Obituary: Lord Langford OBE (C2 1925-30)
Lord Langford OBE (C2 1925-30) died on November 13 2017, aged 105.
Geoffrey Alexander Rowley-Conwy was the son of Major Geoffrey Seymour Rowley-Conwy (1877 – 10 August 1915), who was killed in action at Gallipoli in 1915, and Bertha Gabrielle Cochran (1880–1984) to whose genes, on his 100th Birthday, he credited his longevity. He was educated at Marlborough College and Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from where he was commissioned, as 2nd Lieutenant, into the Royal Artillery in 1932. He was promoted to lieutenant in September 1935 and to captain in 1940.
He served in Edinburgh and then in Ireland until the South Irish Coast Defence guns were sold to the Irish Government in 1937. That year, he went to Singapore to join the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery, which was manned by British gunners and with which he was serving at the time of the Japanese attacks on Singapore.
As the Japanese army closed in on the British at Singapore in January 1942, Geoffrey Rowley-Conwy was a formidable character and he fought a strong fight boosting morale with heavy attacks directly on Japanese mortars instead of troops. However, inevitably, the Japanese bombardment of Singapore city and port meant a weakening of the allied defences. As the two leading Japanese divisions crossed the Straits of Johore on February 8, Rowley-Conwy had to abandon his position and take up defence of Kallang airfield on the southern coast. Allied surrender soon followed.
He resolved to escape but this in itself was a difficult decision to make as many of his battery had families in Singapore and he himself was forced to put down his terrified dogs and racehorses, who were all badly traumatised by the bombing. However, 133 of his troop joined him in a plan to sail to Sumatra in a 66-tonne diesel-engine launch but before they could sail, the local commander of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) took him and the launch under command in order to search for other British or Commonwealth troops who may have reached Sumatra. Eventually the rescue mission was cut short as the proximity of the Japanese forced them across the island to Padang, but not before they aided the evacuation of around 2,500. They then escaped the region in an incredibly dangerous 1,500 mile voyage in a small sailing boat which took 36 days and culminated in their arrival in Ceylon where they were picked up by the SS Anglo-Canadian on its way to Bombay.
He remained in India, initially as an anti-aircraft gunnery instructor and then leading various campaigns until the end of the war and in 1945 he was awarded an OBE
He remained in the army after his return to the UK in 1946, eventually being selected to command 31 Training Regiment RA Rhyl in 1954.
When his uncle, Captain Rafe Grenville Rowley-Conwy, died in April 1951 he inherited the Bodrhyddan estate in Rhuddlan and then inherited the Langford barony as the ninth holder of the title when his second cousin once removed, Arthur Sholto Langford Rowley, died in August 1953. He then applied to resign his commission on completion of his regimental command in 1957 as he had £30,000 (about £690,000 today) in death duties to pay on the family estate and would not be able to run the 5,000 acres estate while still serving. One of his entrepreneurial endeavours which kept the estate viable was the conversion of part of Bodrhyddan Hall, built in the 17th century, into furnished flats.
Lord Langford had three wives. His first was Ruth St John Murphy to whom he married in 1939. The marriage was dissolved in 1956. He then married Grete von Freiesleben the following year. They already had two young sons; Peter who is a professor of archaeology at Durham University; John who is a trader based in London; and they went on to have a third; Owain, who is the successor to the barony and the manager of the family estate in Wales. Grete sadly died in 1973. Two years later, he married Susan Winifred Denham with whom he had two children, a son; Christopher, an aviation firefighter; and a daughter; Charlotte, an acupuncturist.
Lord Langford was also a keen rally driver and horse rider — having been an amateur steeplechase jockey before the war. He remained an entertaining character throughout his life and he even bought himself a quad bike for his 93rd birthday. On his 100th birthday he was to note: “I have had an interesting life but now I live in complete tranquillity, which I enjoy.” It is reported that he spent his afternoons in the summerhouse, surveying the garden and listening to the radio.