Stourbridge war veteran dies at home - decades after being declared missing at sea

Stourbridge News: Geoff Capewell Geoff Capewell

A STOURBRIDGE war veteran who has died suddenly at home more than 70 years after his family were informed he had been presumed drowned at sea.

Geoff Capewell, a popular member of Stourbridge Royal British Legion and the town's Royal Naval Association, was found dead at his home in The Broadway, Norton, on May 1, aged 88.

Family and friends have been left shocked by his sudden passing - as the fit and active World War II veteran was thought to have been in good health after a recent medical check.

But for siblings Lilian and Bill - it's the second time they've had to face the sad news of their brother's death.

Geoff, who joined the Royal Navy at 17, was pronounced missing at sea after a torpedo struck and sunk the vessel he was serving on.

His family were informed he was 'presumed dead' after the incident but miraculously the non-swimmer managed to cling to floating driftwood and survived the ordeal.

Some 13 months passed, however, before relatives realised he was alive and well and he had in fact been rescued from the water by a passing boat.

His sister Lilian, aged 85, recalled: "Mum got a telegram saying he was missing - presumed killed. I was about 13 or 14. A long while after - over a year - I came back and saw his duffle bag so I ran to tell mum and dad who were both working."

No-one believed her at first as Geoff was nowhere to be seen; but it transpired he had arrived back to an empty house, left his bag on the table and walked to visit his gran while waiting.

Lilian added: "We know he was at sea for some time before he was rescued but we don't know who rescued him or looked after him. He never, ever talked about it."

The eldest of five children - Geoff, who was raised in Prescott Road, Stourbridge, first sailed to India on MV Reina del Pacifico before serving on Liberty ship SS Sampler in the north Atlantic, providing protection to the Atlantic Convoys.

He later transferred to V class destroyer R28 HMS Verulam and also spent time working on shallow draughted ML169 motor launches - destroying enemy submarine pens.

Following his time in the forces - during which he is believed to have been torpedoed twice - he was awarded the Atlantic Star, the Burma Star and the Italian Star medals in recognition of his service. But he never divulged full details of his wartime efforts.

Nephew Phil Riley said: "Despite having been awarded the Italian Star he never mentioned Italy so I think it was most likely in that campaign that he was sunk.

"Everyone in the family tried to talk about it with him after the war but he would never again mention anything about the sinking, and in fact he never mentioned anything about his Navy days except the nice things. It must have been a coping mechanism."

However - Geoff, whose middle brother George died a few years ago, would often visit schools to give talks about the war and he was a passionate advocate of Remembrance Sunday.

He was also a familiar face at Midlands hospitals where he was a voluntary visitor to hospitalised ex-servicemen.

Dora Stevens, Stourbridge Royal British Legion chairman, said: "Whenever anyone from the forces was in hospital he used to visit. You couldn't meet a nicer man; he was lovely."

Geoff , who was divorced, was also a fully qualified FA referee and often officiated at matches.

He was also an active member of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes and the Sons of Rest societies in Stourbridge and he was a popular character in the town.

Ron Gould, the Royal Naval Association's welfare officer for Stourbridge and the Midlands, said: "We shall miss him. He really was a fantastic person. There won't be many more like him. Everybody thought the world of him."

Sister Lilian added: "He was so well-liked by everybody. It's been such a shock. It's hit me so hard."

As well as Lilian and youngest brother Bill - aged 80, Geoff is also survived by youngest sister Maureen, aged 69, who described him as "a very kind, very, very polite gentleman".

She added: "He used to call all the women 'princess' and and the men - 'skipper'."

His funeral will be held at Stourbridge Crematorium but a date has not yet been set.

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