Field Marshal Gibbs was a soldier of great courage and leadership who was primarily a front-line soldier rather than a 'Whitehall Warrior'. Despite this he was Chief of the General Staff from 1976 to 1979.
Roland Christopher Gibbs was born at Flax Bourton near Bristol, on 22nd June 1921. He was educated at Eton where he excelled at games, and attended Sandhurst in 1939. After 6 months he was commissioned into the KRRC at the age of 18. He helped to reform the motor training battalion and went to North Africa with the 2nd Battalion as part of the 1st Armoured Division in 1941. He saw his first action in 1942 south of Benghazi.
He won the Military Cross for his action in June 1942. Gibbs was commanding a carrier platoon that was acting as advance guard to the column as it approached Bir Hacheim. On nearing the ridge the platoon was attacked by armoured cars. Although under heavy shell fire, he displayed great coolness by enabling the forward observation post to take up a position of maximum advantage. When a carrier was hit and had to be abandoned he refused to withdraw until he had recovered it.
He was at Adam Halfa where he was wounded and at the battle of Alamein. In March 1943 he was promoted to Major and commanded C Company for the rest of the war. The 2nd Battalion landed in Normandy the day after D Day and Gibbs was wounded for the third time, near Caen. He rejoined his battalion just after the closing of the Falaise Gap.
Gibbs used a gentlemanly approach to command. He rarely ordered his subordinates directly, he would say, 'If I were in your shoes I would go about it like this.' He had a cheerful disregard for danger and enjoyed supplying his men with 'goodies'. He won the DSO in the Rhineland and fought through to Hamburg. After the German surrender he supervised the disarming of Germans in Denmark.
After the war he was posted to 5th Parachute Brigade in Malaya as brigade major. Later in Palestine he joined 7th battalion Parachute Regiment. In 1954 he transferred to 1st Battalion KRRC and served in the Trucial Oman States. In 1960 he was a lieut-colonel and took command of 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment. He commanded 16 Parachute Brigade in 1963 and was posted to Cyprus where his men were among the first British troops to wear the UN blue beret. He proved to be a skillful diplomat in his dealings with Greek and Turkish Cypriots, so much so that he impressed Major-General Mike Carver who gave him the job of Chief-of-Staff in Aden to Admiral Le Fanu, C-in-C Middle East Command.
Gibbs played a prominent part in the evacuation of the troops and civilians from Aden and had to persuade a sceptical Foreign Secretary, George Brown, that evacuating the day before the the official date would be safer. Brown and Gibbs did not get on very well but Brown suffered the humiliation of having to be rescued by Gibbs when, on landing for a visit, his throat mike caught on the door of a helicopter leaving him dangling.
He commanded British Land Forces in the Gulf when the United Arab Emirates was established, and laid the foundations for the army of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman. He was promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1972, commanding 1st British Corps in BAOR, then General in 1974, GOC-in-C UK Land Forces. When he took command as Chief of the General Staff he was criticised for taking his responsibilities lightly but his judgments were usually right. He retired in July 1979 having been promoted to Field Marshal the day before.
Sir Roland was Colonel of 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets (formerly KRRC) from 1971 to 1979, and of the Parachute Regiment from 1972 to 1977. In 1985 he was the 155th Constable of the Tower of London, until 1990, and Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire from 1989 to 1996. He was a keen hunter, and amateur artist. His wife, Davina Merry who he married in 1955 was a professional artist. They had two sons and a daughter. He died in on 31st Oct 2004.
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