Godfrey Neil Wootton

Private Godfrey Neil Wootton of the 1/4th Hampshire, Territorial Force (T.F.) Battalion, Regimental Number 3119, died of wounds on the 24th July 1915, at Nasiriyah, Mesopotamia, aged 22. He is buried in Basra, Iraq.

The Wootton Family

Godfrey was born to Job and Annie Wootton on the 17th January 1893 in Chobham, Surrey.  He was baptized at St. Saviour’s Church in Chobham on 26th February.  His father Job was a schoolmaster who had been born in Rowde, Wiltshire, and his mother Annie, a schoolmistress, was born in Egham, Surrey.  Godfrey had two older sisters, Annie Mabel born in 1889 and Constance Julia born in 1890. Both sisters were born in Chobham.

In the census of 1871 Godfrey’s father,  Job was living in the small village of Beechingstoke, Wiltshire which was home to nineteen Woottons, from four families, living in four adjoining houses. TheTilley family, married into by one of the Wootton daughters, were also residing there. The population of Beechingstoke in the first census of 1841 had been only 196 and declining, so the Wootton family must have formed a significant proportion of the population. The head of each part of the Wootton family was employed in agriculture. The chances that they formed one large extended family are very high.  In early official records Godfrey’s middle name is given as Neal, but he signed his name on entry to College as Godfrey Neil Wootton.

In 1901 the family was living in Wylye, Wiltshire along with Job’s mother Ann, a 77-year old widow. Job and his wife were still both employed in the teaching profession.  It was in Wylie that Godfrey began his schooling, attending his father’s school. Local newspaper reports from 1902 and 1903 show the three Wootton siblings all doing well at school and having good attendance records. Godfrey won a photograph of Salisbury as a prize in the religious knowledge examination.  Constance won a prize for her sewing and both girls were also rewarded for their religious knowledge. Godfrey is listed on the Memorial roll of Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury as a former pupil, and in 1905 he took the County Scholarship award but narrowly missed out on the award that year. 1906 was more successful for him as it is reported that he had won a Pupil Teachers’ Scholarship. In the Salisbury and Winchester Journal of December 1909, in an article entitled “Bishop’s School, Salisbury, Annual Prize Distribution”, Godfrey is reported to have qualified and received an appointment as a pupil teacher. That appointment was in Wilton National School near Salisbury.

Bishop Wordsworth School, Salisbury photograph by Dee Sayers

By 1911 the family were living in the five-room school house at Fisherton Delamere (alternative spellings are also in use) in the Wylye valley. A history of the village states that in 1919 the average attendance at the school was eighteen. Godfrey was working as a pupil teacher and Annie was missing from the house on the day of the census as she was visiting Josiah Wootton in Beechingstoke. Josiah had been listed in the 1871 census and was six years younger than Job.  It is hard to track all the Woottons as they were such a large family but there is a Josiah who was a cousin of Job.  Annie gave her profession as a school mistress.

Training and Teaching

Being a pupil teacher was the first step towards a career in teaching. In order to gain professional certification Godfrey needed to attend a Training College. Godfrey took the Preliminary Examination for the Certificate in 1911, beginning a two year course at Winchester Diocesan Training College that same year.

Winchester Training College Photograph by Alwyn Ladell

From the Wintonian Magazine 1910-1914, in an article entitled ‘Hard Luck Culham’, Godfrey was praised for his ability at football:

“Then Wootton, receiving the ball, went down the wing in fine style and put in a beautiful centre”.

He was also good at athletics, achieving first place in the 100 yards hurdles, and third place in the 100 yards flat race in the annual Sports Day competition of 1912. He was rather unfortunate, in the relay race between past and present students, to be up against the very talented Allan Bartlett in his leg of the race. The present students did however win the race despite the prowess of Allan Bartlett! In 1913 Godfrey was second in the mile, 100 yards, ¼ mile and high jump. He also enjoyed running longer distances for the Harriers club. The magazine reports:

“The first two home were Wootton and Eason, who arrived about one minute after the hares”.

Christmas 1911, at the end of Godfrey’s first term, he was placed 18th in the order of merit for his year group, with an average mark of 63.5% in his exams. A year later he was 23rd, his average mark being 60.6%. At the end of his college course Godfrey was awarded Grade A for Music, Grade B for Physical training and Science , Grade C for Drawing and Grade D for teaching. He passed the Board of Education final examination with a distinction in Mathematics. This ability in maths also won him the College Mathematics Prize. His final Archbishops’ Exam saw him gain a Class 1 pass.

The Magazine had regular articles on the meetings of past students around the country. Godfrey was present at the first of these Winton meetings which was arranged for 1911-1913 alumni in the London area.

There is some confusion as to where Godfrey was employed after he graduated from college. The Winchester Training College Club Magazine gives two schools, one for G Wootton at Weybridge, Surrey, and one for G.N. Wootton in St. George’s School, Brentford. No record of him has been found at Brentford but the school log book, from St.James’ Church of England Mixed School in Weybridge, records on 5th January 1914:

Mr G Wootton trained CA commenced work here in place of Mr Carpenter.

Another entry in the school log book for 14th September 1914 states:

Mr G N Wootton has gone on service in the battalion with which he was formerly connected at Winchester.

Then in August 1915:

Sad news was received during the holidays of the death of Mr Godfrey Noel Wootton, one of our staff who was killed in action in the Persian Gulf operations.

He was serving in the 4th (Battalion) Hants with his College Company (Winton) [Winchester]. He was very musical, a good teacher and gave great help with the training of the boys in shooting, cricket and football.

The news of his death cast gloom over the re-assembling of the school.

He appears in the Surrey Mirror November 1914 Roll of Honour for County Council staff and an article in the Surrey Advertiser of June 1915 reports that Mr Wootton, a master at St James School (Weybridge) was fighting in the Persian Gulf with the 4th Hants.

Enlistment

Godfrey did not pursue a career in teaching for very long as he enlisted in the 1/4th (T.F.) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, at Salisbury and arrived in Mesopotamia in March 1915 as part of the 30th Infantry Brigade under Major-General Sir C. Melliss. Godfrey was part of ‘A’ Company of the 1/4th Hants, along with several other alumni of Winchester Training College. He was also with two fellow ex-Bishop Wordsworth students, William Leach and Charles Singleton.   Basra had been occupied and secured to protect oil interests in the area and now the army was moving further inland, ostensibly to add a further line of protection around the port of Basra, but the original limits of the mission were changing with a view to advancing all the way to Baghdad.  In April 1915 Shaiba was taken from the Turks and the next month Amara was occupied. The next objective was the town of Nasiriya on the river Euphrates, 28 miles west of Qurna.  The aim of this operation was to secure the approaches to Basra on its left flank. The ‘mission creep’ that ultimately was so prevalent in the campaign in Mesopotamia was now becoming apparent. Each new objective was seen as necessary to protect the previous one. Approaches to the Turkish positions at Nasiriya were over marshy land, the river was shallow making it difficult to manoeuvre the boats, the heat was oppressive and many soldiers were sick; these were certainly not ideal conditions for fighting. The allied forces took Nasiriya but at the cost of many lives. We have information on Godfrey’s (nicknamed Frank within his battalion) part in the battle from a letter sent to his father by James Newman:

“On the morning of July 24th the British forces attacked the Turks who were strongly entrenched about 3 miles from Naseriyah, a town on the R Euphrates. Our Coy. numbering about 35 men in all, were given the very dangerous task of protecting the engineers while they constructed two bridges (across?) a creek running directly in front of and not more than 200 yards from, the enemy’s position. This exposed us to the heavy rifle and shell fire of the Turks and it was there that Franky was wounded in the right side by a piece of shell. Those nearest attended him at once and as soon as possible he was carried back to the Temporary Hospital (where?) his wound was dressed. Throughout he retained full consciousness and this probably led us to regard his wound as less serious than it really was. He did not complain of the injury to his side but was troubled with pains in his legs which were uninjured. In the evening we returned to the field hospital and were able to spend that night with him. We made him fairly comfortable and, as he managed to get a little sleep, he seemed no worse though he still complained of the pains in his legs.

Next morning (25th) we had to return to our Bttn. Before doing so, we did what we could to make him easy. Even then, none of us were aware that his injury was so very serious, and when a few hours later, we received the news of his death it was a great shock to all. One of our Coy. who had remained behind to assist the medical Staff was with him till the end which came very quietly.” 1

It is evident from this letter that Godfrey was popular with his peers. There was no evidence of a will having been made and his wallet, gifted to Godfrey by one of his sisters, was missing. It is possible that it was lost in the mud or the creek when Godfrey’s injury was first attended to on the battlefield.  Job, his father, requested that some of Godfrey’s Life Policy money be refunded to the Education Committee.

Godfrey was the first of the WTC alumni who had enlisted in the 1/4th Hampshire Bttn to die in Mesopotamia. He was first buried at Nasiriya alongside one captain, one sergeant and seven other privates from the battalion, who were then reburied at Basra in June 1925.

Basra War memorial photograph courtesy of cwgc

A number of cemeteries were used in Basra:  Makina Masul Old Cemetery was used from December 1914 until October 1916 and the New Makina Masul Extension was built alongside in August 1917. These were enlarged later when 1,000 graves were moved from other burial grounds, and became the Basra War Cemetery. It contains 2,551 burials from World War 1, 74 of which are unidentified.

Godfrey is also commemorated at Wylye, Wiltshire and Bishop Wordsworth School.

Memorial in the Chapel at Bishop Wordsworth School photograph by Dee Sayers

Researcher and Author: Dee Sayers

Wylye War Memorial photograph courtesy of baptonbooks.tumblr.com

Wootton’s Signature – The Students’ Register in the archive at the Hampshire Record Office

Footnotes
  1. Quoted in www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk
Sources

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University of Winchester Archive – Hampshire Record Office
Reference code Record
47M91W/ P2/4 The Wintonian 1899-1900
47M91W/ P2/5 The Wintonian 1901-1902
47M91W/ P2/6 The Wintonian 1903-1904
47M91W/ P2/7 The Wintonian 1904-1906
47M91W/ P2/8 The Wintonian 1905-1907
47M91W/ P2/10 The Wintonian 1908-1910
47M91W/ P2/11 The Wintonian 1910-1914
47M91W/ P2/12 The Wintonian 1920-1925
47M91W/ D1/2 The Student Register
47M91W/ S5//5/10 Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia
47M91W/ Q3/6 A Khaki Diary
47M91W/ B1/2 Reports of Training College 1913-1914
47M91W/ Q1/5 Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949
47M91W/ R2/5 History of the Volunteers Company 1910
47M91W/ L1/2 College Rules 1920
Hampshire Record Office archive
71M88W/6 List of Prisoners at Kut
55M81W/PJ1 Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903
All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.