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Geoffrey John (Jack) Cliff (1907-1988), civil engineer and naval officer, was born on 14 August 1907 at Beecroft, New South Wales, son of Richard Charles Cliff, a Sydney-born engineer, and his wife Adelaide Gertrude Orontes.  Geoff became a civil engineer, working for Coolah Shire Council in 1934-38 and the Snowy River Shire in 1939-40.

On 1 January 1941 Cliff was appointed probationary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, under the Yachtsmen Scheme.  He was then 5 ft 7½ ins (171 cm) tall, with fair hair and blue eyes.  Sent to England for training at HMS King Alfred, he was promoted to provisional Lieutenant in April and posted to the Admiralty’s Land Incident Section, which disarmed and disposed of German magnetic and acoustic mines dropped by parachute across the British Isles.  He used his engineering skills to defuse mines that had penetrated deep below ground, thus earning the nickname `Contractor Jack’.  Peter Firkins described him as slightly eccentric, a confirmed bachelor with a remarkable capacity for drinking beer.  He was a bright and jovial man with a hearty laugh.

In May 1941 Cliff made his way through the debris of a two-storey building at Bermondsey, London, to reach an unexploded parachute mine.  A nearby mine or bomb detonated, nearly burying him in wreckage.  Realising that the explosion had probably started the clockwork fuse of the parachute mine, he extricated himself and rendered it safe.  On another occasion he dealt with a mine buried in 24 ft (7.31 m) of clay at Leysdown, Kent.  This weapon was even more dangerous than usual as it had been badly damaged in its fall and was fitted with an anti-handling device operated by a photoelectric cell.  For his 'gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty' in these and other operations, both on land and under water, he was awarded the George Medal in June 1942.

Recommendation for George Medal
"On 11.5.1941 an unexploded parachute mine was reported as having dropped on a two-storey building in the Leather Market at Bermondsey. The mine was eventually found completely covered by debris, and Lieutenant Cliff had to make his way through and below this debris to reach it. When he was about to commence operations another mine or bomb detonated nearby, completely burying him in wreckage and rubble. Lieutenant Cliff realised full well that this detonation was more than liable to have started the clockwork fuse in the mine with which he was dealing. With the greatest difficulty he managed to escape from under the debris by which he was buried, and immediately continued his operations on the mine which he successfully rendered safe. A further instance of the difficulties and onerous conditions under which he was working is provided by the fact that it was necessary to demolish the walls of the building before the mine could be removed.

On 2.7.1941, a "G" type Mine dropped at Leysdown, Isle of Sheppey. "G" Type Mines are dropped without parachutes, and, if they do not explode on impact, nearly always bury themselves deep in the ground. Moreover they contain not only a magnetic unit, which is presumed to be alive, but also an anti-handling device operated by a photo-electric cell. It is therefore necessary to work at the bottom of a deep hole and in darkness. In this instance the mine was badly damaged by its fall, making it even more dangerous, and was buried 24 feet down in clay soil. Lieutenant Cliff found that the clay had found its way under the cover of the mine and had shorn off the top plate of the switch. In consequence he worked on through a series of electric shocks and sparks due to the damaged switch, not knowing whether these were going to detonate the mine. He eventually removed the damaged switch by sheering off the six screws which held it. He then had to remove the bolts holding the magnetically alive unit with a hacksaw owing to their damaged condition. However, after nearly a month of hard and hazardous work he succeeded in rendering the mine safe.

Between August to October, Lieutenant Cliff also successfully dealt with three other mines in the Thames Estuary District, which were endangering oil tanks at Thames Haven. These mines were covered with water and mud and were buried about 8 to 16 feet down. In each instance coffer dams had to be erected and the water pumped out, and each took between a fortnight and a month to recover. These mines were particularly dangerous, as previous attempts had been made to countermine them.

Lieutenant Cliff was assisted throughout by Lieutenant Charles Graham Tanner, R.N.V.R. as "Learner", and the excavating and timbering was done by Lieutenant Lombard and 22 B.D.S Group, Section 216, to whom the greatest credits were due. In dealing with these incidents, Lieutenant Cliff showed the highest qualities of courage, resource, and devotion to duty'"

Cliff won a Bar to his GM for defusing mines in Belfast at the sewerage works and in the town reservoir in June 1942. 

For 'great bravery and steadfast devotion to duty' in other actions he was appointed MBE in September 1943.  'That month he was promoted to acting Lieutenant Commander. 

He was elevated to OBE in April 1944 in 'recognition of his contribution to mine disposal over four difficult and dangerous years'

In October he and his colleague L. V. Goldsworthy were transferred to the Pacific as liaison officers with the United States Navy’s Mobile Explosives Investigation Unit No.1. 

Cliff’s RANVR appointment terminated on 29 January 1946.  That year he returned to London as a member of the Australian contingent for the Victory March.

After the war Cliff resumed his career as a civil engineer with various shires of New South Wales.  In 1955-58 he was the chief roads engineer for the British protectorate Brunei, Borneo.  A member of the Imperial Service Club, Sydney, and the Dee Why sub-branch of the Returned Services League of Australia, he enjoyed the company of friends at the Collaroy Services Beach Club on Sunday mornings.  He listed golf as his recreation.  In later years he was devoted to his dogs and garden. 

He died on 14 October 1988 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, and was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery, Ryde, NSW.

Australian Dictionary of Biography
Traces of War