PRIVATE WILLIAM WILKIE GIBSON
WEST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT
11TH OCTOBER 1918 AGE 19
BURIED: IWUY COMMUNAL CEMETERY, FRANCE
This is a very bleak inscription however you look at it. These are Hamlet's dying words from Shakespeare's play of the same name. Of all the possible meanings the words could have they certainly mean that for Hamlet, once he's dead, the voices in his head, the guilt, the anguish he has felt ever since his father's death, will be over. What did Private Gibson's father intend them to mean?
Gibson served with the 6th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment which attacked from an assembly line NE of Naves at 9 am on 11 October 1918. The war diary notes the initial lack of resistance and the number of German prisoners that flocked back. However, at mid-day the Germans counter-attacked with tanks, forcing the British to withdraw 500 yards to the sunken road. But overnight the Germans withdrew to a new position.
There are 53 casualties of the 11 October 1918 in Iwuy Communal Cemetery, all but three of them from the West Riding or West Yorkshire Regiments. By this stage in the war the number of German soldiers giving themselves up was very notable and, despite the fact that they were able to mount a counter-attack, the German withdrawal to a new line meant that the end was nearing. There was just exactly one month more of the war to go.
So what might Mr John Gibson, a railway worker from Newcastle on Tyne, have meant by his son's inscription? That death was the end - certainly; that there was nothing after it, no eternal life - perhaps. Perhaps it was also a reference to spiritualism, a refutation that there was or ever could be any contact with the dead, his son was gone and forever. As I said at the beginning - it's a bleak inscription.