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Gibb, William (1890–1960)

by R. Sutton

This article was published:

William Gibb (1890-1960), soldier and plumber, was born on 14 March 1890 at Waimataitai, near Timaru, New Zealand, son of David Duke Gibb, fireman, and his wife Jane, née Deavoll. He was educated at Timaru, became a plumber there and in 1909-14 served as a volunteer in the City Rifles. On the outbreak of World War I he sailed for Sydney where he enlisted in the 1st Field Company, Engineers, Australian Imperial Force, on 20 August 1914. He embarked on the troopship Afric on 18 October for overseas service. On arrival in Egypt his company undertook training in desert warfare, bridging and fortifications, and in February 1915 occupied a defensive position on the Suez Canal, south of Kantara.

In March his unit embarked for Lemnos and undertook dredging, well-sinking and the construction of accommodation, roads and floating landing-stages. On 25 April he was present when his company landed with the 3rd Brigade near Ari Burnu on the Gallipoli peninsula as the covering force for the 1st Australian Division. As the Turkish resistance increased the engineers became heavily committed to offensive sapping, tunnelling and demolition of enemy trenches. Gibb was evacuated temporarily on 30 July with influenza. During the withdrawal from Gallipoli on 20 December he was a member of a rear-party responsible for tunnel patrolling and mine demolition despite his unit's departure some weeks before. When the A.I.F. returned to Egypt the engineers moved into camp at Tel-el-Kebir and then in January 1916 the 1st Field Company again occupied a defensive position on the Suez Canal. On 22 January Gibb was promoted lance corporal.

With the expansion of the A.I.F. to five divisions in 1916, Gibb was transferred to the 15th Field Company, 5th Division, and promoted corporal on 25 April. In June the division moved to the Western Front in northern France and Gibbs's company again became involved in offensive sapping under heavy fire; at Fromelles in July the division suffered over 5000 casualties. Gibb then served in the Armentières area and on 6 December was promoted sergeant. Following the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg line he participated in the Bullecourt and Messines operations in 1917 during which the engineers suffered heavy casualties. For his exemplary service in these operations he was awarded the Military Medal. On 23 February 1918 he was commissioned second lieutenant, and on 23 May promoted lieutenant. In June he was attached to the 567th Army Troops Company, Royal Engineers, which was supporting the 5th Australian Division.

At the battle of Hamel on 4-5 July 1918, Gibb commanded a section of sixty engineer troops who constructed a sap forward under heavy enemy fire near Ville-sur-Ancre, thus allowing a continuous firing line to be formed to the 15th Brigade objective. For his outstanding effort he was awarded the Military Cross. In the British offensive which followed he constructed a motor transport bridge at Péronne on 3 September under heavy enemy fire. Two days later at Flanucourt, east of Péronne, he daringly reconnoitred sites, then in full view of the enemy constructed a field artillery bridge. For these two actions he was awarded a Bar to the Military Cross.

In September 1918 Gibb went to Australia on leave and was demobilized on 23 January 1919. He resumed plumbing, working in Japan and then Canada where he married a Canadian widow with one child. There were no children of his marriage. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in World War II Gibb was in Honolulu working for the navy as an engineer plumber. Between the wars he had become an American citizen and settled at Portland, Oregon, where he died in 1960. One of his brothers had served with the New Zealand forces at Gallipoli.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Ellis, The Story of the Fifth Australian Division (Lond, 1920)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • R. R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers 1902 to 1919 (Canb, 1979)
  • London Gazette, 14 Dec 1917, 24 Sept 1918, 31 Jan 1919
  • war diaries, 1st and 15th Field Companies, Australian Engineers A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial)
  • 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers 1914-15, a Brief History (Australian War Memorial)
  • F. T. Slee (ed), 1st Field Company, Engineers, 1914-18 (Australian War Memorial)
  • W. E. Turnley, 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, and 15th Field Company, Australian Engineers, brief record (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. Sutton, 'Gibb, William (1890–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 January 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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