George Albert Wolff
E-mail 14th April 2009
Dear Mr Keen
I came across your website by accident and was intrigued to see the staff list.
During the 1950s and 60s my neighbour at Otterbourne, Hampshire, was a retired UC employee, Georges Albert Wolff, a Frenchman who retired from the company in 1953 as Superintendent Chef for the line. He was born on 2 May 1884 at Epfig, Alsace, France, and in WWI served with the French Army until November 1914. He then enrolled with the 18th Bn. York and Lancaster Regiment, working as chef to the officers mess. He married Ivy Westlake from Lambourne in the early 1920s.
Georges joined Union Castle Line as a chef after WWI and became Superintendent Chef during the late 1930s. In this role he would travel from Southampton to S Africa changing ships at ports of call to supervise the onboard catering service and to cook personally for VIPs travelling on board. He had a collection of signed photos from celebrities of the period for whom he had cooked. Shortly after his retirement he received a copy of the book Union Castle Chronicle 1853 - 1953 and upon his death in June 1964 this was given to me by his widow.
She also gave me a letter from the French Consulate General in London dated November 1914 verifying Georges' identity and a letter of commendation from the Adjutant of the York and Lancaster Regiment dated 7 March 1919.
Georges was a fascinating person to speak with and in retirement, whilst able, would enjoy cooking the occasional special meal for our family. To experience such superb French cuisine was an education to us so soon after the end of food rationing!
E-mail 7th June 2009
Good to hear from you and that Georges details will appear on your site - most appropriate.
I have added some additional information - feel free to use as you wish. I also attach a scan of a small photo of Georges taken from the letter issued by the French Consulate in 1916. He would have been 32 by then.
Unfortunately, I do not have any other photos of him. He and Ivy did not have any children and when Ivy died in 1967 the whole house and contents were placed in the hands of her bank as executors. Sadly, all her family pictures including those of Georges disappeared in the house clearance, as did the most amazing collection of furniture and artefacts. Many of these items were bought in South Africa between the wars and no doubt adorn other houses today.
Here are Georges recollections that I can recall:
He explained how he operated as Superintendent Chef. His tours of duty began and ended in Southampton. These would be broken down into a number of legs where he would transfer to another ship. Transfers were usually at Las Palmas, followed by Capetown, thence on to the east coast ports and return in similar pattern to Southampton. He would be away from home for about 6-7 weeks at a time. He was responsible for ensuring the company's standard of cuisine and culinary hygiene were maintained and would frequently cook for the captain's table. He inspected the Southampton based mail ships as well as the London based west and east African coast vessels. He admitted his arrival onboard was not always greeted with enthusiasm and I remember listening with baited breath as he told of how he was set upon by a chef with a large kitchen knife. Georges managed to pick the chef up and deposit him into a large washing-up sink full of hot water. "That sorted him out, y'know!" he said in his broken English! Not surprisingly the chef was dismissed the company.
If there were VIPs on board Georges would offer to cook personally for them. He would try to produce something special to their liking that was not part of the ships menu. This activity was not always appreciated by the regular chefs and catering crew who were trying to feed the multitude but as Superintendent Chef what Georges said, or wanted, went ahead. He had a splendid signed photograph from Gracie Fields inscribed "To Georges with love and thanks from Gracie". He was proud of this and it had pride of place on his hall table.
A few years after retirement he and Ivy were invited to tour and dine aboard the newly commissioned Pendennis Castle at Southampton Docks. He thought it a very fine ship in the UC tradition.
In his garage Georges kept his old UC door plate "GA Wolff, Superintendent Chef". This had travelled with him, being fixed to his cabin door on each ship he was inspecting.
In retirement he created a little local publicity when he bought and owned the first Lambretta scooter in the Southampton area. This was considered sufficiently ground breaking news to make the pages of the Southern Daily Echo. At about 68 he was certainly not a pioneering Mod!
That's about it except to say I have a few items of Georges that his wife gave to me after he died; a Zulu warrior's spearhead, a bust of Napoleon, and an oil painting he bought in South Africa of a seascape. Although unsigned it has unmistakably Dutch hallmarks. One day I will get it valued - one day...
E-mail 7th June 2009
In answer to your question, Georges and Ivy did not have any children. They had an adopted son who sadly died in his early teens. I imagine that was in the late 30s.
The letter from the French Consulate dated 16 November 1916 states that Georges had been enlisted in the French Army on 8 September 1914 and discharged on medical grounds on 8 November 1914. As long as I knew him he had a slight limp and this may have been sustained in French Army service. Whatever his medical condition, it was not considered to be too serious for him to become chef to the officer's mess in the 18th Bn. York & Lancaster Regt. Their letter of discharge, dated 7 March 1919 and written as part of the BEF, France, states; "He always produced an excellent standard of cuisine even when the necessary extra supplies of food were not readily available. His knowledge of his profession was always such that on special occasions he could provide the mess with a repast of distinction and quality". Signed by Capt J Mundy, Adjutant and PMC(?). It would seem logical to assume that the Union Casle Line were impressed by that testimonial.
Good luck with your subsequent research on Georges - please let me know if you think I can be of further help.