Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New York.

The grave of Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves
The grave of Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves

Leading Seaman Geeves survived 3½ years as a gunner on defensively armed merchant ships, including the sinking of the cargo streamer SS Betty by U-61, only to succumb to influenza in New York.

William Charles John Geeves was born in London on 3 December 1889 the second son and second of the seven children of Charles and Eliza Geeves.[1] The family lived at New Beckton, Woolwich, where his father, who was born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in Ireland, worked as a dock labourer. William Geeves became a merchant seaman.

On 15 April 1915, William Geeves enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve and was allocated the number 8052A. After a period of training at HMS Pembroke in Chatham he joined SS Tuskar, a small, defensively armed cargo ship, on 19 May.[2]

SS Tuskar
SS Tuskar

Sometime after he enlisted he married; it is not known if he and his wife May had any children.[3]

The ships on which he served subsequently are not clearly identified but his record indicates that on 16 September 1916 he joined the crew of the SS San Melito, a 12,286 ton tanker built in 1914 for the Eagle Oil Transport Company. Geeves served in her until March 1917, when he signed on with the SS Betty.

SS San Melito
SS San Melito

The Betty was a small cargo steamer built in Sunderland in 1898 and owned by a Russian company operating out of Riga, the Russisch-Baltische Dampfs. Ges. (Russian Baltic Steam Company). On 10 June 1917, while en route with a cargo of coal from Cardiff to Murmansk, she was sunk by U-61, 90 miles north of the Outer Hebrides. Geeves was rescued and was recovered to the United Kingdom, arriving at Chatham on 15 August.

His service after his return to the United Kingdom is not known, other than he joined the crew of the SS Walton Hall in 1918. Walton Hall was a 4,932 ton cargo ship operated by Ellerman Lines, one of the world’s largest shipping companies. The armed merchantman plied the North Atlantic routes.

SS Walton Hall
SS Walton Hall

On 29 December 1918, SS Walton Hall arrived in New York from Liverpool and came alongside at Pier 19 on the East River near Brooklyn Bridge. On the voyage a number of men had fallen ill with influenza and in New York four British and three Chinese seamen were discharged to hospital, including Leading Seaman Geeves. He died in hospital of pneumonia three weeks later on 17 January 1919, the day before his ship was due to sail for Hong Kong. He was buried on 19 January in the Seamen’s Church Institute plot in The Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn. There are 12 other CWGC burials in this cemetery.[4]

His medals group comprises the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, and Victory Medal.

His brother Henry served with the Royal Navy during the war as a Stoker and his brother Charles served with the Mercantile Marine Reserve. His brother Frederick served with the Royal Navy from 1917-1928.

William P. Gonzales for the photographs of the Seamen’s Church Institute plot.

1. (Back) Charles Henry Geeves (1861-1913) married Eliza (née unknown) (1867-1915) in 1886: Henry Richard (1887-1932); Charles Henry (1894-1943); Charlotte Livinia (later Williams) (1896-1990); Frederick Benjamin (1900-1955); Ernest Samuel (1892-1973); and Amy Louisa (later Halsey, later Bygrave) (1895-NK).
2. (Back) SSTuskar was sunk by a mine on 6 September 1917 with the loss of 10 crew members.
3. (Back) May Geeves is recorded as living in Salford, Lancashire after William Geeves’ death.
4. (Back) See also: Serjeant George Birkenhead, Trimmer John Walter Bowles, Able Seaman Thomas Drinkwater, Private William Richard Eveleigh, Trimmer Percy Hyett, Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh, Stoker 1st Class Henry John Gardner Miller, Leading Seaman Sydney Stephen Milliner, Fireman Low On, Scullion William B. Parr, Stoker 1st Class Alfred Weeden, and Leading Seaman Sam Gordon Wills.

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