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Captain Vicary Gibbs' War Grave story



Captain (Hon) Vicary Paul Gibbs, son of Walter Durant Gibbs, 4thBaron Aldenham, was killed on 20th September, 1944 at Nijmegen, The Netherlands, during Operation Market Garden to free Europe from the Nazis.  His grave is at the Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Nijmegen, 22.G.4.  Vicary was one of many first cousins that I have/had.

Vicary’s home parish was Hunsdon near Ware in Herts.  One of the parishioners (Mrs Pat Hudson) who had friends in The Netherlands, decided to visit Vicary’s gravestone on the 50thanniversary of his death, and when she came to lay flowers, she found someone else laying flowers at his grave, too. Naturally, they spoke to each other. Pat Hudson’s account is taken from what she wrote herself for the Hunsdon Parish Magazine:

I recently visited Holland for the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from the German occupation during the Second World War. The operation, code-named 'Market Garden', was disastrous in lives lost of British, American, Polish and Canadian soldiers and airmen and was the subject of the book and famous film 'A Bridge Too Far'. 

I have Dutch friends whom Iregularly visit whom Ihave known since the war. On a visit last year I went to the Jonkebos War Cemetery in Nijmegen where my friends live, and found the grave of Captain Vicary Gibbs of the Grenadier Guards, who was killed in action aged 23 years in that awful battle (there is also a stone to his memory in Hunsdon churchyard) and I was pleased to be able to place flowers on his grave this year on 20th September, the date he was killed. A Dutch lady stood watching as I did this at the Commemoration Service - she also had flowers for Capt. Gibbs' grave, and asked me if I had known him. I, of course, had not but told her I was from Hunsdon where he and his family had lived. She then related a touching story which I would like to pass on. 

On 20th September, 1944, Capt. Gibbs was fatally wounded while fighting with his unit of the Grenadier Guards; he was taken to hospital in Nijmegen where he died of his injuries. He was buried opposite the hospital along with a few other soldiers. Not long afterwards a young child looking through her window saw a young soldier standing by Capt. Gibbs' grave looking very disturbed, with a bunch of flowers in his hand. The girl went across and asked him why he was troubled; he told her he could not believe his Captain was dead and had brought flowers for him. The girl went home and brought a jar of water for the flowers. The young soldier said he didn’t think he would survive this terrible war and if anything happened to him would she promise to look after his Captain’s grave? She made this promise and a week later the young soldier was killed. 

After the war the authorities in Nijmegen decided a cemetery should be built to commemorate all the British dead from that battle, and Capt. Gibbs' grave was moved to this new cemetery, along with the other graves. Ever since then the girl has kept her promise and visited the grave with flowers and now, after 50 years, on 20th September 1994 I meet the Dutch lady who was that little girl, now Mrs. Bruning, still putting flowers on the grave. 

She asked me about Lady Aldenham, whom she had managed to contact years ago, but had now lost touch. I was able to tell her that Lord and Lady Aldenham were now dead. 

Move on 20 years after Pat Hudson’s account had filtered as far as Cornwall (where Mary and I live), and, because there had been a Dutch Junior Professional in the UNICEF Quetta office which I took over in 1985 – and with whom we remained in contact later, we decided that we should lay flowers on Vicary’s grave in Jonkerbos on the 70thanniversary of his death as a means of seeing her and her husband who live in Gouda.  We had hoped to meet up with Mrs Bruning to thank her for her promise so superbly fulfilled.

Pat Hudson had decided that she, too, should pay a last visit to the cemetery, and we met there together with our own Dutch friends who were curious to see how this would play out.

Sadly, we were unable to find Mrs Bruning even though she was known in the area.  Discussions related to the time when she, as a young girl, saw Vicary’s batman at the original grave led us to wondering who the batman was.  He must have been a Guard like Vicary, so after returning to the UK, I wrote to the Grenadier Guards’ Adjutant to see if records would show who he was.  I received a most charming letter from Major (Retd) Baker who said that his own father ought to have been leading the King’s Company on the day that Vicary was killed, but he had been temporarily invalided.  After Vicary died, Major Baker’s father took over the King’s Company again and was badly injured in a later encounter, but survived the war. As to the batman (rather quaintly referred to as Vicary’s Soldier Servant), he could find no reference.

Then, in the post a week or thereabouts ago, we received a sheaf of papers from Pat Hudson who had cleared out her loft before going into more modest accommodation as befits a 93 year old, and those papers included a letter from Mrs Bruning who remembered the name of the batman - Fuller.  That letter had been shared with the editor of The Guards’ Gazette who was able – through the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission), to find that two soldiers by the name of Fuller had been killed in The Netherlands during Operation Market Garden.  One of those was a Grenadier Guard who had to be the ‘Soldier Servant’ to Vicary, named as Alexander Harold Thomas Fuller.  He met his death in Aalten near Arnhem (memorialised in the film, “A Bridge Too Far”) on 30thMarch, 1945, 6 months after Vicary’s death – a bit longer than the week mentioned in Mrs Hudson’s account !


Owner of originalKenneth Gibbs
Date2 Nov 2018
Linked toCaptain Vicary Paul Gibbs

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