Obituary: Captain John Gibson BVMS MRCVS, vet

Captain John Gibson BVMS MRCVS
Captain John Gibson BVMS MRCVS
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Born: 13 September, 1920, in Johnstone. Died: 30 September, 2013, in Galashiels, aged 93.

John Gibson was a country vet whose lifelong passion for horses initially saw him embark on a career in England as a flat jockey.

But the once diminutive teenager literally outgrew the job when his height and weight surpassed the limits required to continue in the ranks of such skilful young horsemen.

Returning home, the teenage rider opted to channel his energies into training at veterinary college and went on to run a mixed veterinary practice in the Scottish Borders where horses remained his special interest and the focus of his sporting life.

More than 50 years after his foray into horse racing he was still hunting with the Duke of Buccleuch’s hounds. In the interim he had survived one of the longest and bloodiest campaigns of the Second World War and a life-threatening accident that put him out of action for two years.

The son of master chemist William Gibson and his wife Jane, he was born at home in Johnstone’s Ulundi Road and educated at the town’s High School and Paisley Grammar.

His equine interests stemmed from his boyhood when he helped out at the local stables and undertakers with their horse-drawn hearses, mucking out and exercising the ponies and horses.

After leaving school and still small in stature, he spent the stint at a flat racing stable south of the Border before taking up his studies, in the autumn of 1939, at Glasgow Veterinary College.

They were interrupted during the Second World War when he joined the army, completing his initial training at Fort George, north of Inverness. In early 1944 he was among the troops who landed at the beach head at Anzio, in southern Italy, as the Allies began their bid to breach the German’s defensive Gustav line, drawn across the country in an attempt to prevent them reaching Rome.

He was wounded during one of the subsequent assaults on Monte Cassino, the hilltop abbey feared to be a German look-out post. Tens of thousands of lives were lost in four battles that spanned several months until the Allies broke through in mid-May 1944, heralding the liberation of the Italian capital the following month.

After recuperating, Gibson, who by the spring of 1945 was a lieutenant, was posted to India. He served with No 2A Transport Driver Training Regiment at Jullundur camp in the Punjab, returning to the UK in 1946 and being decommissioned with the rank of captain in the Royal Army Service Corps.

After picking up his studies he qualified in December 1947, becoming a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. He worked firstly in Somerset and then near Kelso before buying his vet practice in Galashiels in 1949 and operating as a single-handed practitioner for many years, supported by his wife Jen, who shared his interest in horses.

Passionate about hunting and point-to-pointing, he always had two horses stabled at the house from which he ran the business. However, a fall during a steeplechase almost put paid to everything.

Although he appeared to have escaped unscathed he was unaware he was suffering from delayed concussion. After returning home he attempted to climb up into the hayloft but fell off the ladder and fractured his skull.

Following life-saving surgery at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – where the wit in him dubbed Ward 20 “The Nut Cracker Suite” – he spent two years recovering in hospital and a nursing home before he was deemed fit enough to return to his practice. In the meantime the Royal College had allowed it to be run by veterinary locums.

After the accident he was warned by his surgeon not to ride again but he defied the advice, getting back in the saddle by the mid-1960s to hunt and take part in point-to-points – enclosing the photographic evidence in a thank you letter to the surgeon.

In 1973 he was joined in the practice by his newly qualified son Iain and they ran the business together until Gibson’s retirement in 1987. He continued to hunt with the Lauderdale and Duke of Buccleuch’s hounds until the 1990s and in 2000 was presented with a silver Quaich, by the Yarrow and Ettrick Pastoral Society, marking 50 years’ service as its honorary veterinary surgeon for the annual show.

Three years ago, more than half a century after he qualified from vet college, the University of Glasgow awarded him the degree of Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery.

A man who always liked to share a joke or an anecdote with friends and clients alike and whose horses were as well turned out as their owner – a legacy of army discipline – his other interests included music, cinema and poetry.

Predeceased by his wife, he is survived by his son, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.