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William Marsden EASTMAN, GC

No. & Rank at the Time of Action: Lieutenant

Unit/Occupation: Royal Army Ordnance Corps (Bomb Disposal)

Date and Place of Birth: 26th October 1911, Brentford

Family: Husband of Mrs Yvonne Eastman, father of daughter Diane (Dee) Eastman

Early Life:

Date and Place of GC Action:

The London Gazette: 24th December 1940

Citation: "The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the GEORGE CROSS, for most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out very hazardous work, to:-

Captain (Ordnance Officer 4th Class) Robert Llewellyn Jephson Jones, Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

Lieutenant William Marsden Eastman, Royal Army Ordnance Corps."

Account of Deed: Lieutenant Eastman was posted to Malta in March 1940 only a few months before Italy entered the war. At this time no expert Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal units had been formed and the job of attending to unexploded bombs and mines dropped on the island (with the exception of those dropped in the dockyard area and on the airfields, which were dealt with by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force) fell to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. Between mid-June and mid-November 1940, when bomb disposal was taken over by the Royal Engineers, Lieutenant Eastman and Captain Jephson-Jones*, with incredible courage, dealt with some 275 unexploded bombs, and remained alive. (*See also entry for JEPHSON-JONES, R.L.)

Remarks: The London Gazette of 24th December 1940 announced in the shortest possible terms that the King had been graciously pleased to approve the award of the George Cross, for most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out very hazardous works, to Captain (Ordnance Officer 4th Class) RL Jephson Jones and Lieutenant WM Eastman, both of the Royal Ordnance Corps.

William Eastman was a civilian in the dry-cleaning business who joined up when war was imminent, and when it started was rushed through a short course in ammunition duties. He was posted to Malta in March 1940, only a few months before Italy entered the war. At this period of the war in Malta, no expert Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal units had been formed and the job of attending to unexploded bombs and mines dropped on the Island had to be handled by the RAOC - in fact by Jephson Jones and Eastman. They had no special equipment, no trained staff and very little knowledge of the mechanism of German and Italian missiles. They just had to learn as they went along. They were told they would have to deal with all unexploded bombs and mines which fell on the Island except those which dropped in the dockyard area and on airfields, which were dealt with by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. No one imagined - or at any rate no one in Malta had imagined - that Malta would become such a target for the venom, first of the Italian Air Force and then of the German. But between 10th June and mid-November 1940, when their job was taken over by a properly constituted and trained RE Bomb Disposal unit, Jephson Jones and Eastman dealt with some 275 unexploded bombs. Their courage was beyond all praise and it was a miracle that they both remained alive. They were awarded the George Cross on Christmas Eve 1940 and were given the choice of receiving the decoration immediately from the Governor or waiting until they were posted back to the Middle East or the United Kingdom. They both chose the latter and were invested by the King at Buckingham Palace in December 1944. Both Eastman and Jephson Jones afterwards rose to the rank of Brigadier; the latter retired from the Army in 1960.

Additional Information: WM Eastman's promotion was announced in the London Gazette on 28th December 1945, p.6276, "Lt (war substantive Captain) W M Eastman GC (103900) to be Captain 12.12.45 (seniority 26.10.42)."

Later he was Commandant of the RAOC Training Centre, Blackdown, Hampshire until 1966, when he retired from the Army with the rank of Brigadier, aged of 55.

Final Rank: Brigadier

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Date and Place of Death: 8th April 1980, Malta GC

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Obituary: From RAOC Gazette, May 1980

BRIGADIER R. L. ALLEN, CBE writes:

It is very sad to record the death of Brigadier (Bill) Eastman in Malta after a very long illness following a stroke. 1 first met him fleetingly at Bramley in 1940 after he had completed the first wartime Inspecting Ordnance Officers course, and not knowing what was in store for that heroic island, many of us envied him his posting to Malta. It was there on the following October that he was awarded the George Cross for coping with large numbers of unexploded German aircraft bombs. He it was who encountered the first of the anti-withdrawal devices fitted beneath the fuzes, and it was a miracle that he survived this discovery.

There is a story that having dug the hole to reach one bomb on a hot day in his shirtsleeves, he stopped and donned his Service Dress and Sam Browne before returning to his task. When asked why, he replied: "If I have to die, I might as well die decent."

We later shared an office together at General Headquarters in the Middle East and when things, before and after Alamein were to say the least, hectic, he proved his mettle. I took over as Chief Inspecting Ordnance Officer when he returned to Malta, a choice of posting not unconnected with a girl named Yvonne whom he married, and who with his two daughters, Diane and Kim, survives him.

Having made a name for himself in the ammunition field he gravitated to SHAPE where he became ADOS Logistics, and thence to Stores and commanded Viersen. Later he commanded CAD Bramley. His last appointment before his retirement was Commandant of the RAOC Training Centre at Blackdown, where many will remember his meticulousness in preparing for the Annual Study periods.

He always had a keen eye for everything that went on in his commands. Even a walk around a Depot in the evening with his dog would produce a spate of pregnant 'strolling notes ' for his subordinates in the morning. His honesty, personal kindnesses to many people and generosity were a byword, and he had a keen sense of humour. Sport, especially rugby football was something he had a passion for and many will remember him rushing up and down the touchline shouting words of encouragement mixed with insults at his team.

His last visit to the United Kingdom, in spite of his illness that was apparent even then, was for a reunion of the VC/GC Association. He won the George Cross once, but deserved it to my knowledge at least twice, for he cheerfully accepted the task of dealing with seven ships which reached the Red Sea carrying the infamous Dutch Anti-tank Mine-a misnomer, as it was manufactured in the USA. We were advised by signal that following a disaster in America, it had been discovered that the fuzes were so dangerous that a drop of eighteen inches was all that was required to detonate them and of course the mines themselves with which they were packed. He organised and supervised the unloading of these seven very dangerous vessels without an accident. It was typical of him that he made so little fuss of this remarkable exploit that those responsible for awards or writing histories probably hardly knew what he had been up to.

He is a man who has conferred great honour and distinction on our Corps. Our hearts go out to his wife Yvonne and his family in their loss.

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