May, Geoffrey Trelawney

He was the only son of Major Charles Henry May MC (A1900-05), of Woking, Surrey, and his wife Cecil Vere May (daughter of the Venerable Phipps John Hornby, Archdeacon of Lancaster). His uncle, Captain Richard Trelawny May (A1903-1909), was killed in action on the Somme in July 1916 (see individual entry).

He was in the winning Senior IV on the river and on leaving Winchester went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he rowed in the VIII which went head of the river.

Commissioned in 1941 into the Rifle Brigade, he fought in the North African campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, and was awarded the MC for conspicuous bravery and leadership in a dangerous situation in the Mareth battle. After a spell as a Brigade Liaison Officer in Italy, serving at Salerno, in company with the rest of the 7th Armoured Division, he came home to prepare for the invasion of France where his battalion was in the forefront of the fighting from early June 1944 onwards.

1RB embarked at Tilbury docks on the evening of June 4th, and set sail that night for the convoy assembly area off Southend. Owing to the  postponement of D-Day by twenty-four hours, they spent the whole of June 5th and 6th in the same place, the convoy not setting out for Normandy until 0600 on June 7th.

On June 13th 1944, 7th Armoured Division was ordered to take Villers-Bocage; the vanguard of the advance was composed of ‘A’ Squadron 4County of London Yeomanry and ‘A’ Company 1Rifle Brigade.   They reached the town without serious incident and  and halted to the east, at Point 213 on the Caen road, to decide what to do next. ‘A’ Squadron 4 County of London Yeomanry was commanded by the Wykehamist Major Peter Marriott Raleigh Scott MC & Bar (D1925-1930). Unknown to the British, they were about to be subjected to a devastating attack by II Kompanie 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion, equipped with Tiger tanks and led by the tank ace Obersturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann.

Wittman started by destroying tanks at the front and rear of the British column, preventing them from moving, and then drove through the British lines shooting at all  he could see. Eventually his tank was disabled by a British anti-tank gun, but four more Tigers and a Panzer IV created further havoc. The 4CLY and 1RB troops at Point 213 were cut off – only about thirty made it back to rejoin the rest of the division. Major Scott was one of those killed (see individual entry).

West of Villers-Bocage, two battalions of Panzer Grenadier troops with tanks then attacked the British positions. In the fighting that day, some seventeen German tanks were destroyed, but British losses had been more severe and 7th Armoured were in an exposed position in front of other Allied forces.  Therefore, during the night of June 13th/14th the Division withdrew to form a “Brigade Box” south of the town of Amaye-Sur-Seulles, to the west of Villers-Bocage.   A “box” was a formation previously used in the desert, in which each unit provided support to the others. Within the perimeter were the remaining two squadrons of 4CLY, 8th Hussars, 11th Hussars, 5RTR, 1/5th and 1/7th Queens, 1RB and 5RHA. 1 RB covered the northern flank, on the top edge of the “Box”.   It was a poor position, overlooked on three sides by higher ground and approaching enemy forces could be spotted at no more than fifty to a hundred yards.

May was killed during shelling of this position.  His commanding officer, writing after his death at the age of twenty-two, spoke of his leadership as an inspiration to his company.

He lies in grave  IX.E.6 of the St Manvieu War Cemetery, Cheux.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: May
  • Forenames or initials: Geoffrey Trelawney May
  • House: A
  • Years in School: 1935-1940
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Rifle Brigade
  • Date of Birth: 23rd February 1922
  • Date of Death: 14th June 1944
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner B1
  • Decoration: MC
  • Burial Site: St Manvieu War Cemetery: Grave IX.E.6