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Bernard George Wootten

Sergeant 9784 Bernard George Wootten, 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment


Bernard George, known as George, was born in Evesham in 1893 the son of Walter Wootten and his wife Ellen, née Harris. George was the third of six children: Ethel Mary (1889), Frances Marion (1892), George, Walter Henry (1895), Margaret Ellen (1898), Winifred Lucy (1904). All were struck by tragedy when first Walter died in 1908 followed by Ellen in 1909.Ethel, the eldest child, married a few months after her mother’s death and took in Walter (as shown in the 1911 census).


>At that date Walter was working as a fishmonger’s errand boy, while George was working as a fishmonger’s assistant leading to the suspicion that they were both given a start in their working lives by the same Evesham fishmonger. However, George was not working in Evesham, he had moved to Newbury and was lodging with Jesse Westall and his family in Shortland Villa, Gordon Road. Jesse was another young (aged 26) fishmonger’s assistant who took in three boarders to help out the family finances – he was married with one child, three-year-old Kathleen. George was working for Morris Bros at 31 Northbrook Street.


George did not settle into a life of wet fish, opting rather to take the King’s shilling he signed up with the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 23 May 1912. He did not sever his connection with Newbury, instead he strengthened in when in early 1915 he married Beatrice May Corderory from Mayor’s Lane. By this date he had already seen action in Belgium and France since the 1st Battalion, Royal Berks crossed to France in the very early days of the war (George is recorded as landing on 13 August 1914). The battalion took part in the Battle of Mons, the subsequent retreat to the River Marne and then turned round and returned to Belgium where the infamous trenches of the Western Front were beginning to be established by the end of 1914. George evidently managed to get home and marry, probably as the result of a wound that was severe enough to result in hospitalisation and convalescence in England.


He would soon be back at the front where the battalion went through several major actions taking very heavy casualties in a number of battles. George survived battles such as Loos (Hulloch), the Somme (Delville Wood) and Boom Ravine and rose to the rank of Sergeant (starting the war as a Lance Corporal) before his luck ran out on 30 November 1917. The British had launched an offensive on 20/21 November aimed towards the German held town of Cambrai. The use of massed tanks was initially very successful but then ran into difficulties well short of its target. Further offensive actions over the following days managed to consolidate some of the captured positions and General Byng commanding Third Army had already decided to close down the offensive when the Germans counter-attacked.


On 26 November the 1st Battlion, Royal Berks, moved into positions to the west of Bourlon Wood, facing north. Over the next few days they and other battalions made some minor attacks to straighten out their lines and improve their positions. Then at 8.45am on 30 November the enemy began to shell their positions, 15 minutes later infantry was seen coming over the skyline in large numbers. Col Hunt, commanding the battalion, wrote:

We immediately opened a heavy fire with rifles and Lewis guns, assisted by 2 machine guns of the 47th Division with ‘B’Company, and inflicted enormous losses on the enemy. The enemy, however, succeeded in forcing back some posts of the 47th Division. At about 10 a.m. he also succeeded in entering 3 of the left posts of B Company, some 300 Germans having attacked one platoon which stood most gallantly, but was overpowered before it could dispose of so large a number. One post of this platoon, however, under Sgt. Woollard, held its own through-out the day. The attack continued for three hours, and B Company’s position was often critical, but every man used his arms resolutely, and finally drove the enemy off. Those that had reached our line attempted to retire about 12.30 p.m., but were nearly all mown down.


The attack had not come on to A and C Companies to the same extent, but the men of both companies showed the utmost keenness under the machine gun and shell fire, and undoubtedly assisted B Company to beat off the enemy. At one time the left of C Company was in the air, owing to the withdrawal and partial surrenderof some postson our left.


At about 2 p.m. the enemy was again reported to be assembling for attack. At 2.30 p.m. the 47th Division put up the S.O.S Signal, and the enemy was seen advancing again over the ridge. The attack again came on B Company on both sides of the sunken road, and on the 47th Division as far as the edge of the wood. Left of the sunken road the enemy advanced in large numbers, but the attack was held up by our heavy fire, and that of the three machine guns on the sunken road, and it never reached our line. Between that and the wood the posts of the 47th Division were weak, and the Germans succeeded easily in driving them back, leaving our right in the air. Three of our posts fell, fighting to the last, and a Lewis gun was lost with them. The remainder succeeded in bringing the enemy to a standstill.


All ranks behaved with the greatest spirit and determination and never gave ground. The Lewis gunners seized every opportunity to get to better positions to kill the enemy.

In both these attacks the Germans advanced regardless of loss. They were in full marching order with packs, and evidently thought they would break right through. The total casualties of the battalion were only 3 officers and 63 men, of which 46 were BCompany. That company alone probably accounted for 500 Germans.


Col Hunt may have been expressing relief when he wrote of ‘only’ 66 casualties, but one of these was Sgt George Wootten.


Newbury Weekly News, 20 December 1917 – Local War Notes


Mrs George Wootten has been the recipient of terribly sad news of her husband, Sergeant George Wootten, of the 1st Royal Berks, having been killed in action in France on November 30. Sergt Wootten joined the Army some five years ago, and at the outbreak of war he was despatched to France with the 1st Royal Berks. On two occasions he has been wounded, and has had one leave from France, and that was in the summer of 1917. Before joining up deceased worked for Mr Morris, fishmonger, Northbrook-street. In a letter received from the battlefield, he is spoken of as being a good Sergeant, and sadly missed by oneand all who knew him.


George Wootten's name on Newbury War Memorial

George Wootten's name on Newbury War Memorial (upper right)

His body was never identified so, while his remains may lie in a cemetery beneath one of the many stones marked A Soldier of the Great War or Known only unto God, his name is inscribed on the Cambrai Memorial to the 7,058 men who died in the Battle of Cambrai and have no known grave.


Locally he is commemorated on tablet 10 of the Newbury Town War Memorial


He was not forgotten:


Newbury Weekly News, 28 November 1918 – In Memoriam


In loving memory of Sergeant George Wootten, of the 1st Royal Berks Regt, the dearly beloved husband of Beatrice Wootten, Garden Cottage, Mayors Lane, killed in action somewhere in France, November 30th, 1917.

  Oft I think of you dear husband

  And my heart is sad with pain,

  Ah! this world would be in heaven

  Could I but hear your voice again.

  How we pictured the next greeting,

  How we longed to clasp his hand,

  But God has postponed the meeting

  Twill be in the better land

  From his sorrowing Wife and little Boy


The ‘little boy’ mentioned above is very probably William J W Corderoy, born in late 1912 - while his birth certificate did not name his father the choice of names was a clear hint - he was registered as William Joseph Wootton Corderory. This could well be the reason why George felt the need to marry Beatrice after a brush with death in 1914/5.


In 1921 Beatrice remarried, to William David Jones in Pontypridd.


Beatrice did not have a good war - her brother,Albert Corderoy and her brother-in-law, James Grigg, husband of her sister Sarah, also died; both are remembered on the Newbury town war memorial

  

Thanks to Steve Miller, Beatrice's great great nephew, for his input to this story.

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 Died this day:
15 December 1916
Charles Adnams
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