Duncan Hepburn Gotch entomologist died Neuve Chapelle 11 March 1915

Duncan Hepburn Gotch in uniform 1914/5 (source: www.baptist.org WW1 article)

Duncan Hepburn Gotch in uniform 1914/5 (source: http://www.baptist.org WW1 article)

Amongst the names on the Natural History Museum staff war memorial is the name of Duncan Hepburn Gotch an entomologist who “showed every promise of making a name for himself as a scientific worker” as his former Director remembered.

Over the next few months I will feature the stories of several British Museum (Natural History) staff remembered on the WW1 and WW2 memorial sections, now in the entrance area of the Natural History Museum. I currently do not have my own photographs of this memorial but the WW1 memorial and Roll of Honour can be found on the following websites:

Entomologists Record XXVII No 1 January 1915 page 18

Entomologists Record XXVII No 1 January 1915 page 18

In the Entomologist’s Record 1915, p.17, Current Notes: “the staff of the Entomology Department S. Kensington is well to the fore in this mighty struggle ”  – the names of many serving staff can be read at:


An early volunteer, having joined the Artists Rifles as a Territorial in February 1914, Duncan Hepburn Gotch was typical of the many young officers and Second Lieutenants who were killed after only a few short weeks of active service. Statistically this rank of young officer had very high casualty rates.

Gotch was killed as Second Lieutenant, 1293, B Company, 1st Battalion, Worcester Regiment on 11 March 1915, aged 23 during the short battle of Neuve Chapelle.

Originally enlisted as Private 1293, 28th London Regiment or 1/28th (County of London) Battalion (Artist’s Rifles),  Gotch would have reported in August 1914 at Dukes Road, Euston Road as part of /  attached to 2nd London Division. They moved on mobilisation to the St Albans area.

On 28 October 1914 Gotch and his regiment moved to France, where it was established as an Officers Training Corps based at Bailleul.

Gotch had only recently been gazetted an officer and joined the 1st Worcestershires on 1 January 1915, reaching  the front on 15 January 1915. The story of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment is given at www.worcestershireregiment.com and gives an idea of the cold wet and muddy conditions in which Gotch first  arrived in the trenches:

During those last days of 1914 the 1st Battalion experienced an equally severe ordeal in their neighbouring trenches facing Neuve Chapelle. There also rain and frost had done their work, and the trenches filled with water into which the crumpling parapets collapsed. During the last days of December some pumps were secured and all ranks struggled manfully to reduce the height of the water, which indeed was then a greater danger to the defences than was the fire of the enemy; but in spite of all their efforts the water gained.

The communication trenches became impassable, and all ration parties and reliefs had to come up after dark across the open right up to the trench line. The German trenches facing the line held by the Battalion were on slightly higher ground and it was constantly expected that the enemy would attempt some method of draining water from his trenches into the British lines (Source: http://www.worcestershireregiment.com)

The weather and waterlogged state of the trenches grew steadily worse throughout January but  had slightly improved by the start of March 1915 and the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.

According to De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour , at Neuve Chapelle, he was the “last officer left in action with his company and he was killed as he led his men to the charge. He was buried 1 mile N.W. Of Neuve Chapelle, unmarked …”

An interesting account and photographs of the Neuve Chapelle battle mentioning Gotch’s B Company, 1st Worcestershire Regiment is given at http://www.worcestershireregiment.com

“Save for that gain of ground and for the proud memory of that bayonet fight there was but little profit visible to the regimental officers and men from the battle of Neuve Chapelle.

The losses had been terribly severe. The 1st Worcestershire had lost over 370 of all ranks, including 19 officers … The Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Colonel E. C. F. Wodehouse, D.S.O. and the Adjutant, Lieutenant J. S. Veasey, a brilliant young officer, were among the dead. The Battalion had gone into action on the 10th March 1915, with a strength of 26 officers and 870 rank and file. On the morning of March 13th the whole Battalion could muster no more than 7 officers and 450 men …

Killed: 9 officers … [D.H. Gotch is named here] … Besides these losses many officers and men, including the 2nd-in-command, Major J. F. S. Winnington, and Lieut. M. A. Hamilton Cox, were invalided after the battle from the effects of the strain and exposure of the three days and nights of fighting …”

Gotch is mentioned under the long list of officer casualties of this action in this comprehensive website.  As well as his name on the British Museum (Natural History) war memorial plaque,  Gotch is also remembered on the Le Touret Memorial to the missing of the early battles of 1914-1915 who have no known grave. He is also remembered at Cambridge University.

Le Touret Memorial, France  to the missing of 1914/15 battles (Image Source: CWGC website)

Le Touret Memorial, France to the missing of 1914/15 battles (Image Source: CWGC website)

There is more about Neuve Chapelle, its Indian troops involvement and the subsequent Shell Crisis of 1915 on Wikipedia entry: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Neuve_Chapelle

One strange comment on the Shells Crisis can be found on Luci Gosling’s interesting Mary Evans Picture Library blog posts about the Great War. http://blog.maryevans.com/2013/04/london-zoo-at-war.html It featured in the press cuttings in the London Zoo at War exhibition recently)  with a press photo of  Methusaleh the tortoise, its shell inscribed: We Can’t Do Without Our Shells and captioned: ‘We can’t do without our shells; but they will serve to remind you that there are others – which your country needs.’

Born in Kettering, Duncan was the son of Davis F. Gotch (a leather manufacturer and then Assistant Secretary of Education for Northampton County Council) and Ethel Gotch (nee Hepburn), Bassingburne, Abington Park, Northampton. The  family medals and photos of Gotch and his brother recently came up at auction by Dix Noonan Webb (see www.dnw.co.uk Archive Lot 1207, 17 September 2004)

In the 1911 census, he was listed as Biology Student at  Cambridge University. De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour reports that he was educated at Oundle School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge on a Natural Science Scholarship and special County Council Scholarship, gaining an Honours degree in Natural Science in 1913.

Gotch swiftly joined Sir Guy Marshall’s Imperial Bureau of Entomology in 1913 as one of its early staff, a Scientific Assistant, when it had newly moved into offices at the British Museum (Natural History) and Elvaston Place, South Kensington.

Gotch and assistant preparator E.A. Bateman were both killed in the First World War, two of the names on the British Museum (Natural History) / Natural History Museum memorial. Bateman’s story  (1st Norfolk Regiment, died 29 June 1918, aged 18, buried at Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France) will feature in a future blogpost.

Source: Baptist.org website WW1 article by Jonathan Barr, 2014

Source: Baptist.org website WW1 article by Jonathan Barr, 2014

Like many young officers Duncan Gotch left quite a paper trail. There is a fine short biography by Jonathan Barr on the http://www.baptist.org website http://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/409983/Baptist_soldiers_in.aspx

Duncan  Hepburn Gotch was born in Kettering, on 25 August 1891, into a family well known in the Baptist denomination for their support and participation in the Northamptonshire Baptist Provident Society…

The Gotch family seem to have been linked to the local traditional boot, shoe and leather trade. A fellow officer wrote of him:

“He had only been with us a month or two, but in that time, by his cheeriness, by his keenness, and by his hard work and enthusiasm we had all got to like him immensely. His cheerfulness was catching …

He was very plucky and would insist on exposing himself unnecessarily, generally in the hope that he would spot the enemy or some better place for his platoon. His loss is a real one for the regiment, for he was one of the right stuff and of the sort we want in the Worcestershire Regiment. A brave, cheery, kindly, popular officer and we can ill afford his loss.”

Gotch’s death was mentioned in The Sphere, 10 April 1915.

The Entomologist’s Record XXVII no. 5, May 15, 1915 (p.185) notes that:

We regret to announce that two members of the South London Entomological Society have fallen in action in France. Lieutenant W. W. Penn-Gaskell of the Queen’s London Regiment …  and D.H. Gotch …

Penn-Gaskell of the 24th London Regiment is commemorated like Duncan H Gotch on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing.

The Baptist.org article by Jonathan Barr also reveals that Gotch’s younger brother, Davis Ingle Gotch, enlisted the very day that the family received the news. Serving with the Northampstonshire Regiment, he won a Military Cross in January 1917, was taken prisoner of war during the German Spring Offensive, before being repatriated on 18 December 1918. During the Second War he served with the Gloucestershire Regiment as a Captain.

Another interesting note in the Baptist.org article, his sister Dorothy Maud Gotch “served as an army nurse caring for the soldiers coming home.” In 1911 she had been listed as a Deaconess in the Baptist Church. She died unmarried in 1963 in Hitchen, Hertfordshire.

gaynor kavanagh

Museums and the First World War

The British Museum (Natural History) wooden Roll of Honour board, naming all who served and those who died, is also mentioned on p.60 of Gaynor  Kavanagh’s excellent  and wide-ranging book ‘Museums and the First World War: A Social History’ (Leicester University  Press, 1994).

There is also interesting material on entomologists in WW1 in Richard Van Emden’s recent 2011 paperback Tommy’s Ark: Soldiers and their Animals in the Great War.

Further interesting points from the Entomologist’s Record 1914-1919

The activities and loss of Russian Entomologists fighting the Germans is outlined here in the  Entomologist’s Record, 1915,p.89: https://archive.org/stream/entomologistsrec271915tutt#page/88/mode/2up

The  role of Entomologists in the trenches is set out in this article “Notes from the Trenches” in 1915 https://archive.org/stream/entomologistsrec271915tutt#page/198/mode/2up

Reading through the online scans of the wartime issues of Entomologist’s  Record will no doubt reveal many other interesting stories that I will post here over the next few months including:

  • casualties and bughunting at Gallipoli in 1915 including Neville Manders
  • http://www.ramc-ww1.com/profile.php?cPath=211_652&profile_id=11097&osCsid=29
  • Somme casualty 1917 Frederick H Stallman, entomologist;
  • the war against the house fly, a London Zoo exhibition on them  and research into mosquitoes and malaria;
  • difficulties collecting insects by night light in the WW1 ‘blackout’ and treacle rationing;
  • Bug hunting amongst the strange habitats of wrecked battlefields like Vimy Ridge.

Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project, Newquay Zoo.



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One Response to “Duncan Hepburn Gotch entomologist died Neuve Chapelle 11 March 1915”

  1. A Trench Dead Darwin 24 April 1915 | Worldwarzoogardener1939's Blog Says:

    […] Duncan Gotch of the British Museum staff’s  story, killed in WW1, is told here: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/duncan-hepburn-gotch-entomologist-died-neuv… […]


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