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GIBSON, Walter (1892-?)

GIBSON, Walter (1892-?)

Walter Gibson was born on 8 March 1892, the son of William Gibson and Mary (nee Hislop). He was educated at Geelong College from 1905 until 1909. His enrolment address was listed as 'Tyalla' Heyington Place, Toorak. It is probably this W Gibson who was awarded a 1st prize for French in the Lower 4th Form at Geelong College in 1907.

His father, William Gibson (c1842-1918), had become a partner with Mark Foy (1830-1884) in the well-known firm of Foy and Gibson in Smith St, Collingwood in 1883. Initially a drapery business, it rapidly expanded into selling a vast range of household and hardware items. From about 1885, William Gibson became the sole owner expanding the business to Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. It was one of the biggest businesses of its type prior to World War I.

In 1914, Pegasus noted: 'Walter Gibson writes from London, where he is doing a course of Mechanical Engineering.'

Pegasus of August 1918 reported:
'Walter Gibson, who is back in Australia after some interesting experiences as a prisoner in Germany, called at the School during the term, to renew old acquaintances.'

A later report in the Critic (Adelaide) described his experience: 'Mr Walter Gibson, a son of Mr William Gibson, of Melbourne, arrived in Adelaide on Thursday, and is staying at the Grand Central Hotel. He spent the first three and a half years of the war in the Ruhleben Internment Camp at Berlin. He happened to be in Germany when the war broke out. Mr Gibson states that for the first six or seven weeks he was lodged in a convict prison, which was most unpleasant, but there was little to grumble at in the camp, where there were always from 4,000 to 5,000 persons. On January 1, last, he was exchanged, his health having failed.'

A more detailed account in the Argus newspaper reprinted in the Border Watch of Mt Gambier reported: 'Having returned to bed one day in November, 1914, from electric treatment in a sanatorium in Aberback, in the south of Germany, Mr Walter Gibson, a young Melbourne engineer, was confronted with German officers and revolvers. He was afterwards interned with some 4,500 prisoners in a camp at Ruhleben. After more than three years' confinement he regained his liberty, and is now looking to restoration of his health in Australasian lands. Mr Gibson is tho youngest son of Mr William Gibson, of Heyington Place, Toorak, and head of the firm of Foy and Gibson, Mr Gibson, senior, has been in London over since the outbreak of tho war, Mr Walter Gibson, who was in Melbourne last week, has gone to Now South Wales for the benefit of his health.

In an interview, before leaving for New Zealand, Mr Gibson stated that he was one of the last to see alive Captain Fryatt, of the steamship Brussels, who was shot by tho Germans for endeavouring to ram a German submarine. As Captain Fryatt left the gates of a Berlin prison under guard to be shot Mr Gibson said 'Good night' to him, Mr Gibson expressed the opinion that Captain Fryatt knew what was going to be done to him; but he went away quite cheerful.

Mr Gibson had some liberty for a prisoner, as it was necessary for him to see a doctor at certain times, While under the escort of a German officer one day a German sailor who had been in the battle of Jutlund was met. 'Congratulations on our latest victory,' said the officer to the sailor. 'No congratulations from me,' replied the sailor. 'I was in the fight, and if we had not cleared out before the English heavies came up we would not have had a ship to tell the tale. Mr Gibson is an excellent German linguist, and this was a great advantago to him while he was a prisoner.

Speaking of the conditions of life in Germany, Mr Gibson said that when he left Berlin on January 2 the food was bad. While there was a lot of talk of internal trouble tho people were too much under military domination for anything serious to happen. Two meatless days were observed in each week, no sugar could bo obtained, and delicacies were not thought of. They woro sure of peace with Russia in January, and the finishing off of France and England in turn was contemplated. Nothing would shake the belief of the people of Germany that they would win the war. In the camp in which Mr Gibson was confined were different crews captured by the raider

Every one in Germany was economising. In a shop in Berlin he was asked 70/ for a white shirt. For a small cake of soap, worth about 6d. in England, the people would give from 8/to 10/. He did not think that discontent in Germany would end the war, as tho people wore loyal to tho Emperor much as much so as we were to King George.

Describing prison life, Mr Gibson stated that when he was first taken to Berlin the prisoners were lined up in double file outside tho railway station with six gaolkeepers confronting them. Some of the prisoners - there were 350 in all - were smoking, and they wore told to take the cigarettes out of their 'gobs'. - The place of detention was the big convict prison, where they were kept in small isolated cells. When they awoke after their first night in this place the majority of them had swollen faces. The place was alive with vermin. A month afterwards they were sent to Ruhleben.'

The following year, the engagement of 'Walter Gibson, youngest son of the late William Gibson of 'Tyalla', Heyington Place, Toorak' was announced to 'Cora Macdonald, second daughter of Mr and Mrs Neil Macdonald, 'Cooleen', Wycombe Road, Neutral Bay, Sydney' . They married at St Patrick's Church, Sydney on 25 October 1919 with Walter's brother, Jack Gibson as groomsman. Two years later in October 1921 it was reported that Mrs Walter Gibson had returned to her 'native city' with her new daughter, Judith Mary Gibson. This marriage may not have continued as a proceedings notice was issued in 1933 on behalf of Cora Hyacinth Gibson. Cora died in New South Wales in 1975. The fate of Walter Gibson remains unknown.

The obituary of Walter's father, William Gibson, who died in London on 5 November 1918, mentions several members of the Family as follows: '... Deceased leaves a family of five sons and four daughters. One of the sons, Pte James Gibson, was killed at the battle of Bullecourt, while another son, Lieut John Gibson, after being wounded, is again fighting in France. A third son. Mr Walter Gibson, returned to Australia some months ago, after having spent three years as a prisoner in one of the civilian war camps in Germany. He is at present in Brisbane.' The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) entry for William Gibson notes that 'In 1917 a son was killed in action and in August 1918 another died in London' .

His brother, John Gibson (1890-?) was also educated at Geelong College.

Sources: Border Watch (Mt Gambier) 28 June 1918 p4; Pegasus May 1914 p37; Pegasus August 1918 p17; Adelaide Advertiser 16 August 1918 p7; The Critic (Adelaide) 21 August 1918 p8; The Critic (Adelaide) 18 June 1919 p19; Freemans Journal (Sydney) 26 October 1921 p16; Sydney Morning Herald 18 May 1933 p6; Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. p200 (citing National Archives of Australia; Australian War Memorial); Geelong Collegians at the Second World War and Subsequent Conflicts' compiled by J. Affleck p577 (citing The Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives; Adelaide Advertiser 16 August 1918 .
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