Geoffrey Haggard was born in London on 4 May 1888, the elder son of Major Edward Arthur Haggard and his wife Emily (née Calvert). He was the nephew and godson of novelist Sir Rider Haggard.
Although he suffered from asthma as a child, Haggard was accepted into the Royal Naval Training College, Osborne House at the age of 13 and graduated as an officer trainee four years later. His first naval postings included HMS Britannia (1903), Isis, Implacable (1905), Swiftsure, Excellent (1908), Foam and Mercury, before he transferred in 1910 to submarines in search of more adventure, first on B2, then B11 in 1911, and then AE2 in 1915.
To Haggard, the surrender of the AE2 was a moment of great personal anguish. He clearly disagreed with his captain’s decision, and was heard to argue that they should all fight on to their deaths in true adventure-novel style. But Stoker knew that there was no real choice: the warship with its then state-of-the-art technology could not be allowed to fall into enemy hands. Besides this, the submarine had nothing left to fight with.
In the prison camp, Haggard joined Stoker and fellow officers in working hard to keep up morale. They formed an amateur theatrical group, for which Haggard wrote and acted in productions. For the most part, Haggard coped well with prison life, but all the men were ultimately at the mercy of whichever Turkish commandant was in charge. At the end of 1916 the Afion prison commandant was Bimbashi Musloum Bey, who targeted Haggard and made his life miserable. Asserting that Haggard seemed likely to try to escape, the commandant had him arrested without questioning, gave him a mock trial and then locked him up in a small dark building that was strictly guarded and cut off from all communication. News of the behaviour of this individual was finally leaked to the Turkish authorities and he was removed from his post. Haggard’s daughter Jenny Smyth says that during this terrible period of solitary confinement her father feared for his sanity: ‘all he had to read was a tin that had contained plum jam. He forced himself to read its label over and over again to keep his mind alive.’
Worse still for Haggard was that he was considered to be English and so missed out on the Red Cross parcels and money that came via the RAN representative in London. He was also overlooked by the British. This bureaucratic bungling seriously affected Haggard who had become weak and run-down following a bout of malaria. He was also devastated by the news that his only and younger brother Major (Rider) Lancelot Haggard had been killed in action at Passchendaele in France.
On 24 April 1919 Haggard was awarded a DSC in recognition of his gallantry on AE2 during the passage of the Dardanelles. After the war, he was keen to remain in RN submarines but after examination by the Admiralty, it was decided that ‘his long stay in Turkey as a prisoner of war has reduced his powers of concentration, although [he is] temperate, keen and zealous’. Haggard was accepted for service but not in submarines. Disappointed, he retired at his own request on 27 November 1920, when he was offered the post of aide-de-camp to the Earl of Stradbroke, who was Governor of Victoria. Haggard accepted the post and returned to Australia.
In September 1923 he married Marjory Syme, daughter of David Syme, a Victorian newspaper baron. He was 35 years old, she just 20. He then began another career, this time as a gentleman farmer and grazier at Pendleside, the Syme family property at Woori Yallock in the Yarra Valley, about 40 miles from Melbourne. He became a successful country squire, running a prime sheep, cattle and horse stud there for many years.
By 1938 his previously good health had begun to fail, and he was hospitalised briefly, attributing this bout of illness to his time as a prisoner of war. By 1939 he was pleading with the RAN to take him back on active service, but was not successful. Undaunted, he then applied to the RN and was eventually accepted. His letter of acceptance arrived on 10 October, stating ominously that he would be posted to the British Naval Base at Singapore. Daughter Jenny Smyth recounts: ‘That evening he was walking back home along the railway track after celebrating his call-up. As a train approached, the heel of his boot caught in the track. The train just missed him, but a rock thrown up by the wheel of the engine hit him in the temple and he was killed instantly.’ Haggard left a very young grieving widow and a family of three small children.