Captain Henry Gilbert Nobbs, OBE was born February 3rd, 1880. He enlisted in the London Rifle Brigade in England in November 1899 and served with them for five years and reaching the rank of Corporal. He then immigrated to Canada about 1905 and was appointed a Lieutenant in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada on January 16, 1912.
Nobbs was in England at the outbreak of the First World War, so he rejoined the London Rifle Brigade in which he was a promoted to Temporary Captain in September 1914 [LG October 1914 p. 8152]. On September 9, 1916, during the Somme Offensive, he led his company in a charge on the enemy lines. He was shot through the head, and the bullet exited through his right eye, permanently blinding him. He lay in a shell-hole for two days, as the battle raged round him. He woke up in a German hospital on September 11th. After his wounds were treated he was sent to a POW camp. His next of kin had already been told that he had died and had received a telegram of condolences from Buckingham Palace, and it was a month before they learned the truth. Captain Nobbs was repatriated to England in December 1916. He was sent to St Dunstan’s Home for blinded servicemen, which he was rather dreading, but to his surprise he found the atmosphere to be cheerful. He told the story in later years of how at one formal dinner there, he had thrown himself on the man seated next to him and began tickling him, crying out “Hullo, who do we have here then?” A voice replied “Derby” – it was Lord Derby, Secretary of State for War.
He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal [Militia List, Part II, September 1925] and demobilized in January 1917 with the rank of Captain. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers, Canadian Militia February 1, 1927(?).
He came to Australia with his wife and family in 1919, and threw himself into work for the firm of Holbrook’s (Australasia) Ltd. He became the managing director of the company, and travelled widely on its behalf. In the 1930s he was fond of saying that his teddy bear, which always accompanied him, had travelled more than half a million miles. Nobbs was granted the Freedom of the City of London, and was presented to the King and Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. He transformed Holbrook’s into one of the largest employers in Australia.
In Manly, he was associated with Manly Amateur Swimming Club for many years, being vice-president in 1922, and President of the Club from 1924 onwards. He was made a life member of the Club in 1935, at which point it was the largest and most successful swimming club in Australia. He was also a vice-president and keen follower of the Manly Rugby Union club. He was chairman of the NSW Blinded Soldiers’ Association, and a patron of Sydney Legacy Club. He was awarded the OBE in the New Year’s Day Honours of 1951 for his years of service to these and other causes.
His publications included Rhymes and Reminiscences (1922); The Right of the British Line (recently reprinted as Englishman, Kamerad), a vivid portrait of his wartime experiences; and Blinded but Unbeaten (1950), inspirational stories of blind achievement.
He and his wife Katherine celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in 1965 at their home in Oyama Avenue, Manly. He died in 1970, 54 years after his death had first been reported.