De Gruchy family sought by family of war hero

MEMBERS of the de Gruchy family are being sought by the descendants of a man who served with distinction in both world Wars, who won an Oscar in the British film-making industry and who was made an OBE.

Geoffrey de Gruchy Barkas
Geoffrey de Gruchy Barkas

MEMBERS of the de Gruchy family are being sought by the descendants of a man who served with distinction in both world Wars, who won an Oscar in the British film-making industry and who was made an OBE.

Geoffrey de Gruchy Barkas served throughout much of the First World War, firstly during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, where his Battalion was in action in the area around Suvla Bay, and later in France, where his courage and leadership during later stages of the Battle of the Somme were recognised through the award of a Military Cross.

Channel Islands Great War Study Group member Barrie Bertram has been in touch to say that Geoffrey de Gruchy Barkas was born in Richmond upon Thames, to Jersey-born parents, and that his family would like to learn more about the Jersey descendants.

‘Geoffrey’s father was Albert Atkin Barkas who was born on 21 August, 1861 at 27 Roseville Street, St Helier, and he married Geoffrey’s mother, Anna Julia de Gruchy on 15 September, 1888,’ said Mr Bertram.

‘Anna, known as Nina, was born on 13 August 1863 at 42 Roseville Street, St Helier, and her parents were Joshua de Gruchy born 1834 at Trinity, Jersey and Jane Deslandes who was born in 1833 in St. Helier. ‘Anna had one sister and two brothers from that marriage, Mary J de Gruchy born 1856, Joshua B de Gruchy born 1865 and Alfred N de Gruchy born 1866, all in St Helier. Alfred, an Old Victorian, later became a doctor and died of heart failure on Christmas Day, 1915, while serving on the SS Intaba, a vessel that had been requisitioned by the government as a troopship.’

With the end of the Great War, along with several million others, Geoffrey was demobilised. He embarked on a career in the British film-making industry and went onto work alongside many of the British stars in the next 15 or so years.

‘Two films are worth mentioning,’ said Mr Bertram, ‘the first being an adaption of Ernest Raymond’s book “Tell England”, which Geoffrey co-directed with Anthony Asquith. Recounting the story of young men leaving public school and going straight into the army with commissions, this film presented a highly realistic and accurate view of the landings and subsequent actions at Gallipoli and clearly drew upon his own experiences there.

‘The second film was “Wings Over Everest”, this time co-directed with Ivor Montague. It was for this film that both directors were awarded an Oscar in 1936.

‘The Second World War found Geoffrey in khaki once more, and in a role that would make use of skills that he had acquired in the film industry,’ continued Mr Bertram.

‘Now a Lieutenant Colonel, he played an important part in the desert war in North Africa leading British efforts in the use of camouflage to deceive Rommel's intelligence during the retreat from Libya to El Alamein.

‘This deception enabled the British to minimise their casualties, hide their weak spots, and build-up their forces for their counter-attack during the second battle of El Alamein.’

In his book ‘From Aintree to Alamein’ Geoffrey told the story behind Churchill’s words in the House of Commons, when announcing the victory of the Battle of Alamein, he said: ‘By a marvellous system of camouflage complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert’.

Mr Bertram added: ‘Geoffrey’s book presented the Middle East campaigns of 1941-42 through his eyes and those of his companions as it described how this remarkable feat of deception was accomplished, covering the exhilarating onrush to Benghazi with Wavell’s Army, Rommel’s first break-through, the siege and relief of Tobruk, the headlong retreat to Alamein and, finally, Alamein itself. For his efforts he was made an OBE.’

Mr Bertram has been in touch with descendants of the Barkas family who are interested in learning more of the de Gruchy connection, and is happy to pass on details from Joshua’s descendants. He can be contacted on bhbertram@tiscali.co.uk or via www.greatwarci.net