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Monday, 23 February 2015

Manuk: From the Killing Fields of France to the Diamond Fields of Africa


Geoffrey Manuk’s Extraordinarily Short Life.

His Armenian pedigree stretches back several centuries with ancestors such as Khojah Phanoos Kalandar, Coja Sultan David Shameer, Astur Sarkies de Agavally, Ter Johannes Sarkies, Phanoos Bagram and Kevork ter Simon to name just a few, it is surprising to find that he was in fact baptised in a Scottish church in Calcutta, his parents clearly shunning the family history that was in his DNA.


Born in London 5th January 1894 to Percy and Nellie Manuk he was baptised in St. Andrew’s Church Calcutta a year later[1]. 

Birth certificate of Geoffrey Chater Manuk

Baptism record of Geoffrey Manuk at
St. Andrew's Church, Calcutta



A 2 x great grand nephew of Sir Paul Chater a philanthropist from Calcutta, Geoffrey’s own father Percy was a renown barrister and art collector who lived in Patna, India where he practised law. An only child he spent his early years in Calcutta. Like many young men in India, Geoffrey applied to join the Indian Army, something that would give him a footing for the future. When the First World War broke out he sailed for England to sign up.

He was assigned to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and by the end of October 1914 had been appointed with a temporary commission as Lieutenant. Just a month later he was again promoted this time to temporary Captain and by January 1916 he had been posted to the 7th Battalion in France. He fought, marched, fought some more, saw many friends die in the killing field and spent a year in the godforsaken trenches before returning to England in February 1917. By May 1917 he was back in France.  Extracts from the battalion war diary[2] for October 1917 give a snapshot of the life, conditions and routine that Geoffrey would have encountered on the front line.


War Diary of the 7th Battalion
King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Extract for October 1917




Place, Date, Hour



PROVEN, 1.X.17

In camp (P5) preparing for move.



On Route PROVEN TO BAPAUNE

2.X.17

Battn. Marched from camp to PROVEN RAILHEAD and entrained 11am for BAPAUME, arriving midnight.



BAPAUME-YTRES

3.X.17

Marched with transport to YTRES via ORCQUINEY arriving about 6am. Remainder of day resting and changing camp.



YTRES-HAUT ALLAINES

4.X.17. 12.50p.m

Bn (with transport) left camp at 12.50 and marched to HAUT ALLAINES via ETRICOURT, MANANCOURT & MOISLAINES, arriving at 2.30pm.



HAUT ALLAINES

5.X.17-7.X.17



Refitting and reorganising. Weather very wet. MAJOR LP STOOR 12th KINGS, attached to Bn as Sec-in-Command to A/Lt-Col J.T. Jenson 6/10.17.



HAUT ALLAINES0SOREL LE GRAND

8.X.17. 9am.



Embussed at MOISLAINES & debussed near FINS, marching thence to Nisson Huts at SOREL, arriving noon.



SOREL-VILLERS GURSLAIN

9.X.17. 9pm



Relieved 21st Middlesex Regt. (40th Divsn. 121st. Infy Bde) A B & HQRS at GUISLAIN (x2B9) & C+ D Coys behind GONNELIEU (R26 c +d).



Continued to SUPPORT LINE 7 days, providing garrison; also working parties for 7 SOM L.I. (right front coy) and 7 D.C.L.I. (left front coy).



16.X.17. 8pm

A/Lt.Col J.T. JANSON left for 30 days special leave in UK. Major LP STORR assumed command with Capt. R.G. ROYLE as Sec-in-Command.



GONNELIEU 16.X.17-22.X.17 Relieved 7 D.C.L.I. in left front sector, with companies distributed as follows: Right Front B, Left Front D, Right Support A, Left Support C. On the 19th there was an inter-company relief, the support coys moving into front lines and the front line coys into support.



17.X.17.



2/Lt. W. Short appointed ADJUTANT vice 2/LT R.C.W. SMITHERS (killed in action Aug 16/17) from Aug 17th.



18.X.17



2/LT C. Ellis with a patrol of 18 D.R. lost direction and entered a German trench. The party effected its escape leaving the officer behind.



20.X.17. 10am



Court of Enquiry convened by MAJOR LP STORR assembled at BN. HQRS. Members. CAPT. R.G. ROYAL (President), LT. N.D. GYE & 2/LT H.R. PRUST. Instructions: to record opinion on “(I) Whether Sec.Lt. ELLIS is missing, killed, prisoner of war or wounded and prisoner of war.



(II) Circumstances attending loss of Lewis Gun & Three Rifles and culpability of men in charge of same”. After examining nine witnesses, the Court found that 2/LT ELLIS must be wounded and a prisoner of war. A qualified culpability was brought against men who abandoned Lewis Gun & rifles.



VAUELLETTE FARM & RAILTON

22.X.17 – 29.X.17



Relieved in left front sub-section by 7 D.C.L.I. & proceeded into RESERVE: hqr COY & a*c TO Vaucellette fm & b&d Coys to RAILTON. Intensive training in musketry, bombing, PT & close order drill was carried out with good results.



23.X.17

Bn took baths at HEAUDECOURT. Also on 27th.



26.X.17

Concer at HEUDECOURT arranged by Pdre. Rev. F.M. WINDLEY (C of E).



27.X.17



Football match at MOUSLAINES. 62 field ambulance V. 7. K.O.Y.L.I result Amb.4 K.O.Y.L.I. 1



28.X.17



Voluntary Church parades and working parties.



GONNELIEU. 29.X.17



Relieved 7 D.C.L.I. (less 1 Co) in left front sub-Sector with Companies disposed as follows: right front “A”, Right Support “B”, Left Front “C”. “D£ Co was at Fins assisting R.E.s.



30.X.17. 6am

“D£ Co relieved “C” Co. D.C.L.I. in Left Support.



31.X.17

Battalion extended its front to the left. Right support co took over No. 1 Post R. Front Co. Right Front Co took over posts 1 & 2 L.F. co. Left Front Co took over posts from 10th K.R.R. bringing his left to the GOUZEAUCOURT-CAMBRAI RD.


Due to illness Captain Manuk left the unit on 30th October 1917 and headed for Rouen from where he sailed for England arriving on the 16th November 1917. He was one of many to suffer P.U.O. commonly known as trench fever, something that plagued hundreds of soldiers in France.


“Medical Officers during World War 1 tended to put trench fever down as PUO - pyrexia (ie fever) of unknown origin. Often they would take a stern view and prescribe "M&D" - medicine and duty. The unfortunate soldier would be returned to duty with some medicine, often the notorious Pill No. 9 (see right). Pill No. 9 was a laxative beloved of the British Army doctor; it's doubtful that it did much to help a man suffering with a fever.

Not all men suffering with trench fever could return to duty, they were simply too ill. In those cases, they would be evacuated to a hospital for rest and recuperation. It's likely that many of them were in no rush to recover and rejoin their unit. Trench fever, though unpleasant, was undoubtedly a welcome relief from being shelled on the front line.[3]


By January 1918 Geoffrey Manuk had been placed in a convalescing home at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. In February of that year he wrote a desperate letter to the War Office stating that he was still too unwell and not fit for service. In April a report from  Maudsley Neurological Hospital in London recommended no further hospital treatment for Capt Manuk but perhaps another 4 months spell at a convalescing home and suggested he “may again be fit for sedentary duties at home”. However, that was not to be and he relinquished his commission on account of his ill-health on the 19th June 1918.  He was granted the honorary rank of Captain.

He was awarded the British War and Victory medals on the 21st December 1921.

Geoffrey was awarded the British and Victory war medals

After the end of the war he can be found living in Iverna Court, London in 1919, ironically not far from the Armenian Church.

Geoffrey was living close to the Armenian Church in London

In the early 1920’s having recovered from the illnesses that had cut his war service unexpectedly short and perhaps yearning for some warmth on his body and maybe a safer adventure for his heart, he can be found in South Africa as a diamond digger. A bachelor with no commitments, he might have thought it would be a good way to make some money. It was in fact a brutal way to earn a living, the searing heat and basic conditions of the mines were not for the faint hearted. He didn’t last long and on the 19th October 1924 at Droogveld, Sydney-on-Vaal in Barkly West he died aged 30 years and 9 months. Having been through the very harrowing and bitter times of WW1 in Flanders, he met his death in the harsh scrub land of the South African desert panning for diamonds.  His debts amounted to £100 (sterling) which were paid by his father, P.C. Manuk. The list of possessions as noted in his estate inventory show the very bare minimum he had with him[4].

Geoffrey's Estate Papers are held at the
Cape Town National Archives

1 silver wristlet watch
1 pocket compass
1 wood and canvas stretcher bed
1 box kitchen utensils, Beatrice and primus stoves
1 cabin trunk containing clothing
1 leather suitcase, containing clothing
1 bundle of clothing, etc. & helmet
1 leather writing satchel and contents
1 box boots (3 pairs)
1 box sundries (shaving and toilet requisites etc)
1 square tank (wood and iron) 6' x 4'
1 house (since smashed by the wind) 8' x 9'
1 single bebe
1 overcoat (gents)

He is buried at the Old Mine Cemetery, Sydney on Vaal, Delportshoop, Barkly West District, Northern Cape, South Africa.[5]


Buried in the Old Mining Cemetery at
Sydney on Vaal, South Africa
Photo courtesy of: Gansie Coetzee, South Africa
Via website: The Genealogical Society of South Africa  eGSSA branch


My thanks and acknowledgments go to Gansie Coetzee and the Genealogical Society of South Africa for photographing and recording the graves at the Old Cemetery, Sydney on Vaal (rural farm cemeteries) where Geoffrey Chater Manuk is buried. A simple tombstone and taking into account the harsh sun and dusty conditions in the African veld, it has a remarkably readable inscription.

There are no Armenians in Sydney on Vaal and it is likely that his grave has never been visited by family or friends - maybe one day someone will.






[1] British Library: N1-241-43
[2] King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry War Diaries: National Archives, Kew WO 95/2127/2
[3] Trench Fever and Lice in WW1.  http://hubpages.com/hub/Trench-Fever-in-World-War-1
[4] Estate papers of Geoffrey Chater Manuk: Cape Town National Archives, South Africa
[5] The Genealogical Society of South Africa  eGSSA branch http://www.eggsa.org/welcome_e.htm


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