Streatham's Somme VC

By: Geoff Simmon

Geoffrey St George Shillington Cather was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’. He died on the Somme battlefield on 2nd July 1916 and his actions in putting other lives ahead of his own is a story that truly deserves to be remembered.

Lt Cather VC was born 11th October 1890 at 55, Christchurch Road, Streatham Hill. His father was a partner in Tetley Tea, and Geoffrey followed him into the firm as a tea buyer’s assistant. He served as a Private in the Artists Rifles from 1909 to 1911 but resigned his commission when Tetley posted him to New York and Canada. With War on the horizon, he returned in 1914 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers in May 1915, and was swiftly promoted to the role of adjutant. Letters written by his Commanding Officer reveal the esteem in which the young tea-buyer was held.

On the 1st of July 916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, Geoffrey’s regiment attacked the German lines near the village of Beaumont Hamel. By nightfall 9 officers and 235 men had been killed or wounded, and many were lying in no man’s land. That evening, Geoffrey went out to help retrieve the injured under heavy artillery fire, and by midnight he had personally carried in three men. At 8am the following morning he went out again and brought in another wounded man and gave water to others. It was in the act of trying to assist another soldier that he was killed by machine gun fire at 10.30am. His widowed mother received the VC from he King at Buckingham Palace on the 31st of March 1917. It was later given by his brother to the Royal Irish Fusiliers Regimental Museum in Armagh.

Geoffrey is commemorated on various memorials in Limpsfield, at Rugby School, St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast, Portadown and at the Ulster Tower and the Thiepval Memorial in France. Now, a hundred years on, his bravery will be honoured in his birthplace when Lambeth Council lays a commemorative ‘paving’ stone at the Streatham War Memorial, Streatham Common, where two other local VC holders were similarly honoured last year. All are welcome to attend the ceremony led by the Mayor of Lambeth and attended by World War 1 veterans on Monday 4th July at 10.30am on Monday 4th July at Streatham War Memorial, Streatham Common.