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Geddes, Charles Mathers (Jock) (1904–1979)

by Barbara Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Charles Mathers (Jock) Geddes (1904-1979), Salvation Army officer and military chaplain, was born on 12 March 1904 at Torry, Kincardineshire, Scotland, son of William Geddes, journeyman ironmoulder, and his wife Amelia, née Paterson. Educated locally, by the age of 14 'Jock' was a boy-bandsman with the Gordon Highlanders. He later helped an uncle who was a fish-buyer, but by the early 1920s was unemployed.

Emigrating to Queensland in 1923, Geddes worked for farmers on the Atherton Tableland until he acquired a team of horses and a tractor with which he began contracting. Through the Salvation Army, he met and was deeply influenced by Ensign Matt Cross who had lost both his legs in World War I. Geddes was further inspired by a mystical experience in which he believed he saw Christ. Deciding to become a Salvation Army officer, he entered the training college in Sydney and was commissioned in January 1929; following appointments in North Queensland, he resigned in 1931 and found jobs as a labourer. At the Salvation Army Hall, Mackay, on 17 February 1932 he married Stella Cork. Next year he was reinstated as a captain in the Salvation Army. He held a succession of posts in Queensland and spent two years (1937-39) in Sydney.

On 9 March 1940 Geddes was appointed chaplain in the Australian Military Forces; in November he embarked for the Middle East as a Red Shield representative. He was attached to the 7th Division (from November 1940) at sea and in Palestine, to the 6th Division (from January 1941) in North Africa and to the 9th Division (April to June) in the defence of Tobruk, Libya. After a month in hospital in Cairo, he was assigned to I Corps Signals in Syria. In March 1942 he returned to Australia. Later that year, from his depot in Port Moresby, he distributed Red Shield supplies—Salvation Army comforts—to troops fighting in Papua: in addition to tea and tobacco, he provided words of reassurance.

Transferring to the Australian Imperial Force in January 1943, Geddes served in New Guinea that year and in the hospital ship, Wanganella, in 1945; for much of 1944 he was in hospital. He ceased full-time duty on 6 January 1947 in Australia. In 1947-50 he commanded Salvation Army corps in Queensland country towns and rose to major. From November 1950 to April 1951 he was an immigration chaplain, based in Britain. Having subsequently held posts in New South Wales, in January 1955 he was sent to Japan as commissioner, Red Shield services; he also worked in Korea before his repatriation in March 1956.

In 1957 Geddes was appointed territorial evangelist for eastern Australia. He retired because of poor health in January 1959, but in the following year became a rehabilitation officer in Sydney. Returning to active service in 1964 and promoted brigadier (1965), he carried out counselling work until his final retirement on 15 March 1969. In 1976 he was admitted to the Order of the Founder, the Salvation Army's highest award. For the last twenty years of his life he was corps sergeant-major at Sydney Congress Hall.

Geddes had been a boxer in his youth. A 'complex mix of sanctified clown and adventurer for Christ . . . generous to a fault and too quixotic to be always prudent', he was admired for the dynamism of his personality and the strength of his faith. When a drunk spat on him during a street meeting, he told the crowd, 'I've been given a decoration for service to Jesus. But he had better not do it again'. Geddes died on 6 November 1979 at Arncliffe and was cremated; his wife and four daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Cairns, Padre Jock O.F. (Canb, 1975)
  • War Cry (Melbourne), 8 Dec 1979
  • information from Salvation Army Headquarters, Sydney.

Citation details

Barbara Bolton, 'Geddes, Charles Mathers (Jock) (1904–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/geddes-charles-mathers-jock-10286/text18197, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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