Sergeant Major William George Gibbs

Sergeant Major William George Gibbs (aged 24) of the 17th Lancers Regiment (Mallow)

Date of incident: 28 Sept. 1920

Sources: FJ, 29 Sept. 1920; II, 30 Sept., 1, 2, 23 Oct. 1920; CE, 5 Oct. 1920; Irish Bulletin, 3:32 (14 Oct. 1920); George Power’s WS 451, 11-12 (BMH); Richard Willis and John Bolster’s WS 808, 7-9, 19-23 (BMH); Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 108-11 (BMH); Tadhg McCarthy’s WS 965, 6-7 (BMH); Owen Harrold’s WS 991, 11-12 (BMH); William C. Regan’s WS 1069, 2-3 (BMH); Patrick McCarthy’s WS 1163, 11-17 (BMH); John C. Murphy’s WS 1217, 7-9 (BMH); ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 138; Rebel Cork’s FS, 95-101; Sheehan (2011), 36; Commonwealth War Graves Commission; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.htmlhttp://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/gibbs/gibbs.html (accessed 1 Aug. 2014).


Note: Gibbs was killed in the well-planned and highly successful IRA raid for arms on the British military barracks at Mallow on 28 September 1920. Participants Richard Willis and John Bolster later described the circumstances in which Sergeant Major Gibbs had been killed just after a dozen soldiers had been made to put up their hands in a room adjoining the guardroom of the barracks: ‘In the meantime [Liam] Lynch and other members of the column came in through the main gate, and about this time the senior N.C.O. in the barracks (Sgt. Gibbs), noticing the commotion, ran towards the guardroom. He was called on to halt but did not do so: then a shot was fired over his head and he still kept running—by this time he had arrived at the guardroom door, and as we feared a reaction of the members of the guard, there was nothing for it but to shoot him, and Dick Willis fired and fatally wounded him: he died some hours later.’ See Richard Willis and John Bolster’s WS 808, 22 (BMH). ‘Thousands of people lined the route to the cemetery’ when Gibbs was buried at the beginning of October at Bedford in England, of which town he was a native. See CE, 5 Oct. 1920. 

As many as two hundred men from the Mallow Volunteer Battalion had participated in some way in the attack on Mallow barracks. These men were drawn from the following companies: Ahadallane, Analeentha, Ballyclough, Burnfort, Lombardstown, Mallow, Mourne Abbey, and Twopothouse. See Patrick McCarthy’s WS 1163, 16 (BMH). For extensive lists of the Volunteers who participated in this attack, see Richard Willis and John Bolster’s WS 808, 7-9 (BMH).

The striking success of the raid and the killing of Sergeant Gibbs prompted ‘the sacking’ of Mallow by British troops on the night of 28-29 September 1920, for which the Cork No. 2 Brigade that had carried out the raid was unprepared. As Seán Moylan later explained, ‘It was believed that there might be sporadic outbursts by unruly troops of the type which had occurred in Fermoy after the affair of General Lucas, and arrangements had been made to combat this. But that a reprisal, deliberately planned, with official approval and carried out by a large body of regular troops under the command of their officers, would be undertaken was unexpected and unbelievable. We had been taught to believe that regular soldiers do not make war on civilians. We were to learn a new lesson and to profit thereby in the months to come.’ See Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 111 (BMH). See also II, 30 Sept. 1920.

Over six days in the spring of 1921 (23-28 May) six Mallow-area Volunteers were tried by court-martial at Cork Military Detention Barracks for the murder of Sergeant Gibbs in the previous September. The accused men were Denis Barter, Timothy Breen, David Buckley, Owen Harold, Donal McCarthy, and John C. Murphy. Although Breen was acquitted, the other five were convicted and sentenced to death without any recommendation from the court for clemency. Held in solitary confinement while awaiting execution, the prisoners went on hunger strike for five days and succeeded in being allowed to exercise with other prisoners. They were finally reprieved soon after Christmas 1921 (six months after the Truce) and were released on 12 January 1922 from Cork Male Prison (to which they had been transferred on 19 December 1921). See John C. Murphy’s WS 1217, 7-9 (BMH); Owen Harrold’s WS 991, 11-12 (BMH).

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