GEORGE H GROVES (1928-1934) – Is George our oldest Veseyan?

George H Groves wearing his medals earned during his time in the RAF George H Groves wearing his medals earned during his time in the RAF
At a recent rugby match between Solihull School and BVGS on Saturday 7th January, Brian Davies (Development Director and Deputy Director of Sport, and OV2000) was talking to Stephen Hifle his Solihull School counterpart. Stephen happened to mention that his father-in-law is an Old Veseyan. Brian noted his name and advised the News team. The address of George was obtained and I wrote to George and his wife Meryl asking them whether George would be willing to contribute to an article about his life and times. Meryl duly called and on Wednesday 25th January 2017 I arranged to visit their home in Lichfield and find out more about George. Sadly at 99 years old George’s memory is not what it was but with Meryl’s help we were able to piece together the following.

Whilst at Vesey, George played football, rugby and cricket but little can be recalled of his academic record other than his desire to enter the Law as a career. He was always interested in classical music, instigated by Harold Gray, played the piano and was Nanki Poo in a BVGS production of the Mikado. [sadly the traditional G&S operettas no longer take place].George recalls a case of mistaken identity when he was given six of the best but received an apology the next day when ‘Boss’ Jones admitted he should have singled out Greaves not Groves! It is fair to say that there was a tentative recollection of ‘Patchy’ Watkinson, ‘Archie’ Hollis and ‘Alfie’ Dunnett masters at the school when mentioned to George. George was born on 9th January 1918 and attended BVGS from 1928 until 1934. In his spare time George played tennis competed in several gymkhanas on his horse and then at the age of 16 he learnt to fly aeroplanes at Walsall Flying Club and consequently volunteered for the Royal Air Force  in 1939. George’s wish was to go in to Law but in 1934 his father, an estate agent with Perry and Deakin in Birmingham bought a box and carton business in Willenhall for George to run – much to George’s chagrin. George ran the company for five years before deciding to volunteer to join the RAF.

He was in the RAF from 1939 until 1945. Unfortunately, his medical tests revealed that he was colour blind and thus whilst he joined the RAF it was not as a pilot but as a fitter in the ground crew. He was posted to various camps in England before finally being sent to South Africa. It was of these times that George always told stories of his near misses. The first occurred when based at Ramsey; he was carrying two cans of petrol when a bomb dropped close by. George dropped the two cans and ran for all he was worth. The cans were destroyed in a ball of fire as they were shattered by the bombing. The second happened when George was returning home for a long weekend. He was driving through Coventry in his Austin 7 on the night of the blitz when he was advised to skirt the city. However, assessing that he didn’t have sufficient fuel to drive around, he continued on through the centre. George passed through unscathed even though bombs were dropping around him! The third near miss was on the journey to South Africa; George was on the ship Christiaan Huygens, part of a convoy that was badly damaged by enemy action at sea. George’s ship was holed and required three weeks of work in Freetown, Sierra Leone. After a brief stop the remainder of the convoy resumed their journey but were totally destroyed after leaving port – another fortuitous escape for George! His ship eventually set sail and George finally made it to Cape Town before being posted to Pretoria. It was whilst here that he married his first wife. Sadly his wife died during a visit back home to South Africa whilst undergoing heart surgery. Whilst in South Africa he flew many air miles with other pilots collecting spares and delivering repaired aircraft. George has remained a dedicated fan of South Africa for the rest of his life and even now will greet you in Afrikaans.

Sadly George’s father passed away whist he was in South Africa and he was allowed home on compassionate grounds. During this journey home, whilst the plane was refuelling in Malta, George heard that the war was over. On returning to the UK George resumed running Willenhall Box Company travelling each day from the RAF camp in Fradley until he was demobbed. 

After leaving the RAF, George settled down to life as Chairman and Managing Director of the business which became much expanded and successful. He was followed into the business by his brother, nephew, son and subsequently his great-nephew. Meanwhile, George had met Meryl and they have now been married some forty plus years. The business was eventually sold some years ago and George retired at the advanced age of eighty four, but not before he spent twenty five years as a member of an Industrial Tribunal Panel, thus satisfying some of his interest in matters relating to the law. George continued to play the piano and regularly played tennis, once partnering the famous Ann Jones, in a mixed doubles tournament playing for Warwickshire. On retiring from the tennis court, George took up dinghy sailing at Chasewater Sailing Club. 

George was a regular attendee at the Shaggy Dogs Tea party and the OVA Annual Dinner up to about 2012. Meryl tells the story of his last visit to the dinner when George insisted on driving himself. All was well until the time came when George should be back home in Lichfield. Meryl’s concerns were only alleviated when a lady from Elford rang to say that George was at her house and wasn’t sure where he was. This ended George’s solo trips to the OVA Annual Dinner!

Until recently George has continued to give talks to children of many age groups about the war. On his 99th birthday, the children of one class in Edgbaston, where Meryl’s daughter, Rachel teaches, prepared a large birthday card signed by them all. On the front were 99 Red Balloons and inside each child had prepared a picture of a Spitfire reflecting George’s love of flying; the children used Skype to wish ‘Mr George’ many happy returns. 

Following retirement George became active, along with Meryl, at Lichfield Cathedral acting as a volunteer verger and doing any job that anyone cared to ask him to do. Meryl remains active at the Cathedral herself, is very involved and is currently Treasurer of the Flower Guild.

George remains happily comfortable in his home in Lichfield, long may it continue.

In composing the heading for this article I am aware that there may well be other contenders. My research identified Dr. Jack Stuart, John Whitworth and Tom Wilson as possible owners of the title but I do not have any of their dates of birth.

Written by Nick Hammond - OVA News Editor (OV 1962)