Monday, September 27, 2010

Research Your Soldier in Canada: My Search for the elusive J. Arthur Gibson

My quest to find the mysterious soldier J. Arthur Gibson began in 1995, when I borrowed my grandmother’s autograph book from my uncle. Within its pages was a Christmas card signed by J. Arthur Gibson of the 7th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops dated “Xmas 1918.” At the time, I was not aware that I had Gibson family members living in Canada who had served during the First World War. Who was J. Arthur Gibson and how was he related to my grandmother? I set out to find an answer.  

Although I did not know his first given name, I felt certain it would be John because that name has been passed down for several generations in my family. I had found one reference to a John Gibson. He was the son of my grandmother’s uncle, John Gibson, who I discovered came to Vancouver prior to 1920. John was listed as a CSM with the Seaforth Highlanders in his father’s obituary in 1944. Was it the same person?

I decided to try an online database, the British Columbia Archives Vital Events Index, where previously I had found information on other Gibson family members. It produced three death entries for people named John Arthur Gibson. Two of the entries did not fit age wise; the third was close. A copy of the registration showed the person was born in Stuttgart, Germany – not what I was expecting. I believed the candidate would be born in Scotland or Ireland, but I could not be completely certain because my Gibson family moved a lot. The person on the registration was of Irish descent, so I kept it future reference.

In 2001, I searched the Soldiers of the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force database at the National Archives (now Library and Archives Canada) and found several Gibson soldiers with Arthur in their name. I searched each Attestation paper (documents prepared at the time of a soldier’s enlistment) for information. I also compared signatures on the Attestation papers to the one on the Christmas card. None matched. There was only one soldier listed in the search results that did not have an attestation paper online – John Arthur Gibson, Regimental # 2188301 (his paper is now online). Was this the person I was searching for?

In 2003, I posted a message on the Great War mailing list at Rootsweb regarding the 7th Battalion Railway Troops, and learned that a book was published about the battalion in 1920, called The War and the 7th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops by J.R. O’Gorman. I was unable to find a copy. Later, I received a response from a person in Regina who had a copy of the book. It contained a list of the 7th Battalion members. J.A. Gibson from Regina was listed with Regimental # 2188301. At last, the confirmation I needed.

I ordered a copy of his service file on 08 April 2003, and received it exactly one month later. John Arthur Gibson was definitely my grandmother’s cousin, but I was surprised at whom his parents were. His father was not my grandmother’s Uncle John in Vancouver, as I had originally thought, but John’s older brother, Stewart in Regina. The service file said that J.A. Gibson was born in – of all places – Stuttgart, Germany. I was not even aware Stewart had sons, let alone one born in Germany.

I have since established contact with my Gibson family in Regina, and learned that the family lived in Germany circa 1889 to 1893, while Stewart helped establish a branch of the Salvation Army there. Two of his sons were born in Germany. John Arthur, his two brothers and their father all joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WW1, all with different battalions. John Arthur Gibson died in 1967 at Vancouver and is buried in Victory Memorial Park in Surrey.

Note: In 2006, I was given several photo albums that belonged to my grandmother. In one was this picture of John Arthur Gibson.

(c) Annette Fulford 2010-2011