Features
IN MEMORIAM - WWII ace farewelled
By Andrew Stackpool

Edition 4907, May 3, 2007
 
SQNLDR Bobby Gibbes 1916-2007
 
CONDOLENCES: CAF AIRMSHL Geoff Shepherd and 3SQN CO WGCDR Vinny Iervasi pay their respects to SQNLDR Bobby Gibbes’ wife Jeannie at the WWII vet’s funeral service in Sydney.
Photo by Phil Barling
 
Inset: A P-40 Tomahawk displaying SQNLDR Gibbes’ nose art previously on display at 3SQN.
 
Sydney’s lower north shore skies reverberated to the spine-chilling snarl of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine and the deeper boom of jets as Air Force joined some 350 other mourners in farewelling one of the last of its ‘greats’.

Former World War II ace, SQNLDR Robert Henry ‘Bobby’ Gibbes, died at Manly hospital, NSW, of a stroke on April 11. He was 90 years old.

CAF AIRMSHL Geoff Shepherd, CO 3SQN WGCDR Vinny Iervarsi, a 3SQN bearer and honour party and some 40 other members of 3SQN joined SQNLDR Gibbes’ local member, Bronwyn Bishop, and hundreds of other mourners at his funeral at St Thomas Anglican church in North Sydney.

Four 3SQN F/A-18s flew a ‘Missing Man’ formation and the Temora Aviation Museum’s Mk VIII Spitfire, painted in the famous “Grey Nurse” markings of Gibbes’ own Mk VIII, flew a rare fly-past over the church.

CAF paid tribute to the ace.

“Among the pantheon of the heroic generation from WWII, certain heroes stand out,” AIRMSHL Shepherd said. “Bobby Gibbes was one of those.

“It is an honour to have had him as a member of the Services.

“Sadly this generation is quickly passing and we must engage and honour those who are left.”

SQNLDR Gibbes did not see himself as cast in a heroic mould, although his Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar and Distinguished Service Order attest otherwise.

After the outbreak of WWII, on February 5, 1940, he enlisted in the RAAF as an air cadet and after training was described as an “above-average fighter pilot”.

He posted to 450SQN before posting to 3SQN in Egypt, flying the P-40 Tomahawk. He was soon in the thick of combat and over the next two years had shot down or destroyed more than 12 aircraft, had up to another 14 probables and damaged 16. In return, he was shot down twice.

Gibbes received recognition for landing in the heat of action and rescuing another pilot who had been shot down. On take-off he lost a wheel but executed a flawless landing back at his home airfield. On another occasion, after being shot down, he walked 50 miles back towards base, all the while dodging enemy forces until he was picked up by a British ground patrol.

In July 1944, he was posted to 80WG in Darwin flying Spitfire Mk VIIIs. While there, his aircraft suffered an engine failure and he was burned in the subsequent crash-landing. Nevertheless, he was soon back flying, and in January 1945, the wing moved to Morotai, PNG, for mainly ground attack operations against the Japanese. Between then and his return to Australia in May 1945, he flew 44 missions.

He discharged in 1946 before joining the Active Reserve in 1952 and serving at Townsville until April 1957.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Jeannie, daughters Julie and Robyn and five grandchildren.