Up for auction, fan letter from German prisoners to the British pilot who forced their surrender

Yesterday the Daily Telegraph reported that a letter, sent to Captain Gerald Ernest Gibbs in March 1918 by two German prisoners that he detained a fortnight earlier behind British lines in Macedonia, will be auctioned in a week’s time on 19th September 2014. They quote it as saying:

"Dear Captain!

"My pilot and I ask you quite warmly, if you might have the kindness to send us a few autographed pictures. They shall be a reminder of the brave and quixotic adversary in aerial combat, as well as of the comradely picture of your battalion.

"With chummy German airman greetings, 'much luck' and thank you very much in advance.

"Yours Respectfully, Robert Walther, Lieutenant."

If only all war captives were as friendly and forgiving! The Captain reportedly took the two ‘enemies’ to lunch in the officers’ mess before they left the base, as well as dropping a letter over the German lines to let them know the pilots were safe, which no doubt helped to win their regard, but such adulation can’t have been prompted simply by kind treatment. We looked up Captain Gibbs in our archives, and his record speaks for itself in demonstrating his talent.

Not only was he awarded the Military Cross, given to officers for acts of exemplary gallantry a during active operations against the enemy, three times over, but the London Gazette reports of his actions leave no doubt that these accolades were deserved.

The first issue in which he is mentioned, published 21/06/1918, reports: “On one occasion he bombed an enemy aerodrome from a height of 100 feet and, descending to 20 feet, fired 200 rounds into the hangars. Later, on the same day, he engaged two enemy scouts and one two-seater machine, all three of which he drove down, the latter going down out of control from a height of 2,000 feet. On another occasion he pursued seven hostile scouts single handed, one of which he succeeded in shoot down. He is a pilot of exceptional dash and resource.”

The second report on 23/8/1918 enthusiastically describes him driving another plane to the ground after a low-altitude chase over enemy lines, as well as helping another pilot to take down a hostile fighter within 200 feet of the ground, adding enthusiastically: “He has displayed consistent gallantry and determination in action.”

The third and final Gazette entry, dated 13/09/1918, reports the award of the 2nd Bar to his Military Cross and describes the incident that provoked the letter (along with another in which he engaged and shot down two more enemy scouts): “While on patrol he engaged and pursued a hostile two-seater. After repeatedly diving on the enemy machine, the hostile observer waved a white flag and was allowed to land. He landed beside it and took both occupants prisoner and the machine intact.” The report concludes, “He has given repeated examples of skill, determination and pluck, and has accounted for ten enemy machines.”

Gerald Ernest Gibbs was obviously a good person to have had in one’s corner in a fight, so it is not surprising that he later rose to the rank of Acting Air Vice Marshal in the Second World War, and was subsequently dubbed ‘Sir Gerald’. He died in October 1992, aged 96, and a collection that includes the letter, his wartime scrapbook, medals and photographs (including one of the two Germans) is expected to raise £18,000 in the auction.

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