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23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024

Geoffrey Peter Hately Waddell
(2 Nov 1921 – 27 Sep 1982)

Geoffrey is one of the most enigmatic and elusive family members I've so far tried to profile. Enigmatic insofar as so little is known about him, and elusive in that what little is supposedly known (or at least plausibly assumed) about him turns out to be incorrect or unsubstantiated.

My Aunt Jane and he were born just one month apart – she in Sheffield and he in Darjeeling – and she once recalled that on family occasions in due course they were always 'paired', but she absolutely hated that (or hated him, I'm not sure, one didn't didn't like to ask).

Fast-forwarding 25 years or so, he was frequently recruited to hold the fort at Basil Mansions during my father's lengthy amatory excursions to Wroxham (of which another time). William evidently found him most congenial and I thought him excellent – though unconventional – company: pleasant, tolerant, good-humoured, and interestingly contrarian about art and cooking.

I told him for example that I'd just been to see the Technicolor epic adventure comedy Around the World in 80 Days, and how really really good it was. He nodded attentively, but then remarked that it would have been so much more atmospheric and nuanced in black and white. I was really startled, but didn't argue (you didn't argue with adults in those days) and over the years since then I've come to agree with him – black and white brings out the essentials in a portrait photograph, for example, whereas colour overloads the viewer with intrusive detail. And the same often goes for the cinema – who would want to see Brief Encounter in Technicolor?

I also remember a discussion as to how best to cook a packet of sausages. My vote went to grilling them, but Geoffrey demurred. To bring out their flavour, he proposed to put them in a pan of water, and slow-cook them in the oven. I could hardly believe this, but he said "Wait and see, they'll be delicious". Well we did have to wait a long time until he pronounced them ready, and even then they still looked pale and flabby – but they were indeed best-ever!

I do remember meeting his wife,A Brigitte Suppli, at some rather later date, and she struck me as being very bossy and talkative, but that's the way women were in my experience. And Geoffrey seemed very relaxed about all that. They did attend our wedding in 1967, and she was very voluble there too – she died of a brain tumour in 1971, and maybe her excitability was an early symptom.

It's said that she had rescued Geoffrey from depression and reinvigorated him, but I never saw either of them again, as the decline in William's own health meant that further contact with cousins on his side of the family was lost. And Geoffrey himself perhaps didn't fare much better, as he died even earlier in life than my father did.

A There's a persistent suggestion (see below) that Geoffrey had been married once before, to the highly-regarded ceramic artist AnnRobin Banks, about whom quite a lot is known, except whether she herself had ever been married, to Geoffrey or anyone else.
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What in fact was the received wisdom about Geoffrey's passage through the Valley of the Shadow of Life?

Nephew's recollection:

Geoffrey remains a faint memory to me – a varied and somewhat sad life was how Dad used to describe him. He was a wonderful artist – I have a few watercolours at home I will email to you. I think he had a bad time of the Italian campaign and was a bit lost (as many were) after that. Life then came back to him through Brigitte who sadly then died of a brain tumour. I shall send photos from my stack.

I get the impression that Geoffrey was sent from India to Charterhouse very early in life whereas John and Dad went there when the whole family came back from Darjeeling (Calcutta before that). My grandfather was Deputy District Commissioner there and I've been to see his house. They were all born with a view of Everest from the window – a beautiful spot.

I also remember he owned a supermarket in Horsham for a long while.

And I'd like to provide supporting comments

  • To judge from the copies of his watercolours very kindly sent by his nephew and niece, he was assuredly very talented.

  • There is no record in the London Gazette of his being commissioned, but quite probably he wasn't adjudged to be 'officer material' (whereas Alexander aka Sandy, James aka Robert and John Waddell were all thought to be suitable and were duly recorded therein).

  • The Battle of Monte Cassino was indeed horrendous, with huge Allied casualties.

  • I think it was known within family circles that his marriage to Brigitte was indeed all too brief, but 'brain tumour' would have been regarded as an indelicate affliction. I can vouch for its indelicacy!

  • I can well believe he was an Orphan of Empire educationally, as were Rudyard Kipling, P G Wodehouse and so many others in the colonial era, possibly seeing their parents only once a year. My stepmother Jane didn't see her parents for seven years.

    But the records of Charterhouse reveal that Geoffrey was never a pupil there (though of course his younger brothers Robert and John certainly were).

    An intensive search by the staff at the Bodleian Library reveals that Geoffrey didn't even matriculate at, let alone graduate from, any College in the University (though of course his younger brothers Robert and John certainly did).

  • It has been implied elsewhere that Geoffrey was twice married, the first time to a quite well-known but rather nomadic ceramic artist by the name of AnnRobin Banks, and the second of course to Brigitte Suppli. But the Certificate of Marriage to Brigitte describes him as a bachelor rather than a divorcé, and there is no trace of his possible earlier marriage.

  • As the eldest son or grandson of senior civil servants, Geoffrey was never going to starve in a garret, but to maintain a wife as well would have required a reliable means of livelihood, so it's interesting that he is described on the marriage certificate as a Company Director, most probably in connection with the mysterious Horsham supermarket. And more interestingly (and unexpectedly) still, he is described on Brigitte's death certificate as an Accountant.

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Passenger List for SS Kaisar-i-Hind arrival at London from Bombay, 13 Oct 1922, including Peter H Waddell, Frances Jean Waddell and Geoffrey P Waddell

Passenger List for SS Rawalpindi arrival at London from Bombay, 28 Oct 1926, including Frances J Waddell, Geoffrey P Waddell and James R Waddell

Quite apart from their intrinsic interest as relics of a vanished age of passenger travel by sea, these two images give rise to further speculation.

  • The UK address given in both cases is 11 Nevern Square, Earls Court, (London) SW5. It doesn't require Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this was the address of Jean's parents, Sir James and Lady Dodds. And indeed, the following page from The British Journal of Nursing, 11 Jun 1915 confirms it,

  • One wonders whether this wasn't a simply a trip home to see Jean's parents. Was it, at least in part, to escort Geoffrey to pre-prep school for the first time?

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Please click here to catch a glimpse of Geoffrey's watercolours.