual be constantly thinking of you all at home, but I would not like to think that you were unhappy because I was away, be glad rather that I am doing what I can to help win a long peace in the future, when right dealing and not oppression of arms shall guide the dealings between nations".

His Captain had returned from leave with a gramophone and some records.

Lionel writes that he will be thinking of Cecily and the boys during a church service if they have one on Christmas day. Special Christmas Card

23 December 1916 From Field

Post card enclosed
Lionel felt that we would soon win and be home.
Enclosed a letter to Arthur

05 February 1917 From the field

Redford & Muir are neighbours
Lewis Brother in law.

He thanks Cecily for the long letter and is pleased Peter is better.

He asks to tell Dora he uses her mittens every day.
"I am busy making shelters inside cottages - a fine job We knock down all the inside walls & stair cases that are in the way & then make a dug out with iron roof - much better than cutting trees down tell Redford Muir & Lewis.- Knock whole wall down & I shoot the last brick or two that holds them up, great fun."

He expects Stan has gone from Avondale and he is pleased he had a good time.

12 February 1917 From Field

No news but the war goes on.He says he has written to various Aunts for socks for his section. He asks after the family and friends and request a copy of the paricular chinese chess that Lewis has. He plans to make some pieces. He say the barracks are ver good and wishes that Cecily was with him. He is pleased that things are more settled in her office.

16 February 1917 From the field

Darling Cecily
We are moving back to Divisional Rest today & the Coy. has gone with the exception of myself two wagons & three men who leave in an hour or two.
I hope you and Peter are well old girl. I am very fit. IT is frosty but thaws for a few hours per day
Love to all Lionel

23 March 1917 From Field

Dearest Cecily

I was just bucked up dear to get your letter of 10,14,15 & to hear your & Peter are well. I am glad you saw Rex & that he is fit. I do not think it would be well to ask for him for this Coy. I am awfully sorry to hear about Hornblower having a small chance, anyway he will miss chances here.

I can quite understand Peter as I often talk to little Stanley myself dear.

I am glad you got the broach and bracelet, I have not heard from Cox's yet. I am glad you got the potatoes seeds I hope you have luck as I expect the war over for good by the time they are ready for earthing up & I want the job.

With all my love darling wife - Tell Peter Daddy loves him
Lionel

17 March 1917 From Field

Lionel is well and the weather fine and he has been to a good show at the Divisional theatre.
He is getting good news of advances on the Somme. He referred to a note from Gold about where the Holt Sanatroium Papers were.
He asks for a few songs as they put on a concert for the men each week.

26 March 1917 From Field

Darling Wife
Just a line to send you £5 with my love dear
I am very well and have lots of odd jobs to do
It has been raining lately & makes everything muddy but we do not mind that.

We have another officer attached to us. He is from an Army troops Company & a bit of a dud we think, we had to sit on him a bit the first few day si he is quite unobtrusive now. He is only an architect not an engineer but he will improve I expect.
With all my love Lionel

08 April 1917 From Field

Arrived back for a rest after 5 weeks in the line. Enjoying football matches and good weather. Going further back for a building job. He notes that he could not get to Church today.
"Our rest last time was a farce - only 8 days, so we are to have the real thing this time."

11 April 1917 39th Divisional School BEF

Lionel reports that he and his section have been moved back behind the line to build a canteen. He expects the war to be over within his probable 6 week tour on this job. He hopes that Cecily has got a rise from the company she works for.
Apologies for being so busy that he cannot write to others at present. He indicates that he would like to be at home to help his wife but because of the war is unable.

15 April 1917 39th Divisional School BEF

Lionel says that he is now seen as on the staff of the school. His men are busy on the site and happy. He took his detachment to Church Parade and Holy Communion 3 miles away in some make shift arrangement with straw bales and blankets.

08 May 1917 From Divisional School

Some time has passed since his last letter
He is building and sinking two wells and lecturing on field works.

He may be on the staff and they have a rifle range, a riding school & bombing ground. He may be there for some time. As he sings in weekly concerts he asks for her to send The Windmill & the Miller of Windelace and the Floral Dance if she can spare them.
No news but good weather, mess & work.
He look into a French Church on Sunday - High Mass - girls in white and a matron carrying images & a banner carried by men & incense and candles. Quite nice organ and the church full.

18 May 1917 From Field

Still busy at the school sinking wells etc.
He refers to the blossom on the trees and the vegetables in the fields.
On the domestic front he refers to a letter to Mrs Hornby and issues of rent and the cost of a fence and is glad that Cecily can inprove the garden.
He is sad to hear that young Holland has been killed.
Comment that Elsie and Rex had gone to see WJD & MD

24 May 1917 From Field

He enclosed a scarf that he bought in the town near the school.
He is having to work at night because the ground is very soft. He got a letter from Stanley congratulating him on his "being mentioned" ( on 18th May)
He reports that he cycles and rides his horse Dick which he would like to bring home after the war.

02 June 1917 From Field

He is glad to hear that Joe is home.
He hear that there may be leave soon and anyway the war will be over soon so then they can start a new life together. He is glad that she is not out there doing canteen work.
He tells Cecily to tell work to keep her holidays open for when he returns.
He is glad she likes the new house at Tulse Hill ( this must be the home of one of the family perhaps Marian who got married to Paul Montford in 1912 )
and he is sad for Marian ( his sister) who seem to have a perpetual war on !

11 June 1917 From Field

Lionel reports that he had set out a new rifle range.

He asked after lots of people and Cecily’s views on Russia and America. He expects the war will be over soon and then they can enjoy life.

19 June 1917 From Field

He wrote to say that he did not expect leave for about 2 months and he was digging wells. He was pleased that Stanley was to settle down with a good girl – Jean.

01 July 1917

He tells Cecily it is ok to sell the necklace which is worth about £7 to £8. It seems that he will not be able to claim extra money from the Government for loss of earnings as the business was not earning that much.

He enclosed two letters to be kept as remembrances. He has left the Div. School which has been abolished and it has been replace by the Army School which has taken on several of his men. "I am with the Coy now in tents in a wood resting and jolly glad to be in a tent. It reminds me of you and Deganwy dear, do you remember, will you ever forget." He attended the first Church Parade the whole Coy had ever had and then stayed on for Holy Communion, after. He wondered if Cecily was at Communion too. There was discussion about who got wounded and the various officers that have been in charge. He reports that Tom Haycraft had joined his division and had joined the 227th Field RE which was looked upon "as the dud of the three of them."

He had heard that a Haycraft was coming and had hoped for Stanley. He believed that Joe was 20 miles south of him but doubted if he would get time to see him. He send his regards to many members of the family and says he imagines Ma writing letters while Pa sits and smokes and read.

He imagined Cecily doing things in: the house, garden, tennis, office, bicycling, bathing, Deganwy, Knock, ( Ireland) London, Chester.

14 July 1917

Apparently Stanley Haycraft was already planning to run a car as well as being married. There was a reference to bombing in London

03 August 1917 to Saltburn

He writes to let Cecily know that he is alright and resting at Base Hospital No7.

He expected to be quite fit again; he missed the actual push because of the gas and had not heard how his Coy got on. He was waiting for his kit to arrive.

08 August 1917 Base Camp

Lionel was well and still resting at base camp. He is to come before the medical board on the 13th. If passed he will go back to base at Rouen and then on to a Coy. He hopes that it will not be his old one as many of the officers have left. And he is keeping his eyes open for a back job. There are hundreds of girls there, clerks, nurses and drivers. He still had not heard how his Coy got on with the push. He referred old E and to a photo in the Sunday Pictorial of the 18th showing E and some of her girls smothering a boat. He referred to the time when he was sent back from the Canal Bank and still has not got his kit. He went to an English Church on Sunday and found it strange to hear an organ and female voices.

10 August 1917 Base Camp

Playing with 4 to 7 year old girls on the beach, "they must be refined because they made a chateau". "All the world is upside down here, no shells no gas, no mud and I am free from bad smells and sights."

Reference to the WAAC girls, their class and to whom they can talk.

Sent a parcel – a pint of perfume to Cecily

11 August 1917 Base Camp

First page missing.

After Ypres it was disconcerting to meet and see English nurses, VAD. WAAC especially when you may not talk to them but only sort of overhear. He feels that to enjoy the war properly one ought to be single. He make comparison between the normal feelings in that situation and the stolid callousness required to get through the day alive on the front. He expects to tell the medical board that he is not up to strength yet ( no energy and cannot walk quickly ) and hopes to get work conducting troops to Le Havre on the trains and then back to Paris but it will not be the same without Cecily like at Deganwy and eight years ago. He was glad that Joe and Stan were at home.

13 August 1917 From British Officers Club APO No.1 B.E.F

He wrote to let Cecily know that he was well and jolly and that he was on a journey but did not think he would get to Paris. The weather was good and he wanted Cecily to be there with a Dove of Peace

"I don’t know what to think of the news in the papers but I know that in conversation men here have expressed similar views to those indicated as being held by a majority of men in England before any such indications were disclosed in the press"

Two days before he had played on the sands with some boys who made a fine trench and "we captured other children and gave them rations of caramels. After the final assault I was of course wounded and captured and bandaged by a 15 year old "nurse" and guarded by another officer". The kids then went round the crowd for a collection.

He was then used to carry the heavy stones that they could not carry. All this hurt as he wished to be with his own children. One son, Stanley, had died in January 1917

17 August 1917 Base Camp

He was still at the base resting. He noted that Stanley had got up to Saltburn and assumes that it is his Military Cross that gets him off duty. He hope to get leave soon.

24 August 1917 No.3 Rest Camp Boulogne

He reports that he was still at No.3 rest camp in Bologne and feeling much better. He has to go before the board on Monday. He has been on Court Marshalls and Courts of Enquiry, very interesting but not always pleasant. Aunt Dolly had written to say that Enid Holland was there. He has met her when she gets 2 hours off a day but she has be in by 7.00. She has grown very tall and a nice and refined sensible girl who is doing hard and unpleasant work. It must be hard to hurt wounded people to make them better. He was glad that the Daily Express and other papers had taken on the question of unequal distribution of leave. "It is a disgrace and grossly unjust that men (officers and men) back behind should have leave say once in 6 months whilst the men up the line go 18 months and get killed before they get leave. Directly you get out of fire you might just as well be in a camp at home. It is only those who go up the line who know what war is and the further back from the line they are from the front line, the softer it becomes until you get beyond shell range where there is peace.."

27 August 1917 No.3 Rest Camp Boulogne
- 30 Aug 1917

Lionel is obviously well enough to be moving drafts of men about and is so busy that he missed his Medical Board, presumablly to be cleared as fit and well.
He has had the opportunity to look at the reports about people injured and wounded particularly those with family names like Dibdin and Haycraft.

31 August 1917

Happy returns for their wedding day. He was at the time on a train taking another draft after arriving back from Paris.

Reference to Mrs Kingsnorth in Shooters Hill and a photograph. He is disappointed that he is not allowed to take photographs as he could have got some good ones at Ypres.

He was missing Cecily and now that he was not dodging shells and there was no fear of gas he had more time to think of her.

"I did not find Argent so still have no first hand news of how the Coy got on."

07 September 1917

Lionel reports that he has written to Stanley sending him best wishes for forthcoming marriage. He enclosed £2 for Cecily to get a present.

17 September 1917

He wrote to let Cecily know that he is quite well and looking forward to leave.

Stan was in England going to Scotland for a Wedding and then to Buxton which he remembers well – hilly and good roads. He agreed with Cecily for selling the Necklace but sad it was necessary. "I am sure that Jean and Stan will like the Fruit knives"

Do just as you feel dear about "Es" offer to help put up a monument to dear little Stanley. Did Marian ( His mother) understand that we would be able to pay anything like as much as £20.

26 September 1917

Looking forward for leave. He received 2 letters that Cecily had sent to Le Havre (but he indicates that he had only been therefor a meal). He hoped the she did not overdo it at the Exhibition. He indicates that he had being staying at Bologne when in Hospital etc.

He looks forward to when the beastly war would be over and everything can be better for the experience, with people God fearing God loving and less selfish. He asks after a large number of members of the family.

There needs to be mention made of the contribution to the war effort by Cecily. It will be seen from the letters, written by Stanley M Haycraft that follow, that she did an immense amount of work, sorting out bits of his affairs and keeping him supplied at the front with food and useful material items. Similarly letters from Lionel indicate the extent that he was dependent on her for keeping the home running, keeping in touch with the family and also for moral support. Much is now reported about women’s contribution to the war effort by doing the jobs vacated by fighting men, and it will be noted from Stanley’s letters that Cecily joined the local Sutton Gas Company doing something that entailed her in wearing uniform.

After the war Lionel returned to civilian life continuing with his fathers business and later after a short time in the insurance business, he set up a property development company creating high class estates in the Surrey and Sussex counties.

It is sad to note that he and his wife, Cecily, died in a plane crash disaster in March 1933 in Belgium near Dixmude in Flanders Fields leaving a son and daughter.

On 4th Feb 1939 The Evening Standard published a full page article regarding the plane crash with a theory to suggest that it may have been caused by a couple of passengers with the name Voss. The paper produced dubious evidence to suggest that although the Voss couple died in the crash, as did all on board, they may have got out a little earlier that the others. All good propaganda in preparation for WW2 perhaps!

More of the life of Lionel Aglio Dibdin