War and Remembrance: Military Funeral 1914

A year ago, I told the story of the Willett family of Great Dunmow, and how local photographer and newsagent, Arthur Willett, often took photographs of the town’s happenings, including the photo below, which he captioned as “Military Funeral 1/12/14″

Soldiers in Great Dunmow

At the time of my post, I puzzled over whose funeral it was, as it appeared to be a funeral of a soldier from the First World War, but the date of the funeral did not match any man on the Commonwealth War Graves’ Debt of Honour for 1914.  An eagle-eyed reader of my blog spotted the answer in a book written by Great Dunmow’s local historian from the 1970s, Dorothy Dowsett.   In her book Through all the changing seasons, hidden amongst Miss Dowsett’s considerable writings about the town and its inhabitants, is the answer to my conundrum.

The Military Funeral shown in the postcard was not that of a First World War casualty, but the funeral of a war veteran from the Second Boer War (1899-1902),  Private William Gibson of the First Grenadier Regiment of the Foot Guards.

Soldiers in Great Dunmow

Private William Gibson, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was the first soldier to be give a funeral with military honours in the town.  He died at the age of forty-six in 1914, and was buried at the parish church.  During his service he gained the Khartoum Medal, the South African Medal (1901), the Transvaal/Cape Colony Medal and the Sudan Medal.  William Gibson served in the London expedition of 1898 under Major-General Lord Kitchener.

Dorothy Dowsett, Through all the changing seasons, p171

Soldiers in Great DunmowHarry Payne’s postcard of the Grenadier Guards

1911 Census – Star Lane, Great Dunmow
William Gibson, Head, Married, aged 39, born 1872 Essex Stebbing, occupation Gas Stoker.
Sarah Gibson, Wife, Married, aged 42, born 1869 Essex Dunmow.
Charles Chevallier, Stepson, Single, aged 15, born 1896 Essex Dunmow
Ivy Chevallier, Stepdaughter, aged 11, born 1900 London Lambeth.

Sarah Gibson (nee Sarah Mead, b1871-d1955) married William Gibson in 1910.  Prior to her marriage, she had been married to a man with the wonderful name of Temple Edgecombe Chevaillier, who according to this website about the Mead family of Great Dunmow, either divorced or abandoned her by 1899/1901.  If you are interested in seeing a picture of Sarah Gibson, wife of the Boer War hero, the first man to be given a military funeral with full honours in the Essex town of Great Dunmow, do take a look at the Mead family website.

Great Dunmow - Star Lane

Star Lane, Great Dunmow.  Home of William and Sarah Gibson.  If you know Great Dunmow, you will know that the lane is very much the same as it was in the early 1900s.  The houses on the left are still there, but the tree has long since been cut down.

Follow-up December 2013:  Shortly after publishing this post, I bought at auction a series of postcards of Great Dunmow.  Amongst the postcards was another (different) photo of the 1914 Military Funeral.  My post Great Dunmow’s 1914 Military Funeral – A follow-up tells the story.

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You may also be interested in
War and Remembrance: Great Dunmow’s Emergency Committee
Postcard home from the front – The Camera never lies
Postcards from the Front – from your loving son
Memorial Tablet – I died in hell
Memorial Tablet – I died of starvation
Memorial Tablet – I died of wounds
The Willett family of Great Dunmow
Postcard from the Front – To my dear wife and sonny
War and Remembrance – The Making of a War Memorial
Great Dunmow’s Roll of Honour
For the Fallan
Aftermath

© Essex Voices Past 2012-2013.

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2 Responses to War and Remembrance: Military Funeral 1914

  1. An excellent piece of detective work there. Considering that the funeral appears to have taken place well after the start of the war I wonder what the locals thought of it. After all there must have been local casualties in the trenches by then, who would never have get a funeral at home.

  2. the narrator says:

    It is incredible that the funeral of a local hero, who fought in a previous war in a far-away land, was commemorated in such a way during another war.

    It makes you wonder if this was the first chance this community had to be able to collectively grieve the loss of the town’s sons killed in the Great War. In the five weeks prior to this military funeral of 1 December 1914, Great Dunmow had lost the first of its sons – four local boys killed in the Great War but their bodies not brought home

    - 2 were killed in action on the Western Front with no known graves
    - 1 died of wounds and was buried in France
    - 1 was in the merchant navy, and drowned at sea after his steam trawler was sunk

    The town was probably not just grieving the death of Private Gibson, hero of the Second Boer War, but was also probably grieving their sons who had just died, and the slaughter which had only just began.

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