Army-Navy peal 1914: Archibald Percy Randolph Gibbs (1888-26 August 1914†)

This is the fifth in the series on the eight ringers who rang the first peal by an armed forces band, it follows on from the previous article on Frederick James Souter. Logically this article should have come seventh, as that was the bell rung in the original peal by its subject, but there is a good reason for it to be published on 26 August 2014.

Archibald Percy Randolph Gibbs (1888 – 26 August 1914†). Served c1909-1914.

Archibald Percy Randolph Gibbs was born in Great Comberton, Worcestershire in 1888. He was the seventh of eight children of Ambrose John Gibbs and Julia Gibbs. He seems to have generally been known as Percy. His father was a carpenter and joiner, his mother a laundress. Two of his older brothers were also ringers, Ernest and Claude. Ernest began ringing around 1903, ringing his first quarter peal on 22 August 1903 (Plain Bob and Grandsire Doubles) on the treble. The three brothers rang for various other local occasions over the next few years. They scored their first peal on 26 January 1907 (they had hoped to ring on 12 January to mark Ernest’s birthday, but illness prevented this). This was the first peal on the bells at Great Comberton, and was in various minor methods. They’d had a previous attempt on 18 August 1906 which came to grief after 4300 changes. In the successful peal, Percy was again on the treble, with Claude on the second, H Salisbury on the third, Ernest the fourth, F Viles the fifth and J H White (conductor) on the sixth. At Easter 1908 they made a trip to Worcester to ring Grandsire Triples as St Helen’s on Easter Monday.

Some time later that year or in 1909, Percy took himself off to Cardiff and enlisted in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). Why he chose that regiment is not known, nor why he went to Cardiff to enlist. It appears one of the sons of the former rector of Great Comberton, Revd Nathaniel Shelmerdine, served as an officer in the York and Lancaster Regiment, perhaps he had actually intended to join them? He was initially posted to the 2nd Battalion on Jersey, but in September was sent to join the 1st Battalion in Lucknow, India. He managed to fit in some farewell ringing at Great Hampton (Kent Minor) before leaving, this was conducted by Ernest. At the 1911 census he was with the battalion in Havelock Barracks, Dilkushia, Lucknow. The battalion was posted home to Dover in December 1912.

In Dover Percy took the chance to start ringing again. He was elected to the Kent County Association on 2 April 1913 prior to a peal of Grandsire Triples at Dover. He rang six further peals before the war, including the armed forces peal.

With the outbreak of war, the King’s Own had to guard various key points around Dover, and also any German shipping brought into the harbour. On mobilisation, the battalion formed part of 4th Division, which was initially retained at home in case of German invasion, and spent some time around Norwich and then Neasden. They finally set off for France on 21 August, just as the BEF was first making contact with the Germans.

They landed at Boulogne late on 22 August, and were rapidly taken by train to Bertry, east of Cambrai, arriving at 10am on 23 August. They subsequently moved to Haucourt. They were now seeing men from other divisions in retreat following the Battle of Mons, which came as a huge shock. On 26 August came the great stand at Le Cateau. It was during this action (which also involved the 2nd Essex with Souter) that the King’s Own were cut to pieces. At the roll call following the action it was found 5 officers were killed, 6 wounded (2 of those POW), 1 missing, and 431 other ranks, killed, wounded and missing. Percy was among the latter. Red Cross records show his family made enquiries after Percy was declared missing on 26 August 1914, the results of these suggest he had been wounded in the thigh and treated in “Blanche de Castille” hospital in Cambrai. This may have been a temporary facility set up in a school or convent. However he actually died, no record of his burial was made, so he is commemorated on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial with others from the first days of the war whose grave is unknown. References for details in this post can be found in his profile on the Lives of the First World War website, and some details are from the Kent County Association of Change Ringers’ roll of honour for the First World War.

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