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85423 Sergeant
South African Engineer Corps

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2001. All Rights Reserved


This research dealing with Sergeant Simpson’s military service has been compiled primarily from his military service papers, which were obtained from the South African Ministry of Defence, and from Salute the Sappers, The History of South African Forces in World War II, Volume VIII, Parts 1 and 2. Where other sources have been used, these sources have been noted in the Endnotes and/or in the Reference section at the end of this biographical narrative.


Geoffrey Thourbourne Simpson was born in the town of Penzance [1], in the County of Cornwall, on the 8th of July 1904. A check of the Vital Records Index of the British Isles from 1538 to 1888 did not show any recorded marriage between a Simpson and a Thourbourne in the United Kingdom during this period [2].

Simpson immigrated to South Africa, either on his own as an adult or with his family while he was still a child. The Simpsons were members of the Church of England and appear to have settled in Krugersdorp, South Africa [3].

Geoffrey worked as a reduction (gold smelting) worker for Randfontein Estates Gold Mine [4] in Randfontein prior to his enlistment in the Army. At the time of his enlistment, he also indicated that he had two years of service in an Officers’ Training Corps Unit. It is uncertain whether his service in the OTCU was in the United Kingdom or in South Africa.


The following is a description of Geoffrey Thourbourne Simpson at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1940:


35 years and 10 months


6 feet 0 inches


160 pounds

Chest Measurement:

35 inches







Distinguishing Marks:

Tattoos [5]


Simpson enlisted in the Union Defence Force of South Africa at Krugersdorp on the 16th of April 1940. On the following day he attested as a Sapper in the South African Engineer Corps (S.A.E.C.), and was assigned Regimental Number 85420. He was immediately assigned to the 12th Field Company, S.A.E.C. as a Class "B" Pipe Fitter.

Following his attestation on the 17th of April 1940, Sapper Simpson did not immediately join his unit. On the 7th of July 1940, almost three months after his attestation, he reported to the Engineer Training Center (E.T.C.) at Sonderwater to assume his duties for pay purposes. At Sonderwater he underwent a period of basic military training before being posted to his company.


Service in East Africa

On the 29th of October 1940, following his period of training at the Engineer Training Center, Sapper Simpson entrained at Sonderwater for further transport to Nairobi, Kenya where his company was stationed. He left South Africa by air for Nairobi on the 11th of November 1940 and joined the 12th Field Company on the 16th of November at Broken Hill [6].

Two days after Simpson joined his unit, the 12th Field Company moved to Gilgil, moving there overland from Broken Hill. The company sent off a reconnaissance party the next day to select a site for the brigade at Timau in the Nanyuki district, and Major Newby received orders to erect a camp at Ngare-Ndare. By the 27th of November the company, less two sub-sections, was on its way to Isiolo where Captain F.G. Zeppenveld and Lieutenant C. Macaulay had already reconnoitered a camp for the 1st South African Division.

By the end of November 1940 the brigade and the 12th Field Company were taking over operations of from the East African Division at Marsabit. The 54th East Africa Field Company handed over two water points to the 12th Field Company at Marsabit, as well as mines, borehole charges and other stores on the 1st of December 1940. Shortly thereafter, the 21st General Headquarters Field Park Company arrived to take over the work of the 12th Field Company so that Major Newby and his company could rejoin their brigade.

The 12th Field Company opened up 17 old wells at Marsabit and began supplying water in the long valley of Ballessa Bangoli. Lieutenant J.M. Gosnell of the 12th Field Company also reconnoitered the waterpoints at Sagoti Diko. By the 6th of December Lieutenant A.A. Cooper and No. 1 Section were experimenting in clearing brush for roads, while No. 2 Section began work on gun emplacements and an observation post on the road northward to Moyale. Near this road Lieutenant C.W.A. Stagman removed demolition charges from the boreholes, which were now considered safe from enemy interference.

On the 10th of December 1940 Major Newby left on a trip up the North Horr where No. 3 Section of the South African Survey Company had established its base to do mapping control work on the more westerly of the two routes towards the Abyssinian border.

On the 25th of December the 12th Field Company was tasked to provide twice as much water as previously required and on the 1st of January 1941, the company passed to command of the 1st South African Division. Sections of the company were already developing water supplies at Gamra, Maikona, North Horr and elsewhere along the left-hand branch of the road that forked at Marsabit. More borehole charges were removed as Lieutenant R.M.M. Cormack began working on improvements to the position at Kalacha, beyond which the last mine laid by the King’s African Rifles on the road was removed on the 5th of January. With the arrival of the 5th Field Company in the area about this time, the ancient wells at Balessa Bangoli were turned over to them by the 12th Field Company.

The 12th Field Company returned to the control of the 2nd South African Division on the 9th of January 1941. All remaining water supply missions of the company were then handed over to the 21st General Headquarters Field Park Company while the 12th Field Company moved well forward to Dukana and began to develop water supply. Company headquarters section remained at North Horr until the 12th of January when it moved up and began land clearing operations.

One of the first offensive actions in the advance through Italian Somaliland involved a frontal attack on Moyale by the 2nd South African Brigade. The brigade was tasked to clear the El Yibo-El Sardu area, which it started doing on the 15th of January 1941. Lieutenant J.M. Gosnell and seventeen other ranks of the 12th Field Company advanced with the Natal Mounted Rifles, a company of Irregulars and two sections of armoured cars. The Sapper party built an access road into Lugga Bulal under fire during the ensuing action.

The men of the attacking force suffered severely from thirst in the intense heat of the Lugga Bulal where temperatures registered 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. Swollen lips and much anguish was relieved by the men of the 12th Field Company, who man-handled a 2,200-liter tanker down a precipitous cliff to the lugga floor towards evening of the day of the attack, by which time all waterbottles had been empty for hours.

The El Yibo position was not occupied until artillery and air support had been provided on the 18th of January, but within half an hour of the waterholes being captured, 12th Field Company Sappers were clearing out the wells and developing water supply. They had done excellent work in making a road into the Lugga Bulal and in transporting water to the attacking force during an operation that provided the field company with its first opportunity of acting in the front line role for which it had been trained.

El Sardu was cleared by an infantry battalion patrol without a fight, while at El Yibo Major Newby and his men, with the help of the infantry, cleared the carcasses of dead animals from the existing wells and sank new ones. Within four days they had increased the water supply from 7,000 to 46,000 liters a day, which obviated carrying water for 136 kilometers over atrocious roads and thus greatly facilitated further moves forward.

At 1030 hours on the morning of the 31st of January 1941, Major Newby and a reconnaissance party of the 12th Field Company left with the 2nd South African Infantry Brigade for an attack on Gorai, while the rest of the company made ready to follow and handed over the water supply tasks at Dukana to other engineer units. Although the fort on the southern lip of the crater at Gorai was strongly defended, by 1630 hours on the 1st of February 1941 the 2nd Field Force Battalion had taken the position with minor losses. On the following day the 12th Field Company had two sub-sections there developing the wells while the rest of the company handed over other tasks to the 5th Field Company and 21st G.H.Q. Field Park Company. By the 5th of February the whole of the 12th Field Company was at Gorai.

It was about this time that Sapper Simpson received word from home of the death of his child. He was granted emergency leave to return to South Africa to be with his wife and to attend the funeral. He returned to his unit on the 11th of February 1941. By the time he arrived back at the 12th Field Company, the unit was well dispersed with detachments at Gorai and Kunchurro.

Simpson returned to his company just in time to take part in the Battle of Mega. Before daybreak on the 14th of February 1941 the 2nd South African Infantry Brigade Group, accompanied by the 12th Field Company, moved forward as part of a coordinated attack. To the east of Mega the company was tasked to lift mines on the road to El Sod, while the northern road to Neghelli was left mined with three large mines improvised by the 12th Field Company from 4-gallon petrol tins. The company also mined the road to Moyale.

Following the successful capture of Mega, the 12th Field Company entered the town from the south on the 19th of February. The company initially worked on mine clearing operations and then switched over to working on water supply until the 22nd of February 1940 when the unit began the advance on Moyale.

On the 16th of March 1941, the 12th Field Company in support of the 2nd South African Infantry Brigade, passed out of 1st South African Division control. Major Newby was rewarded with the O.B.E. for the outstanding performance of his company since the end of December 1940.

The 12th Field Company passed to the control of the Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) Corps Troops for work on the lines of communication from Berbera to Addis Ababa. It was during this period that Sapper Simpson was struck down by a severe bout of malaria, eventually leading to his evacuation back to South Africa for recuperation (see Section 8 below – Medical Information).

Recuperation in South Africa

Following his return to South Africa, Simpson was assigned to the Central Army Training Depot (C.A.T.D.) at Pietermaritzburg and then to the Works Base Depot at Voortrekkerhoogte. Although he was on the strength of these depots between the 20th of September 1941 and the 26th of June 1942, he spent most of the time in hospital or on sick leave.

Following his discharge from the South African Military Hospital at Voortrekkerhoogte on the 22nd of June 1942, he was assigned to the Central Army Training Depot for further assignment to "B" Reserve Field Company at the Engineer Reserve Training Depot (E.R.T.D.) at Premier Mine Camp. At this time he was medically classified as "C3" indicating that he was permanently unfit for general service, but permanently fit for home service. He reported to the company on the 27th of June 1942 and was charged with one day of illegal absence during the period 22 to 27 June. Any punishment that he may have received as a result of this charge is not indicated in his service papers.

On the 3rd of July 1942 Sapper Simpson was transferred to "W" Reserve Field Company located at the Engineer Reserve Training Depot where he served until the 10th of September 1942 when he was transferred back to "B" Reserve Field Company. Simpson was then transferred to a number of different units through the end of the year 1942 and into 1943. These transfers were probably due to his limited capability to perform his military duties as a result of his poor health. He was assigned to the following units on the dates indicated:

21 September 1942: Taken on the strength of the 1st Battery, 8th Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Regiment, S.A.E.C. [7]

26 October 1942: Taken on the strength of the 4th Battery, 8th Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Regiment, S.A.E.C.

23 December 1942: Taken on the strength of "C" Reserve Field Company, Engineer Reserve Training Depot at Premier Mine.

6 February 1943: Taken on the strength of "G" Reserve Field Company, Engineer Reserve Training Depot at Premier Mine.

7 August 1943: Taken on the strength of 106th Special Park Company, S.A.E.C. [8]

At the time that he was assigned to the 106th Special Park Company, Simpson was a Temporary Corporal (see Section 6 below). He was detached from the company soon after his assignment and was posted for duty to the South African Defence Force Directorate of Engineers. Simpson’s specific duties in the Directorate of Engineers are not spelled out in his service papers. It may be assumed, based on his poor state of health, that the duties were probably administrative and did not require much physical exertion. These duties at home apparently had a salubrious effect on him, as he was reclassified from medical category "C3" to "B1" on the 4th of April 1944. In this category he was still considered to be unfit for general service for less than six months, but he was considered to be fit for training.

On the 1st of June 1944 Simpson was taken on the strength of "G" Reserve Field Company, S.A.E.C. with the rank of Sergeant (see Section 6 below). He only remained with the company until the 17th of June when he was assigned to the Base Depot at Voortrekkerhoogte in preparation for posting to Egypt. He departed South Africa by air and arrived in Cairo on the 20th of June. On the 7th of July he reported for duty to the 81st Engineer Base Workshop at Fanara, Egypt.

Service in Egypt and Italy

Sergeant Simpson served with the 81st Engineer Base Depot at Fanara until the 1st of November 1944 with only one break, a short seven day leave in Cairo between the 11th and the 17th of September. On the 1st of November he was transferred to the 93rd Engineer Base Workshop, which was then at Bari, Italy. Sergeant Simpson arrived at Taranto, Italy by air on the 26th of November under the command of Captain E.J. Haines. This was the final draft of men from Egypt needed to bring the 93rd Engineer Base Workshop up to full strength.

Simpson’s unit was put to work on "lumberjacking" duties to provide lumber for timber trestle bridge construction and other construction purposes in the forward areas. The unit, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel L.A. Girling, M.B.E., had only 15 officers and 180 other ranks on strength, but it controlled many times that number of civilian workers in widely separated areas. Between March and May of 1945 Simpson had a serious recurrence of malaria and had to be hospitalized for about seven weeks.

Service in England

Following the German surrender, Sergeant Simpson proceeded to Naples where he embarked by sea for the United Kingdom on the 7th of July 1945. He arrived in England on the 15th of July and was immediately granted 30 days leave. He was then placed on the "X4" or South African Engineer Corps General List in preparation for his return home.

Home to South Africa

Simpson was assigned to the Union Defence Force Repatriation Unit pending his return to South Africa. On the 26th of August 1945 he left England bound for South Africa and arrived at Cape Town on the 11th of September where he was immediately taken on the strength of the Cape Fortress garrison. On the following day he was transferred to the South African Military Hospital at Voortrekkerhoogte. Following a 28-day leave, Sergeant Simpson reported to "W" Reserve Field Company at Premier Mine Camp on the 14th of October 1945 to process for discharge from the Army.

Service Medals

For his service during the Second World War, Sergeant Geoffrey Thourbourne Simpson was awarded the 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, War Medal and Africa Service Medal. He was authorized the award of the Africa Service Medal on the 30th of May 1944, although he did not receive the medal until the 12th of December 1944. The other medals were not awarded to him until the 27th of July 1955.


a. Promotions: Sergeant Simpson received the following promotions during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

19 October 1942

Promoted Temporary Corporal

22 October 1942

Granted War Service rank of Corporal [9]

1 May 1944

Promoted Temporary Sergeant

b. Conduct: The only notation in Sergeant Simpson’s service papers regarding his conduct is made at the time of his discharge. At that time his overall Conduct/Character was rated as "Very Good." There is no indication of his having received any Good Conduct badges or pay during his time in service.


a. Education: There are no notations in Sergeant Simpson’s service papers with regard to his education while in the Army or prior to joining the Army other than the two years he spent with an Officers’ Training Corps Unit as previously mentioned in Section 2 above.

b. Qualifications: Sergeant Simpson earned the following qualifications during his period of service in the Army:



17 April 1940

Pipe Fitter, Class "B"

1 December 1940

Pipe Fitter, Class "A". Granted Artisan’s Pay.

1 May 1944

Classified as a Non-Artisan


The following medical information was taken from Sergeant Simpson’s service records during his time in service:


Date of Admission


Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

Diredawa, Ethiopia [10]

30 May 1941


Admitted to the 2nd East Africa Casualty Clearing Station. Placed on "X" List. Rejoined unit on 5 June 1941.

Diredawa, Ethiopia

11 June 1941

Malaria (Relapse)

Admitted to the 2nd East Africa Casualty Clearing Station and then evacuated to Berbera, Somalia [11].


9 September 1941


Evacuated from Berbera to Mombasa, Kenya aboard H.M.T. Burma


20 September 1941


Embarked at Mombasa on board S.S. Amra for transport home by way of Durban, South Africa. Disembarked at Durban on 25 September 1941.

Voortrekker- hoogte,
South Africa

26 September 1941

Chronic bronchitis & post malarial debility

Admitted to the South African Military Hospital [12].

Voortrekker- hoogte,
South Africa

6 October 1941

Medical Board


Granted 28 days of sick leave starting on 10 October 1941. To return to S.A. Military Hospital for re-examination after leave.

Voortrekker- hoogte,
South Africa

11 November 1941

Returned from sick leave

Re-admitted to S.A. Military Hospital with chronic malaria.

Voortrekker- hoogte,
South Africa

9 February 1942

Medical Board convened

Granted 28 days sick leave.

Voortrekker- hoogte,
South Africa

8 March 1942

Returned from sick leave

Re-examined at S.A. Military Hospital. Admitted to hospital with chronic case of malaria. Discharged on 22 June 1942. Reclassified from Class "D" to Class "C/3".

Union of South Africa

8 October 1942

Chronic malaria

Granted 28 days sick leave.


19 March 1945

Unknown ailment (probably malaria)

Admitted to the 102nd General Hospital. Discharged on 7 May 1945 to rejoin unit.

Voortrekker- hoogte,
South Africa

12 September 1945

Unknown ailment (probably malaria)

Admitted to South African Military Hospital. Granted 28 days leave.


Geoffrey Thourbourne Simpson and his wife Eleanor lived at 91A Human Street in Krugersdorp at the time of his enlistment in the Army. Geoffrey and Eleanor had a child born in April of 1939. In February of 1941 Simpson returned to South Africa from Nairobi, Kenya on emergency leave to attend the funeral of his child. He returned to Kenya and rejoined his unit on the 11th of February 1941 [13].


Sergeant Simpson’s discharge from the Union Defence Force was authorized on the 26th of October 1945. He was demobilized and discharged from the Army at Premier Mine Camp on the 2nd of November 1945. At the time of his discharge he was rated as a "sober" soldier whose efficiency, conduct and character were "very good." His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:


Period of Service

Union of South Africa

17 April 1940 – 10 November 1940


11 November 1940 – 24 September 1941

Union of South Africa

25 September 1941 – 19 June 1944


20 June 1944 – 25 November 1944


26 November 1944 – 14 July 1945


15 July 1945 – 10 September 1945

Union of South Africa

11 September 1945 – 2 November 1945


Period of Service

Home Service

3 years and 162 days

Service Abroad

2 years and 34 days

Total Service

5 years and 196 days


At the time of his discharge from the Army in 1945, Simpson’s wife was living at 66 Human Street in Krugersdorf. It appears that following the war he went back to work for the Randfontein Estates Gold Mine, as his address in 1951 is listed as Post Office Millsite, Randfontein, South Africa. His Gold Production Commission Provident Fund Number was 25493.


1. Military Service Papers of Sergeant Geoffrey Thourbourne Simpson, including the following documents:

  1. Attestation Paper for a Volunteer Unit of the Union Defence Force of South Africa.
  2. Details of Service.
  3. Application for Campaign Medals (1939-1945).
  4. Record of Service.
  5. Hospital Record.

2. ORPEN, N. and MARTIN, H.J. Salute the Sappers. South African Forces: World War II, Volume 8, Parts 1 and 2. Sappers Association, Johannesburg, 1982.

3. MERRIAM-WEBSTER. Geographical Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Incorporated, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1997.

4. Randfontein Gold Mines. Internet web site http://www.jci.co.za/rand_gold.html.


[1] Penzance is a seaside resort town in the southwest of England. It is located on the English Channel about 65 miles west southwest of Plymouth.
[2] The assumption was made that Thourbourne was the maiden name of Geoffrey’s mother.
[3] Krugersdorp is located in the northeast part of South Africa, approximately 20 miles west of Johannesburg. Mining of manganese and gold are among the major industries in the region.
[4] The Randfontein Estates Gold Mine is located 40 kilometers southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. The mining lease covers 42,696 acres, the majority of which is underlain by gold-bearing Witwatersrand sediments. The company has a long history of precious metal mining. It was formed in 1889, and by the 1930s the company employed some 27,000 people. The older section of the mine was scaled down in the 1960s, and in the early 1970s a new section known as the Cooke section came into production. The mine currently employs in excess of 10,000 people.
[5] Descriptions of Simpson’s tattoos are note provided in his service papers.
[6] The 12th Field Company had already arrived in Nairobi, having departed from South Africa about the 1st of November under the command of Major G.F. Newby, S.A.E.C. Newby had assumed command of the unit on the 5th of September 1940. On its arrival in Kenya, the 12th Field Company was assigned to 2nd South African Brigade Group in the 1st South African Division.
[7] The location of this unit is not indicated in Simpson’s service record.
[8] The location of this unit is not indicated in Simpson’s service record.
[9] This rank was granted on the 1st of May 1944 and made retroactive to the 22nd of October 1942.
[10] Dire Dawa or Diredawa is a city in east Ethiopia, on the Addis Ababa to Djibouti railway line.
[11] Berbera – a seaport in Somalia on the south shore of the Gulf of Aden.
[12] His medical records indicate that he suffered from the following symptoms: "1) had a cough for 7 years; also wheeziness of chest. No night sweats. 2) 6 attacks of malaria while serving in East Africa."
[13] Simpson’s military records give no indication of the name or sex of the child.