Ernest Gibson

royal engineers badgePioneer 128567, A Special Company, Royal Engineers, (formerly 26929 King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry), killed in action, 3rd May 1917, aged 21.

Born at Crowle in 1896, Ernest was one of five children of Charles and Clara Gibson. The family lived in North Street, where Charles was a ‘portable engine driver’. In 1911 Ernest was a farm labourer at Rainsbutt Farm.

Ernest enlisted in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at Doncaster, post 1915. In early 1916 he was transferred into the Royal Engineers new, ‘Special Brigade’ when their chemical warfare organisation, previously four companies, was expanded into a brigade size organisation.

The task of A Special Company that Ernest served with was the discharge of poison gas. This was done either by opening of cylinders to let it drift in clouds towards the enemy trenches or by firing the cylinders from Liven’s Projectors, a ground-based mortar-like device directly at the enemy trenches. The theory being that the German defenders would then be either injured or in hiding from the gas, thus easier to attack. It was of course not unknown for the wind to change direction and blow back on the British troops, including the Royal Engineers who released it.

On the 3rd May 1917, which was the first day of the Battle of Arras and second only to the first day of the Battle of the Somme for casualties in the British Army, Ernest was in a relatively quite area of the front line to the north, near Steenwerck. Although in wartime even quiet areas were dangerous. Sent in with his platoon to repair a damaged trench, Ernest was placing sandbags on the parapet when he was shot by a German sniper. Mortally wounded, Ernest Gibson died around half an hour later. He is buried in Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck.

When the officer in charge of his platoon wrote to inform his parents of his death he wrote of Ernest;
‘We loved your boy – we loved his cheerfulness, his kindness, his courage, his whole character.’

A memorial service was held for Ernest on 28th May in the Primitive Methodist Chapel with ‘a large congregation present’.