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William Johnson Gibbons (1892-1960)

Bede Scholar who spent four years in a prisoner of war Camp

Born on 10 November 1892 in Sherburn, William Johnson Gibbons was the only son of William and Rachel Gibbons. Records suggest both William senior and Rachel had been married before, giving William at least six step-siblings. William’s father worked as an overseer at a colliery, as did William’s step brother George. William however did not join these family members to become a miner, instead choosing to become a teacher.

Following schooling at Durham Johnston School and time spent as a pupil teacher at Sherburn Hill Council School, William went to St Bede College in 1911. This college was a teacher training college in Durham. Following his training, William began teaching at East Howle Council School as an assistant teacher in 1913.

William attested into the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI) very early on in the war on 14 September 1914. He travelled from Folkestone to Boulogne to begin serving in France on 20 April 1915. Just seven days later, during the second battle of Ypres, William was initially reported missing and then as a prisoner of war. St Bede College produced magazines throughout the war period and these give a picture of William’s time as a prisoner of war. Initially William was held at Giessen camp near Frankfurt and by March 1916 had been moved to Soltau prisoner of war camp. The magazine includes correspondence from prisoners of war, including William. In the June 1916 edition there is a record of a letter from William which talks of his time at Soltau:

“W. J. Gibbons writes that he and F. smith are now at Soltau together, and ‘being in the same barrack have the benefit of one another’s company each day, and both of us are agreed that we never knew how much Bede life had entered into us until we met at Giessen. The Camp is a small one and far removed from any large town. There are only now a few English there and they work on the heather moors by which they are surrounded. Besides this work, Gibbons adds that he has returned to his old vocation and takes an English class three times a week.”

The December 1917 edition again mentions William: “W. J. Gibbons, after a very long silence due to limited correspondence, writes from Soltau in Hanover. There, to his delight, he has met James Hall of the Pals. ‘Hall is at present awaiting exchange on account of the loss of an arm.’ As with Riseborough and Wood, these two at Soltau have found that ‘Bede and Bede men have formed the great subjects of conversation since they met.’

William was discharged from the army on 11 April 1919, at which time he is part of the 4th Battalion DLI. His discharge documents show a disability of gastritis which was obviously quite severe as the degree of disability is labelled as 50%.

After the First World War William returned to teaching at East Howle Council School. In 1919 he moved to become a teacher at Sherburn Council School. He was still teaching at the time of the 1939 Register. William married Hannah Kidd in 1921. Before her marriage, at the time of the 1911 census, Hannah was working as an assistant teacher. The couple had one child, Frank Ross Gibbons. William died in 1960 in Durham.

A coloured picture drawn by William has been found in a scrapbook belonging to Harry Gordon who studied at St Bede College at the same time as William.

Civil Parish: Durham Elvet

Birth date: 10-Nov-1892

Death date: 1960

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: New Road, Sherburn (1901 Census)
9 New Street, Sherburn (1911 Census)
9 Nelson Terrace, Sherburn (1939 Register)

Education: Durham Johnston School
St Bede College, Durham 1911-1913

Employment: Assistant Teacher (1911 Census)
Teacher – East Howle Council School, Sherburn Council School

Family: Parents: William Gibbons, Rachel Gibbons nee Johnson
Step-siblings: Francis Gibbons, George G Gibbons, Ellen Gibbons, Elizabeth Gibbons, Hannah Grice, Leonora Grice
Wife: Hannah Gibbons nee Kidd
Child: Frank Ross Gibbons

Military service:

Durham Light Infantry
8th, 4th Battalions
Service numbers: 2644, 300371

Medal(s): Victory Medal
British War Medal
1915 Star

Gender: Male

Contributed by Fiona Johnson - Durham