He was a member of the Cambridge OTC and was commissioned soon after the outbreak of war. He was shot in foot by a machine gun at La Boiselle 1st July 1916, near Lochnagar Crater. Two days after marriage in September 1917 he re-joined his regiment and was mortally wounded a month later.
Here is a description of the action, from a book about Wootton’s wife book called “A Critical Woman: Barbara Wootton” by Ann Oakley., about the beginning of the battle in this sector and on the wound sustained by John Wesley Wootton, known as “Jack”:-
“By the end of June, they [ 11th Suffolks, Wootton’s battalion]were headquartered in Bécourt Chateau, near the village of La Boisselle, only a thousand yards from the German trenches. The land round the chateau was a riot of wild flowers, flooded with the song of nightingales during the hours of darkness. The first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July, was a clear sunny morning. At 5 a.m. the 11th Battalion followed the 10th Lincolns [Mackay’s Battalion] out of Bécourt Wood into ‘an inferno of blood, smoke and iron’. Each attacking company formed a line, with the men two to three yards apart, four lines in all, fifty to a hundred yards behind one another. The men walked slowly in straight lines across no man's land into the German front line. Private W.J. Senescall in Jack's battalion described how it went:
‘The long line of men came forward, rifles at the port as ordered. Now Gerry started. His machine guns let fly. Down they all went. I could see them dropping one after the other as the gun swept along them. The officer went down at exactly the same time as the man behind him. Another minute or so and another wave came forward. Gerry was ready this time and this lot did not get as far as the others … Then during the afternoon Gerry started shelling no man's land in a zig zag fashion to kill the rest of us off. As each shell landed they gave a burst of machine gun fire over where it fell, to catch anyone who should jump up … A very large shell fell some yards to my left. With all the bits and pieces flying up was a body. The legs had been blown off right to the crutch … It sailed up and towards me. I can still see the deadpan look on his face under the tin hat, which was still held on by the chin strap.’
The outcome of the battle was decided by 8 a.m., but throughout the day further rushes were attempted by survivors, many of whom were instantly burnt to death by German flame-throwers. Jack Wootton was one of 120,000 men who ‘went over the top’ along the thirteen-mile front of what was afterwards known as the Battle of Albert. But to Barbara's relief and delight, he escaped with ‘a splendid wound’ – in other words, a small wound that took a long time to heal. A shell fragment had severed the Achilles tendon in one of his heels, and it kept him safe in England for fourteen months.
Many years later, a man who described himself as Captain Wootton's servant, a ‘Mr H. Allgood’, wrote to Barbara on reading her autobiography to tell her more about what happened to Jack that day: ‘We were going forward in rows. One row was leaving too large gaps, Captain shouts, “Fill those gaps up”. Soon after that I heard his voice. I looked back, he was on the ground, I went back & took off his boots, saw a hole through his ankle. He said, You will have to go, Allgood. I hope I shall see you again.’
Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger CH (14 April 1897 – 11 July 1988) was a British sociologist and criminologist. She was one of the first four life peers appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958. She was President of the British Sociological Association 1959–1964.
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