Geoffrey Lidbrook McDonell
Geoffrey Lidbrook McDonell
|Born||15 August 1873|
Geoffrey Lidbrook McDonell (1873-1937) was a clerk at the London Stock Exchange when he volunteered in 1900 for the Boer War. He co-wrote a book about his regiment’s experiences in the conflict. In 1909 he emigrated to Canada to become a prospector and fur trapper, and became a Canadian citizen. He joined Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at the start of World War 1, was decorated for gallantry, and was part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force sent to Siberia in 1919. In 1923 he retired to Los Angeles, becoming a United States citizen. Here, he had a small part in a 1930 Warner Brothers musical comedy Sweet Kitty Bellairs. He died in 1937, and is buried in the British Veterans’ plot in Inglewood Park Cemetery.
Geoffrey was born on 15 August 1873, son of William McDonell (1845-1889) and Emily Cope Walter McDonell (b.1847). In the 1891 census he is described as working in the London Stock Exchange and living with his mother.
He volunteered to join the City Imperial Volunteers Mounted Infantry, a volunteer regiment raised in London. He co-wrote a published account of this unit’s role in the war, from recruitment and basic training and the voyage out to South Africa to the campaign itself. The Mounted Infantry took part in 44 engagements, lost 19 killed, 11 wounded and 62 invalided home. Geoffrey was No.2 Company’s colour sergeant; his co-author Guy H Guillam Scott, a barrister at the Inner Temple in civilian life, was the regiment’s farrier-sergeant. Their book, The Record of the Mounted Infantry of the City Imperial Volunteers, was published in London in 1902. The book includes an eye-witness account of an episode celebrated in a 1902 song Two Little Boys and later recorded by Rolf Harris . The incident is described on page 60, and involved members of the Australian contingent. "It was during one of these patrols that the Boers, lying in wait for the Australians, fired into them, killing one of their horses; the dismounted man sprang up behind a comrade and galloped away pursued by the Boers. Suddenly in front appeared a strong barbed wire boundary fence, five or six strands high. The Boers made sure of their prey; but the Australians, riding without hesitation at the wire, cleared it, every one of them, the horse carrying two men as gallantly as the rest. Needless to say, these were no Cape ponies or Argentines, but fine Australian horses; indeed it was impossible not to be filled with admiration at the way this contingent was mounted, many of the horses in the ranks being high-class steeplechase animals of bone and substance, and of a very fine stamp."
In 1902 he married Lillian Frances Graham Ellis (1876-1957). Their daughter Olive Joan (1906-2002) was born on 1 October 1906, but the marriage failed, and in 1909 he emigrated to Canada where he became a gold prospector and fur trapper. Geoffrey and Lillian were divorced; she remarried, to William James Bailey (1888-1971), and had two more children, William Alan Bailey (1912-1992) and James Francis Bailey (1914-2007). On 24th August 1914 he volunteered to join Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry . In his enlistment Attestation Paper (No. 650, folio 671) he describes himself as “Prospector, Hunter, Trapper”. He is described as 5ft 11½ with dark complexion, dark hair and grey eyes, with a tiger’s head tattooed on his right forearm.
World War 1
Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had a distinguished record. Geoffrey, a Company Sergeant Major, received the Distinguished Conduct Medal in March 1916 His citation reads “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion, when in charge of divisional headquarters transport, which were situated about 250 yards from the headquarters billets. The stables were set on fire by shell fire. CSM McDonell, in order to save the horses, made four journeys from the billets to the stables, under very heavy shell fire. He succeeded in saving all the horses and other government property besides. 11.3.16”. In July 1916 he moved to the Canadian Expeditionary Force HQ, and, in 1918, to a special unit of about 4,000 Canadian soldiers who went to Siberia to help the White Russians in their campaign against the new Bolshevik government and Red Army Germany.He appears on Canadian passenger lists in 1918 arriving in New York from Southampton (on his way to Siberia via Canada), and in 1919 (by now a Lieutenant Colonel) arriving in Vancouver from Vladivostok. The unit did very little while it was there and had no contact with the Bolsheviks. Los Angeles and Hollywood He moved to Los Angeles in 1923, becoming a United States citizen. He appeared in a non-speaking role, Lord Northmore, in a 1930 Warner Brothers musical Sweet Kitty Bellairs , for which he was paid $150 according to his Warner Brothers contract dated 24 March 1930. He died in 1937 aged 64. Notice of his death appeared in the Los Angeles Times for 15 December 1937: “Full military funeral rites for Lt.Col. Geoffrey L McDonell, British and Canadian veteran of the Boer and World Wars, who died last Saturday at his home, 1818 Garfield Place, will be conducted today at 1 pm at Grace Chapel, Inglewood Park Cemetery. Col. McDonell, who was 64 years of age, had been a motion picture actor since coming here in 1923”.
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