John Edward Gibbons GC DSC (AM non-exchanger)

b. 26/04/1905 Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset. d. 11/12/1971 Johannesburg, South Africa.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 22/09/1941 English Channel.

John Edward Gibbons (1905-1971) was born on 26th April 1905 in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, the son of Robert Edward and Blanche Edith Gibbons (nee Pooley). His father was a commercial traveller and the family moved around a lot, living at times in Burnham and Axbridge. The family were Quakers by religious denomination. John grew up near to, and soon developed a love for, the sea. He spent a lot of his childhood sailing, and won many awards. He was educated at Sidcot School between 1917 and 1922, where his sporting achievements were far greater than his academic ones. He was part of both the cricket and football teams, and was a talented athlete, particularly in the long jump. He was also a keen photographer.

John E Gibbons GC DSC

John’s acts of gallantry in his lifetime was not just limited to his Albert Medal action. In 1928, whilst out sailing with his friend the Deputy Mayor of Poole, Alderman HS Carter, when they were involved in an accident with two colliery ships. They found themselves sinking, and Carter, who was wearing a heavy overcoat, found himself in grave difficulties. John, who was a powerful swimmer, hauled the two of them to the mast of the yacht that was still above the water. They were then both rescued. For his part in saving Carter’s life, John was presented with an engraved silver teapot. In 1930, John was again involved in a maritime exploit with his younger brother Oscar and JJB Rutter. Their boat “Heroine” had run aground in the entrance to Poole Harbour. As the tide ebbed and the ship began to take on water, they decided to abandon ship but found their dinghy was unseaworthy, so had to return aboard and signal for help. It duly arrived and they were rescued.

John’s working life saw him become a carpet salesman across the county of Somerset prior to the outbreak of World War II. He married Muriel Halliday in the mid 1920s, and they had a daughter Patricia Edith in 1928. When the war began, it was obvious with his huge affinity to the sea, he would volunteer for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).

On 22nd September 1941, he was in the English Channel when his motor launch hit a mine, wounding him in the head and throwing him into the sea. Despite this, when he was rescued, he went at once to save others. He saw a seaman some 100 yards away in the water, and swam to him through burning fuel. His gallant actions saved the seaman’s life. On 11th August 1942, John was awarded the Albert Medal for Life Saving at Sea. After this action, he was posted to Naples, Italy where he was part of the British Navy contingent that took command of the islands off Naples. He was appointed naval Officer-in-Charge on Ischia, where he would meet his future second wife, Marisa Nimmo, and also be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on 4th May 1943.

Following the end of the war, John returned to England, where on 28th January 1947 he was presented with his Albert Medal and DSC. Sadly, later that year, his wife Muriel died. He returned to the Mediterranean to spend five years in salvage operations off Malta. While he was there, he tracked down Marisa Nimmo, and they married. He then spent two years sailing around the Mediterranean with Marisa and her young son, Fabio. In the early 1950s, Warner Brothers Studios arrived in Malta to make a film “Helen of Troy”, and John was hired as an advisor on ships. By this time, he and Marisa had two daughters of their own – Carole and Marie Claire, and later a son, Francis.

When Warner Brothers moved production to Rome, John and his family moved there too, but city life did not suit them. They chose to emigrate to South Africa in 1954 intending to live in Durban, but due to a polio epidemic, they settled first in Pietermaritzburg. John and Marisa’s youngest child Tamara was born soon afterwards, and John became an irrigation engineer, a job which involved a lot of time away from home. In 1971, the family moved to Johannesburg, following John’s retirement due to ill-health.

On 20th October 1971, it was announced that the Royal Warrant was to be changed, and all recipients of the Albert and Edward Medals would be eligible to exchange for a George Cross. Sadly, just 23 days later, on 12th November 1971, John passed away in Johannesburg, unaware of the change. He was cremated at Braamfontein Crematorium, Johannesburg, and in keeping with his wishes, his widow Marisa travelled to Ischia, where they met, to scatter his ashes in the Mediterranean.

Due to John’s death so soon after the change of the Royal Warrant, he was not included in the list of exchange awards. In September 1982, thanks to the efforts of Australian historian, Anthony Staunton, this omission was corrected and John Gibbons was added to the list of GC recipients. His family decided to decline the offer to accept a GC. Sadly, John’s medals including his AM, DSC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, Italy Star and War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf were stolen from his home in Durban in the 1950s and to date not been recovered.