b. 25/01/1886 St James Palace, London. d. 21/04/1941 Rotherhithe, London.
Geoffrey Heneage Drummond (1886-1941) was born on 25th January 1886 at 13 St James’ Place, London, the third of seven sons to Captain Algernon Heneage Drummond of the Rifle Brigade and Margaret Elizabeth (nee Benson), who also had two daughters. The Drummonds who were part of a banking dynasty that founded the Royal Bank of Scotland, divided their time between Cornwall Gardens, London and Maltman’s Green, a house in Gerrards Cross, which was the setting for many summer gatherings when the guests would often include their cousins, the Bowes-Lyon girls, including Elizabeth the future wife of George VI.
Geoffrey attended Evelyn’s Prep School, Eton, but from the age of 9 his education was seriously curtailed when he fell down a flight of some steps and dislocated his neck. Therefore, he suffered severe headaches and was able to spend only a few terms at Evelyn’s, at Christchurch College, Oxford, and Wye Agricultural College. For a long period of his childhood, he lived with a doctor in Lichfield, and taught himself the piano.
His disability did not prevent him working as a land agent in Staffordshire and in the Australian Outback. He also began his favourite recreation, yachting. In the years before the Great War, he did a great deal of sailing around the south coast and on the continent. Anxious to serve his country, he underwent further treatment on his neck and, as a result of manipulation by a Swedish doctor, it was improved enough for him to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in December 1915.
He joined HMS Resourceful at Southampton on 2nd January 1916 for a month’s intensive training. This was followed by a spell at Poole, ferrying messages to the drifter patrol. Following courses in navigation at Greenwich and gunnery at Whale Island, he was ordered to commission a motor boat at Gosport boatyard. Joining her as second in command, he was posted to Dover in September 1916, only to have his orders changed at the last minute. He was told, instead, to head to Scapa Flow and take command of another ML. His job was to patrol the approaches to Pentland Firth. The dull routine ended after three months due to a severe attack of sciatica.
Now a sub-lieutenant, he spent two weeks in Chatham Hospital, and after a spell of sick leave he was recalled to Portsmouth where he took charge of a new ML with a crew of mainly Londoners, only one of whom had ever been near tidal waters. Much of 1917 was spent at Portsmouth, Dover and Dunkirk, with the latter becoming his permanent base from January 1918 until the dramatic events of May.
On 9th/10th May 1918 at Ostend, Belgium, Lieutenant Drummond commanding HMML (Motor Launch) 254, volunteered for rescue work and was following HMS Vindictive to the harbour when a shell burst on board killing an officer and a deck hand and badly wounding the coxswain and Lieutenant Drummond. Notwithstanding his wounds, this officer brought M.L. 254 alongside Vindictive and then took off two officers and 38 men, some of whom were killed or wounded while embarking. He retained consciousness long enough to back his vessel away from the piers and towards the open sea before collapsing exhausted from his wounds.
Drummond’s injuries included a bullet through the shoulder and the near loss of his left leg, and caused him to remain in hospital at Chatham for three weeks, before being discharged on “unemployed time.” During this time he married Maude Aylmer Tindal Bosanquet and enjoyed what he called a “perfectly good honeymoon lasting about ten months”, finishing up at Cannes. It was not until a year after Ostend that he returned to duty at Dover, in command of an ML attached to minesweepers clearing the Channel. He was then transferred to Queenstown, Ireland to help in more minesweepers and night patrols stopping arms reaching the IRA.
Demobilised in 1919, he teamed up with an RNVR friend, Hugh Littleton DSO, who commanded a ML at Zeebrugge, driving and repairing a small fleet of lorries from a base at Waterloo Station. For a while, business was good, but sadly it didn’t last, and strain was heavy on Drummond. By the late 1920s he was living off his pension and touring the country in search of work. “Having a VC makes no difference” he told one journalist.
In 1928 he left England for Australia, with the intention of developing a holiday resort on the west coast, about 30 miles north of Perth. He was accompanied by his wife, 9-year-old daughter and 7- year-old son. His 2-year-old daughter was to follow when they had settled. But the plan failed and was abandoned soon after. He returned to England was given a job at ICI’s Millbank head office by the Chairman, Lord Melchett, who was a personal friend. He remained there until war broke out in 1939.
Despite his fragile health he tried to re-enlist in the RNVR. Rejected as too old and unfit, he immediately joined the River Emergency Service on the Thames and subsequently transferred to the Royal Naval Patrol Service as a second hand in July 1940. His friends Sir Roger Keyes and Captain Hamilton Benn lobbied for him to get a commission in the RNVR, but their efforts were overtaken by tragedy. In April 1941, while carrying a heavy sack of coal, his left leg, weakened by the effects of his injuries 23 years earlier, gave way and he fell, hitting his head on the deck housing. He suffered severe concussion and died in St Olave’s Hospital, Rotherhithe, on 21st April. He was buried in Chalfont St Peter Cemetery, Buckinghamshire.
Drummond’s medals including the VC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, War Medal 1939-45, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Legion of Honour (France), was purchased privately in 1990 by Michael Ashcroft and is displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
ST PETER’S CHURCHYARD, CHALFONT ST PETER, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE. ROW J GRAVE 13
Brian Drummond – Image of the Freemason’s Memorial, London.
Caroline Drummond – Image of the VC Stone at the MOD Building, London.