Makins, Geoffrey Ernest
He was the third and youngest son of Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Makins KBE, CB, DSO, MP (D 1883-87), and Lady Makins (Maria Florence Makins, daughter of Sir James Robert Mellor), of South Kensington, London. Like his two brothers – the diplomat Roger Mellor Makins, 1st Baron Sherfield GCB, GCMG, FRS (D 1917-22) and Guy Henry Makins (D 1920-23) – he came to Fearon’s from West Downs. Guy Makins was killed in a shooting accident on September 17th 1923, and is commemorated by a tablet in Cloisters. Geoffrey Makins (probably named for his uncle, who had been killed in action two months before his birth) was only at Winchester for three years and left owing to ill-health. After a year in Switzerland, in 1934 he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1938 took Honours in History, obtaining in the same year a University Commission in the Royal Dragoons – the “Royals” – the regiment of which his father was Colonel.
In 1938, when he joined, his regiment was already under active service conditions, “engaged in the thankless and dangerous task of maintaining order in Palestine.” (The Times). With them he served all through the fighting in North Africa and Sicily, was twice wounded and received the MC for gallantry and was selected for the Staff College. A second serious car accident left him with injuries that handicapped his work at the College but he completed his course. He was for a short time GSO2 at HQ Canadian Army, but he found life on the Staff distasteful: “His was the temperament which, so long as there is fighting, must be in the midst of it.” (The Times).
Makins therefore obtained permission to command a squadron of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers). The Sherwood Rangers was a Sherman tank unit in 8 Armoured Brigade, equipped with the specialist ‘DD’ amphibious version which was to swim ashore on D-Day to provide support for the infantry as they landed. The Regiment had served in the Middle East, but returned to England in December 1943. There it had been taken over by a Wykehamist, John D’Arcy Anderson (Coll.1922-1927), later to become General Sir John Anderson GBE, KCB, DSO, Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Anderson was not entirely welcome: the Regimental history “talks of him descending from the heights of a full Colonelcy on the staff… He was appalled by our Middle East habits, and introduced us to early rising, PT in the morning, and “Inglese” clothes with boots and gaiters [troops involved in the North African campaigns had notoriously dressed in most eclectic fashion]. It was trying for all, but we had learned to suffer”.
The diary of yet another Wykehamist, Stanley D. Christopherson (A 1926-1931), later to command the Sherwood Rangers, echoed this impression of a man stooping “from the Gods of the Staff. He had been a regular cavalry officer and, appalled by our unsoldierly appearance and lack of dress discipline, he determined, quite rightly, to make it clear that we were no longer in the Middle East.”
Anderson led the Regiment on D-Day, but was wounded in the fighting once ashore and did not return to the Sherwood Rangers on his recovery: Christopherson took command and led the regiment until the end of the war. Other casualties meant that replacement officers, like Makins, were soon needed. Makins arrived to take command of “A” Squadron and on 10th July they moved to a concentration area near Folliot and from 11th – 13th July all three squadrons of the Sherwood Rangers were involved in heavy fighting in the Hottot area of Normandy. Stuart Hills’ memoir “By Tank into Normandy” (Cassell 2002) recounts what happened:
“…. but the biggest loss was Geoffrey Makins, who had only recently arrived to take over command of ‘A’ Squadron. He was badly wounded by shrapnel while observing from his tank, and taken to the Casualty Clearing Station, where he was visited by the Colonel a few days later. Stanley Christopherson thought he looked very ill, although the doctors believed he had a good chance of pulling through. Geoffrey died on September 4th and was buried in his home village of Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire, aged twenty-eight. All this had taken place in a battle which we had been told beforehand would be easy. We had knocked out seven enemy tanks but had lost four ourselves as well as seven valuable crew commanders. The infantry had suffered even worse casualties. On July 14th we were pulled out of the line…”
Makins died of his wounds in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, on September 4th. He rests in Rotherfield Greys churchyard. He was described in The Times as “a young officer of great promise… winning golden opinions on every hand… Possessed of unique charm of manner and of a goodness of heart utterly selfless, he made devoted friends wherever he went; his death will be a true grief to many in all walks of life. Only those who knew him intimately realized the intense pluck which carried one whose health was never robust not only through the fiercest fighting but, with the same superb courage, through the last long struggle with death. It is on such men that the brightest hopes of England depend, and now it can only be said that multis ille bonis flebilis occidit [“he died to be mourned by many good men”]. The great loss is to England; the rest is silence.”
His brother, Lord Sherfield, dedicated the Makins Room of Moberly Library in honour of him and his uncle, Geoffrey Makins (D1892-1893) who was killed in France in 1915 whilst serving with the KRRC; a portrait of his uncle hangs there.
- Surname: Makins
- Forenames or initials: Geoffrey Ernest
- House: D
- Years in School: 1929-1932
- Rank: Major
- Regiment: 1st Royal Dragoon Guards
- Date of Birth: 19th October 1915
- Date of Death: 4th September 1944
- How Died: Died of Wounds
- Location in War Cloister: Inner G1
- Decoration: MC
- Burial Site: Rotherfield Greys Churchyard, Oxfordshire