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.