Private Godfrey Neil Wootton

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Pte G N Wootton
1/4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
3119
Died of wounds, 24. 7.1915
Age, 22

Godfrey Neil Wootton was the son of two teachers, Job and Annie Elizabeth (nee Godfrey) who were married on 19 June 1884 at St Saviour’s Church, Valley End, Chobham. Job was born in Rowde in Wiltshire in 1858 and Annie in Egham in 1862. Their only son, Godfrey, was born in Chobham on 17 January 1893 and baptised on 26 February in the same church in which his parents were married. When Godfrey was born Job and Annie already had twin daughters: Annie Mabel and Constance Julia. In 1891 both parents taught at Valley End School which was also their home. Ten years later the family had moved to Wylye in Wiltshire and again both parents were teaching. In 1911 they still resided in the School House in Wylye and Godfrey, now aged 18 had joined his parents’ profession as a pupil teacher. When he enlisted he was employed by Surrey County Council as a certificated teacher which explains his link to Weybridge where he was on the staff of St James’ School (Baker Street).

Godfrey enlisted in Salisbury, when is unknown. He was posted to the 1/4th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. This unit was in India at the beginning of 1915 and on 7 March their mobilisation orders arrived; they embarked for Basra (then in Mesopotamia, now modern Iraq) six days later, arriving on 17 March. British controlled forces had been successful up to this point and their commanders wanted to capitalise on this success by expanding their influence over the whole of Southern Mesopotamia; key to this was taking Nasiriyeh, the main Turkish supply base. However, this early success had led to complacency; the British and Indian forces were not well equipped, especially lacking adequate medical supplies and they underestimated the fighting ability of the Turks.

Godfrey’s battalion spent April 1915 at the Ashar Barracks near Basra although some of his unit joined the Euphrates Blockade. At the end of April they moved up the Karum River, the entrance to which was just south of Basra. By 7 May they had crossed to the Karkha River; they stayed in positions on the banks of the Karkha until 19 May. By 21 May they were back at the Ashar Barracks. June was a miserable month for them; the weather since 24 May had been excessively hot and oppressive. On 16 June 184 men were in hospital suffering from heatstroke and on the following day 84 NCOs and men were invalided to India. On 24 June they were ordered to join the operation against Nasiriyeh.

They embarked upriver for Qurna on the Blosse Lynch on 25 June. Nasiriyeh was 110 km west of Qurna surrounded by flooded land and tribes hostile to both the British and the Turks. Godfrey and his comrades must have found the ongoing journey to be horrific; the temperature reached 115°F and mosquitoes harassed them. On 7 July they disembarked at Asani on the right bank of the Euphrates. They remained in camp for a week before being transported by barge to trenches close to Shahkair village; the barge had to be abandoned in the mud. When enemy guns opened up on 23 July the 2nd and 4th Companies of the Hampshires moved up to the village through swamps and then on to 16 Palms Trench. By the next day the battle for Nasiriyeh was underway. The 1st Company moved to the rear of 16 Palms Trench in a support role and the 3rd Company was on the bridging barge being towed by the Sumana.

The 2nd and 4th Companies advanced from their trench through open ground with very long grass; they were met with heavy rifle fire and the greater part of the battalion’s casualties were sustained at this stage. The 3rd Company also suffered badly when the Sumana’s engines were hit by shell fire and their barge could not form a crossing point across a creek which was holding up the land attack. The 48th Pioneers and Sappers solved the problem by erecting trestle bridges. The line reformed, bayonets were fixed and the Hampshires and Ghurkha units charged. The Turks started to run when the attacking troops got to about 40 yards from their lines although some held their positions on the flanks until they came under enfilade fire. Shortly afterwards the enemy trenches were cleared and Godfrey’s battalion was ordered to hold the captured positions. The battle was won with the support of Royal Navy gunboats. The next day the Hampshires moved through to Nasiriyeh.

The first entry in the battalion’s War Diary for 25 July reads, ‘no. 3119 Pte Wootton G died of wounds’. His body was taken down river to Basra where he was buried at Makina Masul Old Cemetery, this was later incorporated into an enlarged cemetery known as Basra War Cemetery (II.R.10). Headstones had to be removed in 1935 when it was discovered that they were deteriorating because of salts in the soil. The names from those headstones are now recorded on a screen wall in the cemetery. Godfrey was one of 500 men of the British and Indian forces killed in the Battle of Nasiriyeh.

Sources:

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Pte Godfrey Wootton, Surrey Advertiser, Saturday, 28 August 1915
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk

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