Basil Narroway Gibbs was the second-born son of Samuel and Lavinia Gibbs ( nee Hurst ) of the Upper Ferguson Valley via Dardanup, Western Australia. Samuel and Lavinia were pioneers of the Ferguson district , and also lived for many years on a property at Collie Bridge ( now Clifton Park ) , which was originally in the hands of Lavinia’s parents , Basil and Maria Hurst. Basil Gibbs’ Grandparents, James Dagley Gibbs ( worked as a Buider ), and Charlotte Sarah ( nee Narroway ) were Pioneer Farmers of the Bunbury district, and direct descendants still farm the property to this day.
Basil enlisted for Army Service at the Bunbury recruiting depot on 31 August 1915 and began his training at the Blackboy Hill Camp, near Greenwood, W.A on 27 September, 1915. On 18 January , 1916 he embarked from Fremantle with the 28th Battalion 7th Reinforcements on the troop transport ” Medic “, arriving at Alexandria Suez Egypt on 16 February, 1916. After 4 weeks training in the harsh Egyptian environment, Basil set sail for Marseilles France where he joined the 28th Battalion in the field on 9 June, 1916.
Unfortunatley, Basil was seriously wounded in battle on 29 July, 1916, suffering Gunshot Wounds to the Head, Shoulder and Leg. He spent approximately 2 weeks in the Australian General Hospital at Wimereux France and recuperation time at a Convalescent Depot in Boulogne France. Basil was declared fit for further action and rejoined his Battalion in the field on 17 August, 1916. Tragically , Basil was killed in heavy fighting near Villers-Brettoneux France between the 3rd and 6th November, 1916. His name is inscribed on the Villers-Brettoneux Memorial, along with many thousands of other Australian soldiers whose bodies were never found.
Basil’s younger brother, Harold Ferguson Gibbs, enlisted for service on 1st July, 1916, and during training at the Codford Depot in England, became dangerously ill with Pericarditis. After a lenthy period of rehabilitation, Harold was posted to the Command Depot Perham Downs England, where he relapsed with the illness 4 Months later. As a result, Harold was embarked from England for Australia on 11 January, 1918 for Discharge from Service. He returned to the family farm and worked the property until his death in 1969 at the age of 70 years
In honour of Basil’s sacrifice, and Harold’s service, excerpts from their letters written home to their older brother Herbert ( and his wife Mary ) at Upper Ferguson, are published to gain an insight into their journeys. ( Sincere thanks to the Gibbs families for providing copies of letters accordingly ).
September 20, 1915 from Basil at Blackboy Hill-
” I have got this morning off as I was on night police duty last night-it didn’t amount to much but of course I got on the worst beat of the lot walking around Headquarters. I had to be at it all the time as you don’t know when an officer might come along up there. I reckon this will be a good thing for me, it soon takes the shyness out of a fellow. I have got in with a fine lot of chaps. We get plenty of music up here, there is a concert on every night this week. of course there’s always a big crowd there, different to the Ferguson concerts. I haven’t got cold feet yet but they say there are a few on the camp with them. We have got through the worst part of the drill. I will be glad when we get onto the Musketry drill “.
October 29, 1915 from Basil at Claremont Military Camp-
” I don’t think it will be long now before we are shifted from here. I reckon we will be transferred into reinforcements in less than a fortnight. Things don’ t seem too good at the front lately and that will help us get away quicker. A lot of us got caught breaking camp on Wednesday, me amongst them, so they put a guard around the camp yesterday. Of course it wasn’t the first time I had been out. I can climb the fence with any of them “.
February 24, 1916 from Basil at Heliopolis Camp Egypt-
” I am quite alright. We have only been here a week today so I have not seen very much of the place yet. We had a real good trip over , but for all that, I prefer to be on the land. I was a bit sick two or three times when the sea was a bit rough , but I wasn’t too bad. We stopped at 4 different Ports on our way over, so I have seen a few different places already. We came through the Canal and disembarked at Alexandria. So we were in the Mediterranean Sea from Port Said, about 12 hours trip. I haven’t had a good look around Cairo yet. We are camped right alongside Heliopolis so can go in there every night if we like. It is about 13 Miles to the Pyramids and you can see them quite plain from here, so you can guess what size they are. You have to cross the Nile to get there and you wouldn’t think it was such a big river to look at it here. Things here are just as dear as they are in the West. The only thing that is much cheaper are the Trams and Trains”.
May 18, 1916 from Basil in Northern France-
” We have been here now for about 8 weeks, so are just about used to the place now. It has been quite warm here lately, nearly as hot as summer time at home. We are not in the firing line yet, and I don’t think we are likely to be for a few weeks, but of course we don’t know when they will send us. The Germans tried to drop bombs on the Camp here on the 25th April but they didn’t do any damage. The closest one to us was about a quarter of a mile away. It was about 12 at night when they came. They made a big noise and woke us all up, but when we got out of our tents we couldn’t see anything of the airship that was dropping them. It is quite a common thing to see aeroplanes flying around here. Of course they are not enemy planes. We have to march about 3 miles from here nearly every morning to the training camp. The “Bullring ” we call it. We have been there so often now that I am about tired of going. We have breakfast about 7 in the morning and do’t get back as a rule till about half past 2. So we have dinner a bit late, anyway it seems to agree with me. I weighed myselt the other day and was 2 pounds short of 12 stone, so I am not doing bad. I suppose you will have finished old George’s house long before you get this. I don’t suppose I will know the place when I get back “.
June 20, 1916 from Basil in France-
” I left Egypt about the 21st of March. Well we have been in France now nearly 3 months, but I only joined the Battalion about a fortnight ago. I haven’t really been in the front line of trenches yet. I am back in the Reserve line, but we get quite close enough for me, occasionally. I haven’t had a decent Apple since I left the West. I have had plenty of Oranges both here and at Heliopolis. I have heard that Wellington Mill has closed down. If it has it will make things a bit quiet around there. I suppose father will have about finished putting in his crop by this. Have you got any potatoes in this year or are you giving them a spell. The crops around here look well, they have got crops in right close to where we are. It is summer time here now and there is only about 4 or 5 hours dark. It’s as cold here now as it is in the winter at home. I am quite alright myself “.
October 28, 1916 from Basil in France-
” I am still alive and well. The weather here is very cold at present. I have a job to keep warm. I don’t think I was ever so cold in my life as I was yesterday morning. We had to get out of bed about 4 o’clock and march about 5 miles. It was alright while we were moving but after we stopped it was awful cold. The pack we have to carry is enough to keep anybody warm, mine consists of two blankets and an overcoat besides a lot of other things, and when I get them all together I can tell you it is a pretty fair weight. The blankets are very handy of a night though. I wouldn’t mind being at home now, it would be a bit warmer than it is here. I’ve seen enough of the trenches to satisfy me, but I suppose I will see some more before long.
November 27, 1916 from Military Comandant to Postmistress Dardanup-
” Please inform Mr. S. Gibbs Ferguson via Dardanup that his son Pte. B.N. Gibbs was killed in action between 3rd and 6th November and convey Defence Dept sympathy “.
December 10, 1916 from Harold ( Hal ) from Somewhere on Sea-
” We see nothing but water every day so you can understand how it is. I see some flying fish now and again. I have seen some pretty places since I left the West. How did you get on with shearing and cutting the crop, I hope you got through it alright. Doug Gardiner is on the same deck as what I am, so I see him every day and Victor Barrett is in our Company now “.
May 29, 1917 from Harold ( Hal ) at 15th Training Battalion Codford England-
” I have been very crook in the Hospital for four months . I have been in London four times so I know that pretty well. The underground tubes are what took my eye. All you have got to do is stand on the revolving stairs and you go down about 50 feet and then hop in a carriage. We were well sick of the water by the time we landed. Durban and Capetown are nice places. We had a fine time at Durban, we didn’t have long enough at Capetown. How is the sleeper cutting going now, it is a better game than this , don’t take this on or you will be sorry. It was a bad job poor old Basil getting killed , I thought the same as you, I never dreamt of him getting killed. You know I was looking forward to seeing him, as I have seen a lot of the other boys . I am here with Harry Pugsley. I am his Batman since I came back from the Hospital, but I think I will soon be on parade again and what is more soon be in France. But don’t worry about me , I will be alright, I am not afraid. How is poor old Dad now, please help him as much as you can for my sake. I will soon be back, the War won’t last much longer “.