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15 October 2014
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Geoffrey 'George' Proctor - Desert Rat

by Ashley Stewart-Noble

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Ashley Stewart-Noble
People in story: 
Geoffrey Proctor
Location of story: 
North Africa
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A1069418
Contributed on: 
05 June 2003

I never knew my paternal grandfather as he died before I was born. By all accounts he was a very moral man who brooked no nonsense and didn't suffer fools at all. He was an exceptionally strong man who continued to fight in the desert after the incident described below. I feel very proud and exceptionally humble of his experience, an event I only learnt of recently. Here's his story related by my mother:

'My father had to leave to go to war with the 8th Army Artillery Division (The Desert Rats) on my birthday. He was aged 39. His name was Geoffrey Charles Proctor. I was named as near as possible to him, Georgina.

'When he was back from the front, he did not talk much about the war but one of the things we did find out was the reason his centre crease in his tongue had a split in it about 1/4 inch wide. Here is a snippet of his war life.

'The 8th Army were advancing through the North African desert and dad was in a trench that he had been digging out and it was quite deep with shoring. A bomb dropped close by and the trench collapsed, burying him. It was fortunate that a piece or pieces of the shoring supporting the trench walls kept him from being totally buried as this stopped him being crushed to death. He started to try and dig himself out which was successful - albeit the time taken to do this was three days.

'When he managed to free himself of the earth, he discovered that he was now on his own as his comrades believed him to be dead and had had to advance even further to track Rommel's Spook Division. In order to try and catch them up, and to survive the desert heat and sand, there were certain things to do that he knew would help keep him alive. He had a piece of muslin into which he put an amount of sand, then he had to urinate into the sand and let it filter into his mug. This had to be done at least three times to semi-purify it, and then he would drink it (he ran out of purifying tablets). He also had to eat, so the only thing that he could do was to catch lizards etc. He dared not light a fire to cook them as this would have brought attention to his whereabouts, so he had to eat them raw and this coupled with the lack of clean water and dehydration was the cause of his tongue splitting.

'Another thing that happened as a result of being buried alive like that was it affected his writing. Before this happened he had beautiful handwriting but, afterwards it was awful to see him try and write anything. His grip on the pen or pencil was so extreme that they would snap in his clenched hands. His writing was straight-lined instead the lovely flowing script that he had before this incident.

'He survived the war and returned home before or after Christmas. Mum received a letter from my dad to meet her under the clock at St Pancras railway station.

'So, there was my mum and two children and Pat the Alsatian dog that dad asked mum to bring as well. Oh dear, poor mum, when she got to St Pancras all she could see was a sea of khaki, hundreds of soldiers back at last, and, everyone of them had sent the same message of where to meet them under the clock. Mum said that she just could not move at all because of the volume of people there looking for their loved ones. She recognised some soldiers who were in the 8th Army uniforms and asked them if they knew where George was (that is what he was called by everyone who knew him). Somewhere in that lot was one reply from a soldier who was looking for his mother, who, apparently was very tiny who said he was around. Mum then thought of the only thing left to try was ask Pat the dog to "Go find George". The next second he was gone and about 15 minutes later, turned up dragging my dad with him to where we were. How great a feeling that must have been for my dad? His dog had not forgotten him at all. (He was rather a special and clever dog and there are lots of great stories about him).

'Like all the other forces men and women, they had to go to the families local pub where all my mum's brothers and sisters and parents were waiting. It had been almost four years. Dad was not a great drinker, but did have the occasional pint. He had been in the pub (The Standard in Standard St) for less than an hour when he collapsed on the floor in absolute agony. He could not pass water and apparently had not been able to for the previous half an hour. This was the start of my dad's agony and pain for the rest of his life. 24 major operations and lots of suffering for him and the whole family.

'What dad was suffering from was then called a Stricture, this led to him having his prostrate taken out. Now what that then meant was no more physical side to the marriage. The importance of this being, dad was 171/2 yrs older than mum who would be 22 in April. So, no more sex, no more children, how did my mum take this in? They loved each other. I remember seeing dad in Guys hospital one time, about three weeks after one of many operations. It was awful. Dad was a very tough though quiet man and to see him looking so ill was a shock. A memory that I have never erased from my head. I was only allowed in then because they said that he was well enough for me to see him.

'Over the years I have met people whose brothers or fathers were also in the 8th Army. Some of the stories appear to be identical to my dads concerning his illness, which ultimately led to cancer in the bladder and testicles. They seem to each to have had the same idea as to why they were taken ill in the same way, and, they had almost the same pattern of the course of the illness as each other.'

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