Obituary: Rodney Gee

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The Independent Culture
RODNEY GEE was a veteran of two world wars.

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry in March 1917 and won the Military Cross on the vineyards of the famous Louis Roederer champagne house near Rheims. His citation was published in the London Gazette on 7 November 1918:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During two very successful attacks by the battalion, this officer went forward under heavy fire on several occasions to reconnoitre and ascertain the situation. His initiative and resource enabled him to render services of great value to the battalion.

Gee's mentor and inspiration was the famous Colonel Roland Bradford VC, Colonel of the 9th Battalion DLI. As Gee went to join his regiment for the 3rd Battle of Ypres, he met several young DLI officers who had been sacked by the very colonel he was going to serve under. However, Gee was clearly regarded as a great hit by Bradford, who had the reputation of being an absolute tartar.

It is said that General Montgomery to some extent modelled himself on Bradford, who would spend a great proportion of the day with his men (leaving Gee as officer i/c). Bradford was severely reprimanded for this from HQ yet continued to flout orders in protocol and in strategy and actions. Only as a result of lengthy persuasion from Gee did Bradford accept further promotions and leave the battalion. Rodney Gee gained a mention in despatches in the London Gazette of 9 July 1919.

After the war, Gee went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and gained a First in Classics in Part I of the Tripos and read English in Part II. In 1922, he joined the staff at Clifton College, where he remained until 1968. His mentor at Clifton was R.P. Keigwin, not only the winner of four Blues and an international hockey cap but a translator of Hans Christian Andersen. Sir Michael Redgrave, who was in Dakyns' House under Keigwin, gave many public readings of his translations. During this period Gee was House Tutor not only to Redgrave but to Trevor Howard as well. Indeed, when Gee was 99 he figured in Roger Michell's production of Michael Redgrave: my father which Corin Redgrave presented.

At Clifton, Gee was an inspirational teacher and housemaster. He was a past master of the red herring and during a Chaucer period regaled his class with his trick of injecting a prune with gin from a hypodermic needle. He followed Keigwin as Housemaster of Dakyns' and incurred the wrath of the headmaster, Bertrand Hallward, when he went away to war again at the age of 42 in early 1940.

On 10 April 1940, he was captured at the little village of Wancourt near Arras. He hid in a barn for a while listening to the German boots. Eventually he was captured, but not before he had hidden his revolver and "giveaway" articles. He was put up against a wall to be shot and Gee was never sure why he and three colleagues were spared.

Qualities learned from Roland Bradford evidently made him a crucial figure in his prison at Spangenburg Castle near Kassell. Tensions between senior and junior ranks were defused by Gee. In prison he became an excellent cook and stitched wonderful samplers for his young children; on one to his younger daughter, whom he did not see until 1945, he embroidered a Browning quotation: "Greet the unseen with a cheer". He was on the Escape Committee and particularly adept at curbing and restraining the more foolhardy and wayward. Owing to his ability to remain nonchalant and poker- faced during room searches, he was in charge of guarding the radio for much of the time. Towards the end of the war, he was liberated by the Americans and was co-opted into fighting with them against pockets of desperate German resistance. For this brief action, he received a second mention in despatches.

On his return to Clifton, recently abandoned by General Omar Bradley's First Army, Gee had the daunting task of starting up a new boarding house, Watson's, which had been closed during the school's evacuation to Bude in Cornwall. Chewing gum sticking to the bottom of benches and chairs was the immediate American legacy. Also, a German princess and a nanny with Nazi leanings had been hired to look after his youngest child.

These were hardly encouraging portents on the domestic front. However, he captured the loyalty and esteem of his boys and achieved a fine balance between scholarship and sport. He made a hundred on Newbolt's famous Close at the age of 56 and was still playing until he was 70. With flannels yellowing, an impeccable choker around his neck, he was still dispatching off-drives over cover-point's head to the boundary. One evening at Cheddar, when Gee was fielding on the boundary, he suddenly fell over and vanished from sight. He reappeared and his clipped army voice drawled out: "Sorry! Dead sheep heeah!"

In 1993 he attended Westminster Abbey for the 75th anniversary of the Armistice, which was attended by the Queen Mother, who graciously sent him a telegram on his 100th birthday.

Tom Gover

Charles Hinton Rodney Gee, soldier: born Castletown, Sunderland 18 August 1897; MC 1918; married 1938 Nancy Osborne (died 1993; three daughters); died Clifton, Bristol 7 April 1998.

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