He was the son of John Gittins (1856, Buckley, Mold, Flintshire – 1931, probably Bistre) and Mary Elizabeth Hewitt (1866, Ewloe or Buckley, Flintshire – 1951, Hawarden district), who had married in Chester district in mid 1880. Olive was baptised at Northop, Flintshire, Wales on 23rd July 1882. Olive does not seem to be an error for Oliver, since this is the name given in several sources such as Crockford’s Directory, his Church Times obituary and the Keble College Oxford Register.
John was the innkeeper at the Black Horse Hotel in Buckley, where he was resident with his wife in both 1901 and 1911. Olive had only one sibling, a younger sister Hilda May (1885, Buckley), who was living with their parents in both 1901 and 1911. Olive is recorded as attending Hawarden Grammar School in 1899 and 1900 and was living with his parents in 1901, giving his occupation as ‘Under Tuition for Clergyman’. He graduated BA from Keble College Oxford in 1904 and attended Wells Theological College that year. He was made a deacon in 1905 and a priest the following year (both by the Bishop of Chester), serving as curate of St Mary’s, Liscard in Merseyside (1905-07). His next curacy was at St Mark’s, Noel Park, Wood Green, London (1907-09) – his Church Times obituary states “like many of the younger priests of his day he was attracted into the diocese of London by Bishop Winnington-Ingram”. He also gained his Oxford MA in 1908.
Olive served a third curacy at St Alban the Martyr, Fulham (1909-11), as senior curate to Fr Tritton – Gittins’ Church Times obituary calls this “a difficult parish in an extremely poor district, where the teaching and ceremonial of the Church were under constant attacks from Protestant factions; but the steady, unflinching teaching was not without its fruit.”. The 1911 census has him boarding with Mary Kingston, a 69 year old Irish spinster, at Polvarth, Keith Road, Hayes, Middlesex. He then became an assistant priest at St Michael’s, Camden Town in 1911 – his obituary states that during his time in the parish “he had charge of a small mission room in a neighbourhood of squalor and wretchedness”. The St Michael’s parish magazine of June 1915 states he had gone to be an Temporary Chaplain to the Forces for the duration of the war, adding that he was stationed in Portsmouth and that “Though he volunteered some time back, he had no word till a fortnight ago to say if he had been accepted, and then he had to pack up and be off at three days’ notice. He has paid us a flying visit in uniform since then, and tells us he finds his post most interesting. He is attached to 13th, 14th, and 15th Battalions of the Army Reserve.” He had been moved to Portsmouth by the time of the July 1915 magazine.
The October 1915 magazine states he was now in charge of No 10 Stationary Hospital in France, its previous chaplain having been sent to the trenches. “He is billetted with an old French lady, whose husband has been killed in battle and who has four sons at the front … The London motor bus is to be seen everywhere. It has now become a vehicle of war” The Bishop of Khartoum and Father Waggett were also serving at that hospital. The May 1916 issue carried a letter from him:
“I spent a good part of Good Friday in the trenches, arranging for Easter Communions, and on Easter Day I celebrated in a large ‘dug-out’ that would hold 40 or 50 men, and also took the Reserved Sacrament to a good many. It was a most inspiring sight to see the men in their well-stained clothes kneeling on the earth in a long cave to receive their Communion, and the whole atmosphere was pervaded with a wonderful sacredness, and the men seemed so thoroughly earnest. On Palm Sunday we were out of the trenches, having an eight days’ rest, and I took a sung Eucharist in a very large barn, which nearly the whole battalion attended. It was a special commemoration service for those who had fallen in the battalion since March 2nd. I am attached at present to the 1st Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. Please convey my affectionate regards to all at S Michael’s.”
In November 1916 he was reported to be back from the front for a few days, but the following month’s issue stated he was in hospital himself at Boulogne “suffering from internal trouble owing to the wet and exposure of the last few weeks since he returned to France. He is going on well, however, and is to recruit at a Convalescent Home on the Riviera when he is well enough to leave the Hospital”.
The March 1917 issue reported that Fr Gittins had told Fr Osborn that he did not intend to return to St Michael’s post-war, despite his post having been kept open for him and despite its parish priest Fr Osborn trying to talk him out of it. It added that the last news of him was that he was going to Devon “to recruit after his illness in the Officers’ Hospital in Surrey”. In the December 1917 issue it was stated “We hear that Mr Gittins has quite recovered his health and has now gone out to Palestine.” The Keble Collge Register states he was “D. Palestine 1918”, possibly standing for Dean. His World War One medal card gives his rank as Honorary Chaplain to the Forces, with Crockford’s Directory stating he was awarded that title in 1919, when he left the Army Chaplaincy Department.
His first post-war role was as vicar of Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa (1920-24), succeding Fr Biggart, CR. He then returned to Britain and Cheshire to become rector of Outrington (1924-30), during which time he was also Procurator of the Convocation of Chester (1929-30). Next he was vicar of St Mark’s, Noel Park, Wood Green (1930-39), where he had served one of his curacies. His obituary stated that his incumbency there was “ the principal work of his life” and that compared to his time there as a curate “the church had much changed and a Protestant section of the parish was in opposition. By steady and patient hard work he gradually built up a loyal congregation, who became deeply attached and devoted to their vicar.”.
His final roles were as vicar of Holy Trinity, Reading (1939-46) and Holy Trinity, Ryde, Isle of Wight (1946-50), resigning the latter only a few months before his death. He was buried on 7th August 1950 at Bistre, Flintshire, probably at Emmanuel Parish Church and probably with his parents, who were also registered as being buried there. His Church Times obituary of 11th August 1950 stated he “belonged to a generation of older Catholic priests who did yeoman service for the Church. [and] … was known as a wise confessor, and other priests were accustomed to send penitents to him.”