Sergeant William George Gibbs
by John Gibbons
312181 – 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge’s Own).
In the years immediately prior to the partition of Ireland, during the Irish War of Independence, the British Army maintained garrisons in many Irish towns One was in Mallow, County Cork, manned by the 17th Lancers, and this was the scene of a raid by the I.R.A. in 1920.
On the morning of September 28th, at a time when the officers were away from the barracks exercising their horses, three I.R.A. men presented themselves at the wicket gate of the barracks, purporting to be conveying a letter for the commanding officer. The sentry’s attention was diverted and the raiders overpowered him and burst into the compound, letting in further I.R.A. men. They made for the guardroom where they knew the weapons would be kept. The senior N.C.O. in charge, Sergeant (Acting Sergeant-Major) Gibbs, who was nearby supervising the shoeing of a horse, realised what was happening and ran for the guardroom, either to arm himself or lock it against the invaders. He was ordered to stop and a warning shot was fired over his head. He did not stop and received two bullets to the heart, the shots coming from one of three I.R.A. men working undercover as painters within the garrison. Sergeant Gibbs, aged 25, died within minutes. The I.R.A. raiders made off in lorries loaded with their haul of weapons but failed in their attempt to set fire to the barracks.
That evening and through the night, the British Army, in retaliation for the killing of Sergeant Gibbs, ran amok in the town. They torched many shops and buildings, including the Town Hall, and destroyed the Cleeve creamery which was the town’s largest employer.
William Gibbs was the son of Mrs Annie Franklin of 82a Westbourne Road, Bedford. (His father had died when William was very young and his mother had re-married). His body was returned to Bedford (Kempston Barracks) accompanied by a detachment of troops from his own regiment On the day of his full military funeral, Monday October 4th 1920, the hearse was preceded to St. Leonard’s Church by the Depot band and a firing party. The service was conducted by the Reverend J.S. Spratt who also officiated at the committal service at Bedford Cemetery. Three volleys were fired over the grave.
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