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
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
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
07 August 1916 Officers Mess Royal Engineers Deganwy
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 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
Arrived Southampton 12.45 pm Thursday
Went on board 5.00pm
Try to make a start 9.00am but because of fog returned until
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 -
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
04 October 1916 From RE Mess No.4 General Base Depot
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
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
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.
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
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"
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
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
"Good night darling, God Bless & guard you and
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
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
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
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
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
26 March 1917 From Field
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
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
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 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
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)
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
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
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
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
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.