Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kibby, William Henry (Bill) (1903–1942)

by Bill Gammage

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

William Henry Kibby (1903-1942), by F. J. Nestor

William Henry Kibby (1903-1942), by F. J. Nestor

Australian War Memorial, 061364

William Henry (Bill) Kibby (1903-1942), soldier and plasterer, was born on 15 April 1903 at Winlaton, Durham, England, second of three children of John Robert Kibby, draper's assistant, and his wife Mary Isabella, née Birnie. Early in 1914 the family migrated to Adelaide where Bill attended Mitcham Public School. He had various jobs before he was employed to design and fix plaster decorations at the Perfection Fibrous Plaster Works, Edwardstown. In 1926 he married Mabel Sarah Bidmead Morgan, a 19-year-old typist, in her father's house at Glenelg; they lived at Helmsdale and had two daughters.

Short—5 ft 6 ins (168 cm)—and strong, Kibby loved outdoor activity. He was assistant-scoutmaster of the 2nd Glenelg Sea Scouts and sailed in their lifeboat; he took his family on walks and picnics; and he played golf on public courses. In 1936 he joined the 48th Field Battery, Royal Australian Artillery (Militia). He liked taking part in military tattoos. His considerable artistic talent found expression not only in his plaster designs but in watercolours and drawings. He took art classes briefly at the School of Mines and Industries, and painted and sketched at home while the family listened to the radio.

On 29 June 1940 Kibby enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Posted to the original 2nd/48th Battalion, he was promoted sergeant on 17 November, the day before the unit sailed. The 2nd/48th reached Palestine in December, but, on New Year's Eve, Kibby fell into a slit trench and fractured his leg. His convalescence and retraining lasted more than a year, during which he made at least forty delicately worked watercolours and pencil drawings. They showed a fondness for Palestine's countryside and a feeling for its people. In February 1942 Kibby rejoined the 2nd/48th in Syria and in June moved with his battalion to Egypt. He remained with it for the rest of his life, being involved in the battles of Tel el Eisa in July and El Alamein in October.

At El Alamein Kibby showed extraordinary and persistent courage. On the night of 23 October 1942 his platoon was ordered to destroy a nest of machine-guns and mortars on Miteiriya Ridge. Calling 'Follow me!', Kibby charged it with a Tommy-gun, killing three enemy soldiers, capturing twelve, and clearing the post. On the night of the 25th he repaired his platoon's signal wires at least five times in the face of heavy fire. His company commander Captain Peter Robbins intended to recommend him for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but was killed. On the night of the 26th, while under heavy artillery fire and repeated tank and infantry attack at Trig 29, Kibby moved boldly into the open, directing his men's fire and co-ordinating and inspiring their defence. Before dawn on the 31st, Kibby's platoon fought through the German lines at Ring Contour 25, then came under intense machine-gun and mortar fire as it attempted to reach the coast. Most of the platoon were killed or wounded. After reorganizing the survivors, Kibby charged forward and attacked a number of machine-guns which were firing directly at him from a few yards away. He must have known that he would die, but he kept on, silencing with grenades gun after gun until a burst killed him. His Victoria Cross citation stated, 'he left behind him an example and memory of a soldier who fearlessly and unselfishly fought to the end to carry out his duty'.

The position he died to win was given up, and the Germans buried Kibby and other platoon dead in a common grave. After retaking the ground and searching for ten days, his mates found the grave and reburied their comrades in line. 'We couldn't say much', one recalled early in 1943, 'but I guess we all knew . . . that if it hadn't been for Bill Kibby we might have been lying there with them'. In January 1944 Kibby's remains were reinterred in El Alamein war cemetery. A club at the Woodside army camp, near Adelaide, commemorates his name. Money was raised by public appeal to buy a house at Helmsdale for Kibby's widow. She never remarried, and never ceased to mourn her husband, a man whom his daughters recall as never raising his voice, a father whose curly hair, brilliant blue eyes and quiet smile stay with them still.

Select Bibliography

  • J. G. Glenn, Tobruk to Tarakan (Adel, 1960)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 29 Jan, 1 Feb, 4 Mar 1943
  • Glenelg Guardian, 20 May, 3 June 1943
  • private information.

Citation details

Bill Gammage, 'Kibby, William Henry (Bill) (1903–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kibby-william-henry-bill-10733/text19021, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

William Henry Kibby (1903-1942), by F. J. Nestor

William Henry Kibby (1903-1942), by F. J. Nestor

Australian War Memorial, 061364