First World War in Headington and Marston, Oxford

Harry Olivier Sumner GIBSON (1885–1917)

Harry Gibson
From Lancing College roll of honour

Harry Olivier Sumner Gibson was born at the Rookery in Old Headington on 13 May 1885. He was the son of Walter Sumner Gibson (born in Fawley, Hampshire in early 1849) and Julia Elizabeth Olivier (born in Wallingford in early 1852).

At the time of the 1881 census Harry's father Walter Sumner Gibson, who had been an undergraduate at Balliol College, was a single man of 32 and living alone with two servants in Godalming and working as a schoolmaster; but in 1883 he bought The Rookery (now Ruskin College) in Old Headington from the Revd J. W. A. Taylor, and took over the boys’ school that was based there. Meanwhile Harry's mother Julia Olivier was living in Poulshot, Wiltshire, where her father Henry Arnold Olivier was Rector.

The marriage of Harry’s parents took place at Crondall in Hampshire on 2 January 1884 and was announced thus in Jackson’s Oxford Journal two days later:

Jan 2, at All Saints’ Church, Crondall, Hants, Walter Sumner Gibson, of Headington, near Oxford, fifth son of the late Rev. W. Gibson, Rector of Fawley, Southampton, to Julia Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Rev. Henry A. Olivier, formerly Rector of Poulshot, Devizes.

The Rookery

The couple had six children, all born at the Rookery and baptised at St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington:

  • Harry Olivier Sumner Gibson (born in 1885 and baptised on 11 June)
  • Arthur William Sumner Gibson (born on 8 March 1887 and baptised on 12 April)
  • Mabel Emily Gibson (born on 17 January 1889 and baptised on 24 February)
  • Cuthbert Walter Sumner Gibson (born on 9 December 1890 and baptised on 11 January 1891)
  • Frank Arnould Sumner Gibson (born on 23 February 1893 and baptised on 19 March)
  • Winifred Margaret Gibson (born on 10 April 1897 and baptised on 6 May).

Harry attended Hartford House School in Winchfield, Hampshire and then Winchester School from 1897 to 1904, where he was School Prefect, won the Natural Science Prize, and was in the College XV.

In 1897 Harry’s father sold The Rookery and went to work as a schoolmaster in London, and at the time of the 1901 census he was living at 197 Bedford Hill, Streatham with his family (plus five boarders and four servants). Harry himself was boarding at Winchester School on census night.

In 1904 Harry won a scholarship to New College, Oxford and in 1908 he obtained his B.A. (2nd Class) in Natural Science. During 1908 he carried out biological research studies in Naples.

From 1909 to 1913 Harry was a Science master at Lancing College in Steyning, Sussex, and he can be seen living at the college at the time of the 1911 census, when he was 25. His father was then working as a private tutor in Tooting.

An announcement in The Times of 16 June 1913 announced that Harry Olivier Sumner Gibson had been appointed by the Board of Agriculture as “an Assistant Inspector (Non-Established) for fishery business, and generally for the purposes of the Fisheries Acts administered by the Board”.

♥ On 4 June 1914 in the Chertsey district, Harry Olivier Sumner Gibson married Hester Worth Townsend, who was born in Leominster near the beginning of 1887. She was the daughter of the Revd John H. Townsend of Oatlands Park, Surrey.

They had two children:

  • John Sumner Townsend Gibson (born 1915, reg. third quarter at Samford, Suffolk)
  • Helen Olivier Costeker Gibson (born 1917, reg. second quarter at Westhampnett, Sussex).

Meanwhile Harry’s father was appointed an academic reader at Oxford University Press in 1914, and moved with his wife to 9 Lathbury Road in north Oxford.

Poppy Harry Gibson volunteered as soon as the war started, enlisting on 31 August 1914. He served as a Lieutenant in the 11th Battalion of the London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles). He was in Gallipoli in September 1915 and served in Egypt and on the Suez Canal from 1915 to 1917. He was killed in action near Wadi Gaza at the Second Battle of Gaza in Palestine at the age of 31 on 19 April 1917 when advancing with his platoon through “an exceedingly heavy barrage and crossfire from machine guns”.

Gibson is buried at the Gaza War Cemetery (XIV.F.8), and his war grave there has the added words “THINE EYES SHALL SEE THE KING IN HIS BEAUTY / R.I.P”. (Only 40% of war headstones bear an inscription such as this near their base: the main inscription was free, but families had to pay 3½d per letter for a personal message.)

Gibson is remembered on the roll of honour of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington, and in Oxford on the war memorials of St Margaret’s Church, St Barnabas Church, and New College (below):

Gibson on New College memorial

Administration was granted in London to his widow, Hester Worth Gibson, on 7 June 1918. He left £2,012, and his last address is given as Winton, St Albans.

His obituary in the Oxford Chronicle of 19 October 1917 is shown below:

Obituary of Harry Gibson


St Andrew's memorial board

Harry’s parents
  • Walter Sumner Gibson died at 9 Lathbury Road, Oxford at the age of 68 on 20 January 1918. His effects came to £5,154 19s. 4d., and his wife was his executor.
  • Mrs Julia Elizabeth Gibson died at 9 Lathbury Road at the age of 70 on 5 September 1922. Her effects came to £4,335 14s. 2d.
Harry’s widow
  • Mrs Hester Worth Gibson died at Mylors, Church Hanborough, Oxfordshire at the age of 93 on 15 July 1980. Her effects came to £70,912.
Harry’s children
  • John Sumner Townsend Gibson (born 1915) married Dorothy Mary Williams in the Witney district in 1944. They emigrated to Canada, and he died there in 2015.
  • Helen Olivier Costeker Gibson (born 1917) was calligrapher to the Ashmolean. She did not marry, and died in Long Hanborough in 2008.

Harry’s first cousin was the famous actor Laurence Olivier.

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