Geoffrey Harrison Grimshaw, was the second child of William Henry Grimshaw, a woollen draper, and Margaret Harrison Tootill, who married at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Bury on 12 September 1888. Geoffrey, their second child and first son, was born at 50 Fleet Street, Bury, on 8 September 1891. He was baptised at the United Methodist Church, Heap Bridge, on 11 October 1894.
The 1901 census (RG13/3638/60) shows the Grimshaws installed at 129 Walmersley Road, next door to their Tootill in-laws. His sister Elsie was living at home, but Geoffrey Grimshaw was already away at school in Southport where, aged 9, he was a boarder at University School, 1 & 3 Cambridge Road. The page of the census on which he appears (RG13/3536/21/75) lists the boys with surnames beginning G to W and out of the 31 listed, he was the only nine-year-old, the next youngest being two boys aged 11 and three aged 13. The oldest boy was 17 and this, together with the name of the school, suggest that it may have specialised in preparing boys for University. An advertisement in the Southport Guardian of Saturday 15 July 1916 describes it as “a most successful Boarding and Day School for boys” with an “experienced resident matron”, and lists the exhibitions and scholarships which its boys had recently won; another school in the same paper is quoting fees of 12 guineas a term for boarders. This suggests William Grimshaw’s business was prospering, and the decision to send his son away to school is perhaps evidence of a desire for the family to advance socially.
The family later moved to Southport, an elegant and prosperous Lancashire seaside resort, living close to the seafront and high street at 55 Leyland Road. The house has no longer stands, but photos of it survive in an album made up as a Christmas present, possibly by Elsie Grimshaw for her parents.
Geoffrey completed his education at Sandringham School, Southport, and went on to study theology at University College, Durham University - the first of his family to embark on higher education. The 1911 census finds him staying with a University coach, Wilfred Burckhardt Atherstone Hales of Underhill House, Underhill, New Barnet, Hertfordshire, and described as a student of divinity. According to his sister Elsie, he was hoping to become a Congregationalist Minister. At Durham he was awarded caps for the University College Boat and Hockey Clubs, which have since been donated to his College. His hockey cap dates from the 1913-1914 session. A photograph also in Durham University Library’s collections shows Geoffrey Grimshaw in Officer Training Corps uniform as one of the victorious University College Shooting Eight in June 1914. The team had just won the Gee Cup and have the short magazine rifles which were widely used in the OTC. Following Haldane’s army reforms of 1907 some 153 Public Schools and many Universities had active OTCs – in many schools attendance was compulsory – and boys could gain their Certificate A. If to this was added the Certificate B, which many chose to take at University, cadets were regarded as qualified to be platoon leaders in the Territorial Army.
Other photographs in the university archive show that the Durham University OTC went into camp that summer and Grimshaw may have gone with them. Indications are that he had worked hard for his University place, was participating fully in College life and no doubt felt he was laying sure foundations for the rest of his life. The outbreak of war brought an abrupt change of direction.
War against Germany was declared on 4 August 1914 and two days later Grimshaw filled in an application form for appointment to a commission in the special reserve of officers, for appointment in any infantry battalion. In this he recorded that he had been until March 1914 a lance corporal in the 7th King’s Liverpool Territorials, which he had left in order to become a cadet in Durham University OTC, A Company. His medical a week later recorded that he was 5 feet 7¼ inches, weighed 10 stone and measured 34 inches round the chest when breathing in. Hearing, vision, and colour vision were good and his teeth “repaired but good”. He was duly pronounced fit for the special reserve of officers.
On 1 September 1914, shortly before his twenty-third birthday, he was gazetted temporary Second Lieutenant in the 6th (Service) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment which had come into existence on 8 August. Its depot was at Fulwood Barracks, Preston, where the regimental museum is still located, although the regiment has since become the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment. ‘Temporary’ and ‘Service’ denote that Geoffrey was not a regular and that his unit formed part of Kitchener’s New Army. Sixteen days later his major, the bearer of the lugubrious - but distinguished - name, J.R. Pine-Coffin, was appointed.
Colonel H.C. Wylly, in his History of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, Vol 2 1914-1919, (London, 1933: p. 231), states that the 6th (Service) Battalion formed part of the 38th Brigade of the 13th (Western) Division, which was entirely made up of New Army battalions. Most of the battalion’s training was carried out on Salisbury Plain, but towards the end of its time in England it moved to Blackdown, near Aldershot. A more personal glimpse comes from a letter written home from King William’s College, Isle of Man, on 16 October 1914 by Reginald Hunt Tootill: “I have received a letter from Auntie Margaret [Geoffrey Grimshaw’s mother]. ‘Geoffrey is at Tidworth in Wilts with his regiment. He has some very rough men to drill but he says they are improving. They get up at 5.30 in the morning and work until 4.30pm, so it is a fairly long day for hard work, is it not?’”.
The following spring the 13th was one of three divisions ordered to proceed to Gallipoli to reinforce General Hamilton’s troops during their ill-fated campaign. In his History Colonel Wylly notes that the battalion transport left Farnborough station on 14 June to embark at Avonmouth, and that Geoffrey Grimshaw was among those who sailed on the Braemar Castle on 17 June. They arrived at Cape Helles, via Malta and Egypt, on 6 July and camped in Gully Ravine before moving up as reserves in the Eski Line. They then moved up into support and front-line trenches on 8 July on the extreme left of the British line, right next to the Aegean Sea. By the time they were relieved on 9 July two Captains were wounded, one mortally, two lieutenants and twenty-four men were also wounded, with one missing. They went to bivouac at Geogheghan’s Bluff before returning to the front line on 11 July. At this point Grimshaw was shipped home with dysentery, leaving on the Asturias from the Dardanelles on 12 July 1915, and arriving at Southampton on 17 July. Over 500 men of his battalion were slaughtered in August at Chunuk Batir, putting up a desperate defence in shallow and inadequate trenches.
The War Office machinery ground into action and a telegram was dispatched to Geoffrey’s parents on 2 August, which read “2 Lieut GH Grimshaw Loyal North Lancs Regt admitted 2nd Western General Hospital Manchester July 28th sick. Secretary to War Office.” This was the Whitworth Hospital, and Geoffrey was discharged on 9 August and given leave until 28 August. After various medical boards he was found to be fit for light duties by 4 September and fit for general service on 11 November 1915.
After this he must have been attached to the 8th (Service) battalion and sent out to France. It was during the early part of 1916 that an enemy bullet flattened the sliver whistle he carried and was believed to have saved his life. The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and the 8th Battalion fought as part of 7th Brigade, 25th Division.
The most detailed account is provided by Colonel Wylly:
"During the 8th [July] and part of the 9th, the 7th brigade was near Albert in support of the two other brigades of its division, which were then holding the newly-won German line about Ovilliers and la Boisselle; but on the afternoon of the 9th the battalion was sent up to take over an advanced position of the trench system immediately south of Ovilliers."
History of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, Vol. 2, 1914-1919, (London, 1933: pp. 292-293)
Conditions on the last day of Geoffrey’s life are described by Lyn Macdonald in her work, Somme (1990):
"It was a slithering, wet shambles of a night. The churning shellfire, the constant traffic, the frequent showers of the ten days' fighting had turned the trenches into ditches running with mud. Next morning a slight steam rose above them under the hot rays of the sun. It was a beautiful day. It was also a day of hellish noise."
Somme by Lyn Macdonald (London, 1990: p.118)
On 10 July attacks were made northwards towards Ovilliers by the 7th and 74th Brigades, the latter more successfully than the former. The war diary takes up the narrative.
"About 1.0 pm, orders were received to occupy several points in the enemy line running across our front and joining our trenches on the right. … At 2.30 pm an advance was made from our block … A heavy hostile barrage was opened on the trench but in spite of very large casualties we reached Point 25. Here we were held up by enemy bombing parties. Heavy shelling & bombing continued for about 2 hours without any gain. The enemy then tried to outflank us both on left & right moving across the open. His counter attacks were however driven off & the night was quiet, a block being established just short of point 25. A detached post under Sgt Holmes (C Coy) on the left of our line … held their ground all day although they had heavy casualties & no support could be got to them. … it is believed that, when the attack was at its height … at least 3 Prussian battalions were opposing it. … Our casualties were very heavy in connection with this operation as was only to be expected."
The National Archives (WO 95/2243/2)
On 11 July the battalion moved back into dug-outs at La Boiselle, where they could take stock of their losses. Geoffrey Grimshaw was one of four second lieutenants killed along with thirty-three other ranks. Major Wynne, two Captains, and two lieutenants were wounded, as were 156 men, and a further 49 were unaccounted for and believed killed.
Although Geoffrey Grimshaw had been killed, the first War Office telegram which came to his parents read: “Regret to inform you 2 Lt GH Grimshaw Loyal North Lancs Regt was wounded July 11th. Further details sent when received.” The Southport Guardian of 15 July 1916 (p. 9, col. 3) carried his photograph and gave brief details of his schooling and army service.
The following day his mother wrote to the War Office asking for information about Geoffrey’s wounds and which hospital he had been sent to, but it was not until 20 July that the most dreaded telegram arrived: “Deeply regret to inform you 2 Lt GH Grimshaw Loyal North Lancs previously reported wounded now reported killed in action July 10th. The Army Council express their sympathy.”
On Saturday 22 July the Southport Guardian, under the masthead “Local Casualties. Southport Men in the Big Advance”, Geoffrey’s photograph again appeared, together with a report of his death, and which included a report from his commanding officer, Lieut.-Col. Marriott.
"He was killed by a shell on the afternoon of the 10th inst. while gallantly commanding his platoon during a strong counter-attack made by the Germans against a trench which we had captured from them. He was doing his duty bravely at the time, and his good example contributed in no small degree to our ultimate success. He is buried where he fell, together with many of his comrades. On a former occasion since the commencement of these operations his name had been brought to my notice for good work. Please accept my sincere sympathy in your loss, which is also the loss of the battalion."
Southport Guardian, Saturday 22 July (p. 9, col. 3)
His family was utterly devastated by his death and are thought to have moved around for many years from hotel to hotel, unable to settle anywhere.