Obituary Lt Col Thomas H. Gibbon (Rtd)

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Holroyd Gibbon, OBE (SH 1929-1933), died suddenly in an Edinburgh hospital on Remembrance Sunday 11th November 2007, aged 92, four years after the death of his wife, Barbara, whom he had nursed devotedly through a long illness in the last 5 years of her life.

Uncle Tom, as he was affectionately known to All Ranks of the 6th Royal Tank Regiment (1955-1958), was not an exacting taskmaster who demanded perfection. He was a natural leader who led from the front, by example, and never doubted that all those about him would do their best. Fortunately his wry appreciation of human foibles, his puckish sense of humour and his deep experience of the ‘fog of war’, cushioned him from our failures both human and military.

Tom Gibbon joined 4th Battalion, Royal Tank Corps in Tidworth, in 1938. In the Second World War he fought in France, where he was Mentioned in Dispatches and in North Africa where, as a Squadron Leader during the Battle of Alamein, he had his elbows resting on the outside of the tank cupola, binoculars at the ready, when a 50mm round took off his right arm.

Later, after rehabilitation and various posts in training establishments, he served in the European Theatre. But for most of us – Regular, National Service and Reservist – it is his time as Commanding Officer, 6th Royal Tank Regiment, especially during the Suez Operation in 1956, that he is best remembered. The Suez Operation gave us the best of Tom Gibbon both as man and soldier. For his leadership throughout, he was rightly awarded the OBE. Tom’s rare form of leadership ensured our success. We didn’t want to let him down, knowing he didn’t want to let us down. We wanted it to work, to do it for him.

Inevitably, the loss of his right arm conjures up the fun memories of this remarkable man. A natural right-hander, his loss did not deter him from being a superb if somewhat scary driver – I was his navigator and co-driver as he drove fast, in the dark without lights, down the pock-marked Suez Canal road, he steering with his left hand while I changed the gears. He was an outstanding Gunnery instructor and mean wielder of a polo stick – against the game’s rules, the opposition graciously allowed a left-handed player, much to their cost. Whoever you were, whatever you were doing, you were wary of saying “Give me a hand”, you usually got it sometimes without the glove. And many a young National Service officer during his introductory guest night ‘scrum’ would be asked to help Tom off the floor only to end up with a complete arm. So we rejoiced in his Royal Naval nickname of ‘Captain Hook’ and admired his compassionate mentoring of a young NS trooper who lost his forearm in a desert exercise.

On retirement from the Army, to the good fortune of a younger generation, he became a schoolmaster. On final retirement, with his wife Barbara, he moved to Sussex where he treasured his family, the garden and The Times crossword. A final move was made to Scotland from Sussex in 1999 to be near his daughter, Antonia.