Remembered by: Patricia Gibb
Date added: 16 May 2010
Group Captain Allan Harris (Peter) Gibb
February 27, 1920 – February 2, 2010
Born in Croydon county, Peter had an eventful life and career when he joined the RAF in March 1940 at the age of 20, after being on the RAF Volunteer Reserve waiting list when war broke out in 1939. He had a keen interest in aircraft and had always wanted to fly, so this provided the opportunity. After the war he stayed in the RAF for a very happy, fulfilling and long lasting career.
Training as an observer (navigator, bombing and gunnery) he was only 21 when posted to 53 Squadron. After operating from the UK in Blenheims and Hudsons, he and 15 other crews flew out to Singapore at the end of December 1941 where he joined 62 Squadron to protect the British and Allied forces fighting the Japanese. Surviving the fall of Singapore, his squadron continued bombing operations from Sumatra and then Java, until the remaining Hudsons were destroyed by a series of Japanese raids on their airfield. In late February 1942, Peter was amongst the 5 surviving crews and ground crew to escape from Java on an old and overcrowded Dutch ship, the Kota Gede, and landed in Colombo, Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – very hungry and much in need of a bath after 10 days living on deck with heat by day and rain by night.
In April 1942, he was posted to RAF Karachi where they flew various old aircraft including the Westland “Wapiti”. They then moved by train to Bengal to perform a variety of tasks at new airfields under construction, eventually ending up in Calcutta where 353 Squadron was formed at Dum Dum airfield with new Hudsons flown out from England. They operated over Burma, and then from Cuttack and other airfields in Bengal and southern India. The Hudsons were then replaced with Dakotas.
Returning to England in September 1944for a staff navigation course at Shawbury, Shropshire, Peter met Betty who was teaching in nearby Wellington. She was to become the love of his life. They became engaged and after another year in India he returned to England in October 1945. They were married from Betty’s home in Lincolnshire on November , 1945. The farm was often their “base” between postings. They both loved the service life, some of their many moves being easier than others!
Their three children, Jenifer, Patricia and John, were all born in England and in 1953, with the children aged 6, 4 and 3, they sailed on the Mauretania to New York for three happy and busy years in Washington DC where Peter worked in the British Joint Services Mission. He drove the family hundreds of miles up and down the eastern seaboard, from Florida to Ontario, to experience the North America of the early 50's... no mean feat in a Plymouth Belvedere without air conditioning or seat belts!
A posting to RAF Boscombe Down allowed Peter to pursue his love of flying testing new navigation equipment, as well as in recreational gliding and taking Betty up for weekend jaunts in an open-cockpit Tiger Moth. Four England-based homes later, Peter received his second overseas posting in January 1965 to the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) Headquarters in Ankara, working with military representatives from Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and the US. Their three teenagers were at boarding school, joining them for wonderful holidays to learn about the culture, history, archaeology and cuisine of this fascinating country.
In December 1966, Peter became Commanding Officer at RAF White Waltham, from where he was promoted to Group Captain and posted to the Ministry of Defence as Deputy Director, Air Plans in 1968, retiring from his distinguished RAF career on April 1, 1971.
Not ready to sit back and take it easy, Peter's skills were invaluable as he became a key member of the project team restoring Brunel's iron-clad steamship, the SS Great Britain. As his final career role, he worked as a Planning Inspector, applying his astute judgement and calm, impartial perspective to preserving appropriate character in Britain's building developments. Peter enjoyed this work so much, he stayed on part-time until his final retirement at the age of 70. The other part-time job he had was honing his golf game!
Moving from their home in Harpenden, Peter and Betty spent many happy years together in Bath and Hurst Green, enjoying the extra time he now had to spend with friends and family, especially his much-loved grandchildren and great-grandchildren, keeping their garden in immaculate and beautiful condition, enjoying theatre and music, and focusing on reducing his golf handicap. Always patient, kind and thoughtful, Peter generously volunteered his time and support to charitable causes, including the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Peter will be fondly remembered as the Navigator – the essential crew member – setting the family’s direction and always there for advice and guidance. A patient mentor and teacher, he was selfless in giving time and support to family, friends and those lucky to make his acquaintance. Remarkably, he coped uncomplainingly with increasing deafness, caused by his years working in and around aircraft. He never allowed it to interfere with his enjoyment of life or participation in lively conversations. Peter was pre-deceased by his beloved Betty on July 31, 2009 only months before their 64th Wedding Anniversary.
Peter passed away peacefully after a very short illness three weeks before his 90th birthday. He is very much missed by his children and their families.
This tribute has been posted on behalf of Peter’s children and their families by his middle child, Patricia.