OBITUARY:Geoff Galwey

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The Independent Online
Geoff Galwey was a Dickensian figure whom Dickens, if writing about Irishmen, might have been proud to have invented.

Born in 1912 in India, where his Dublin doctor father was serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Galwey joined the Navy at Dartmouth in 1926. After being in an aircraft which crashed on a carrier flight-deck he contracted rheumatic fever and was invalided out as a midshipman on disability retired pay.

He got a job selling space on the Hardware Trade Journal, but in 1935 joined Lovell & Rupert Curtis, a rare advertising agency which preferred to stay in Fleet Street and make advertising respectable. Galwey was the first person I ever met who was intellectually interested in selling. In 1936 he became a director of L&RC.

When the Second World War broke out he tried to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, but was turned down on medical grounds. He got a job as engineman on A.P. Herbert's Water Gipsy. When Herbert declined to take Water Gipsy to Dunkirk, Galwey and a shipmate, Ian Hassall, son of the Bohemian poster artist John Hassall, on their next leave offered themselves to the Admiralty and were given the job of collecting suitable craft for Dunkirk along the Essex coast and taking them to Dover. Water Gipsy stayed on the Thames.

By the time they reported to Dover, Dunkirk was over, but they were now effectively in the Navy. Galwey was appointed to HMS King Alfred to be trained as a Sub-Lieutenant RNVR. The course always began with an inspection of each class by a lieutenant and petty officer of the Royal Navy. The two who inspected Galwey's class had been his shipmates at Dartmouth. The lieutenant did not move an eyelid when he stood in front of Galwey but at the end of the inspection he turned to his petty officer and said: "Did you see what I saw, Petty Officer Vass?" From then on Galwey was no longer treated as a student and received his commission as a sub-lieutenant in March. When someone in the Admiralty discovered that this newly appointed sub-lieutenant was also drawing a disablity pension as a midshipman, there was trouble, but after protests and medical examinations he was passed for "Home, shore and harbour service only" - i.e. "You must not get wet, and then sue us for illness."

He was very soon appointed Flag Lieutenant to the Admiral Commanding Orkneys and Shetlands, and spent most of each day up to his neck in sea- water training beach landing parties. In 1943 he was appointed to find and set up a base for training parties who were going to reconnoitre enemy- held beaches prior to an invasion. This he did and was appointed Training Officer, a job which included training in midget submarines. On D-Day, Galwey was in a pilot landing craft whose job was to locate the midget submarine posted off the beach to send signals to the invasion force. This done, he and his assistant rating went ashore and acted as auxiliary beach-masters.

Earlier on the same morning, his peacetime friend and senior partner in the advertising agency, Rupert Curtis, had spearheaded the entire invasion, as Senior Officer of the Flotilla of Landing-Ships which took in Lord Lovat's Commando, and placed them on the correct beach at the correct time - an extraordinary, if minor coincidence.

The war over, Galwey returned to Lovell & Rupert Curtis, and in spare time wrote three novels, of which two, Murder on Leave (1947) and The Lift and the Drop (1948), were reprinted as Penguins; the third, Full Fathom Five, published in 1951, contains one of the best accounts of landing on the Normandy beaches ever published. He later wrote Babel, a large- cast biblical drama, launched in Canada and performed in 1970 in Ottawa and later at Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, England.

The Irish in Galwey regularly erupted in hilarity; there was a perpetual glint of humour in his eyes. In retirement he was lovingly looked after by his second wife, Joan, beside the sea at Walberswick in Suffolk.

Ruari McLean

Geoffrey Valentine Galwey, advertising copywriter and novelist: born India 1912; married 1940 Vee Miller (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1946), 1951 Joan Skipsey (one son); died 17 January 1996.

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