Robert was the fifth son of the Rev. T. W. Gibson, Rector of Cranham. He was born in 1895, came to the Dragon as a day boy in 1904 and left in 1908. In 1906 he received the first prize for Classics and French; in 1907 prize for Classics, and was sixteenth on the Winchester Scholarship roll. In 1908 he won the Christmas Holiday Latin Verse prize, the Moberly Essay, the Sidgwick English Literature prize, and was first in every Classical examination, the Sergent French prize, A. E. Lynam’s Greek prize, won a Gold Medal, as Head of the School, and was first on the Winchester Scholarship roll. He got his Football XV colours in 1907. He acted Menteith in Macbeth in 1907, and Gonzalo in The Tempest in 1908.
In 1911, at Winchester, he got into Sixth Book, won a Warden and Fellows’ prize for Greek Iambics, and was College Prefect. In Old Dragon news from Winchester it is stated: ‘Gibson has taken up the art of debating, and has spoken “radical” so frequently (against his convictions) that he has almost come to believe his own statements.’ In 1912 he got College XV and became School Prefect and Vice-President of the Shakespeare Reading Society. He also won a prize for English verse, the King’s Gold Medal for Greek prose, the Winchester Warden and Fellows’ prize for Greek Prose and Latin Verse, a Goddard prize, and finally a Winchester Scholarship at New College, Oxford, in December 1912, matriculating in October 1913. He played cricket for Old Day-boys v. Old Boarders in 1914, and spoke on the ‘Present’ at the Senior Old Boys’ dinner.
In 1914 he joined as a private in the 28th County of London Regiment (Artists’ Rifles), and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the South Staffordshire Regiment. In 1915 he became Captain, and was attached to the 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment; then he was killed on the 11th July 1916. His name was noted for conspicuous gallantry in the field on the 16th June 1915, and he was mentioned in Lord French’s dispatch on the 1st January 1916.
His Colonel writes of him:
‘I cannot tell you how much he was loved by his brother officers and men. He was a most splendid officer, quite the best subaltern I had.’
He was killed in the attack on Trones Wood, and was buried in Maricourt Cemetery.
The following tribute to him was written by a great friend of his at the Dragon School and afterwards at Winchester:
‘His intellectual gifts were of a very high order. A teacher who knew him at Winchester said that during an experience lasting over twenty years he had never come in contact with a mind so naturally gifted for classical scholarship as Robert Gibson’s. He possessed to the full the fine scholar’s living enthusiasm for everything beautiful, whether in nature or art, and was entirely without the reserve and exclusiveness that sometimes hedges round the student. It was not so much his learning that made so great an impression; it was his exquisite feeling for form and his faultless taste; and with these rare gifts went an abounding joy in living, and a penetrating sympathy for people of every class. This was a splendid combination, which bore fruit in an extraordinary charm of mind and manner. He revelled in each new phase of life as it opened before him. He was devoted to the Dragon School, and was always ready to come up for a game of footer or cricket or to see the play, even if it meant cutting a lecture. Winchester he loved with the almost mystic devotion of Lionel Johnson, everything about it, the surrounding country, the architecture, and the consecrated tradition of the place touched him finely, and his mind was constantly dwelling on it. When he came to Oxford he looked round for some kind of service into which he might throw himself and so discover something about a stratum of society widely separated from that which he knew. This he found in the boys’ club which had lately been started by New College in St. Ebbe’s; and if he was anything like as successful in winning the confidence of his men as he was with these boys, he must have been one of the most popular officers that ever entered the army. From the very first they took to him; his entrance into the club was always the signal for a general stampede towards him, and he would be assailed by some twenty questioners at once. He was the most loyal member the club possessed, and was always ready to attend, however pressed he might be for time. It was his intention, had he lived; to have spent some time at the Oxford and Bermondsey Mission in South London. He came home three times on leave, and each time his conversation reverted to the old Winchester and Oxford topics, and very occasionally he would speak, as if to himself and entirely without self-consciousness, of the great issues of thought and action which had occupied him so deeply during the last three years and from widely separated standpoints. He was devoted to his men, and would talk of the war with a light-hearted cheerfulness that must have made, and as we now know, did make him very welcome to the men in the trenches. The joy and laughter in him were infectious.’
The following is the beautiful tribute of his Head Master at Winchester, Mr. M. J. Rendall, in a letter to Robert’s father:
‘Your one consolation will be that he takes a very white soul to the other world, that he lived a keen, joyous, wholesome, and honourable life, very free from any sort of stain.’