PRIVATE ALBERT GIBBS
YORK AND LANCASTER REGIMENT
4TH NOVEMBER 1915 AGE 22
BURIED: POTIJZE BURIAL GROUND CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM
This inscription comes from 'The Vacant Chair', a poem by H.S. Washburn written to commemorate the death of Lieutenant John William Grout who was killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff on 21 October 1861. Set to music by George Root, it became one of the most popular songs of the American Civil War.
I've copied out the whole poem as it illuminates the inscription. The family gather for their annual Thanksgiving Dinner and reflect on the fact that one of their number will be missing. In the last verse they are assured he will be everlastingly wreathed in glory but appear to receive limited comfort from the thought.
The tenor John McCormack recorded 'The Vacant Chair' in 1915, giving it a new lease of life among the bereaved of the First World War. Strangely, but I suspect significantly, the last verse was omitted from the recording.
We shall meet but we shall miss him,
There will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him,
While we breathe our evening prayer.
When a year ago we gathered,
Joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden cord is severed
And our hopes in ruin lie.
At our fireside sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell,
At remembrance of the story,
How our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner
Through the thickest of the fight,
And upheld our country's honour,
With the strength of manhood's might.
True they tell us wreathes of glory
Evermore will deck his brow.
But this soothes the anguish only
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, O early fallen!
In thy green and narrow bed;
Dirges from the pine and cypress,
Mingle with the tears we shed.
In the 1911 census, Albert Gibbs was a general labourer working in Bristol. He served with the 2nd Battalion the York and Lancaster Regiment, part of the 6th Division, and was killed in the trenches near Hooge on 4 November 1915.