Librarians in Brierley Hill are contacting their colleagues in Archives after a ‘priceless’ Great War Painting disappeared from its collection.
Depicting local Brockmoor hero Sgt William Jordan – a resident of Campbell Street and a former pupil of Brockmoor School – rescuing a wounded comrade in May 1915, the painting was by award winning artist Francis Gibbon and was presented to the council in July 1917. For many years it hung in the reading room of the old library in Moor Street. Sgt Jordan was promoted for distinguished conduct in the field and was mentioned by Sir John French in his final dispatch before relinquishing his office of Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915.
The picture above was snapped as part of a Great War research project for this blog in July last year. By September the painting had gone missing and despite requests no-one at the library has managed to locate it. Now Dudley Archives are being asked if they can solve the mystery.
Given the historical context of the painting it must be viewed as being irreplaceable and therefore priceless. It would be a tragedy if it was lost for future generation.
More about Sgt W. J. Jordan
On 25th September 1915 The Country Express published extracts of a letter sent to the head teacher of Brockmoor School by Sgt Hoggart. Headed ‘Our Position Very Favourable’ the letter said:
I have arrived back in France, and rejoined my regiment in the firing line. This last day or two we have had very cold, wet weather, I am just settling down to my work again, after having a most enjoyable time at home. Thank you very much for your welcome to me and the manner you entertained me it was the time of my life, and I shall never forget it as long as I live. I feel quite proud to belong to Brockmoor.
He added that the position of the British is very favourable, and:
When I was at home I left some alter flags which are found amongst the ruins of a church in Flanders; if you would care to use them please ask my daughter to bring them to the school.
In a sad twist of fate Sgt Jordan was killed in action on the very day his letter was published in the newspaper, 25th September 1915, the opening day of the Battle of Loos.
The regimental diary for that fateful day reads:
The first day of the Battle of Loos, north west of Lens. “C” Company led the attack at 6.30am from their trenches at Noyelles and were immediately hit by withering fire from concealed machine guns. The German forward and support trenches were seized along with a series of quarries behind them. No further gains were made following which the troops were heavily shelled in their captured positions. “A” and “B” Companies were pinned down only a matter of yards from their starting positions and were ordered to return to their lines. Casualties amounted to 430 other ranks killed or wounded, out of 729 who attacked, 9 officers killed, 8 wounded (1 died) and 1 gassed of the 21 who went into action.
The War Diary (in part) records,“25 September 1915 – There is very little to describe about the actual assault, but the facts stand out very clearly. The Regiment had to cross a fire zone of about 500 yards exposed to very heavy-gun, machine gun and rifle fire, and storm a powerful line of trenches protected by broad strong lines of thick barbed wire.There was a strong support line behind the front line on higher ground and behind this the famous ‘Quarries’ on still higher ground. The final objective was Cite St. Elie, behind a very powerfully entrenched and wired position.The gallant 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment rose to their feet at 6.28am on 25 September 1915 on the order to ‘advance’ being given, they advanced in extended order at about 3 paces interval between men, and moved steadily forward against this almost impregnable position. They stormed it, took the 2nd or Support Line and what remained of this magnificent old regiment moved on and with other Corps mixed up with them captured the ‘Quarries’ and some of them under the C.O. went on up to within about 50 yards of the German position at Cite St. Elie.”
By early 1916 news had arrived home of the death of Sgt Jordan.
The late Sgt WH Jordan
Sgt WH Jordan, of the South Staffordshire Regiment, whose home was at Campbell Street, Brockmoor, and who was killed in France in September, was mentioned (for conspicuous and gallant conduct) in the last dispatch set by Sir John French before his recent relinquishing of the office of Commander-In-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force. Sgt Jordan’s many admirers will regret that this gallant soldier did not live to learn of this signal honour.
County Express 8th January 1916
Later that year the offer of a painting was made to Brierley Hill Council.
Through Mr JJ Applebey, the chairman of Brierley Hill Council (Mr Ernest Marsh) has received from Mr Francis Gibbons, Wordsley, an offer of a gift to Brierley Hill of an oil painting depicting the late Sgt Jordan, a local man, in the act of rescuing a wounded comrade. Mr Marsh has formally accepted the gift in the Council’s name, and it is expected the picture will shortly be received and hung in the Council Chamber.
County Express 23rd of June 1917
The action of Mr Ernest Marsh, in accepting on behalf of Brierley Hill the gift of Mr Frank Gibbons of an oil painting depicting a local soldier in the act of rescuing a wounded comrades on the Western front, was officially confirmed on Monday. Arrangements are to be made for the picture to be hung in the Council Chamber.
County Express 7th July 1917
Gift of a Picture
At the General Purposes Committee Mr Marsh produced a letter addressed to him as chairman of the Council, from Mr JJ Applebey, asking on behalf of Mr Frank Gibbons, the Council’s acceptance of a picture painted by the latter gentleman. Mr Marsh said he had accepted the picture on the Council’s behalf, and it was resolved that his action in so doing be approved and confirmed, and the Council’s thanks be conveyed to Mr Applebey and Mr Gibbons for the gift.
The Chairman said the letter from Mr Appleby reached him immediately following the last Council meeting, but he took upon himself to accept the gift, and to thank Mr Gibbons and Mr Appleby most warmly. He asked the council to approve his action.
Mr Smith moved, and Mr Buckle seconded, that the Council cordially approve the chairman’s action, and this was carried.
Mr James said perhaps this acceptable gift would prove an inducement to others to present pictures of local or national interest. If so they would in turn be able to secure a collection if that building were extended, and have an art gallery on a small scale established.
County Express 7th of July 1917.
The oil painting by Mr Frank Gibbons depicting the rescue of a wounded comrade by Sgt Jordan, of Brockmoor, recently presented by the artist to Brierley Hill Council, is to be hung in the Reading Room of the Free Library. A special committee of members of the Council and outside gentlemen (including Mr Frank Gibbons) are deputed to obtain war momentoes from local heroes with a view to securing a permanent collection for the town.
County Express 28th of July 1917
A letter from Mr F Gibbons was read at the General Purposes Committee, suggesting that his gift picture should be hung in the Library reading room. This was agreed to. A suggestion by him that a collection of mementos of the great war should be glossed together and placed on exhibition, was referred to a special committee consisting of Councillors Fereday, Williams, and Marsh – with power to co-opt members. It was resolved to write and ask Mr Gibbons to accept colour option on the committee.
County Express 18th of August 1917
The picture was duly displayed with the inscription:
A BRIERLEY HILL HERO
Sergt. W. H. Jordan (South Staffs. Regt.) of Brockmoor, Brierley Hill, with great bravery stole out one night in May 1915. ‘somewhere in France’ and brought in a wounded comrade, who for two days had lain in an exposed position in front of our lines.”Sergt. Jordan was subsequently killed in the battle of Loos.”His widow received a letter, written in the name of the King, on recommendation of Field Marshal Sir John French, in praise of her husband’s bravery.
It is very sad that the picture now seems to be lost.
More about the artist Francis Gibbons
An obituary published in the Country Express gives more information about Francis Gibbons:
DEATH OF MR FRANCIS GIBBONS.
Artist, Manufacturer, Philanthropist.
It is with very sincere regret, which we know will be widely shared, that we record the death of Mr Francis Gibbons, which occurred at his residence, Cliff House, Wordsley, yesterday evening week.
Born at Oaksey in 1852, the son of the late Mr James Gibbons, who removed to Cirencester in 1853, Mr Gibbons was the fourth son in a family, each member of which achieved remarkable success in the artistic and literary world. He spent his youth and early manhood in Cirencester, where he commenced training in art at the classes conducted in Dyer Street by Mr J Miller. He soon showed promise of high-capacity, and eventually obtained a training scholarship at the South Kensington Royal College of Art, where he studied under the talented Mr Moody for two years. On finishing his training he obtained a position as art director at Messrs Doulton’s Royal Pottery at Lambeth, where he designed many of their world renowned ceramic productions. He left Doulton’s to take the place of his brother Edward during his illness, as an art master at the Edinburgh School of Art. He relinquished this position on the latter’s return, and for experience sake he acted for a short time as artist at the Devon Where Factory at Torquay, and was also for a period manager of Messrs Allen’s Pottery in Broseley, Shropshire.
In 1885, in connection with his brother Owen, and brother-in-law, Mr WJ Hinton, he started a decorative tile factory at Brierley Hill, Staffordshire. Meeting with the greatest difficulty at the commencement, he with his partners, by dint of strenuous labour and artistic and technological merit made the name of the firm Gibbons, Hinton and co-, Ltd, widely known in the home and in the colonial markets. Mr Gibbons introduced many improvements in the declaration and mechanical production of tiles, and was an acknowledged expert in pottery chemistry on both empirical and scientific lines.
The variety of his capacities was only excelled by his own wearying perseverance. In art he won many highly coveted rewards. Among them the Goldsmiths travelling scholarship, the Plasterers Company prize in open competition £50 awarded annually for the best design in plaster, the South Kensington gold medal (three times), and many silver and bronze medals. He was particularly expert in oil and watercolour paintings, and had exhibited at the Royal Academy. An expert amateur photography – his productions were as perfect technically as they were artistic composition. He was an enthusiastic amateur gardener and botanist, and had an intense love of music, several of his compositions having being accepted and published by prominent London music publishers.
He was president of the Wordsley Liberal Club, a member of the Wordsley Committee of Our School Managers, and of the managers of the Wordsley Church of England Schools, the Brierley Hill Temperance Council, and Brierley Hill Congregational Church.
Of almost puritanical upbringing, he was a staunch Liberal and Nonconformist, and a lifelong abstainer, but he was remarkable for his broadness of mind and generous judgement. The soul of benevolence – only his most intimate friends had any inkling of the extent of his subscription list to deserving cases and causes. Notwithstanding his high talents and merited successes he was modest and unassuming to a high degree. He never married, he devoted his energies to the alleviation of the cares of others. He was a valued and frequent contributor to these columns on a great variety of subjects.
At His Brother’s Funeral.
His illness was a very brief one. He attended the funeral of his brother Edward at Cirencester on September 26, and travelling to and from Cirencester caught a cold which accentuated chronic bronchial trouble from which he died.
At the Temperance Hall. Brierley Hill, on a Sunday evening Mr C Wilkes (President of the Temperance Council), made reference to the loss the temperance cause have sustained to the death of Mr Gibbons, who was a trustee of the hall, and a very good worker and supporter of the temperance movement.
The funeral took place at Wordsley extension churchyard on Thursday afternoon.
County Express 12th of October 1918