This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915-1918.
Case 5: Godfrey Neil Wootton
Nicknamed ‘Frank’ by his battalion, it is evident that Godfrey was popular. A letter sent by James Newman to Mr Job Wootton outlines the events which led to his son’s death:
‘On the morning of July 24th the British forces attacked the Turks who were strongly entrenched about 3 miles from Naseryiah, a town on the R. Euphrates. Our Coy. with D Coy. numbering about 35 men in all, were given the very dangerous task of protecting the engineers while they constructed two bridges 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 were 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 Battn. 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.’
As he was unmarried, Wootton left behind his parents and a sister, but no other near relatives. There is no evidence of a will being made in the event of his death, perhaps lost to the creek in which he was injured as his tunic was cut to allow access to his wound. Also missing was a wallet gifted to him by his sister, which the family had been keen to have returned. It is believed he attended Winchester Training College, a common experience shared by many in his Company, which would have contributed to the strong bond between the men, heightened by the intensity of the war. This may provide some light on why Godfrey’s father requested that some of his son’s Life Policy money be refunded to the Education Committee.