Researched and written by Anne Wright
Cpl J L Tibbs
1/6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
John Longhurst Tibbs started his working life as a gardener but became a professional soldier in 1908. His parents, Samuel, a carpenter, and Clara (nee Longhurst) married in about 1878 and must have been already settled in Weybridge or moved to the town soon after as all their children were born there. They had six sons and two daughters between 1879 and 1892: William, Herbert, Clara, John, Harry, Frederick, Charles and Amelia. The family lived in either 2 or 4 St George’s Cottages, South Road, off Queens Road from at least 1881. John’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1882 and in due course he attended St James’ School (Baker Street). His interest in a military life seems to have started with his involvement with the 3rd Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment between 1904 and 1908. He then enlisted for one year on 15 April 1908 and continued to do so each year until 1913 when he enlisted for three years. John was promoted to Lance Corporal in 1909 and to Corporal in 1914; he served at home until his unit sailed from Southampton for India on 29 October in that year arriving at Bombay (Mumbai) on 2 December.
John’s unit was to be engaged in garrison duties in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh and in the Punjab (N.India). They were initially part of the Allahabad Brigade in the 8th (Lucknow) Division, until March 1915, when they moved to the Rawalapindi Brigade of the 2nd Rawalapindi Division. On 14 May 1915, John left for Mesopotamia (Iraq) where he was attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment which had been in the country since the end of 1914 as part of the 6th (Poona) Division. After some early successes the British decided to advance up the river Tigris with the ultimate objective of taking Baghdad, and with John’s new division taking the lead. They were halted by a bloody defeat at Ctesiphon in November 1915 and retreated to Kut-al-Amara where they were besieged by the Turks until 29 April 1916 when they surrendered.
John was not in Kut; he was admitted to No. 19 CC Hospital at Sheikh Saad, 32 km downstream of his besieged comrades, on 24 April, suffering from cholera. He died the same day. He may well have been part of the Poona Division’s long and by this time ineffective supply lines. John was buried one mile south east of Sheikh Saad which the 2nd Norfolks had first reached on 14 September 1915. The details of his death emerged as a result of his family’s request for information. John is commemorated on the Basra Memorial (Panel 20 & 63) to all those who died in the Mesopotamian Campaign, 1914-21. It used to stand 8 km north of Basra but was moved on the authority of Saddam Hussein’s Presidential Decree in 1997 because of the sensitivity of the area to a site in the desert 32 km along the road to Nasiriyah; a location that was a key battlefield in the first Gulf War (1990-91). It is a semi-circle of ochre stone. As it is not possible to visit the site a Roll of Honour is open to the public at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Head Office in Maidenhead.
John’s eldest brother William served with the Army Service Corps in Egypt and two of his brothers and two sisters were still living in Weybridge immediately after the war. His father was still at the South Road address in 1927. His mother died in May 1944.
British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – East Surrey Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
2nd Battalion Norfolks, https://norfolkinworldwar1.org
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
The Mesopotamian Front, www.firstworldwar.com/battles/mf.htm
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk