Grandad was Great War pris­oner

Black Country Bugle - - FRONT PAGE - By DAN SHAW

THE col­lapse of the Ger­man Em­pire in Novem­ber 1918 brought about the end of four years of bit­ter fight­ing. For the mil­lions of men in uni­form it meant that chance to re­turn to hearth and home and loved ones left be­hind. But for the tens of thou­sands of British sol­diers held pris­oner in Ger­many the re­lief was even greater.

Joseph Gib­bons was a Great War pris­oner of war and de­tails of his story have been passed on to us by David Wor­ley of Per­ton.

David writes, “Joseph Henry Gib­bons was my wife Mau­reen’s grand­fa­ther. He was born in 1896 in Wed­nes­bury and in the 1901 cen­sus is recorded as liv­ing off the Port­way Road at 15 Brickiln Croft.

“At the age of 16, in the 1911 cen­sus, he lived in Dar­las­ton, at 17 Great Croft Street, with his sis­ter El­iza and brother-in-law Wil­liam Toovey and their fam­ily.

Un­der­age

“I be­lieve he was one of many chil­dren and his fa­ther may have mar­ried twice. Joseph ap­par­ently lived with brothers and sis­ters un­til he joined the army, un­der­age, we be­lieve, be­fore WWI be­gan.

“He served in the South Staffs Reg­i­ment as Lance Cor­po­ral J.H. Gib­bons 14083422 and he fought at the Bat­tle of the Somme. He had “half his foot blown off” and was cap­tured at some time but I’m not sure if it was that bat­tle or later.

“He re­ceived the three WWI cam­paign medals, the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Vic­tory Medal, af­fec­tion­ately called Pip, Squeak and Wil­fred. The three medals were pri­mar­ily awarded to the Old Con­temptibles of the BEF.

When the war ended he re­turned to his fam­ily in Wed­nes­bury. He mar­ried Mary Nor­ton in 1919 and lived in the Port­way Road area for a num­ber of years. Even­tu­ally, they were re­housed to a four bed­roomed house in Smith Av­enue when the houses in the Danger­field Lane area were built. When their large fam­ily grew up, Joseph and Mary moved to a smaller house along Danger­field Lane. After work­ing to the age of 70, Joseph died in the late 1960s.”

At the end of the war around 2.4 mil­lion men were held in prison camps across Ger­many. The vast ma­jor­ity of them were Rus­sian, the break­down of their num­bers be­ing 1,434,529 Rus­sians, 535,411 French­men, 185,329 Bri­tons, 147,986 Ro­ma­ni­ans, 133,287 Ital­ians, 46,019 Bel­gians, 28,746 Serbs, 7,457 Por­tuguese, 2,457 Amer­i­cans, 107 Ja­pa­nese and 5 Mon­tene­grins.

The British pris­on­ers were repa­tri­ated rel­a­tively quickly, the first ex-cap­tives reach­ing Calais on Novem­ber 15, 1918. By Fe­bru­ary 1919 all non-rus­sian pris­on­ers held in Ger­many had been repa­tri­ated.

The British POW all re­ceived a fac­sim­ile of a let­ter writ­ten in the king’s own hand and David and Mau­reen still have the let­ter Joseph re­ceived, al­beit in a frag­ile state. It reads:

“The Queen joins me in wel­com­ing you on your re­lease from the mis­eries and hard­ships which you have en­dured with so much pa­tience and courage.

Trial

“Dur­ing these many months of trial, the early res­cue of our gal­lant of­fi­cers and men from the cru­el­ties of their cap­tiv­ity has been up­per­most in our thoughts.

“We are thank­ful that this longed for day has ar­rived and that back in the old coun­try you will be able once more to en­joy the hap­pi­ness of a home and to see good days among those who anx­iously look for your re­turn. Ge­orge RI.”

Those held in prison camps in Ger­many of­ten faced se­vere food short­ages, as the Al­lies’ block­ade meant the Ger­mans had dif­fi­cul­ties in feed­ing their own fight­ing men. They were of­ten put to heavy labour as well, to shore up the Ger­man war ef­fort. Years kept in hard con­di­tions re­sulted in many pris­on­ers re­turn­ing home in poor health and suf­fer­ing for the rest of their lives.

Let­ter Joseph Gib­bons re­ceived from King Ge­orge V on his re­lease as a POW

Right: Joseph Gib­bons (left) in later life

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