John’s WWI blog: Poignant trip to battlefields of France

Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. (MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)
Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. (MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)

November 30, 1915 – Special memories of a great-great uncle

A poignant and personal trip to the battlefields of France has been made by the descendents of a Market Harborough officer who was killed by a sniper’s bullet a hundred years ago this month.

Geoffrey Palmer

Geoffrey Palmer

2nd Lieutenant Geoffrey Palmer was the great-great uncle of Sarah Wild who has also uploaded much of his story onto the website Lives of the First World War.

His death on November 19, 1915, is recorded in the Market Harborough Advertiser published a century ago this week. Another story with further information also appears in the December 7, 1915, edition of the paper.

Sarah says in an email to Newspapers and the Great War: “We are hoping to mark his death by visiting his grave in France on the anniversary of his death.

“Last January the museum in Harborough displayed some items relating to his career and death. My mother’s cousin still lives in the town. We have articles from the local paper concerning his death.”

She describes how she has published information online about her great-great uncle. “We have letters from him in the run up to his death and other letters describing his death and his burial in Fonquevilliers on the Somme, when it was a quiet zone.”

She adds: “I also attended the Roll of Honour at the Tower last year at which his name was read out and also had the dubious pleasure of being part of BBC Breakfast TV to talk about him and the Poppy installation.”

In the second of the 1915 reports, a letter from his captain to Geoffrey’s parents describes how he died. “He was out on duty with the Colonel. The weather was misty and as the trenches were in a deplorable condition owing to the recent rains, they both got over the parapet of a communication trench to avoid the mud and water a bit.

“Palmer was hit (evidently by a sniper) under the right shoulder blade, the bullet penetrated the heart and came out near the left breast. Death must have been instantaneous, poor chap.”

The captain continues: “It was typical of Geoff. He saw no fear, no danger. He was an excellent example to those under him at all by his fearlessness and cheerfulness.”

The initial report in this week’s edition of 1915 goes into great detail about his time in Market Harborough, describing how after leaving school he was apprenticed to the building trade and then joined the old Harborough (M) Co of Volunteers with his two brothers.

He later joined the Royal Engineers and was sent to St Helena and subsequently to South Africa and after 11 years in the army successfully settled down in Rhodesia in the building trade.

The report continues: “When war was declared on Germany, Lieut Palmer, who was a Freemason, proved himself a true Englishman, for he immediately returned to his Mother Country, paying his own travelling expenses from Northern Rhodesia.”

He re-enlisted with the Royal Engineers, was soon given an officer’s commission and ‘during his time at Front he saw plenty of fighting’.

The article concludes: “He leaves behind him an example of devotion to his King and country of which his family may well be proud. He heard the call, responded to it and those left behind may feel assured that the great sacrifice he, like thousands of others, has made, will not be in vain if, at the outcome of this war, there may be lasting peace.”