On a sunny Saturday in October 2018, we visited the South African Cemetery in Castiglione dei Pepoli. This cemetery has 502 war graves from the Second World War, the majority being for South African servicemen. The 24th Guards Brigade, however, was under the command of the 6th South African Armoured Division, so Guardsman from that Brigade make up about 100 of those burials.
As the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was part of the 9th Scottish Division during the First World War, it felt fitting that Scots Guards were buried here alongside their long-term South African allies. Please note that there was extensive horticultural work going on in the summer and autumn of 2018, with some realignment of headstones in three of the ‘plots’, which explains the absence of turf in the background. I took photos of some of the Guards’ graves, using rather random filters—such as surnames that are in my own family tree. However, the first headmaster under whom I began my teaching career, was the inspirational John Geddes, first headmaster of Sandringham High School, which ‘explains’ my pausing to consider this young man. I wondered at the time whether the Latin epitaph was an indication that one or both parents was a Roman Catholic.
Walter Hardy Geddes was born on 20 September 1924 at Tynet, with his birth registered by his father at Port Gordon, Moray. He died on 1 October 1944 just 11 days after reaching his 20th birthday in ferocious fighting. Eighteen of the Scots Guards buried at Castiglione were killed on that day, as was one Gunner from the Royal Artillery (Newfoundland) Field Regiment. Casualties were heavy for the entire month: 212 of the 502 were killed in October 1944, when they were not helped by weather that made armoured manoeuvres difficult, if not impossible.
Walter’s parents were John Geddes, a Crofter, and his wife Ellen (or Helen?) Maria Milne of Clochan, Banffshire. (Their marriage certificate has her as Ellen, and the CWGC record as Helen—a not uncommon ‘mistake’ in records.) The marriage was at the Clunie Hotel in Buckie, and was indeed held according to the Rites of the Roman Catholic Church. I find research in Moray and Banff seems to lead quite frequently back to Catholics.
His birth certificate revealed that he had a twin, Olive Maria Landon Geddes, born 15 minutes after her brother, and named, perhaps, after her maternal grandmother, Maria Landon.
For this research, I was using a few minutes at the end of an evening group visit to Register House, so ran out of time to find out more about his sister, or whether Olive married. It appears that Olive did not marry in Scotland, nor did I find her death because I only had time for a ‘shallow’ search for that. I’ll look further when I have a full day place at Scotland’s People, and until then, hope that some Geddes relatives may complete the picture for me.