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Geoffrey Sellwood

22nd. February 1922 - 1st. August 1996

Geoffrey was born on 22nd February, 1921 at Chalfont St. Giles in Buckinghamshire, the son of Thomas and Amy Sellwood. Thomas, a cabinet maker by trade, had been badly gassed during the First World War and he died when Geoffrey was four months old. The following year Amy took Geoffrey and his three year old sister to Firle where they moved into a bungalow rented by Amy's sister, known in the neighbourhood as Nurse Worsfold since her appointment in 1919 as the first District Nurse in that area. After a short while they all moved to a larger cottage at 16, The Dock, Firle where Geoffrey remained for the rest of his life.

He was a bachelor, blissfully wedded to outdoor natural phenomena. This all started when he was four. In an interview with Vida Herbison in 1981 he said:-

"Ever since I was a small child I've liked being out in the country on my own. In those days even small children were able to wander about the village and the Firle Estate and everyone knew everyone. The Ram Inn had its own small farm ... and at the age of six I learned to milk on a very friendly, gentle old Sussex cow. She was so gentle, that I think she must have regarded me as her calf. But one day I found her lying down in the field with a newly born calf beside her and I rushed back to my mother and yelled with excitement, Mummy, Mummy the old cow's laid a baby!"

In 1932 Geoffrey gained a scholarship place at Lewes County School for Boys. He cycled to school, coping well with academic subjects and he enjoyed learning to play rugby and cricket. But as a country boy he harboured a powerful desire to be close to nature and this tendency almost landed him in trouble. On more than one occasion he decided to put some old clothing in his bicycle saddlebag before setting off to school but instead of cycling to Lewes he went ferreting with his friends the West brothers (Gilbert and Bill). When his end of term report arrived his mother said, "I'm sure you weren't away sick as much as that last term Geoffrey!"

Little damage was done because he gained the Oxford School Certificate in 1937 and was granted a free place at Plumpton Agricultural College. With other Plumpton students he joined the Territorial Army and in 1939 signed on in the Royal Engineers. His 'call up'papers arrived in 1940 and within a few weeks he was sent to Belgium and then to France. He was in constant danger as a motorcycle despatch rider. Geoffrey claimed no ability to sing but he had a pleasant clear, deep, speaking voice. This was noticed by a Senior Officer who decided that he would best suit the regiment as a wireless operator. In his new role he continued on active service with the Royal Engineers moving into North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Yugoslavia where he helped the Sappers to lay a pipe-line through the forest for the American Air Force. Wild pigs in the forest disrupted their work by uprooting the pipe line. Geoffrey and his mates set about hunting them with .303 rifles. "Fresh meat," he recalled, "with a few partridges, provided a welcome change from army rations".

Towards the end of the war he took part in the final assault on the Rhine and he then went into Holland to help with construction of Bailey bridges and deal with flooding. After seven years active service he returned to England. He was finally demobbed. He got on the train and travelled via Lewes to the Railway Station at Glynde. His account of that very special day is best described in his own words, spoken in his deep, gentler tone:-

"I left my kit at Glynde Station and as I walked back to Firle, I stopped for a while and sat on a bank in the sun, and as I listened to the rooks cawingand the cattle in the fields, it was so beautiful that I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes."

Whilst on 'demob leave' Geoffrey and his friend Bob Lusted resurfaced the cricket square at Firle Cricket Gound. It had been badly cut up by Canadian troops during the war. Together they spent many hours working up a sweat in warm sunshine but they retreated to the Ram Inn for self-imposed two-hour lunch breaks where they imbibed in true military style. Suitably refreshed they tried hard to carry on working until they fancied going home for a cup of tea.

Geoffrey then set about rebuilding his career. He studied at Seale Hayne Agricultural College and was captain of the College cricket team. In a College rugby match his left knee was completely dislocated, finishing his rugby career but he continued to play cricket. Awarded a Diploma in Agriculture he became a Ministry of Agriculture Advisor covering a large part of West Sussex. He took up shooting as a serious sport with a share in the shoot at Madehurst. Wherever he went he was always accompanied by one or two Springer Spaniels. Large chunks of annual leave enabled him to revive his love of the sea by crewing aboard yachts in the Mediterranean. On one return trip the yacht was stormbound at Ostend. Geoffrey's boss at Chichester was not at all pleased when he failed to return on time.

Highly respected in his village Geoffrey became Treasurer of the Village Hall, Chairman of Firle Parish Council and Chairman of Firle Cricket Club.. He retired from his agriculture advisory work in 1981 and immediately accepted the pleasant task of organising game shooting in the eastern part of Firle Estate. Every morning he had the true English bacon and egg breakfast which set him up to venture with his spaniel. They walked deep into the countryside where he fed game birds and continued his life-long study of nature. In the evenings he dined on the contents of his slow-cooking casserole pot stuffed earlier with fresh meat and vegetables. He was never short of meat because his back porch was festooned with a display of game and rabbits awaiting his butchering skills. His spaniel, like other working dogs, was fed just once a day.

Geoffrey was invited by the Vicar to write about the countryside in the monthly Parish News that was widely distributed in and around Glynde, Beddingham and Firle. As soon as the magazine arrived, everyone, including the Vicar, started reading his pages before turning to anything else. Enlightened by his vast knowledge of living creatures, plants and trees we became more aware of nature's sensitivity and mankind's selfish behaviour in our changing environment..

In the 1980's Geoffrey had two separate hip-replacement operations. These were successful but a few years later he became lame when his 'rugby knee' flared like the plague. Bravely, he continued to get about but he resorted to the use of crutches. His car was specially adapted as a 'hands only' vehicle. He carried on as before enjoying pub lunches, meeting friends, attended functions, watching sport and chairing meetings. He accompanied his spaniel at least twice a day on walks in Firle Park, occasionally returning along Firle Street where we detected his approach by the 'clickety-click' sound of his walking aids.

With a broad smile he invited Viscount 'Nicky' Gage to cut the ribbon at the opening of Firle Cricket Club's new cricket pavilion in May, 1996 and he was looking forward to the visit of former England Cricketers to a charity match in August. Sadly, Geoffrey died on 1st August, 1996. A fortnight later the match took place in glorious sunshine, complying with his wish and maybe divinely decreed.

His lasting warmth and unfailing loyalty to all who knew him was conveyed in the form of generous legacies gifted in his Will to organisations that he believed had worthy futures. The name "Geoffrey Sellwood" is now a permanent feature inside St. Peter's Church at Firle.

Michael Tweed
February 2018

Cuckmere Valley Cricket League Champions 1954


Firle Cricket team celebrating in the The Ram Inn

Back Row (left to right) - Les Small, John Holmes, Geoff Sellwood(OL) Robert Robinson (OL) Scorer and Michael Tweed (OL).

Front Row (left to right) - Eric Stevens, Peter Clark (OL), Bob Lofts, Ken Stevens, Dave Sutton (non player), Frank Farrell, Bill Webber, Jim Lohoar (OL) and Dudley Tweed (OL).

Geoffrey and five other Old Lewesians identified with (OL) after their names