Captain Geoffrey Sunderland

Regiment:  Royal Sussex Regiment, King Edward’s Horse
Service No:  509
Date and place of birth: 1890, Patutahi Cook, New Zealand
Date and place of death:  24 August 1918, Gricourt, France

 Family background

Geoffrey Sunderland was the second son of John and Agnes Henrietta Sunderland. John Sunderland was born in Ulverston, Lancashire, England in 1847.

Mrs Sunderland travelled on the Kaikoura from New Zealand to London with her daughters, initials J, A B, and R, and sons M and G, arriving 11 February 1896.

In 1901 Geoffrey Sunderland (aged 11) was living with his father John Sunderland (54), a retired Royal Navy Lieutenant, and his elder brother Marmaduke (14) with a housekeeper Louie Hocking (41) in Egton with Newland, Lancashire.  Geoffrey’s sisters Agnes B. (17), Joan (18) and Ruth (15) were living in Church Street, Midhurst. The head of the household was recorded as absent.

In 1910 Geoffrey became a student at Selwyn College, Cambridge. By 1911 his mother Agnes Henrietta Sunderland (60 – a widow) was living at Withey Cottage Graffham, Sussex, with Geoffrey Sunderland (21 a student), and his sisters Joan (28) and Agnes Bartha (27).

In 1912 his sister Agnes Bartha married Noel Frere in the Midhurst district. They had their first child, Sheppard Frere, also in the Midhurst district, in 1916.

Mrs A H Sunderland is recorded as returning to New Zealand on the Rimutaka, departing from London on 28 August 1913.

In 1916 Geoffrey married Grace Lilian Taylor in St Georges, Hanover Square district. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission site lists her address as Ambletts Cottage, Chithurst, Petersfield, Hants. 

Military service

Geoffrey Sunderland was initially a corporal in King Edward’s Horse (The King’s Oversea Dominions Regiment), entering active service in June 1915. He rose to the rank of sergeant and was then commissioned in March 1916, joining the Royal Sussex Regiment as a second lieutenant. King Edward’s Horse was mainly made up of Britons who had settled or seen service in the colonies.

Geoffrey was in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Sussex, stationed on the Western Front. The battalion served in the Second Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. He was made up to captain. He died in an attack on the German positions on the high ground north of Gricourt.

The following extracts from the 2nd Sussex War Diary WO/95/1269; Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919 are taken from the Great War Forum web site:

 “The Battalion, already diminished in numbers following actions during the advance made since 2nd September, and particularly 18th September, formed up by 0400hrs with ‘A’ Coy on the right under Captain Roberts MC and ‘C’ Coy on the left under T/Captain Sunderland. Both Coys had two platoons ‘up’, with two platoons 100 yds behind, over a total frontage of 400 yds”

“2nd Sussex lost ‘A’ Coy OC, Sunderland, and 4 platoon commanders, including Lt Wright, from Tenterden, who had won the MC at High Wood in August 1916.”

Death and commemoration

Geoffrey Sunderland was buried at Berthaucourt Communal Cemetery, Pontru in France.

He is commemorated on an individual plaque in Graffham Parish Church, Graffham War Memorial, the Memorial Plaque in Graffham Parish Church and on the Board in Midhurst Rother College. He is also mentioned in the War List of the University of Cambridge 1914-1918, edited by G V Carey,  as “Sergeant – King Edward’s Horse; Captain – Royal Sussex Regiment; Killed in action at Gricourt 24th September 1918.”

Subsequent family history

Geoffrey’s widow, Grace, moved to 26 Downs Park Road, Bristol, according to his medal card. Grace L Sunderland, aged 75, died in the Royal West Sussex Hospital, Chichester on 7 January 1965. She had been living at Crimond, Rogate prior to her death.

Captain Duke Sunderland was among those listed as returning from the Great War, having served in the Army Service Corps. Marmaduke Langdale Sunderland died in 1969 in Stamford.

His mother, Agnes Henrietta, died on 7 January 1926 at St Peter’s Home, Mortimer Place, Kilburn, London. She left her son Marmaduke the sum of 404 pounds. He is described as a “dealer”.



Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project