Digger overcame the odds

Like many of his generation of war veterans, John Anthony Tibbs did not talk much about World War I.

But history remembers him as one of the men whose service at Gallipoli in 1915 began the story of Anzac.

John (Jack) Anthony Tibbs was born on April 16, 1887, in Southampton, England.

Orphaned by his fifth birthday, he was sent to Muller Orphan Homes in Bristol, Gloucestershire. In 1908, Mr Tibbs, 21, arrived at Fremantle aboard the Orient and secured a lease for a 465ha conditional purchase block at Kodj Kodjin, about 35km south of Trayning.

During 1914 the WA countryside was in drought and with his prospects grim, Mr Tibbs' attention was diverted by events elsewhere in the world.

He saw a possible financial salvation in the conflict looming beyond WA shores with the newly formed Australian Imperial Force. Four weeks after the declaration of war, Mr Tibbs left most of his personal effects in a tent on the farm and caught the train to the city to sign up.

Four days after enlisting, recruit number 223 was sent to the Blackboy Hill training camp.

The 16th Battalion, part of the AIF 4th Infantry Brigade, was being assembled at the camp.

Mr Tibbs was placed in A Company with about 120 other men. After four months training, he was on the Ceramic sailing for the Middle East.

After further training in Egypt, Mr Tibbs was with his company when it boarded the Hyda Pasha on the Greek island of Lemnos. The ship weighed anchor at noon on April 25, 1915, and steamed for Anzac Cove.

The attack at Gallipoli had started that day at 4.30am and the men of A Company, 16th Battalion, went into battle about 6pm.

Their commanding officer, Major William Owen Mansbridge, later wrote: "Landed Sunday (April 25) and advanced to hill R of Pope's. Poor Tibbs, he was faithful and stuck to me. He had a bullet through his equipment; while in the front, his water bottle and haversack were also pierced."

After five months at Gallipoli Mr Tibbs was shipped to England with typhoid fever. He later embarked for France and the Western Front, joining the 4th Infantry Brigade Light Trench Mortar Battery, a specialised unit supporting the 4th Brigade's infantry battalions.

The battery was often the focus of infantry grumbling because a front-line trench mortar was certain to draw enemy fire.

Mr Tibbs' Western Front service ran from September 1916 to June 1918. By following the action seen by the 4th LTMB he was probably involved in many battles that occurred at places such as Bullecourt, Messines, Polygon Wood and Villers-Bretonneux.

In June 1918, Mr Tibbs was repatriated home after being gassed.

On arrival home, he discovered that he no longer owned the farm at Kodj Kodjin. Because he had defaulted on an interest payment, the Agricultural Bank had invoked its power of sale authority over the property.

To make matters worse, all the possessions he had left in a tent on the block had been lost in a bushfire. But, steeled by his years in the orphanage and the trenches of Gallipoli and the Western Front, he secured a conditional purchase lease for 40ha at Bungulluping, near Bruce Rock, using a whopping £1000 loan from the bank. Once again, he sharpened his axe and started the backbreaking task of preparing his land for cultivation.

In 1919, Mr Tibbs married Martha Praetz, the daughter of a livery stable owner at Southern Cross. The couple settled on the Bungulluping wheat farm they named Rockvale, where they built their home and raised two children, Graham and Doreen.

After a successful farming career, John Tibbs retired in 1945.

He died in 1963, shortly after Martha had passed away. He was survived by his children and six grandchildren.

Submitted by Campbell (Jock) Beer, a grandson of John Tibbs

The West Australian

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