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Tribute paid to Budleigh priest Father George Gerry

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: May 19, 2014

Fr George Gerry, 1920-2014 (credit: Terry Ife)

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A former Budleigh Catholic priest, who has died aged 93, will be laid to rest tomorrow.

Father George Gerry, a World War Two veteran and talented footballer, passed away aged 93 after a life spent ministering across Devon.

Bishop Mark O’Toole and his predecessor emeritus Bishop Christopher Budd, along with 30 clergy from the diocese, are expected to preside at the funeral at Our Lady Help of Christians and St Denis, Torquay, at midday on Tuesday.

He served as an assistant priest in Tiverton in 1954, St Budeaux between 1957-62 and was later parish priest in Devonport for nine years between 1973 and 1982. He then went on to serve as parish priest in Budleigh in 1982 – a position he would hold for close to three decades.

Before entering the priesthood, Father Gerry worked as a postman in central Glasgow and had a trial with Celtic football club.

Had it not been for the war breaking out, his family told the Herald Express that he would have gone on to play for the Scottish team.

But instead he signed-up to fight for his country along with his father, brother and sisters.

He saw action in the North Atlantic in convoy protection on destroyers and his role as a signal man saw him posted to Singapore during its capture by Japan.

After the fall of Singapore, George’s mother received a telegram saying he was missing, presumed dead.

However, he had in fact escaped to the jungle, and after several months managed to make his way to safety in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

“At one point he found himself ashore in Singapore awaiting his next ship when the Japanese invaded,” explained Stephen Gerry, his nephew.

“Instead of being taken captive he hid in houses with a small group of sailors, living off food left in fridges and cupboards until Japanese troops pulled up and searched the street he was in, so he had to run.

“Eventually, finding an abandoned tramp steamer, they managed to set sail. After three months of being listed as missing in action, he turned up in East Africa and handed himself over to the Royal Navy.

“In the bowels of the ship they found a cargo of tinned fruit in syrup which they lived on for the whole trip. He told me he was so sick of tinned fruit he could never eat another one.”

On returning home he joined the priesthood as a late vocation and trained at Allhallows College in Dublin.

He was ordained in Plymouth Cathedral and celebrated his first Mass in Tavistock.

The Scotsman spent the next 60 years in the Plymouth diocese, first serving as a curate in St Budeaux and then Tiverton.

He went on to become parish priest in Portland, at St Joseph’s in Devonport and then finally Budleigh Salterton where he spent 30 years, serving into his 90’s.

His family said that, although serious in his devotion to Mass, he would also make his congregation laugh.

And if there was an evening football match which he was interested in, his service tended to be that bit shorter, they explained.

He was an avid Chelsea, Celtic and Torquay United fan.

“As a son, brother, uncle and parish priest he was always there for you to listen, advise and help in any way he could,” said Stephen.

“Nothing was any trouble for him and he would go out of his way to do good for others with no thought to himself.

“He will be greatly missed by those who knew him and the world is a poorer place now he has gone.”

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