Thursday, 18 September 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and said "Goodbye" to old soldier, Pacific colonial officer and English safety officer called Gemmell Alexander

Gemmell , who died in the summer, aged 95, was the last surviving Military MBE from the Second World War and one who served in the post-War, Pacific Islands Colonial Service in the last days of the British Empire.

What you possibly didn't know about Gemmell, that he :

* was born at Hooton, Cheshire, just before the end of the First World War in August 1918, the son of a father, joint partner with his father of the wealthy Liverpool accountants, 'Harmood' and mother, Winifed, who had been 'close friends' with the Prince of Wales when both were students at Oxford University in before the War in 1914.

* was 12 years old when his Mother died and was adopted and brought up along with his three brothers and sister by her sister, Aunt Marjorie, in
Heswall and was educated from the age of 14, as a boarder at the
independent boys' public school, Sedbergh, set in the Cumbrian countryside where he developed his love of walking and where the school motto was 'Dura Virum Nutrix' (Stern Nurse of Men) and a song, 'Winder', was named after the fell that dominated the northern skyline of the school and all boys had to climb once.

* left school in 1936 and he signed on with a North Sea trawler at a shilling a day, before going to Brasenose College, Oxford to study for a Law degree and at the age of 20 in 1938, was a leader of the Oxford Expedition to identify the mosquitoes preventing the development of a tourist industry in the Cayman Islands and in '39 photographed gannets and little auks off the coast of Iceland and on the boat home he met his future wife, Rona Page Elias, a nurse, as they both leaned over the rail to be sick.
* graduated in 1939 and was apprenticed to a Liverpool garage before being called up for Army service after the outbreak of the Second World War and was posted to 51st Infantry Division in France to join the British Expeditionary Force, only to find it had been evacuated and, stranded, made his way from St Etienne to Nantes where, after killing a German soldier in self-defence, hid for two months in the attic of the home of Anne-Marie, the family's French Governess, with whom he had eaten ice creams as a boy, before escaping on a Polish trawler which was attacked by a German Stuka dive bomber.

 * on return to Britain, was posted to the Military Police with the Eighth Army in North Africa and promoted to Captain and then one of 'Monty's Majors' after his senior officers were both killed and had to pick up the personal possessions and arrange the burial of his of  his younger brother, Stuart, after he was killed in the Battle of El Alamein a few miles away.

* took part in the beach landings at Sicily and Anzio in 1944 and later was present at the capture of the Belsen Concentration Camp, was twice 'mentioned in despatches' which recognised his 'gallant action in the face of the enemy', was demobbed from the Army at the age of 27 in 1945 and awarded 'Military MBE' which honoured his 'distinguished service.'

* married Rona and embarked on a career in the Colonial Service with a posting to Gilbert and Ellice Islands, restored to British rule after war-time Japanese occupation.

* set to work : marrying those who had been living together, granting divorces and giving appropriate sentences to wrongdoers, only to be advised that his actions were 'without authority' since he had not passed 'the necessary exams', but since they could not be rescinded, received back-dated authority as 'Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific' and while posted saved the life of his daughter, Alison, from drowning in the Pacific.

* also introduced a law banning outside traders to help the local economy to grow and started a trade in shark fins until the Chinese Government placed a ban on their import and faced complaints about the smell when they were stored in Suva until an American purchased the entire consignment for four times the price originally agreed.
* posted to Mauritius, supervised the building of a road so that planters could bring down sugar cane from the mountains and helped to organise a co-operative dairy to deliver fresh milk to the capital, Port Louis.

* moved on to Cyprus as 'Commissioner for Co-Operative Development', joined the Cyprus Grain Commission, helped the Agricultural Bank of Greece and was Controller of Vine Products, against a background of  the Greek Cypriots demand for 'Enosis',  union with Greece which was spilling into violence.

* returned to Britain at the age of 42 in 1960, joined the 'Co-operative Wholesale Society', organised the bulk buying of fertilisers and animal feeds, then joined the 'International Co-operative Alliance' then became 'Director-General of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents' and finally worked as 'Road Safety Officer for West Yorkshire' before retiring at the age 60.

* in retirement in 1978, climbed Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in just 24 hours and ten years later at the age of 70, to celebrate his birthday, walked the 'Yorkshire Three Peaks' twice on the same day.

* in 2002 appeared on the 'Richard and Judy Show'
as the sole survivor of the family filmed by his Aunt in a 16mm compilation called 'The Alexanders' and saw it lead to a three part mini series called 'The Alexander Archive' for the BBC, screened in 2003 :
* in a life in which he : survived a gas explosion as a baby,  escaped from German soldiers in full British uniform in 1940, in the Pacific survived when a hurricane flattened his house while he was inside and had his son Harvey say of him : “He was a bit of a Houdini. He was very lucky. He led a very full life, at any rate!”

No comments:

Post a Comment