Lt-Col Edward Stephen Gibbons, DSO

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Lt-Col E S Gibbons, DSO
1st Battalion, Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, attd. 7th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry
Killed in action, 19.9.1918
Age, 35

Like all really brave men, he combined the qualities of courage, will-power and determination with those of great kindness, gentleness and thought for others and it was these qualities which made him such a lovable character.

This heart-felt tribute to Edward Stephen Gibbons was written by his Brigadier-General and was included in his Times obituary in October 1918. He was a career soldier with an outstanding military record; at the time of his death he was in the midst of his second period of active service in the First World War.

Edward was the youngest son of Sir William and Lady Sara Antoinetta Gibbons (nee Cholmeley) of Pine Grove House, Pine Grove in Weybridge. He was born on 18 June 1883 in Weybridge and baptised at St. James’ Church the following month on 21 July. Edward had seven siblings: Sarah, Eva, William, Geraldine, Hugh (died young), Dorothy and Margaret. From 1900 until 1913 his father was Principal Clerk of the House of Commons. He was educated at Charterhouse and Sandhurst and received his commission in 1902 into the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Edward was a Captain by the time war broke out in 1914 having spent several years serving in India including on the NW Frontier in 1908.

Whilst at home in the summer of 1914 he married Annie Macgregor Lyle at the Parish Church in Folkestone by Special Licence on 2 August. Annie was the daughter of John and Margaret Lyle of Finnart House, Oatlands Drive, Weybridge. In 1908 her father donated the land for Churchfields Recreation Ground which is still well used today (2018). Edward and Annie had two children: Elizabeth Margaret born in December 1915 and John William born two years later.

With Britain’s declaration of war on Germany just two days after his wedding Edward was soon on active service again. On 11 August his battalion landed at Le Havre as Lines of Communication troops. Shortly after they came under the command of the 19th Infantry Brigade which transferred to the 6th Division on 12 October. Less than two weeks later Edward and his comrades were involved in the Battle of Armentieres (21-22 October) which was the final part of the ‘Race to the Sea’ whereby the Germans and the Allies tried to outflank each other; control of the Channel ports was at stake. On 21 October the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment was at Bas Maisnil; at 12 noon ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies were sent into Le Maisnil to support the Highlanders already there. On entering the village they were shelled heavily and suffered casualties. In the late afternoon they were ordered to withdraw, which they did under heavy attack and with even the onset of darkness offering no relief. Edward’s actions on this day led to the award of the Distinguished Service Order; he was wounded severely. The citation for his award recorded that he had:

Displayed great coolness and zeal at Le Maisnil on 21 October 1914 in a serious emergency.

During his convalescence he helped to train the Weybridge Home Guard. This hiatus might have been the end of his fighting career but Edward was subsequently sent to Egypt where he became Commandant of a school of instruction and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel (acting) in 1917. In the same year he requested a return to active service and was attached to the 7th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry as its commanding officer. They arrived at Marseille from Egypt on 17 April 1918. Their first three months were relatively quiet; they were in and out of the line at Vimy Ridge and spending time at Ottawa Camp at St. Eloy.

The last ten days of August were livelier for Edward and his men. The great Allied drive to end the war saw them caught up in the attempts to breach the German defences of the Hindenburg Line. On 24 August they moved against the village of Henin but found the ground very difficult because of trenches and barbed wire. Heavy machine gun fire also impeded their progress. They renewed the attack against the Hindenburg Line on 27 August with the intention of advancing to Fontaine, Cruisilles and Riencourt. By 2 September they were in trenches of the Hindenburg Line, north of the village of Bullecourt (4 km south of Arras). The battalion was out of the line between 7-15 September but returned at Inchy-en-Artois for just three days. On their final day, 19 September, there was shelling from both sides and Edward went to Battalion HQ at 4.30pm. An order was received for ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies to attack Cemetery Support, north of Mouvres. Edward had returned from HQ in time to give the order. The battalion’s War Diary, records that he ‘….died of his wounds in the vicinity of the attack.’ The attack achieved its objective. Edward was buried in Queant Communal Cemetery British Extension (A.58; 25 km SE of Arras ) the next day; representatives of all formations in the Brigade were present. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies were relieved that evening.

Edward’s parents continued to live in Weybridge until their deaths in 1930. Both his daughter and son married; he had two granddaughters and two grandsons. His widow did not remarry; she presented a silver gilt Chalice and Paten to St James’ Church in his memory, decorated with moonstones and amethysts. These were dedicated by the Bishop of Guildford in the same ceremony which dedicated the ‘Book of Remembrance’ on Sunday, 2 November, 1924.

As a battalion commander I cannot speak too highly of him……all ranks of his battalion……..simply worshipped him…..He could have done anything he liked with his battalion for they would have instantly responded to his call, no matter how hard the task he might have set them.

(Obituary, The Times, Friday, October 11, 1918)

Sources:

Sir William Gibbons (1841-1930), Surrey Coats of Arms,
https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/
1st Middlesex Regiment, Regiments and Corps – The Long, Long Trail, http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/
St James’ Church, Weybridge, Metalwork Inventory Records
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912,
https://www.ancestry.co.uk/
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937,
https://www.ancestry.co.uk/
Anne Wright, John Lyle (1862-1914),
https://www.elmbridgehundred.org.uk/

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