William Henry Gibson, Private 15/370, 1st Leeds Pals, com WYR, tr RFC/RAF
Hunslet grew rapidly during the 19th century, becoming an important manufacturing centre, the workshop of Leeds, with textile mills, chemical works, glass works, steel works, engineering firms, a pottery, a brewery and many others. Most of these have now gone, along with the houses for their workers, terraces and back-to-backs, but when William Gibson lived there it was still highly industrialised. Not that he had lived there long.
William Henry Gibson was the second child and only son of Harry Gibson, plumber, and Mary Taylor, who had married in Bradford in 1888. He had an older sister Edith, and subsequently two more sisters, Helena and Hilda. He was born in Hornby, Lancashire, on 8 October 1890, though within months the family had moved to Ordsall in Nottinghamshire. Harry at that time was an innkeeper, but by the next census, in 1901, he had once more become a plumber. He had also moved again, to Doncaster, where the last two girls were born. Finally, the 1911 Census found them in Hunslet, and William, now old enough to have a job himself, was listed as a clerk in an engineering works, of which Hunslet had a number.
William lived at 26 Hulland Street, close to St Joseph’s Primary School. The terraces of back-to-back houses were demolished in the 1960s when Hunslet Grange, also known as Leek Street Flats were built. In fact William lived on the corner of Leek Street.
On the right in the gable end of the far right building is number 28 Hulland Street a back-to-back property. The large building on the far right is number 26 and in the centre of the image a shared toilet block is visible.
War was declared on 4 September 1914, when William was almost 24. He wasted no time and volunteered the first day, one of 25 Hunslet men to do so. After a medical a week later he was posted to D Company and put into No.16 Platoon, where he ultimately became Platoon Bomber. William was small in stature at 5’ 6”, weighed 140lbs and had blue eyes and brown hair.
He survived the war and was discharged as an RAF Lieutenant, being awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. In early 1917 he had been commissioned into the West Yorkshire Regiment, before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, which in April 1918 became the RAF, but there appear to be no surviving records of his RFC/RAF service. His Medal Index Card shows that his War and Victory Medals were awarded to him as an Officer in the RFC although there is no mention in his Officer’s Army Service Records of him transferring to the RFC. In addition, no RAF Service Record for him can be found in The National Archives.
He went to Colsterdale for his basic training, followed by Ripon and Fovant, near Salisbury, where in October 1915 he received 7 days CB (Confined to Barracks) for being absent from an early morning parade. He went with the battalion to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal, and as a bomber he took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was severely wounded during the attack on Serre on 1 July (the first day of the battle) receiving gunshot wounds to the arm and shoulder. He returned to the UK on 5 July and was transferred to the West Yorkshire Regiment Depot, in September moving to the 89th Training Reserve Battalion, still a private soldier.
On 2 December 1916 he was sent for officer training to 16 Officer Training Battalion at Kinmel Park, Rhyl and on 28 March 1917 was commissioned into the West Yorkshire Regiment. His address at the time was given as 39 West View, Beeston Hill, Leeds. His trade was listed as Commercial Traveller although on attestation it was shown as General Clerk. He had been educated at Leeds University and completed ‘commercial technical’ training at the Northern Institute, Leeds.
In Leeds in 1927 he married Lizzie Dixon, and on the 1939 Register they appear together, living in Broomfield Road, Leeds 6. William is listed as a manufacturer’s agent for the building trade, and also, significantly, as an RAF Officers’ emergency disability pensioner Lieutenant. He had survived the entire war, but not unscathed.
This post was written by Peter Taylor and David J Owen. It first appeared here on the Leeds Pals Volunteer Researchers blog.
The blog presents the research of a group of volunteers recruited in 2014 to undertake historical research into the story of The Leeds Pals.
The volunteers who have contributed to this blog are part of a joint research project between Leeds Museums and Galleries and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s (NAONB) Heritage Lottery Funded First World War Centenary project.