Geoffrey was my brother and he was killed in the Antarctic when he was 21. He would now be 56 years old – still three years younger than me, so my memories are all written from a big sister’s perspective. Geoff was never found and no-one really knows for sure what happened to him. In most ways it all seems a long time ago, but as losing him has somehow never been resolved, it has always stayed just below the surface in my memory.
Most of my memories are from when we were children. We had a pretty idealistic childhood on the edge of the countryside around Preston. I remember us playing together in our large garden and in my granddad’s small poultry farm on the land adjoining and behind our house. Climbing trees and making dens were high on the agenda together with other more diverse hobbies such as catching frogs which abounded in the long grass and keeping them in the hen’s water, and having battles (Robin Hood and cowboys and indians usually) involving our 2 cousins down the road and the boy next door!
I remember Geoff’s early obsession with cowboys and my mum’s despair at him refusing to remove his cowboy hat to eat his meals. She still keeps it hidden away in a drawer. He spent a lot of time trying to make caps fire in his toy gun and getting arrows to shoot. As I grew older I grew less interested in these boyish amusements! I remember his interest in “Thunderbirds”. He spent hours drawing meticulous drawings of all the Thunderbirds craft and was an expert on every detail. His interest in this was all a complete mystery to me! He also loved cars and train spotting and any vehicles. His bedroom became littered with toys cars painted in racing colours, airfix kits in various stages of disintegration and later his scalextric set. (I still firmly believe this was bought by my dad for himself!) We all enjoyed this. As he grew into a teenager his bedroom became more and more difficult to get into! I was very jealous of his hair which was always wonderfully curly. Mine was flat and straight. The older he got, the longer the curls grew.
A love of the outdoors was sparked off by our parents who most weekends took us out to the nearby Pennine hills or to the Lake District and country nearby. So we both really grew up loving the outdoors and in particular, mountains. I left home to go to college when I was 18 and left my 15 year old brother behind. It was on the cards that we would both continue our love of walking in our separate lives, both progressing to rock climbing and mountaineering.
Geoff left home to go to Manchester University about the same time I was finishing college. We didn’t see each other as much during this time. By the time he decided to join the British Antarctic Survey I was married and living in Chester. I remember going out in Chester with my parents for a meal to say goodbye. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go to the Antarctic, but never dreamed he wouldn’t come back. Shortly after this my husband Pete and I went travelling across Europe heading for the Himalayas! We never got there but ended up in Iran teaching English for a year. It was then that I heard of my brother’s death by a letter to poste restante Tehran. I was completely devastated, trapped into a year’s contract and thousands of miles away from home.
Years later I feel it’s very sad that my brother and I never really got to know each other properly as adults. I will always miss him. It has always been a big void and a hard question to answer has always been, “Do you have any brothers and sisters?” I’m sure we would have been great friends later in life, and our family would have been more complete with a fun uncle for my children to grow up with. It’s good to know that he will be remembered and for me, the monument to commemorate those who died in the Antarctic is a fitting end to a very long story.
Brenda Hellier (sister) 6 February 2011