Geoffrey was born in 1919 in Lower Peover in Cheshire, and attended Altrincham County High School (now Altrincham Grammar School), paying £5 a term to do so. He did not take formal exams, instead becoming involved with the family business in local saw mills, where he was trained by the local foreman in carpentry, joinery and saw milling. Both the foreman and the 2nd joiner that he worked with were members of the Royal Artillery in WWI, and frequently spoke to Geoffrey about their own wartime experiences. It was these accounts that would later result in Geoffery choosing to join the Royal Artillery. For Geoffrey, WWI had a tangible impact upon his life – he remembers that a war game played as a child was often ‘England vs. Germany’, rather than ‘Cowboys and Indians’.
He volunteered to join the Territorial Army at Store Street, Manchester on his 20th birthday (8th November 1939), and later made the choice join the regular Army. Because of the stories told by his work colleagues, Geoffrey insisted that he be admitted to the Artillery, and was willing to wait for a vacancy in order to do so. In March 1940 he joined the 24th Medium and Heavy Training Regiment at North Frith Barracks in Blackdown to commence his training. He found the training ‘spot on’, learning the various drills required to operate the guns used by the Artillery. His experience of driving and working on machinery resulted in him passing out as a driver and attending a diesel course that covered driving and maintenance.
The Normandy Campaign
Geoffrey was not at the initial D-Day assault on the beaches of Normandy, instead taking his gun over (at this point he had been promoted and had his own driver) at the end of June. Although he was involved in the build up to the campaign, he noted that there were 2 million troops being transported over the channel over a long period of time. The move down to the loading port in Southampton had to be done in several stages, considering the large amount of specialised equipment that they had. After moving down from where he was stationed in Yorkshire, all of the vehicles and guns had to be exhaustively waterproofed at Buller Barracks in Aldershot. This ensured that they would be able to land all their equipment in up to 5 feet of water without fear of damage. He arrived at Southampton as part of the 8th Army Group Royal Artillery, 8th Corps.
The unit that Geoffrey was in was a part of the troops that Field Marshal Montgomery (Commander Allied Forces for the Normandy invasion) hoped to use to ‘break out’ of the battles that were being fought around the town of Carne. However, fierce storms damaged the Mulberry (during WWII, this was the name given to temporary harbours built to allow ships to dock and offload troops and equipment quickly) harbour at Arromanches, where he was meant to land. Whilst the harbour was being repaired, Geoffrey found himself waiting at a temporary camp until it was safe to cross the channel. These camps were only meant to be occupied for 24 hours before troops moved on, but Geoffrey found himself there for a monotonous week – “the same food plus the entertainment only did one film”.
The delayed journey to Normandy got underway on Friday 30th June, where Geoffrey loaded his gun onto an American Tank Landing Craft. After a stopover at the Isle-of-Wight, they waited for the cover of darkness before embarking for France. He knows the exact dates because of a diary written by Captain Sid Cutler, one of his officers, who promised to provide copies to his soldiers and these are still referenced to this day.
The convoy suffered some rough weather before landing on the 1st July (D+25). Because they were landing close to Omaha beach (An area of some of the fiercest fighting on D-day which resulted in huge American casualties), Geoffrey experienced the horrific sight of his boat pushing through the floating bodies of soldiers who had died in the fighting on D-Day on the 6th June. He stoically remarked that this “was not a very nice thing to experience”.
Despite this grim experience, Geoffrey realised the importance of their task and the role they were playing in it:
‘There were several younger boys with me and I asked them if they knew why they were there, because I realised even then we were part of history”
When some of the soldiers did not grasp his point, he re-iterated “Well, you’re here; you’re going into France. You’re going to liberate the continent”. He was trying to get them to understand the enormity of the situation, an instruction passed down by Field Marshall Montgomery to his NCO’s (Non-Commissioned Officers, soldiers promoted to have rank and responsibility over private soldiers). Unfortunately they did not seem to understand the level of importance as much as he did!
Geoffrey did not refer in detail to the actual fighting, although it is clear that he and his team had to operate their gun extensively. After moving through Caan and being involved at the fighting in Falaise, He remembers crossing into the Dutch border in September 1944 and getting “a fortnight of peace, perfect peace” in an apple orchard, a stark contrast to the fighting previous.
Geoffrey finished the war in the rank of Sergeant. He subsequently returned to the building trade, before becoming a member of the MIAS (Institution of Architects and Surveyors). He joined the building department in Manchester as a District Surveyor, one of only 12 in the city. He believed his training and promotion resulted in him maturing very quickly, which would help him in his later career. He takes an active part in veterans’ commemorations, and bears no grudges, viewing the war as a terrible loss for both sides:
“And I wandered off like a fool, on my own, into the Cemetery. And I was doing my usual thing, looking when these, they’re all German [graves], 33,000 of them. And I’m going along and I see the guy “Known only to God”. Now I’ve always, I always stand there, whenever I see those in our own cemetery, ‘cos no-one ever visits them, so I do.”