A.K. Gibbs to Mary Downing Letter, Nov 1917

Annie Katharina Gibbs’s letter to Mary Downing dates from 17 Nov 1917. She congratulates Mary on receiving her decoration (Royal Red Cross) and as an ‘old friend’ uses the opportunity to catch up with the family’s news. The letter is part of a number of congratulatory letters preserved in Mary’s Writing Box.

A.K. Gibbs's letter to Mary Downing (pages 1 and 4), Temple Hill, East Budleigh, Devon, 17 Nov 1917

A.K. Gibbs’s letter to Mary Downing (pages 1 and 4), Temple Hill, East Budleigh, Devon, 17 Nov 1917

The Gibbs and Downing families had known each other for a number of years while living together in Hagley, Worcestershire. Mrs Gibbs’s husband, Rev William Cobham Gibbs, was the Rector of Hagley when the Downings moved there in 1895. A few documents in the family archive suggest there were close relations between two generations of both families.

Rev W.C. Gibbs initiated at the Service of the wedding of Daisy Downing and Willie Grazebrook on 6 Jun 1903 and his wife and children were among the guests.

In 1903 the Gibbs family moved to Clyst St George, Devon where Rev W.C. Gibbs took his next post. Mary visited them in the Easter of 1908. There are a few pictures in her photo album from the trip including one of Jack and Kat Gibbs. The beautiful views of of the rectory and the church tower inspired  Mary’s  watercolour.

In 1911 Rev W.C. Gibbs retired and the family settled in Temple Hill, East Budleigh, Devon, from where Mrs Gibbs’s letter is addressed.

In Nov 1917 life in Temple Hill was not easy. The second son ‘dear Beresford’ (Lieut-Colonel William Beresford Gibbs) was killed in action near Thiepval, France in Sep 1916. Mr Gibbs was gravely ill and Mrs Gibbs herself was fully occupied by looking after him. Kat (Mary Katharina Pynder Gibbs), the only daughter, who was serving as a VAD nurse in Budleigh Salterton Hospital from Dec 1914 to Mar 1916, now was working hard to support the family. Three other sons Jack (Rev John Stanley Gibbs), George (Captain George Louis Downall Gibbs) and Edward (Rev Edward Reginald Gibbs) were on the front.

All these defined the tone of the letter. Unfortunately there were more losses to come. In Mar 1918 Rev W.C. Gibbs died and then only three weeks later the fourth son Edward was killed in France performing his duty as Chaplain to the Forces.

The Hagley community paid their respect to the Gibbs family:

On May 3rd, the new window in the North aisle was dedicated to the memory of the Rev William C. Gibbs, for 19 years the universally beloved Rector of Hagley, and his son Beresford Gibbs, Colonel, Worcester Regiment, killed in action, France, 1916

The Hagley Parish Magazine, Jun 1918 (see Hagley: A Village at War 1914 – 1918’, Researched and Written by Pat Dunn)

Here is a full transcript of Mrs Gibbs’s letter:

Temple Hill,
East Budleigh,

November 17

My dear Mary

We are so delighted at hearing through Molly Owen of your decoration & feel it is indeed well earned. For I know you have worked like a Trojan & gone through tortures in the training. I am so ignorant I don’t know where Ilkeston is. If you ever get a spare minute write & tell me all about yourself.

Mr Gibbs has been very poorly for many months & seems to have every imaginable ache & pain that flesh is heir to. It is said to be muscular rheumatism in part – anyhow it makes him look & feel very wretched & is very depressing to him & those about him.

Katharina works like a slave as our youth was taken from us in Sept & the only help we get is from a schoolboy from 7 to 8-15 & all day Saturday. She got in all the potatoes, apples & is now digging the garden, she saws the wood, sees to the heating apparatus for house & green house, the pony & trap & dear Beresford’s mare & foal, so the grass doesn’t grow under her feet. I practically can do nothing as Mr Gibbs wants constant attention & care. I go on hoping he will improve when the weather is less damp, but we really have had a lovely November, so much sunshine.

I am longing to hear about Noel, where he is, what he is doing. I do trust he has condescended to take a commission long ere this.

I expect you have heard that Edward has left Bishopthorpe & gone to the front, so now the three are there. He & Jack have been near each other lately near Amiens. I’ve thought he was going off to Italy, but says now it seems stopped. He was longing for a change.

George has gone through endless perils in the North Sea. Life now is really like a nightmare & leaves one rather a wreck.

Good-bye dear Mary. Much love & heartiest congrats. Yr affecs old friend A.K. Gibbs.

I hope yr parents & sisters are keeping well?