An interview with Dave Gibb

Written by Pete Day
First Published

Introduction

, on behalf of the Burton Stather Heritage Group, I talked with David Gibb formerly of the Royal Tank Corps. (After 1939 the Royal Tank Regiment). David's service years were spent in the Burton upon Stather area, also Fritton Bridging Camp, Gosport, Aldershot and Bournemouth.

Dave is a sprightly 87 years young and still drives himself around visiting friends. His daughter Elaine (aka Burton Flyer) informs me that two of his grandsons, Joe and Jordan Marper, continue the tradition as both serve in the Royal Navy. Joe at this moment in time is assigned to HMS Diamond as a Marine Engineer and soon to be, he hopes, Petty Officer whilst Jordan is attached to HMS Manchester and is on a six month deployment.

Dave Gibb
Dave Gibb

Dave Gibb passed out as a mechanic with The Tank Corps at Bournemouth then from Aldershot he was posted to Gosport. The Highland Light Infantry were there too (and so, he remembers, was Johnny Porteous) and then to Fritton Bridging Camp. Dave's memories of Fritton are that the camp consisted of Nissen huts in the wood and that it was about a half mile walk to the workshops near the lake. He had two Sergeants, Blondie and Darkie, and also in the team were six fitters and two electricians. From there B Squadron were sent to Burton Stather, whilst A squadron of the Water Assault Unit remained at Fritton.

To Burton

On reaching Burton Stather the first camp was in Lowe's Field at the northern end of the Orchard next to the sandpit at Villa Farm. Gordon Darkie Stone, Dave's sergeant, insisted on erecting his own tent near the Ash Tree at the Tank Ramp and in it were Darkie, Dave and three fitters, with the workshop being in the sandpit. They had to move at one point because of flooding from the Agar to Winteringham Camp Field where they had plenty of company… RATS! - then to Normanby Hall where he was eventually billeted. Dave, a mechanic, looked after the road vehicles as well and once at Normanby Hall he would be called to the Tank Ramp at Burton on demand. Dave remembers the firing of the rockets for the Pendulum, the first rocket ending up somewhere in Yorkshire he says, with amusement, but the second did what it was supposed to do and embedded in the opposite bank. He recalls the ropes laid out in a zig zag fashion as can be seen on photographs and that it was attached at the other end to a barrage balloon winch.

At Burton Stather we were well looked after by the civilians. Every night you could go to a function at the village hall. Dancing, parties and there was a canteen in there, you could get a meal at any time of the day. We really were well looked after.
Dave Gibb

On a lighter note Dave remembers Kathleen and Jean Lowe, the twin daughters of Farmer Lowe at Villa Farm, throwing the soldiers apples from the orchard. Years later Kathleen and Jean confessed to John Porteous that they could see the soldiers having a shower from their bedroom window. John says this must have been a rare and not very pretty sight, in more ways than one, especially as the lorry with the shower unit on only turned up once a month!

Dave says his CO often had to send a DUWK around Burton with a loud hailer on board calling for men; they had so many invitations to tea that the cook at Normanby Hall had to check who would be in before he made the day's arrangements. It was also said by the CO that he lost more men to Burton women than he would if they had gone to war! Dave recalls that he, of course, married Peggy Driver, Johnny Lawn married Edna Render, Nobby Clarke married Sheila Mann, Johnny Porteous married Mary Marshall and Staff Sergeant Walker married Madge Able… all Burton girls!

Dave Gibb in a Jeep
Dave Gibb gets a taste of old times as he rides
down to the Tank Ramp in a WWII Jeep

In his Youtube video Dave tells us how the Village Hall was a canteen where you could get a cup of tea at any time of the day, of the dances that were organised and so on. The local people made a real impression on the soldiers with their kindness and hospitality; I have to say probably with a couple of exceptions here and there something that has not died in Burton Stather with the passing of time.

When Dave first arrived the Tank Ramp was still being constructed by the Pioneer Corps and he remembers the concreting going on and how the lorries (mainly form Clugston's) were stopped at the barrier. The drivers had to get out and the soldiers then got in and drove the lorries laden with materials onto the top secret site.

Back to Fritton

At one point (with just a few hours' notice) Dave was sent back to Fritton - he was already courting his future wife Peggy Driver so it was quite a blow to find he was posted back to Fritton. He blesses his old mate Darkie once again though as Darkie had to come down to Fritton with an engine for one of the DUWK's. They worked on it all night and Darkie drove them both back to Burton in the early hours. Dave recalls changing the DUWK engine and how they had no lifting gear. Darkie was such a strong guy that he lowered the engine down for Dave to guide the drive shaft into the piston housing by a rope passed around his shoulders and how, on his hand and knees on the top of the DUWK with Dave calling instructions, it slotted neatly into place.

In 1944 Dave had been called down from Fritton Bridging Camp with Darkie to make some modifications on the DD Tanks at Stokes Bay on the Solent. The modification was to fit a one way valve on the hydraulic system. He and another fitter were working on the tanks as they queued, slowly moving forward onto the landing craft and then on to the ships which filled the bay. Imagine Dave's surprise after fitting the last one when he came up to find he was on a ship out in the bay! Two wrens were called out in a launch to the ship and Dave got his lift back to terra firma. The sight of all the ships has stayed with him even after all these years; he says it seemed to him that he could have walked over the ships all the way to the Isle of Wight!

Once finished that day, Dave and Darkie, who was the Sergeant in charge, were told to clear off PDQ and get back to Fritton. Of course the next day whilst at Fritton they saw hundreds of bombers in the sky, they seemed to come in groups at low level and then go up to congregate with those already waiting… it was the 6th of June 1944.

Gordon Darkie Stone

All of the three articles I have written now for the BSHG have been peppered with the name Darkie. You might ask what was so special about him? Dave tells us that Darkie looked after all of his lads like a father; if they got into trouble he got them out of it… everyone could rely on Darkie. He had something that is often lacking today and through his manner and attitude in life he inspired respect and trust.

Dave Gibb & Gordon Darkie Stone
He treated us like children. If we got into trouble, he got us out of trouble. That was Darkie's attitude.
Dave Gibb

Dave Gibb tells us that Gordon Darkie Stone was his best mate and I have already mentioned that Darkie was my neighbour in Hewde Lane. It was 1960; I was just demobbed, got married, and had two kids with two more to soon put in an appearance! Darkie and Millie were good neighbours to me and I can confirm that Dave's views on Darkie are absolutely spot on, he was a great guy and I have very fond memories of him and his wife Millie during my time in Winteringham.

Before her marriage to Darkie, Millie was Millie Wingate and worked as a Secretary at Lysaght's offices. It was here that she and Darkie first met, Darkie having gone into the office where Millie worked looking for someone to do some specialist welding on a project regarding the tanks and it was, that old cliché, Love at first sight.

Married in 1947, the year of the really bad winter when even the Trent was frozen over, they never moved away from Hewde Lane. They had a good marriage but sadly Darkie died at only sixty years of age. In his years in the army he had done some boxing and was fit and strong as you will have gathered from Dave's story of the DUWK engine. I, among many others respected Darkie immensely, digging their garden and feeding the chickens for them when I fed mine as Millie reminded me when I visited her only the other week. By the way, Millie celebrated her 94th birthday in February this year!

A funny story but typical of him that I remember was the time I was giving Darkie a hand to change his boiler, one of the neighbours came round to complain at the noise we were making and Darkie calmly picked him up by the shoulders and placed him back on his side of the fence telling him never to step into his garden again… or words to that effect.

Another that Dave tells is of a scrap yard for military vehicles at Finningley and how Darkie got to know the sergeant in charge fairly well, so much so that when Darkie required some tyres for his own car the chap said to him I'll swap you four new tyres for one of your black berets. The Royal Tank Corps (now Royal Tank Regiment) berets were quite a prize with the cap badge motto of Fear Nought but somehow favours were called in and Dave was the one who went to do the swap for Darkie with orders of Don't you come back without them… he got the tyres by the way and the Sergeant got his prized beret.

Video of Pete's interview with Dave Gibb

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© 2017 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

© Background Photograph by Glyn morgan.