James Herbert Gibson

“We bombers practice throwing bombs, like a baseball player would keep in trim for the match."

Nearly a year after J. Herbert “Herb” Gibson began his service as a bomber with the 75th Battalion, he jokingly described his routine training in a letter to his girlfriend, May Bell Keays on February 2, 1917. “We bombers practice throwing bombs, like a baseball player would keep in trim for the match. Only bombs are not thrown like baseballs and then it would be with you to catch one!” But the jokes soon ended as his friends and family died.

In an undated letter to Keays he described the horror of seeing the grave of his best friend, Tom Butler. “Here, standing in a foreign land, beside the grave of my chum, neighbour and finally comrade in arms, my thoughts flashed back to the quiet peaceful homes from whence we came, on an errand the full consequences of which we did not realize then,” Gibson wrote.

Then, in early January 1918, Gibson was huddled near a candle in the trenches, reading letters from his mom when he learned of his parents’ deaths. They died from poor health at age sixty-nine within ten days of each other on the farm where Gibson lived before war. William R. Gibson and Euphemia Nairn Gibson, his parents, lived on a hundred-acre farm in Lammermoor, Lanark County west of Ottawa. Their farm was only a mile away from the farm that the Keays family owned so in letters home, Gibson would often call Keays “His little friend on the 8th Line,” referring to the Bathurst Township road where their farm was located.

Gibson enlisted on March 30, 1916 from Perth, Ontario because he felt like he had to do his part in war, even though his parents disapproved. Many soldiers put their country ahead of their lives. But after his parents died, Gibson felt like he had nothing left. “It seems as though there were nothing more to live for now,” he wrote to Keays on February 3, 1918. “It is so hard to think that my dear parents passed away in such a short space of time, and that they will not be there to welcome me home after the war.”

In February 1919, he returned to his family farm but couldn’t carry on his family’s farming tradition because of his wounds. Gibson was shot in the right arm in March 1917 at "Vimy Ridge" and in July 1918, he was shot in Arras while lying at a listening post in “no man’s land.” The German gunfire smashed three of his ribs and damaged his lungs.

Gibson moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba with one of his brothers to build houses while Keays tended to her younger siblings at their family farm after their mom died in 1921. Keays eventually joined him in Winnipeg and they married on February 10, 1931—the anniversary of his return to Canada. Gibson was forty-two-years-old and Keays was thirty-six-years-old. They had two kids and lived the rest of their lives in Trenton, Ontario.

He was born on November 11, 1889 and he died in October 1967 at age seventy-eight. Keays died at age one hundred and three in 1999.

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