96 Hugh Stewart Geddes
Hugh was born in 1895 in Bishopbriggs, Lanarkshire Scotland, to parents Hugh and Mary (nee Dores) Geddes.
Hugh had two brothers William and Roy and two sisters Annie and Mary.
When Hugh enlisted with the 1st FCE he was 22 years old, an engineer with 5 years working experience with Turnbull and Co. in Glasgow and had served with the territorial forces Royal engineers for four years and completed his service.
Originally his father also Hugh Geddes was his NOK and addressed Bishopbriggs Glasgow. However it appears his father may have been unwell and remained in Scotland and the rest of the family migrated to Australia possibly in late 1913.
Hugh later changed his NOK to his mother, care of the ‘Federal’ butchery which was operated by his brother Roy Geddes. His brother William “Bill” was an alderman of Forbes.
According to 53 Thomas Drane also from Forbes, Hugh and Thomas volunteered on the the same day ,16th August 1914 and passed their medicals at Parkes. Hugh and Thomas after arriving in Sydney were both placed placed in the Engineers.
During his time at Gallipoli and later at the western front, Hugh remained in constant touch with his brother Alderman William “Bill” Geddes, and Bill like many of the families of the local soldiers would share some of the latest writing’s for publication in the local ‘Forbes Advocate’..
The ANZAC stories were now compulsory reading and the anxious families were always keen for news. Sentiment would change over time as Hugh Geddes verses also sent to his brother, were a grim reminder of the real cost of war.
Published – Forbes Advocate (NSW : 1911 – 1921), Friday 5 November 1915,
Published : Forbes Advocate (NSW : 1911 – 1921), Friday 12 November 1915,
Original partner with Hugh Geddes when enlisting 53Thomas Drane, describes how he was “one of the unlucky ones” at Gallipoli , his personal letter to Hugh’s brother Bill, describes his personal suffering.
The Western Front
While at the western front on the 8th February 1917 Hugh was promoted to Lance corporal and was later recommended for the Military Medal on two separate occasions. One particularly at Yarra Bank , on the 25th Feb 1917
The citation read:-
“At le Bargue early on the morning of the 25th February 1917, L/Cpl. Geddes was detailed to take out a party of sappers , and assist the infantry who were said to be constructing a strong point at M.a8.a 8.0 , which was then an outpost well in advance of our new front line. He led his party to the job, over ground which had not been cleared of snipers and other detached parties of the enemy, got the work in hard and led his party back as he was instructed. Later in the day he was accompanying a relief which was going out on the right. They met at an enemy barrage near the YARRA BANK, and one shell caused eight casualties among them…..L/Cpl GEDDES did excellent work in rendering first aid.” – Source AWM
The Short Account of the 1st FCE also describes the 25th February 1917 and the events of the day in the same area as the most disastrous the company had experienced during the entire war. Lt. Lawrence noted in the unit war diaries and in detail mentioned the excellent work of the engineers under difficult circumstances. Unfortunately at great cost to the company of engineers. Feb 1917 RCDIG1008689
Among the casualties were fellow originals – 204 Patrick Finn Walshe and 124 Sydney Matthew Garrett who both later died from their wounds.
Hugh was again recommended for a Military Medal for his actions on the 18th September 1917.
“On the 18th September 1917 along the Zouve track near Halfway House near the front line Geddes had chased down a runaway horsed drawn wagon with carried a wounded driver and returned the wounded driver back to safety all the time under a good deal of shelling from German artillery.”– Source AWM
On the 4th of October 1917 the company helped to capture Passchendale Ridge, Ypres. They followed the second wave of the Infantry and when the ridge was captured the company proceeded to consolidate the position by forming a strong point.
At 1.30 in the afternoon a German aeroplane came over at a low altitude and had spied their position and turned back to inform the German batteries. The German batteries then opened fire and sent a salve into the company’s position on the ridge, a barrage of heavy shelling that lasted for the remainder of the day and ultimately at great cost to the “original” sappers and many others.
A bloody day ensued and it was now a matter of survival.
167 Albert Currie was buried alive and only for the quick work of fellow originals 66 Norman Masters and 99 John Jackson, Albert was dug out and saved from his muddy grave.
The following account was also in a letter from fellow “original” 167 Albert Currie……..
“……. I was wounded and buried alive as a shell exploded and the trench was blown upon us, but I was rescued before I was smothered.”
Tragically three originals would be killed on this day, 32 James Nicholls, 119 William “Billy”Pitt, and 190 Jack Hollingworth.
Hugh witnessed the death of fellow original 190 Jack Hollingworth and later gave a full account to the red cross.
“ Both these men were in No.2 section of 1st Field coy Engineers with me. Curry’s name was Frank, and we called Hollingworth “Mary”. He wore glasses and had a very clear complexion, and was young, tall, and well built, but with a refined face. ……….These boys and another called Cole were sheltering in the next shellhole to me on the 4th/10/17 at Broodsiende after we had taken the first objective, when a shell exploded in this shellhole and killed three of them and wounded two others of the same section. I saw it happen and am sure both of these men and Cole were killed instantly. We held and advanced from this position, so they would be buried later on.”- L/Cpl Hugh Geddes – Source AWM
Fellow sappers wrote letters to Jack Hollingworths mother and advised Arthur, his brother, also at the front, of the circumstances.
On this fateful day Hugh was also seriously wounded in the left arm by gunshot and was transferred to Weymouth , England.
Five days later the Forbes Advocate, unaware of Hugh’s circumstances, published the following personal notice.
Hugh Geddes Returns Home
The Forbes Advocate was right in its hope for Hugh’s return. Shortly after recovering from his wound, he was medically discharged on the 15th April 1918 and returned home to Australia on the HMAT Borda arriving in June 1918.
“Back to Forbes this week came Corporal Hugh Geddes, brother of Alderman W. D. Geddes, of Forbes, who went into camp recently. Corporal Hugh Geddes, who enlisted early in the war, was at Gallipoli and France. His relatives reside at Forbes and Trundle.”- Forbes Advocate, Friday 7 June 1918.
Hugh Geddes was never awarded the Military Medal, however his service was noted by the ANZAC Corp. Commanding officer Lieut. General Sir W.R Birdwood and he expressed his appreciation for his gallant and conspicuous services rendered, with the issue of a “Congratulatory” Order.
The Forbes Advocate once again provided local updates on the Geddes family circumstances.
Source : Forbes Advocate, Friday 10 September 1920.
On the 23rd October 1920 Margaret gave birth to a son , who they named in honour of both Hugh’s brother and Margaret’s brother, he was named Roy Hamilton Geddes.
In 1935 Hugh was appointed a Justice of the Peace and in 1936 and he also held office in the Merbein sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League
In the 1942 Electoral rolls both Hugh and Margaret were still living at Merbein. At this time their son Roy was on active service, now a pilot officer in the Royal Australian Air Force.
Roy Geddes had studied at Melbourne University where he served in the Melbourne University Rifles from 1939 until 1941 but left this unit and enlisted with RAAF service. He enlisted into the RAAF on 26th April 1941 in Melbourne and was still a student at university at the time living in Merbein, Victoria.
He left Australia in September 1941 and trained in South Africa gaining his wings there on 23rd March 1942.
He was posted to 10 Squadron on 1st March 1943 . He received his commission to the rank of Pilot Officer on probation on 24th June 1943.
Sadly five days later he and all but one of his new crew were killed when his Halifax HR697 crashed in Holland on an operational flight to Cologne. The aircraft was shot down by an enemy aircraft and crashed near Kaborg, Maastricht with only one of the crew surviving.
Hugh and Margaret would have been devastated to hear the news and the loss of their son Roy.
Hugh had fought so many battles nearly 20 years earlier and must have wondered on many occasions , was it all for nothing.
HUGH STEWART GEDDES died in 17th July 1951 aged 56 in Mildura Victoria and he is buried at Merbein cemetery Victoria. Margaret died in 1957 in Orange, NSW.
Hugh was a great ANZAC and great man, dedicated to his family and his country. Hugh, Margaret and their son Roy will always be remembered.
Story © VanceKelly2016
Original Afric photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection
Mildura Genealogy, Image courtesy Billion Graves.com, Long Jetty RSL Sub Branch Museum NSW.