Geoffrey Allfree 1889 - 1918
Geoffrey Allfree was the seventh child of the vicar of St Nicholas at Wade, Kent. He joined the merchant navy on leaving school and by the age of 21 had his master’s certificate, however in the 1911 census he describes himself as a painter. We don’t know whether he had any art training.
When the First World War broke out he volunteered and in October 1914 he was commissioned as a sub lieutenant in the RNVR. He served initially in the Royal Naval Division, which was actually an infantry division made up of surplus naval men with no ship. He served at Gallipoli and his best known painting is ‘The Evacuation of Suvla Bay. The burning of a million pounds worth of stores: last lighter coming away as dawn broke.’ which is now in the National Library of New Zealand.
After the Gallipoli campaign he was transferred to sea service and so came to the attention of the TDP. He was given the command of His Majesty’s Motor Launch 286 the remains of which lie in Thames at Isleworth and were recorded and photographed by FROGs in June 2015 and 2016.
Geofrey Allfree was the vessel’s first commander. He always had his sketchbook with him. In the IWM are sketchbooks containing pencil drawings of his crew, very probably those who crewed HMML286. He later had command of HMML 247 which served mostly around the south coast.
He was made an official war artist in January 1918 thus all his war time paintings became the property of the nation. Some can be seen in the IWM. A few ‘civilian’ paintings remained in the possession of his daughter Stephanie who painting as Stephanie Godwin went on to be an artist in her own right.
Many of his pictures were watercolours which he had hoped to work up later into large oil paintings, an opportunity he never got. They are quickly done and are very vivid accounts of what he actually saw. He is at his best painting the sea. There are people too, but the sea itself is the most compelling feature of his pictures. It is stormy or calm, coast or ocean, with boats or without and it is clearly painted by a man who knew it and understood it. Most of the paintings can be found on the net and are well worth looking at. There is one of two motor launches under a stormy purple sky in a rough sea which might be seen as prophetic. His few oil paintings, usually of English river scenes and people give a taste of what might have been.
What actually happened to him was that in September 1918 a four boat flotilla of motor launches entered St Ives bay to shelter from a storm. While attempting to reach deeper water HMML 247’s engine failed and she was washed onto the Oar Rock where she exploded. She was carrying depth charges. Of the eight crew there was only one survivor. Geoffrey Allfree’s body was never recovered. He died 29 September 1918, six weeks before the Armistice was signed, aged 29 years old, one of a generation of young men who never had the opportunity to realise their full potential.
You can view some of Geoffrey Allfree’s paintings on the Art UK website.
- By: Sarah West |
- Nov 25, 2016