Gibson, Robert Bowness

He was the son of Reverend Thomas William Gibson, Rector of Cranham, Essex and Frances Georgina Gibson. He entered College at the end of the Roll from the Oxford Preparatory School. He was a School Prefect, won the Warden and Fellow’s Prizes for Greek Prose, Greek Iambics, Latin Verse and English Verse and in his last year he was awarded the Goddard Scholarship. He also played in College XV. He went up to New College, Oxford, with a Scholarship in October 1913 and took the keenest interest both at Oxford and Bermondsey in the management of boys’ clubs.

When war broke out he enlisted into the 1/28th Artists Rifles Battalion of the London Regiment and became Private 2605. However, in October he obtained a commission in the 3rd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment. He went to the front in May 1915, attached to the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, and was mentioned in Despatches in 1915 and again early in 1916.

Gibson was a committed Christian and shortly before he went to France he wrote several letters to a friend: “Pray for me… that I may prepose myself physically and spiritually for the work, and may be ready to kill and if need be to be killed in the service of God and our country… Of course our actual fate lies in God’s hands, and he will give us what he thinks best… I can with absolute sincerity wish you a Happy New Year and a Happy Birthday, feeling that though the war may bring us sorrow, may even bring death among us, it will in the end bring greater faith and greater peace in God… I like to think we are all united in worship; the Lord be with you and me and with all those whom we love, and all who are coming to England’s help today. And may he overrule this war to the good of the world…”

He took command of B Company in September 1915 when all the other officers were out of action and in November was officially appointed to that post, although by the time of his death he had commanded A, B and C Companies at various times. On July 11th 1916, in the first weeks of the Battle of the Somme, his battalion was ordered to co-operate in an attack on Trones Wood, which had been captured a little earlier by the British and then re-captured by the enemy. Gibson’s platoon was detailed to assault the position on the western edge of the wood, which was found to be held in great strength by the enemy. He fell on the edge of the wood while leading his men towards their objective. Lieutenant Wells wrote to Gibson’s parents: “We had a very hard job set us in attacking Trones Wood, and received a good deal of opposition at first. We estimate there were quite three hundred Huns in the wood when we attacked. Your son was on my left, and he and his platoon were supposed to enter the wood a little way up on the west side. He was in his exact position, with his men round him, when he got near the wood. The Germans had a trench all down the west side of the wood, which we did not know about, and just where your son wanted to enter was one of their strong-points. He quite saw what was up against him, and his platoon opened fire and he fired several shots himself with his revolver, but the Huns had the advantage from the trenches, besides being excellent shots. Your son was shot, apparently, through the head absolutely instantaneously, not making a sound… He died as he would like to die, in action and having done his duty to the fullest, and with nearly all his platoon round him – two Sergeants and two men surviving, the remainder killed or wounded.” Due to the ferocity of the fighting it was not possible to recover Gibson’s body immediately and it was not until 16th July that the Chaplain to the 2nd Bedfordshires could write to Gibson’s father: “I am writing to tell you that we have succeeded in recovering the body of your son and he was buried last night at 0230, behind the line in a French village. When it was known that the wood where he lost his life was in our hands we determined to try to recover him, and so three of the remnants of his platoon came up with me to do so. I can only say that after a short search we found him where we expected, and brought him back to the cemetery. I should like to mention the magnificent spirit shown by those three men, who gave up a night of their much-needed rest to do the last honour to a man that in their simple soldier’s way, they loved. No greater tribute to your son’s life and influence out here could be paid to him”

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Gibson
  • Forenames or initials: Robert Bowness
  • House: College
  • Years in School: 1908-1913
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Bedfordshire Regiment
  • Date of Birth: 8th January 1895
  • Date of Death: 11th July 1916
  • How Died: Killed in action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer E4
  • Decoration: NA