Wilson Charles Geoffrey Baldwin GC (EM exchanger)

b. 09/04/1912 Dovercourt, Essex. d. 02/05/1994 Harwich, Essex.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 20/11/1942 Great Oakley, Essex.

Wilson Charles Geoffrey Baldwin (1912-1994) was born on 9th April 1912 in Dovercourt, Essex, the second son of Samuel and Amy Elizabeth Baldwin (nee Hiley), and spent his early life and education in France until he was 14, when he returned to the UK to enter Perse School, Cambridge. As a Goldsmith’s scholar Geoffrey, as he was commonly known, went up to Christ’s College, Cambridge (matriculating in 1930), where he gained a double first in organic chemistry and mineralogy.

Wilson C G Baldwin GC

In 1936, he gained his PhD, with the thesis “Optically Active Absorption Bands”. He was awarded the Gordon Wigan Prize and the Darwin Prize for his work. He then went to study at the University of Heidelberg, Germany in 1936, but returned less than a year later when the Nazis began to interfere in educational institutions. On his return, he gained a job working under his father at the Great Oakley Munitions Factory, near Harwich. It was there that Geoffrey would be awarded the Edward Medal in Bronze for an incident on 20th November 1942.

On that day, a violent explosion occurred at the factory, killing two workers and completely destroying the building and causing considerable damage to adjacent buildings. In one of these, a nitrating house, a charge of 1,800lbs of nitro-glycerine was in the pre-wash tank. Although the building became filled with fumes and steam, the operator Mr Wheeler and his assistant Mr Sallows remained at their posts and took prompt steps to control the nitration and render the chemicals harmless. They were assisted by Dr Baldwin, who arrived on the scene shortly after the explosion. He noticed that the wood above the pre-wash tank was smouldering vigorously and throwing off sparks. With the operator’s assistance, Dr Baldwin extinguished this very dangerous outbreak. The danger that was averted was severe, and a further explosion would have killed many workers.

Geoffrey’s citation for the Edward Medal appeared in the London Gazette on 16th April 1943, and he received his medal at an investiture later that year from King George VI. In 1945, Geoffrey married Primrose (Polly) Jennie Bowtell from Chowton, Hampshire, and they went on to have twins, Nicholas and Carolyn, and a son, Jeremy. Polly would serve as a local magistrate in Harwich in later years.

Difficult times hit the factory after the end of the war, and the devastating floods which hit East Anglia in 1953 almost destroyed the building. Geoffrey led the rebuilding efforts with many of the workers. He was very active in local events, and became President of the Wildfowlers’ Association, and trustee of the Harwich cinema. In 1971, he chose to exchange his Edward Medal for the George Cross, and donated his EM to the Imperial War Museum, London. In 1977 Geoffrey retired from the factory while remaining a director and consultant of Exchem (the new name for the factory). His ability to speak French and German aided the translation of technical papers.

Geoffrey died on 2nd May 1994, aged 82 , in Harwich, and was cremated. His ashes were scattered in a local wildfowl area which he loved to visit and observe the birds. His GC, 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal and Bronze Medallion of the Carnegie Hero Fund Trust were placed on loan to the Imperial War Museum by Polly Baldwin to join his Edward Medal on display in the Ashcroft Gallery.