14164 Lance Corporal Percival Joseph (“Percy”) Wooldridge,
2/The Royal Fusiliers.
Discharged 6 October 1917 as a result of injuries incurred on active service.
Died 14 December 1927 as a result of his war injuries.
Buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Grave Reference Y 68.
Percy’s Discharge Document
© The Family of Percy Wooldridge
Percy Wooldridge (1889–1927) appears with his brother, Alfred, on a document drawn up by the parish in 1915, listing the ‘Inhabitants’ of the Parish of Ham, who were serving in His Majesty’s Forces.
This is his story.
Percy was a Nurseryman by trade and, given the healthy environment of Ham at the turn of the century, he could have expected, like many others working in that pleasant rural environment, sheltered between the open spaces of Richmond Park and a bend in the River Thames, to have lived to a ripe old age. The war killed that prospect. Instead, he died in 1927, aged 38, his life cut short by his wartime experiences, leaving a widow, Amy, and seven surviving children.
Percy was the son of Charles Wooldridge and Charlotte Newman, who had been married in St Andrew’s Church on 5 October 1868. Charles was born in Guildford and Charlotte in Beaconsfield, so it is likely that at least one of them obtained work in Ham where their paths seem to have crossed. Charles Wooldridge made his mark in the register, while his bride, Charlotte signed her name—this in itself a poignant reminder of how few children received formal education prior to the Education Act of 1870, which preceded the Education Act of 1880, that would at last make universal education compulsory between the ages of five and ten. All nine of their children were born in Ham. Percy, the second youngest, was born on 12 July 1889 at the family home on the Petersham Road— 21 years after his parents’ marriage. He continued to live with his parents until his marriage.
On 9 April 1909, he married Amy Sarah Ann Gregory, the daughter of Frederick James Gregory, and his wife Amy Smart. Four days later their first child, Frederick, was born at her parents’ home, 2 Burridge’s Cottages in Richmond. By 1911 the couple and their toddler son were living with Percy’s parents at 1 Evelyn Terrace (now 46 Ham Street); Amy returned to her parents’ home in Richmond for the birth of their second child, a daughter. Within five months they were in a home of their own, initially at 2 York Cottages but by the time of Percy’s enlistment, at 3 Wiggins’ Cottages where the family remained for many years. But with two adults and seven children, they did, eventually, outgrow its four small rooms and the family was later to move to 48 Lock Road.
Percy’s military service began on 17 March 1915 when he enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers at Hounslow. Although a father with a wife and three young children, and himself only 25, he chose to sign up voluntarily nine months before conscription was introduced. Up until the time Percy enlisted, only four men with links to the parish had been killed. The first man from Ham to die had been a Royal Marine, Albert Edward Thurley, who died at sea when HMS Aboukir sank, and who had lived at the Ham Common end of Ham Street. He was four years older than Percy, and may have known him. The remaining three were relatives of the Tollemache family, all with far more tenuous connections with the parish.
This suggests that Percy’s decision to enlist, instead of waiting to be conscripted, could either have been a response to reports of the heavy loss of life of soldiers in the Regular Army during the early months of the war, or under the influence of what is now known to have been exaggerated and sometimes fake news of German ‘atrocities’ or simply by a pressing desire to ‘do his bit’—or all of these.
We know from the records that survived that Percy was 5ft 7¼in, that he had blue eyes, light brown hair and vaccination scars on his left arm. His pension records also include the following list of his children as of October 1917, based on information provided by Percy and which would have had to be supported by appropriate documentation:
Frederick Alfred James born 13 April 1909 in Richmond.
Percival Joseph born 15 December 1912 in Ham.
Albert Ernest born 1 June 1914 in Ham.
Ethel born 5 May 1916 in Kingston.
Their daughter Amy Gertrude, who died in infancy, is not listed on the pension record. She was born in Richmond on 6 October 1911, and her burial was recorded just five months later at St Andrew’s on 9 March 1912. At the time, her parents and older brother were living at 2 York Cottages, Ham Common.
Percy’s Medal Roll Index Card notes the Theatre of War in which he served as 2B (Balkans)—this code refers to Gallipoli—and states that he landed there on 15 December 1915, joining members of his battalion who had been there since the previous April, engaged in the Battles for Krithia and the notorious Achi Baba Heights. Gallipoli was a harsh experience for soldiers to endure, the conditions desperate, and a long way from home, with the tide of battle often against them.
British Army Medical Records for WW1 throw some light on Percy’s brief time in the Mediterranean. The records for HMHS Assaye reveal that Percy was a patient taken on board this hospital ship on 18 December 1915, only four days after his arrival in the Mediterranean Theatre of War. He was suffering from “p.o.u.o” or “Pyrexia of Unknown Origin”. (This was an unexplained high temperature, and useful to cover the period until doctors were able to identify the cause behind this fever.)
Helpfully the records confirm Percy was in B Company of the 2/Royal Fusiliers, allowing us (in time) to focus on that company within the war diary of that battalion.
Three weeks after Percy joined his battalion, they were all evacuated to Egypt, from where they were eventually sent to France, in preparation for The Somme where they were involved in the Battle of Albert and the Battle of the Transloy Ridges. In 1917, Percy’s battalion was involved in eight major battles, including the Battle of Cambrai.
That Percy was a competent, reliable soldier, trusted to lead his men effectively, is indicated by his promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal on 10 April 1917. Just six months later, on 6 October 1917—the anniversary of the birth of Amy, the daughter they lost—Percy was honourably discharged under King’s Regulations Paragraph 392 (xiv)—as “no longer physically fit for war service”.
This decision would have been taken because he had either developed a chronic illness, or acquired an injury which would prevent his being an ‘efficient’ soldier. We know that Percy received at least one serious injury during his time in the army, because it is noted in his service record as G.S.W. Leg (i.e. a Gun Shot Wound to the leg) but as the entry is undated, and not all the pages of his records have survived, we cannot be sure whether this was the injury that led to his discharge. Given the unhygienic conditions, the mud, the contaminated debris and lack of antibiotics and the high risk of infection, many did not survive. Percy may have been in hospital for a long period—perhaps four to five months.
In September 1916, George V introduced the Silver War Badge to be awarded to those who were honourably discharged from active service because of the severity of their wounds or chronic illness. At a time when young men who were not in uniform were often harassed by members of the public, this badge proved to potential critics that the man concerned had fulfilled his duty to his country with honour. When he was out and about and wearing his badge, no one would present Percy with the dreaded white feather.
After Percy’s return home, three more children would be added to the family—Gladys, Lilian and George in 1918, 1921 and 1925 respectively.
Percy’s Medals and his Funeral Card © The Family of Percy Wooldridge
When medals were distributed after the war, Percy’s service since 1915 entitled him to be awarded the full suite—the 1915 Star, as well as the British and Victory medals, known by their recipients as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, respectively. Percy’s Silver War Badge is displayed above his Funeral Card.
Percy died on 14 December 1927, and is buried in what one of his granddaughters remembers as ‘a rather lowly grave’ marked by a simple wooden cross. The burial register records the location in St Andrew’s Churchyard as Y 68. Despite his death being a result of his injuries on active service, he had no CWGC headstone. This is because he died after 31 August 1921, which was the cut-off date for having a Commonwealth War Grave. I like to think that, had he had any choice, Percy would have preferred the extra time with his family to a headstone and a grave tended in perpetuity.
Percy was a Nurseryman, but we think his grave is now unmarked. If anyone has any thoughts about how we could do better by our Nurseryman’s grave, please feel free to post your suggestions via the Comment Box for this post.
Percy’s widow, Amy, was left to bring up her children, ranging in age from 18 down to 2. All but the eldest two, Frederick and Percy Junior, and the youngest, George, were still of school-going age. It is likely that her older sons provided financial support to their mother and siblings, for as long as there was a need. Perhaps Percy’s father and his siblings also provided support of some kind to Amy and her children.
Percy’s mother died in February 1914, six months before war was declared. She is buried in plot O 67 at St Andrew’s Church. Percy’s father, Charles, died in March 1928, aged 87, and just a few months after his son, He, too, is buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard, but in plot N 66. I imagine Row O 67 and N 66 are fairly close together but at some distance from Percy’s grave (Y 68).
Alfred Wooldridge, Percy’s younger brother, is also on the list, Inhabitants of the Parish of Ham serving in H.M. Forces in 1915. He was the youngest child of Charles and Charlotte Wooldridge and served in the Army Service Corps. Alfred’s name was registered at birth as Alfred Vincent Wooldridge but he seems to have adopted other versions during his lifetime. In official records I have found him as Arthur (sic) Vincent Wooldridge and Alfred Vincent Newman Wooldridge. There could well be variations that I have not yet come across! The entry for his burial in St Andrew’s Burials register, records his name as Alfred Newman Wooldridge. Newman was his mother’s maiden name.
At the time of the birth of Percy’s wife, Amy Sarah Ann, her name was registered as Sarah Ann Gregory, after her paternal grandmother. She was later known as Amy, apparently after her mother, Amy Smart. This name came into use after the registration of her birth and her baptism, and before her second birthday. Whether the alteration was ever formalised, I cannot say.
The burial of Charlotte Wooldridge, née Newman, did not show up on a search of Surrey Burials, because her name was transcribed by Ancestry as Charles Wordriffs. I may have managed, by flagging up the record, to avoid future Wooldridge researchers having the same problem. My advice to family historians is that, when an Official Death Registration supplies the quarter within which a death was registered, but you cannot find the burial via Ancestry, Find My Past or whichever provider has digitised that particular county’s burial registers, that you browse the online images for that quarter in the relevant parish yourself, page by page.
Percy’s regimental number was 14164. There’s a very slightly spooky Wooldridge coincidence, though I am perhaps being overly spooked! The only P. Wooldridge to die as a result of enemy action in WW2 was 141164 Flying Officer Peter Meredith Wooldridge, 56 Squadron, Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve, who died on 3 November 1943, aged 21. He is one of over 20 000 airmen commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
Photographs used with kind permission of the copyright holders, The Family of Percy Wooldridge.
Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive, ‘Church Road, Ham’ folder, Inhabitants of [the] Parish of Ham, Surrey, serving in H.M. Forces, 1915.