Skip to main content

Obituary - Geoffrey Holder-Jones 1915-2011

From heroic service in the Second World War to equally dedicated service in the classroom, Geoffrey Holder-Jones used his experiences at sea to enrich the education of children.

Mr Holder-Jones had an eventful war, surviving an explosion that claimed 16 crewmates after his boat struck a mine, receiving the Distinguished Service Medal for bravery and, later, capturing a German submarine while skippering HMS Wastwater in the north Atlantic. A book was later written about his exploits.

The youngest of four sons, Mr Holder-Jones grew up in Liverpool. His father was a draper and was keen for his children to join him in the family business, but Mr Holder-Jones developed a passion for the sea and joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve; his family called him a "Saturday night sailor".

He stayed in school until 16, but was unable to take his leaving certificate because he had contracted diphtheria. After eight years working for his father, and then selling expensive top hats to Aintree racegoers, the war began and Mr Holder-Jones finally had his chance to take to the ocean.

After being accepted into the Royal Navy, he served on HMS Adventure. Just a few months into the conflict, the ship struck a mine in the Thames Estuary. Mr Holder-Jones was lucky to escape alive.

By 1941 Mr Holder-Jones had a commission. He met Gladys that same year at a dance in Brighton while doing officer training. He went back to sea after proposing, saying he would be back in six months. In the end he was away for two years and two months. Gladys arranged the wedding and Mr Holder-Jones finally returned three days before.

He was demobbed in 1946 and undertook a short teacher-training course. He found a job teaching geography and PE at Portslade Secondary School in Bognor Regis. The couple settled in their first house in the area; they later had two daughters, who both became teachers.

After seven years in the job, and keen for a promotion, Mr Holder-Jones moved to St Nicholas, a local primary, as deputy head. Three years later he became head of St Andrew's Primary in Hove, which he led for the next 23 years until retiring in 1980. But his passion for the sea was not forgotten. Mr Holder-Jones remained a member of the Royal Navy reserves and sailed at the weekends.

His remarkable wartime adventures are described in a book, Signalman Jones, by Tim Parker. Mr Holder-Jones was thrilled that his story had been told, and delighted when a small number of fans - former pupils - turned up on his doorstep to ask him to sign their copies of the book.

During retirement, he and Gladys lived in Worthing. Mr Holder-Jones was diagnosed with skin cancer, which spread to his lungs. He died on 10 September.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you