July 18th 1916

 

Lt Robert Gibson

Lieut. Robert Gibson (South Staffs Regiment attached to 2nd Bedfords)

The letter dear Robert wrote to us at the end of June warned us that the ‘Big Push’ was imminent and that he was going to be part of it.

It was clear from all he wrote that he understood that, not withstanding all the planning and practising for the ‘Push,’  much of what happens in battle is a matter of chance:

“It lies in the lap of the gods.”

He has become the fourth Old Boy to have been killed in the last two weeks.

Lieut. Col. HS Poyntz, the commanding officer of the Bedfordshires, has kindly written to the family with his condolences and to give an account of the attack in which Robert was killed:

“On July 11th at 3.27 a.m. we were ordered to attack Trones Wood where very heavy fighting has been going on. It had been taken by us and re-taken by the Germans, so we were ordered to re-take it again.”

A fellow officer, 2nd Lieut. Primrose-Wells, was close by when Robert and his platoon attacked a position that, as the gods would have it, had not been destroyed by our bombardment:

“We estimate that there were 300 Huns in the wood when we attacked. Your son was on my left and he and his platoon were to enter the wood a little way up on the west side. 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 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 and died instantaneously, not making a sound.

I had to advance over the same ground and tried twice to get his body in, but lost men both times, so we left it until we could finally get the whole wood. We were relieved after 48 hours of very hard fighting – hand-to-hand – and very nerve-wracking.

Two days after, when the wood was finally taken by the British, I asked the Colonel if I might go up again and get your son’s body and bury it, but he refused to let me go and our Chaplain with four volunteers went up and found the body and buried him in Maricourt Cemetery.” 

 

Robert had a very successful school career, winning scholarships to Winchester and New College Oxford. A teacher who knew him at Winchester said that, during an experience lasting over twenty years, he had never come into contact with a mind so naturally gifted for classical scholarship as Robert Gibson’s.

The following tribute has been written by a great friend of his, both at the OPS and afterwards at Winchester.

“… When he came to Oxford, he looked round for some kind of service into which he might throw himself, and so discover something about a stratum of society widely separated from that which he knew. This he found in the boys’ club which had lately been started by New College in St. Ebbe’s; and if he was anything like as successful in winning the confidence of his men as he was with these boys, he must have been one of the most popular officers that ever entered the army.”

His Headmaster at Winchester has written a capital letter to Robert’s father:

“Your one consolation will be that he takes a very white soul to the other world, that he lived a keen, joyous, wholesome, and honourable life, very free from any sort of stain.” 

No tribute could be higher, and it comes from one who loved him, and knew him through and through.

 

 

July 4th 1916

Somme map

The Anglo-French Offensive

The Push has indeed started, but we have little news as yet.

The report (as it appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph) was general in scope, but positive in tone. However, the German statement quoted on page 10 suggests that the Germans were well prepared for this and that we suffered “very heavy casualties.”

Today’s paper (page 9) does mention that the West Yorks Regiment were involved in an attack on Fricourt and that they “went across toppingly.” Whilst we know that its Commanding Officer, Lieut. Col. Stuart Taylor is not involved (he is recovering from wounds received earlier in May in Princess Alexandra’s Hospital for Officers in London), Capt. Jack Ruttledge is a West Yorks man and may well be in the thick of it.

Lieut. Robert Gibson, whose letter we received only a few days ago, may well now be in action, as the Bedfordshires are also mentioned as taking part in this offensive.

We most earnestly hope that our dear Old Boys all come though unscathed, but meanwhile their parents are condemned to live in continual fear of the post boy with a telegram for the duration of this great battle.

We must all be brave.

 

 

 

 

July 1st 1916

Lieut. Robert Gibson (2nd Bedfordshire Regiment) is one of a large number of Old Boys to have visited us this term and we are delighted to receive news from him now. (I wondered where my pencil had gone…)

Lt Robert Gibson29/6/16. “It is many weeks ago since I pinched the Skipper’s pencil to write you this letter in the train from Oxford to Paddington. Unfortunately 7 more candidates for the 6 seats got on at Didcot, and writing became impossible. Perhaps it is for the best, as you would hardly be interested in a description of the ‘Reading flower-beds’ or ‘Trafalgar Square on a wet Friday in war time.’

Leave was a very pleasant interlude and preparation for future efforts; for this front is a very noisy one these days and I think the staff fondly hopes it is to become a mobile one. The gunners are having gala days, and the sins of the batteries are visited on the men in the line by the discriminating Teuton.

The men, however, are quite willing to put up with occasional retaliation, provided they can spend most of the day lounging over the parapet watching Fritz’s hearth and home going up in a cloud of smoke and barbed wire. It was not often they have had the opportunity of watching such a drama from the orchestra stalls, and I think they mean to do a lot of stage-work before long.

Raids have been the order of the day for the last six months, with the object of wearing out the enemy and keeping him awake; our regiment did one a short time ago with complete success; all they need is very careful thinking out, no detail should be left to the imagination.

For instance with regard to place, tell a party to get into German trenches between such and such a place clearly marked on the map, show them the place in the actual trenches, and even so they will lose their way in No Man’s Land on the night of the event. If you want to guarantee success you must dig the German trenches involved (by aeroplane photo) on some ground behind, and practise them by night for several days before, and it is the same with all the other details of the raid.

Our fellows knew their job and did it very well. All of which pleases the Staff, annoys the enemy, and keeps Tommy’s tail up. We have got bigger fish to fry now; and I think from the spirit of our own men and the French on our right, that something will be done.

Still, when we have done our best and the Boche his worst, you come back to the old saying of men who fought with their hands at close quarters, not in lead and steel at 1000 yards and more:

Greek

(Ask someone in VIa to correct accents before publication; my Greek alas is slipping from me. I hope the war will be over before I forget the lot).

Best love and luck to all Dragons, militant and expectant.”

 

In case your Greek is also a little rusty, the snippet above translates as:

‘It lies in the lap of the Gods.’

Indeed it does.

 

(The reports in today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph (pages 9 & 10) leads one to think that the big “Push” is imminent).

 

July 20th 1915

2nd Lieut. Robert Gibson (3rd South Staffords), has been attached to the 2nd Bedfords. His recent letter is addressed to all of us and Dragons should note in particular how he wishes he had taken his French lessons more seriously!

Lt Robert Gibson

Lt. Robert Gibson

“How I wish I had paid more attention to Mr. Fairbrother (‘4ft. 3 ins.’ as we used to call him) or the charming French lady who taught the top French form for a short time…

As it is, when the rather managing  woman who keeps my farm bursts out at me, whether with civilities or complaints, I murmur hastily, ‘Oui Madame,’ or ‘Mais, c’est la guerre’ and seek refuge in my room…

Let’s hope this infernal war will be over long before current Dragons are old enough to cross the water. By the way, I should be awfully grateful for ‘Draconians’ (old or new) out here. We are very hard up for literature and being miles away from anywhere, cannot replenish our supply.

It is sad to see Dragons and more Dragons on the Roll of Honour and I know what schoolmasters must feel at such a time as this. It is hopeless to try and offer consolation for losses. You have to come back to the trite old saying, ‘sed miles, sed pro patria,’ but I know it’s hopelessly inadequate.

Bed-time now. Goodnight all and love to all Dragons.”