GIBSON, Robert Mitchell
(Service number ANF1754)
|First Rank||Able Seaman||Last Rank||Blacksmith|
|Date||2 December 1894||Place of Birth||Pleasant Point|
|Date||August 1914||Age||19 years|
|Address at Enlistment|
|Previous Military Experience|
|Next of Kin|
|Medical Information||Height 5 feet 7 inches|
|Served with||Australian Forces||Served in||Navy|
|Body on Embarkation||Royal Navy|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||HMS Pyramus (Australian Naval Force)|
|Date||16 August 1914|
|Embarked From||New Zealand||Destination||Samoa|
|Other Units Served With||HMS Torch; HMS Euryalus; HMS Pyramus; HMS Doris; HMS Philomel|
|Last Unit Served With||Royal Australian Navy|
|Service Medals||1914-1915 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal|
Award Circumstances and Date
Prisoner of War Information
|Date of Capture|
|Where Captured and by Whom|
|Actions Prior to Capture|
|PoW Serial Number|
Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses
|Date||22 March 1972||Age||77 years|
|Place of Death||Blenheim, New Zealand|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Omaka Cemetery, Blenheim|
|Memorial Reference||RSA Section, Block 5, Plot 2|
|New Zealand Memorials|
Robert Mitchell Gibson was born on 2 December 1894 at Pleasant Point, the youngest son of Irish immigrants, Campbell and Catherine (née Crawford) Gibson. He was educated at Pleasant Point School. Perhaps he was the R. Gibson (PP) who finished second in a heat of the boys’ under 12 100 yards race at the Associated School Sports held in March 1901. There in 1903 he won a special merit prize for Standard I arithmetic. At the prize-giving, held in the evening, a packet of sweets was given to every child present. On leaving school, he worked as a farm hand before signing up with the Australian Naval Force, joining the crew of H.M.S. Pioneer in February 1912. H.M.S. Pioneer continued in service as a unit of the Royal Navy on the Australian Station until 29 November 1912. R. M. Gibson served from 30 November 1912 on H.M.S. Pyramus. Robert’s mother died in 1911 at Pleasant Point. His father remarried in 1912 and again in 1925 after being widowed for a second time. Campbell Gibson died in 1943 at Christchurch where he had lived for many years.
Over 60 New Zealanders went to war in H.M.S. Pyramus in August 1914. She was an old ship – one of the old cruisers which formed the New Zealand Division, the remnants of the Australasian Squadron which was based in New Zealand from 1913. Royal Navy ratings retained their original Australasian service numbers, distinguishable from those of the Royal Navy by the prefix ‘ANF’. While on leave at Temuka Seaman Henry Hopkins supplied some notes to the Timaru Herald on the service and movements of the H.M.S. Pyramus from July 1914 to August 1916, which vividly outline the extent and nature of his service of the past two years. “The Pyramus was acting as a training ship in July, 1914, and on the 29, was ordered to Akaroa to prepare tor war, and thence to Auckland, where they arrived a few hours before a message was received that war was declared. On August 16th the Pyramus left with others to escort the New Zealand force to Samoa, calling at Noumea and picking up additional escort there. Her next duty was to assist in escorting the first New Zealand Contingent for Egypt as far as Albany. Then via Fremantle, Singapore, Penang, Colombo, and Bombay, the Pyramus reached Marmagon, Portuguese West India, and stayed there some time guarding six German and Austrian ships. From there she returned to Bombay, and on 31st December, left for East Africa, and from January 10th to the middle of April the ship patrolled the deltas of the Rufigi river and the German coast, entering harbours and searching shipping. After a rest at Simonstown at the Cape to recuperate and refit they returned early in June and prepared to attack the Koenigsburg, the German raiding cruiser that had been bottled up some time before. By attacks on July 6th and 11th the Koenigsberg was totally destroyed. The attack was carried out by two monitors, and the Pyramus was the only big ship to enter the river. The ship was then ordered to the Persian Gulf calling at Aden on the way. They were soon at it again and on August 13 took part in a naval and military expedition against a Persian tribe which had been attacking telegraph stations and British Consuls. The tribe was well punished and their village and fort destroyed. The Captain of the Pyramus received the D.S.O., and two men the D.S.M., for their work in this expedition. Shortly after this they proceeded up the gulf and captured a Turkish fort, with four field guns and much other munitions, at Bida, on the Arabian coast. On September 9 they were at Bushire, where a landing party assisted in repelling an attack on the town. The party consisted of three machine guns and crews and a section of marines. The enemy was beaten off but at the cost of heavy casualties. The General Officer Commanding congratulated the men and thanked them for valuable assistance. From that time onward the ship was employed patrolling and guarding the telegraph line on the coast, the only communication with Mesopotamia. There were many alarms and attacks, but these were of only minor importance. The Pyramus was paid off on August 25, after a successful and interesting commission, during which she steamed 70,560 sea miles since the outbreak of war.” [Timaru Herald, 11 October 1916.] Robert Gibson would have been just nineteen years old when he left New Zealand for Samoa by H.M.S. Pyramus on 16 August 1914.
Able Seaman Robert M. Gibson, of Pleasant Point, was one of a large number of naval ratings, on leave from H.M.S. Pyramus, who returned to New Zealand in the Wimmera, and were due to arrive at Wellington on 28 September 1916. If circumstances permitted, they were to be dispersed to their homes on the day of arrival. It was on 3 October that seventeen sailors from H.M. S. Pyramus – “a ship that has long been a centre of attraction to the Dominion, owing to its associations in peace and war with New Zealand” - arrived at Lyttelton. The ferry steamer with the returned sailors came alongside the wharf flying the naval paying-off pennant. “There was a large crowd of relatives, friends and sightseers on the Lyttelton wharf. It was an ideal day for homecoming. Lyttelton and the surrounding bays and hills were bathed in glorious sunshine, and every returning warrior must have realised that this is indeed a land worth fighting for. . . . . as the ship edged her careful way alongside the wharf, the seventeen white capped passengers — there were other voyagers of course, but these did not count — were eagerly scrutinised, and soon recognised. As quickly as they could the Pyramus heroes disembarked, and family reunions were many. The men showed traces of the work they had left, as most of them were white-faced and thin-looking.” The Mayor of Lyttelton welcomed the men and “said that he was pleased to know that the men attached to ships belonging to the New Zealand station had done their duty nobly and well. The conditions of the Persian Gulf and elsewhere were, he knew, very trying, and he paid a tribute to the men for the manner in which they had carried out their work. They were, in every sense, a credit to their country, . . .” He trusted that they would have a pleasant stay and called for three cheers for the men. The men thanked the Mayor for his kind remarks, and expressed their pleasure at being home again. They were on three months’ leave, but would be able to spend only about three to four weeks at home, as they had to rejoin their ship, and one month each way had to be allowed for the journey. But the thought uppermost in the men’s minds was, “It is good to be home again.” “The trying climate of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf makes it necessary that the men should have a spell after two years’ service. One effect of the heat is to weaken the blood, and slight cuts take a long time to heal. Boils are also troublesome. Some of the men had over one hundred boils on their bodies, and most of them suffered from prickly heat and rashes. A change to a milder climate and to a different dietary will soon put them all right physically.”
Twelve men from the Pyramus – R.M. Gibson one of them - one from the Philomel, and seven returned wounded and invalided soldiers from the Christchurch Hospital were invited to a picnic at Oxford on 16 October by the Canterbury Branch of the Navy League and the Canterbury Automobile Association. The naval men attended in uniform. Large bags of fruit and nuts were placed in the cars. At Oxford the men enjoyed an excellent luncheon, and were greeted by many residents, including school children, and were entertained by the Oxford Brass Band. The sailors responded to the hearty cheers given them with cheers for the residents of Oxford and for all those who had assisted in arranging the outing. There followed the singing of “For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” On the homeward trip, the men were cheered at Rangiora, where afternoon tea and cigarettes were provided.
R. M. Gibson engaged in further service, with H.M.S. Euryalus, another stint with H.M.S. Pyramus, H.M.S. Doris, and finally in New Zealand waters from December 1918 until April 1919 with H.M.S. Philomel, which was overhauled at Wellington in January 1919. It is possible that he was paid off in Bombay and returned to New Zealand in December 1918. H.M.S. Pyramus was sold for scrap on 21 April 1920. The British and Foreign Sailors’ Society regularly provided comforts for the seamen on these ships. And the crews wrote letters of appreciation for the parcels they received from New Zealand. Gibson’s medals – 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal – were issued at the Wellington Naval Office.
From the early 1920s Robert lived in the Auckland area, following the trade of a blacksmith, which trade he may have acquired while on service. In the 1950s he and Lillie retired to Helensville, moving to Blenheim not long before he died. Robert Mitchell Gibson, aged 29, admitted a charge of assault in January 1924 and was fined £2. His counsel explained that the accused was standing in the street talking to a lady friend when the assaulted man, who was a stranger to him, approached and entered into the conversation. Gibson resented this, and repulsed the intruder with a blow. The assaulted man said he was quite satisfied with the explanation, as he would probably have acted similarly if the position had been reversed. “That is all very well, but be was too ready with his fists.”
Robert married Lillie Geraldine Washington, from Geraldine, in 1936. His brother Samuel Gibson was killed in action in 1917 in France. Another brother Andrew Alexander Gibson, who also served in World War One, drowned in the Clarence River in 1926. His oldest brother, William Crawford Gibson, who had married in 1908, was called up but did not serve; another brother, John Campbell Gibson, had also married, in 1912, and had four children when he was listed on the Reserve Rolls. Robert Mitchell Gibson died on 22 March 1972 at Blenheim, aged 77 years. He was buried in Omaka Cemetery, Blenheim, his grave marked by a services plaque. Lillie died on 31 December 1981, her ashes being interred with Robert.
In an interview conducted in 1971, Robert Mitchell Gibson recounted having witnessed Richard Pearse’s flight at the Opihi River terrace on or about 11 April 1903. Eight-year-old Robert had gone on a cycle excursion with his older brother, Ramsay, who was then 14 years old, and some other local youths. He recalled specific details of the launching of Pearse’s machine, of attempting to follow it and of the distance Pearse covered. He could also date the flight to the Easter school holidays, to a date shortly before a severe snowstorm and to Ramsay’s 14th birthday. Robert Gibson also recalled that he had been involved in a fight, probably during the war, as a result of claiming that he had seen a New Zealander fly before the Wright brothers. “The Royal Navy consistently recorded Gibson’s character as 'VG'.”
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [09 September 2020]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of internal Affairs) [October 2013]; School Admission record (South Canterbury Branch NZSG) [09 September 2020]; NZ Electoral Rolls (ancestry.com.au) [11 September 2020]; South Canterbury Times, 29 March 1901, Timaru Herald, 29 December 1903, 12 & 17 October 1908, 11 March 1911, 23 February 1912, 19 September 1916, 4 & 11 October 1916, Lyttelton Times, 18 January 1912, 4 October 1916, Sun, 18 September 1916, New Zealand Times, 18 September 1916, Press, 18 September 1916, 4 & 17 October 1916, 5 June 1943, Auckland Star, 17 December 1918, New Zealand Herald, 28 January 1924 (Papers Past) [29 & 30 October 2013; 08 & 09 September 2020; 29 April 2021; 09, 10, 12 & 14 June 2022]; Omaka Cemetery headstone image [09 September 2020]; Richard Pearse – Wikipedia [29 April 2021]; Richard Pearse connection (Google search) [29 April 2021]; HMAS Pioneer Royal Australian Navy (https://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-pioneer) [12 June 2022]; Additional detail from London researcher (AWMM Cenotaph Database)
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