Remembering Sergeant Vic Knibb, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment
Posted on 19th Jan 2021 by Sarah Gray
Victor (Vic) Brian Knibb was born on 4 January 1925, only child of Stanley Victor Knibb, a clerical officer with the Port of London Authority, of Ashcot, Hampton Court Way, Thames Ditton and his wife Marion Emma Alice, daughter of William Henry Lee, retail tradesman, of Shedfield, Ashley Road, Thames Ditton. 7450504 Private Stanley Knibb attested for the 25th (City of London) Reserve Cyclist Battalion, The London Regiment at Fulham House on 24 August 1914: he served on the Western Front for twelve weeks in the summer of 1917 and was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. Having joined the Home Guard at the age of sixteen, Vic enlisted on his eighteenth birthday: ‘You got a different number if you were a volunteer. You got a ‘14 number’ against being a draftee.’ Joining his local regiment, the East Surreys, he underwent basic training at Number 20 Infantry Training Centre in Shrewsbury.
Early the following year, he ‘boarded a troopship at Liverpool docks, destination unknown. It wasn’t until we reached the Suez Canal that we realised we were heading towards India.’ Posted to Imphal as a reinforcement for the 4th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment (4 RWK), which had suffered devastating casualties at the Battle of Kohima, he immediately ‘won a week of leave in Calcutta at a sports day event. There I stayed in a Museum and was hosted by a local British family who kindly took me under their wing.’ After decisive victories at Imphal and Kohima, the 14th Army began to push through northern Burma towards Mandalay. Vic was in the Mortar Platoon, responsible for carrying the baseplate and the sights: ‘The first contact with the enemy was when we came to a railway line and we sort of bedded down, and then we crossed the railway line. We went and dug a slit trench for protection and in that trench I found a coin, which I put in my pocket and had to the last day I left Burma.’ Strictly contrary to Army Regulations, Vic kept a diary, which survives, despite losing one corner to a Japanese bullet: ‘We were woken up about half-past four by the Japanese who attacked us. The diary was in my small pack which I was using as a pillow sleeping on the ground and I got this terrific thump on the back of my head.’ Having defeated the Japanese at the Battle of Meiktila between January and March 1945, 4 RWK, part of 5th Indian Division, ‘continued to fight our way down to Rangoon for the next five months’.
Vic explained: ‘We had some idea of what was happening outside our bubble. We would get letters from our families but often these were censored. Sometimes my parents would send me a copy of the paper but it would be so out of date by the time I received it, it didn’t always help.’ Thankfully, ‘what I learned in the Scouts were very helpful to me. I made fire in the rain, in the monsoon and got something hot to eat. Basic skills: how to keep yourself warm and dry and how to make a bed out of bamboo quite quickly to get ourselves off the ground because otherwise you lay wet on the ground or slept up a tree.’ As far as the enemy was concerned, ‘it became clear the main difference between us was that they were happy to die. This was disconcerting when they were running at you with grenades in their hand, content with blowing you and themselves up. We wanted to live. Many of my fellow soldiers fell by injury or illness. I was one of the fit ones but by the time we reached the South I was covered in sores. I’d been living off half rations for two-and-a-half months. By the time we reached Rangoon I’d developed jaundice.
‘In Rangoon we were told the war was over and that was that. We had nothing to celebrate and just wandered about looking for food. People often ask me if I was relieved at the end of the war? The sense of relief came slowly for us. We were worried about what was going to happen to us. Fighting a war was all some of us knew. I found it difficult. I started labouring but I was twenty-one, had no training and wasn’t used to working. It was a difficult time of my life when I came back.’ In the event, having left school with few qualifications, Vic trained as a carpenter after demobilisation and worked in the building trade for the rest of his life. In 1948, he married Joy Kathleen Hill and they had two sons: Robin and Roy. After Joy died on 15 July 2009, Vic remained in West Molesey, where he kept a large and comfortable cabin cruiser on the Thames. 14429428 Sergeant Vic Knibb, a hard-working and committed Vice Chairman of The Burma Star Association (Membership Number K/1039/94), died on 25 February 2019, at the age of ninety-four. In tribute, his grandson wrote: ‘I’ve been lucky enough to have had 34 years’ worth of amazing memories with you. You may be gone but you’ll never be forgotten. You were a legend in my eyes.’