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Geoff joined the Navy in December, 1943 at HMS Collingwood, a shore based training establishment at Fareham, near Portsmouth. He was an 18 year old youth.
This was no surprise as Geoff’s great grandfather had been a sea captain and two of his uncles were in the Royal Navy.
Between 1941 and 1945 78 Arctic Convoys risked attack from Nazi U-boats and aircraft to carry food and military equipment across freezing, treacherous seas to Murmansk and Archangel to support the eastern front. Winston Churchill called it the “worst journey in the world”. After 1943 Geoff found himself on those convoys. His ship was HMS Vindex. He later wrote and published a book about his experiences entitled “Masthead Lookout”. As you can imagine being a masthead lookout in those conditions was perhaps the most unenviable of the unenviable jobs on board!
It was during this period that Geoff, whilst on shore leave, met the love of his life. His ship had berthed off Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. One night he attended a dance in Lamlash village hall when he met a young lady by the name of Anne Haffey, who had been on the island looking after her grandmother. He wrote movingly about that first encounter in his book … at page 64!
He tried to trace her again on his further shore leaves but without success. Then, remarkably, 6 months later his ship berthed in Govan on the Clyde and he met Anne again. By then she had returned to stay with her parents in nearby Ibrox. The chances of that second meeting happening were slim indeed. It was meant to be.
After the war Anne travelled down to England and she married Geoff on 27th September, 1947 in Staines. The war was over and Geoff was by then a 21 year old insurance clerk. They lived firstly with Geoff’s parents in Staines and then at various addresses in the South of England before settling in Shoeburyness, Essex. They also had a small house near Christchurch in Dorset which they would often visit. It was no surprise that this house was close to Geoff’s other great love - the sea.
Geoff spent his entire working life as an insurance broker with Lloyd’s of London, handling insurance claims all over the world. When he retired he spent about 6 years with two other companies handling their claims too.
Geoff main interest, after Anne, was the sea. He bought a boat and this was the subject of his second published book entitled “Baladin”. He dedicated this book to his “dear, patient and tolerant wife, Anne”. Geoff was mischievous. On the back cover of his book it is written:
“Meet Baladin. She is beautiful and elegant, proud and jealous. For Geoff Shelton it was love at first sight and he leaves his wife most weekends to spend time with her.
Baladin is a fin keel 21 ft Corribee and she is the boat of his dreams. As they get to know each other, travelling around the coastline and waterways of the South East of England, their loving and turbulent relationship develops. Through heavy weather, abortive trips, hurricanes, accidents, incidents, races, navigational mishaps and mechanical malfunctions, Baladin shows herself to be always the one in charge.”
Geoff was also an avid writer. As well as his two published works he had many articles printed in “The Northern Light”; “The Arctic Lookout” and elsewhere. He had a book in draft entitled “The Dictionary of the Life of Geoff Shelton” and another one entitled “Interesting Claims”, which chronicled his working life in the City of London. Perhaps one day these works will also see the light of day.
Geoff tried his hand at golf but was the first to admit that he would not make it on to the Open tour.
He tried skiing. He was one of the first to ski in Cortina, Italy. However, it was in the days before chair lifts so once down the hill he then had to struggle back up the hill for his next run. Hours of walking uphill for minutes of exhilaration downhill. Geoff did not see the point in it!
He liked all types of sport. In particular he liked Formula 1 and would watch it intently. Anne did not share his passion for this. She said she was going to buy him a rat and a rat wheel - as she thought that watching the rat go round and round would be just as exciting as the motor racing!
Geoff had a thirst for knowledge. He would watch the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, and the Yesterday Channel on the TV. He would speak on the phone daily to his friend Austin Byrne who was in Bradford. Austin was also an Arctic Convoy veteran and they would tell each other what programmes were on the TV that were worth watching. Geoff was always wanting to increase the breadth and depth of his knowledge and understanding.
When Geoff finally retired he and Anne moved to Glasgow and to Beechlands Avenue in Netherlee. This was about 20 years ago and they were both in their seventies by then. They bought the flat blind. They gave their nephew John strict instructions about what they wanted - a flat with a south facing veranda, a lovely view, a lift, a garage and close to local amenities. John was petrified that after the sale had gone through and they came up they would not like what was chosen for them and be annoyed. Thankfully they liked the choice. Furthermore, they then discovered that they had really lovely neighbours. Those neighbours, over the years, helped out when they were needed and especially looked out for Geoff after Anne sadly died in October, 2011.
Regrettably Geoff and Anne were not blessed with children of their own. However, Geoff has two beloved nieces, Catherine and Anne in Canada. Although separated by the miles they were very close. They used to regularly correspond with him and pay him visits. Catherine, in particular, would visit on an annual basis and Geoff always looked forward to this.
Geoff also had his nephew John and his wife Jacqui living nearby. They were very much part of Geoff’s life and he expressed his joy at being part of their extended family. He would be invited to all of the family gatherings and, until recently, graciously accepted those invitations. He was very much loved and a genuine father figure for John, Jacqui and their 5 children. He will be sadly missed by all of them.
Geoff never lost the sense of adventure that he had throughout his adult life. After Anne died he did not cut back on his activities. On the contrary, these increased. He and John went to visit his nieces and their families in Canada; he went to Moscow as a guest of the Russian Federation; he went on various cruises and indeed had booked up to go on a cruise to the Norwegian Fjords when he took unwell. A few years back he went with one of his neighbours, Sheila and John and Jacqui to the Hydro in Glasgow to see Andre Rieu. They were as high up as you could get in the auditorium but that did not stop Geoff getting to see his favourite performer.
Geoff used to speak on the phone to his sister in law, Rosemary every Sunday for years. It was a weekly ritual which he always looked forward to. It was a great shock to him when she sadly passed away last year. Because of his health problems he was unable to go down to Barnstaple for her funeral. Geoff was loved by a lot of people. This can best be seen in the number of people who regularly visited him in hospital.
Albert Lamond, another Russian Convoy veteran, visited Geoff twice a week almost every week. He was excellent in keeping Geoff’s spirits high and became a dear friend to Geoff.
Jim Nealy and others from the Royal British Legion also paid him visits.
David and Lorraine Cant visited Geoff whilst in hospital. David accompanied Geoff to Moscow a few years ago and has a few tales of his own about Geoff. The family would also like to thank David for assisting with this service today.
Margaret, Linda and Marion Lawie visited Geoff regularly and kept him entertained with their tales.
His relatives Ian and Jan visited him from New Zealand.
Sandra Blakiston, Geoff’s cousin, who visited a few years back from Australia, was due to make the journey again in a few weeks time - but sadly that will be too late. She has been told the sad news and is devastated.
A number of the neighbours in Beechlands also paid Geoff a visit. In particular, Eileen, Sheila and Frank would pop in to check on how he was doing.
Davis Gibson, who drove Geoff and Albert up to Loch Ewe last May for the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project event, also visited Geoff in hospital.
The picture of Geoff on the front of your Order of Service was taken then. This Project was something very close to Geoff’s heart. George Milne, who is Chair of the Project, has come all the way down to be here today. If you would like to make any donations then please make them to this charity - as Geoff would have appreciated that.
As a result of his war time experiences, Geoff had a deep love for the Russian people and for Russia. At this febrile time in the UK Geoff would have wanted them to know that many people still have a lot of affection for them.
Geoff would have wanted it recorded that the Russian Consulate in Edinburgh has never forgotten the role played by the Arctic Convoys. In particular, Geoff developed a very strong bond with the Russian Consul-General in Edinburgh, Andrey Pritsepov and his staff. Geoff used to look forward to the annual Russia Day celebrations; to the caviar and the vodka; to the speeches and the music and the tremendous hospitality provide by the Consulate. Geoff was a non commissioned officer of the North Russian Fleet. Geoff, who was already the proud recipient of various honours such as the Arctic Star, was especially honoured to receive the Ushakov Medal for personal courage and valour shown during World War Two while participating in the Arctic Convoys. This was presented at a ceremony in Glasgow City Chambers. He was also honoured to be invited onto the Royal Yacht Britannia by the Consul-General to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the end of the war.
Geoff’s health began to fail last summer. He entered the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in September and was transferred to Mearnskirk House in December where he died last week.
The family would like to thank the medical staff at the QEUH and Mearnskirk House for looking after Geoff in his last days. It is greatly appreciated. Although it was rough at the end Geoff was forever the gentleman. He accepted what was happening to him with dignity. Geoff had a strong belief in God and always believed he would meet his beloved Anne again. We pray that they are now united again in Heaven.
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