Remembering John Divers and Herbert Woolley of Kew Gardens staff died Somme 9 October 1916

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James Wearn and Kew Gardens colleagues in 2016 mark the area where Kew’s John Divers died, Somme 1916.

 

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https://ww1richmond.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/plant-collections-of-rifleman-john-divers/

Read more about the Kew Staff on their WW1 war memorial at: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/such-is-the-price-of-empire-the-lost-gardeners-of-kew-in-the-first-world-war/

Remembered today 100 years on, two Kew Gardens and Kew Guild staff :

John Divers, 9 October 1916

Rifleman John Divers, service number 7056, 1st / 9th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria Rifles) and also County of London Cyclists, died on 9th October 1916 when his patrol into No Man’s Land towards the German trenches was wiped out. For a time he was “missing, believed killed” and an officer wrote to his father that they had not been “able to thoroughly search the ground” for his body.

As a result Divers has no known grave and is one of two Kew Gardens casualties (with H.M. Woolley) listed amongst the missing of the Somme Battles on the Thiepval Memorial at Panel Reference Pier and Face 9 C. John Divers is listed amongst over 72,000 men from the UK and South Africa who died in the Somme area before March 1918 and who have no known grave. An excellent Thiepval database exists to put faces to names and add to the publicly available knowledge about these 72,000 men.

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Divers and Woolley  are two Kew Gardens  staff with no known grave  remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme  (Image: CWGC website)

Herbert Woolley, 9 October 1916

36. Herbert Martin Woolley, 9 October 1916
Listed on the Kew memorial as Rifleman / Corporal Herbert Martin Woolley, “Essex Regiment”  is most likely to be Rifleman 3844, 1st / 5th Battalion, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), died 9 October 1916. Herbert is commemorated on Panel Reference Pier and Face 9 D, Thiepval Memorial, along with fellow Kewite John Divers.

Born 27 September 1883, Herbert was the son of G.H. Woolley, Vicar of Old Riffhams, Danbury, Essex. In 1908 after working in several nurseries and Kew 1906-08 he left to work managing a rubber estate in North Borneo. He returned from Borneo to join the Essex Regiment but ditched his commission and training as an officer to become a corporal in the London Rifle Brigade to see action more quickly. His brother suggest he was also promoted to Sergeant.  Herbert was killed shortly after the attack on Combles in 1916.

Herbert or “Bertie” Woolley came from a high-achieving and distinguished family of 12 children including his brother Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Woolley (1880 – 1960), “Woolley of Ur”, a famous archaeologist who knew Lawrence of Arabia. His brother Major George Harold Woolley VC OBE MC (1892 – 1968) was the first Territorial to win the Victoria Cross. In G.H. Woolley’s  autobigraphy, “Sometime a Soldier“, Bertie’s unusual decision to become a private soldier and change regiments to get to the front  quicker is described:

 “While I was on sick leave my third brother, Bertie, returned from British North Borneo. He had been trained at Kew Gardens and in Germany, and then was employed on rubber plantations in Borneo. When in England he had joined the old Militia, so I had no difficulty in helping him to get a commission in the Essex Regiment. He soon tired of England, so transferred as a private to the London Rifle Brigade; he did well with them in France and was quickly made a sergeant, then offered a commission. He was killed with the L.R.B. on the Somme in 1916.

About the same time Leonard, who was doing intelligence work in Egypt, was blown up in a yacht while placing agents on the north Syrian coast. He was rescued, but as a Turkish prisoner, and spent two years of bitter captivity at Kedos and Kastamuni.

Also in 1915 Kathleen, my fourth sister, made her way across Russia to take up a teaching appointment in a school in Tokyo. After leaving Somerville College, Oxford, she had been trained for this work by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Rachel, my fifth sister, was also now teaching in England. She had taken a degree at St. Andrew’s University and then went for teacher-training to St. Hilda’s at Oxford. Later she went to a school in Jamaica, and was subsequently head mistress of a diocesan school in India. My other two sisters, Edith and Marjory, were at home looking after my father at Old Riffhams, as well as coping with five or more officers of the Gloucester Regiment (T.A.), who were billeted in the house. A company of their men were in the barn. Most of the Gloucester Brigade were in huts on Danbury Common. Later in the war Edith married Harry Laxton, one of the officers who had been billeted in our house, and Marjory went to live in New Zealand.”

G.H. Woolley, Sometimes A Soldier. London: Ernest Benn, Ltd., 1963, pp. 38-39

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WW1 Header section, Kew Gardens staff war memorial Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (Image source: Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

John Divers and Herbert Woolley, remembered 100 years on.

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Herbert Woolley of  Kew Botanic Gardens Remembered on the WW1 section Kew Gardens staff memorial (Image Source: Mark Norris, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

Posted / scheduled by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo / World War Zoo Gardens project, 9 October 2016.

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