Tag Archives: World War II

Remembering Captain Eustace Lyle Gibbs at Tyntesfield


Eustace Lyle Gibbs, born March 10, 1885, was the second youngest son of Antony Gibbs. He was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. Then, as expected of him, he joined the family shipping business.

Eustace was already a member of the North Somerset Yeomanry.  When World War I broke out on July 28, 1914, he was among the first British troops sent to France. Wealth and rank did not exempt men from serving; in fact, those of high rank mostly felt even more obligation to fight than those less fortunate. They generally entered the war as officers.


Eustace had a short home leave in December 1914. While visiting his family at their beautiful Victorian country house, Tyntesfield, he gave an interview to the Western Daily Press. Asked how people at home could help soldiers at the front, he said the troops always needed gloves and socks.  And they really missed chocolate. When he returned to the front, he brought donations of these items with him, and handed them out to the men of his “B” Company, British Expeditionary Force.


During his leave, Eustace no doubt spent time in the Billiard Room at Tyntesfield, a wonderfully masculine space designed for the men in the family. Eustace would never see his home again.

Eustace died on February 11, 1915 of wounds received fighting near Ypres. He was 29 years old. His portrait was painted in 1916 from a photograph of him in his uniform. The artist was Albert Henry Collings.

Ceramic poppies fill the Tower of London moat

1915 was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War. I wrote about the spectacular display of close to a million ceramic poppies in honor of fallen British soldiers at the Tower of London. The The photo above is from The Guardian at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/01/tower-of-londons-ww1-remembrance-installation-share-your-photos-and-videos. The post is at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/09/26/remembrance-of-wars-past/.


That post also remembers another aristocratic young man who gave his life for his country, Edward Wyndham Tennant.  He died at age 19 in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. On the plaque above his marble relief portrait, a fellow soldier describes the young man’s leadership:  “When things were at their worst he would go up and down in the trenches cheering the men; when danger was greatest his smile was loveliest.” His grieving parents commissioned the touching memorial to him in Salisbury Cathedral.

Fighting in the Great War ended “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.  Virtually every town and village in Britain (and also in other countries like France) lost young men to the carnage of the First World War. About 20 million people lost their lives. On Armistice Day, in England and in other places, there are ceremonies honoring the fallen.

Americans actively entered the war in its last few months, after supporting the Allied side indirectly. No one knows exact numbers, but about 110,000 Americans lost their lives in the fighting. In the United States, November 11 is Veterans’ Day, when all who have served their country in the military are honored. Today, women serve as often as men do. And as in times past, whole families and communities feel the effects of loved ones marching off to serve. We need to salute them all.

The Tenth Mountain Division


On this Veterans’ Day in the United States, I stopped by a local museum to see an exhibit honoring a special group of soldiers who served during World War II.  The Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs, Colorado is hosting a exhibit called “Soldiers on Skis.” A number of locals served as soldiers on skis.  They still hold reunions here.

Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, military leaders realized that American soldiers would have to be combat-ready in all kinds of circumstances all over the world.  That included the treacherous mountain terrain of Europe and Asia–and, if it came to it, of the United States as well.  In 1939, Russian troops invading Finland had been held back by much smaller numbers of Finnish soldiers on skis.  The Finnish soldiers were able to use the rugged terrain of their home country to their advantage. United States military leaders took a lesson from the brave Finns. Soon Army suppliers were designing warm clothing and tents for mountaineering soldiers.



Serious planning for mountain combat began. There were already a number of recreational ski mountains in the United States, along with some ski racers and ski patrol men. The Army began recruiting efforts with men already skilled on skis and in mountain terrain. They found no shortage of volunteers. The 10th Light Division (Alpine) was activated in July of 1943 and based in Camp Hale, in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. Among other training techniques, Army engineers actually built a glacier to mimic terrain the soldiers would soon see in Italy.  In 1944, what became known as the 10th Mountain Division shipped off to Italy.  They fought Axis troops in fierce and crucial battles in the Italian Apennine mountains near Bologna, Pisa and Lake Garda. (There’s an expert ski run called “Riva Ridge” in Vail, Colorado. I skied it for years without appreciating that it was named after a perilous ridge climbed by 10th Mountain Division soldiers on February 18, 1944, on their way to a vital attack that began on February 20).

Once the skiing soldiers had successfully helped to end German resistance Italy, they were to be shipped to Japan to fight in the mountains there.  However, they were not needed after the Japanese surrender. Since World War II, the 10th Mountain Division has been demobilized and reactivated several times.  To this day, the unit is light infantry, with special training and equipment to move in hard terrain.


I bought a book at the museum. It is The Boys of Winter: Life and Death in U.S. Ski Troops During the Second World War. The author, Charles J. Sanders, particularly honors three of the many men who gave their lives fighting in the 10th Mountain Division.  Their names are Rudy Konieszny, Jacob Nunnemacher, and Ralph Bromaghin.  I’m going to read their stories with interest.


Many of the great American ski areas were founded by skiing soldiers who returned home, sad at the loss of their friends but enthusiastic about sharing their love of the mountains and of skiing with a civilian population living in peace. Pete Seibert, an ex-soldier who became one of the founders of Vail Resort, no doubt had his fallen friends in mind whenever he set off down Riva Ridge.


Remembrance of Wars Past: A Sea of Poppies at the Tower of London

Ceramic poppies fill the Tower of London moat

“Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” is the title of an art installation taking place at the Tower of London from August to November of this year, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.  The title comes from a poem written by an unknown soldier. People are invited to buy a ceramic poppy for the installation, up to a total of 888,246 poppies, one for every death in the British forces. The photo above is from The Guardian at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/01/tower-of-londons-ww1-remembrance-installation-share-your-photos-and-videos. The designer of the installation is Tom Piper.  Poppies are made by ceramic artist Paul Cummins.

The poppy above was photographed in the small military museum on the estate of Hever Castle, southwest of London.


The memories of World War I extend all over England this year, into the smallest villages in the country. Most towns have a memorial built to remember the local soldiers fallen in the
“Great War.”  Sadly, within a few short decades new names had to be added from each town, with the outbreak of the Second World War.

Soldiers who fell in battle were buried in identically marked graves, regardless of their social or military rank.


Many grieving families put up special memorials to their loved ones close to home. This plaque, in Salisbury Cathedral, poignantly remembers a nineteen-year-old soldier, Edward Wyndham Tennant. the son of a lord. He must have entered the war as an officer. He died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. On the plaque above his marble relief portrait, a fellow soldier describes the young man’s leadership:  “When things were at their worst he would go up and down in the trenches cheering the men; when danger was greatest his smile was loveliest.”


Those who could not fight helped the war effort in other ways, in both great wars.  All of the great British country houses I’ve visited on this trip have displays recalling their days as hospitals or military bases. Operating rooms were established in kitchens, and convalescent wards occupied Great Halls. Young aristocratic women rolled up their sleeves and cheerfully served as nurses.


This is a year for Britons to recognize the sacrifices of those who served their country in the Great Wars.