John Wibden

198663 Private 2nd Class John Wibden, Royal Air Force

Born on 9th March 1874 in Dagnall
Died on 3rd February 1947 in Berkhamsted

Family and Home 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

John Wibden was born in Dagnall, Buckinghamshire, the elder son of William Wibden and Susan née Tearle. He was baptised at St Mary the Virgin’s Church, Edlesborough on 1st April 1874. His father was a Garden Labourer. The family surname was sometimes spelt ‘Wibdin’.

John’s brother Arthur William Wibden was born in 1875. However, in early June 1876, the boys’ 28 year old mother Susan died. Her funeral then took place at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 6th June 1876. She left a 25 year old husband and two young children: John aged 2 and Arthur not yet 1.

The Wibden Family in 1881 6

In the 1881 Census, John’s widowed father William, a 30 year old garden labourer, is shown as the sole occupant of a cottage in Little Gaddesden. The cottages are not numbered but, given its place in the Census return three entries after the Bridgewater Arms Hotel, it would be No 17.

Seven year old John, though, is shown with his maternal grandparents Thomas and Jane Tearle at Malting Lane Cottages, Dagnall. Arthur William, shown as William, aged 5, is with his paternal grandparents William and Elizabeth Wibden at Mile Barn, Studham. However, a Census return shows only where each person was on Census night, which might or might not have been their permanent abode.

Education 7

William started at Little Gaddesden School on 12th December 1881. The Little Gaddesden School Log Book records that he had previously lived with his grandparents. John Wibden then entered Little Gaddesden School on 17th April 1882 when he was eight years old. That indicates that, after their mother’s death, the boys had been split up, each living with one set of grandparents, at least until they started at Little Gaddesden School.

At School and at Work 7

In June 1886, John was eligible for his Labour Certificate as he had passed the 4th Standard at Little Gaddesden School. However, although he had gone to work for a week or so, the School Log Book notes that his aunt did not wish to take him off the School Register. His aunt would have been his father’s sister Ann, who is later shown with the family in the 1891 Census. An entry for July 29th 1886 records that John’s name was likely to be taken off the School Register, as he had gone to hay work but not turned up again at school. For that reason his name was removed on 11th August. However, on 16th December 1886, John returned to school. There was much less farm work available in the winter and presumably his Aunt wanted him kept busy!

It is not clear when John finally left school but, on 29th April 1887, all the boys who had passed their 4th Standard started two or three weeks’ work on Home Farm weeding and stone picking. Then, from 20th July 1887, they had another period of work at Home Farm, this time “for an indefinite time”. There are no further references to John in the School Log Book.

Employment 6

The 1891 Census shows 17 year old John, 15 year old Arthur and their father living at 17 Little Gaddesden. All three were Domestic Gardener’s Labourers. Their father’s sister Ann Wibden, 42, was living with them. She is recorded as a Domestic Laundry Woman and would also have kept house.

John’s Father Re-marries 1, 6, 8, 9

On 30th November 1893, John’s father William Wibden, a widower aged 43, married Mary Ann Hall, spinster aged 33 at St Peter and St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. Mary Ann was a Dressmaker of Lillington Street, Westminster. John Wibden signed the Marriage Register as a witness. William and Mary Ann then had two daughters: Dorothy Edith, born on 20th September 1894 and Winifred Eleanor, born on 21st October 1895.

The Family in 1901 6

The 1901 Census shows 27 year old John working as a Barman and resident at the Bridgewater Arms Hotel, Little Gaddesden. His father William and step-mother Mary Ann lived at 17 Little Gaddesden with their two daughters Dorothy, aged 6 and Winifred, 5.

The Little Gaddesden Brass Band 10

The Little Gaddesden Brass Band was formed in 1902 and a report and statement of accounts for 1902 – 1903 has survived. To obtain funds, entertainments were performed and donations sought. Each band member paid 3d per week toward the cost of tuition. The report noted “our balance in hand is very low, but we again rely on our many kind friends to give us their support and stick to our motto: Nil Desperandum”. The report included a photograph in which John, aged 28 or 29, is standing 5th from left in the back row, holding his clarinet.

Photo of Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902-1903
Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903. Courtesy of Lyn Hyde.

Others in the Band with links to the Roll of Honour are:

Death of his Father 4, 5, 6

John’s father William died aged 57 in December 1907. His funeral took place on 12th December 1907 at St Peter & St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. The 1911 Census then shows John aged 37 living at home, 17 Little Gaddesden. By that date he worked as a Woodman on the Ashridge Estate. His widowed step-mother Mary Ann is recorded as Head of the Household; his half-sisters Dorothy, 16 and Winnifred, 15 were also at home.

Military Service 2

On 19th June 1918, John Wibden, a Labourer aged 44 years 2 months, enrolled in the Royal Air Force to serve for the duration of the War. His RAF Airmen’s Service Record notes that he was 5 feet 3 inches tall and had a 34 inch chest. He had brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. John’s step-mother Mary Ann Wibden of 17 Little Gaddesden is listed as his next of kin.

In the RAF, John served as a Private 2nd Class, Service Number 198663. His medical category is recorded as “Grade II”, which indicated that he was fit for garrison service at home or overseas. Until 5th September 1918 he was at the Reserve Depot. However, on 5th September he was transferred to the South Eastern Area and two days later posted to the 1st Mechanical Transport Division of the RAF, in which he served until 31st March 1919. His RAF Airmen’s Service Record lists his trade classification as “Hospital Orderly”. On 31st March 1919, he moved to the Crystal Palace Discharge Centre.

John was demobilised on 29th April 1919 and returned to civilian life. On 30th April 1920 he was finally deemed discharged from the RAF.

Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”

John Wibden is named on the Roll of Honour, which hangs in St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden and lists 119 men from Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Hudnall who served in the 1914 – 1918 War. On the original Roll no unit is listed for him. However, the 2018 Centenary Revision of the Roll shows that he served in the Royal Air Force. His cousin Walter Tearle is also named on the Rolls. Walter’s father Thomas was the younger brother of John’s mother Susan.

Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver

Later Life 4, 6, 9, 11

Electoral Registers show that John Wibden returned to 17 Little Gaddesden on demobilisation in 1919 but that, by 1920, he and his stepmother Mary Ann lived at 20 Bridge Street, Berkhamsted, where they both stayed until at least 1930. In June 1921 John was an out-of-work Builder’s Labourer who had previously worked for Mr Wells at Piccotts End. However, he did subsequently find work in the same trade.

The 1939 Register, taken on 29th September 1939, shows John still living at 20 Bridge Street and working as a Builder’s Labourer. However, his step-mother Mary Ann Wibden had died that summer aged 79.

Death 1, 4, 12, 13

On 3rd February 1947, 73 year old John Wibden died at home at 20 Bridge Street, Berkhamsted. He was by then a Domestic Gardener and his cause of death was Heart Failure and Bronchitis. The informant of his death was his nephew Percy Thomas Nunn, his half-sister Dorothy’s son, who also lived at 20 Bridge Street.


1. England & Wales births 1837-2006 Transcriptions

2. British Royal Air Force, Airmen’s Service Records 1912-1939

3. England & Wales, Christening Index, 1530-1980

4. England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007

5. Little Gaddesden Burial Register

6. 1881 – 1921 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcriptions 

7. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906

8. Little Gaddesden Marriage Register 1893

9. The 1939 Register

10. Report and Statement of Accounts of the Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903

11. Electoral Registers 1832 – 1932

12. Copy of Death Certificate of John Wibden

13. England & Wales marriages 1837-2005 Transcriptions

Do you have any questions about the information recorded here? Or do you have any further information that you can share with us about those from Little Gaddesden who died or fought for their country? In either case, please contact Jane Dickson at

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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson