John Geldard (1885–1918), Captain in the 2nd Royal Marine (Plymouth) Battalion, 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, the Royal Marines, died on 20 August 1918 at the Burlington Hotel, London. The cause of death was influenza for fourteen days with a secondary infection of pneumonia for seven days. (The Spanish ’flu pandemic infected 500 million people and killed between 50 and 100 million people in 1918.)
He has no grave or memorial in any British military cemetery abroad. He is commemorated on the Roll of Honour in Giggleswick School Chapel, Yorkshire, the Great Chesterford War Memorial, and the Rathmell War Memorial as well as in this family grave.
John was born on 4 December 1885 at Brooklands Villa, Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge. He was baptised on 24 January 1886. John was the second of the six children of Christopher Geldard and Janet Stuart Geldard (née Humphry). Like his father and his older brother, Christopher, he attended Giggleswick School, Yorkshire. He entered there in September 1900 and left in December 1902.
After leaving school he took the competitive examination held by the Civil Service in 1904 in order to enter the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Sixty-eight cadetships were awarded for cavalry, foot guards and infantry that year. John obtained 9,164 marks and came 17th. However, on 1 September 1904 John was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. He spent the next two years at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich where he became a Lieutenant on 1 July 1905. John passed out of the Royal Naval College on 30 June 1906. The next day he moved to the Divisional Headquarters at the Plymouth Division where he stayed for eighteen months. John passed courses in Electricity for Torpedoes and passed the Gunnery School course as ‛Excellent’. He was also classed as having special skills in French and Freehand Drawing.
EARLY NAVAL CAREER
On 7 January 1908 John joined HMS Majestic. He spent most of his time with this ship in port at Devonport, the naval base at Plymouth. His commanding officer reported, ‛Does his best and will make a good officer but is somewhat slow at present’. Then on 18 August 1908 John was transferred to HMS Bulwark, Plymouth Headquarters. His report there stated, ‛Very Good, trustworthy officer quietly acquiring knowledge of sea life’. He continued studying Wireless Telegraphy, French and Freehand Drawing.
On 2 January 1909 John joined HMS Goliath for a period of duty in the Mediterranean. His commanding officer reported, ‛Rather slow but does his best, likely with experience to make a good officer. Good judgement, Very reliable, Good physique.’ After four months he returned to Plymouth for further training at Headquarters.
In 1909 John was assigned to HMS Hogue for a few months. He again returned to Plymouth again where he qualified as Squadron Wireless Officer before taking part in manoeuvres on HMS Devonshire. His commanding officer stated, ‛Has not a good appearance. Holds himself badly. Zealous and capable’. On 12 August 1911 John set sail again for the Mediterranean from Plymouth on board HMS Baccante as Assistant for Wireless Telegraphy Duties. He was responsible for communications between the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy ships, and the Admiralty in London. John spent time on board several other battleships including HMS Good Hope and HMS Dreadnought. On 4 June 1912 he was assigned to HMS Exmouth for duty as assistant for wireless telegraphy duties, in lieu of an instructor in 4th Battle Squadron. However, on 25 March 1913 John was transferred to another battleship, HMS Swiftsure (East Indies Squadron), for Wireless Telegraphy Duties, which was bound for the East Indies. During his time there he obtained the Naval General Service Medal Bar Persian Gulf 1909‒14.
THE GALLIPOLI CAMPAIGN
It is likely that John would have been one of the first Englishmen to hear the news on 4 August 1914 when Great Britain declared war on Germany given his employment. John was instantly mobilized for war service. In early 1915 John was working as the Wireless Telegraphy Officer on board HMS Euryalus. This ship ferried the 1st Battalion the Lancashire Fusiliers from Egypt to the Dardanelles. On 25 April 1915 the Battalion landed at Cape Helles to begin the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. A note on John’s file stated ‛Present at Landing at Cape Helles and subsequent operations’. John spent the summer either on board HMS Swiftsure or HMS Doris, a Light Cruiser, off the coast of Gallipoli. He was also present at Anzac Cove between 17 and 20 December during the evacuation. On 1 September 1915 John was promoted to Captain. He was mentioned in dispatches and he was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) but this was not awarded. Instead, he was awarded the Bronze Medal for Military Valour (Italy) for service in the Dardanelles. His report during this time stated that he was:
‛Clever, thorough, painstaking, reliable, hardworking, in fact has those qualities which go to make a good staff officer. […] His manner might make one first making his acquaintance think him slow, but on better knowledge of him would find that it is his manner not his brain which is slow. Has initiative and enthusiasm. Specially recommended for advancement for good staff work in war time.’
After the end of the Gallipoli campaign John initially stayed on the cruiser, HMS Doris, in the eastern Mediterranean, guarding British shipping and interests including off the Turkish coast. At one point the ship fired on and destroyed the coastal batteries and guns in the fort at the large and important Turkish port of Smryna (Izmir). John then transferred to various other ships including HMS Talbot, a Light Cruiser, based at Plymouth.
In January 1918 John made his final transfer to the battleship, HMS Lord Nelson, which was in the Mediterranean. He returned to England on 8 August having been appointed to a home billet but he was taken ill the following day. John died on 20 August 1918 in the Burlington Hotel, Cork Street, London, whilst on active service with the Plymouth Battalion (Royal Navy Division), Royal Marines. The cause of death was influenza for fourteen days with a secondary infection of pneumonia for seven days, otherwise known as the ‛Spanish ’flu’. In addition to the medals mentioned above John was also entitled to the 1914–1915 Star, the Victory medal and the British War medal for his war service. [Click on downloads for obituary from Giggleswick School and John Geldard medals]
Lat Lon : 52.201785, 0.13674394 – click here for location
Parish : St Paul
War Graves Photographic Project
Census returns for England: 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837–1915
London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813–1906
England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index, 1837–1915
Manchester, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754–1930
London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754–1921
England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837–1915
England & Wales, Death Index, 1916–2007
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858–1966
1892 Kelly’s Directory
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914–1919
UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538–1893
The Times, Saturday, 22 December 1883
The Times, Thursday, 29 September 1887
The Times, Wednesday, 8 February 1893
The Times, Wednesday, 23 June 1915
The Times, Thursday, 14 March 1940
London Gazette, 3 September 1915
London Gazette, Issue 30111, 1 June 1917
London Gazette, Issue 30386, 16 November 1917
UK Naval Medal and Award Rolls
Giggleswick School Register
Cambridge Independent Press, 16 July 1897
Cambridge University Alumni, 1261–1900
UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878–1960
Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895–1956
Local Heroes, The Men on Great Chesterford Village War Memorial by Peter Oldham (Chesterford Local History & Archaeology Society, Interim Report No 9)
Information kindly provided by the following institutions: Trinity College, Cambridge; Giggleswick School; Craven Community Projects Group; and Lawrences Auctioneers.
By Emma Easterbrook, Mary Naylor and Ian Bent