Geoffrey Woolley

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Geoffrey Harold Woolley
VCGeoffreyHaroldWoolley.jpg
Born 14 May 1892
Bethnal Green, London
Died 10 December 1968 (aged 76)
West Chiltington, West Sussex
Buried at St Mary's Churchyard, West Chiltington
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1914–1923, 1940–1944
Rank Major
Unit London Regiment
Royal Army Chaplains' Department
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Victoria Cross
Order of the British Empire
Military Cross
Relations Sir Leonard Woolley (brother)
George Cathcart Woolley (brother)

Geoffrey Harold Woolley VC OBE MC (14 May 1892 – 10 December 1968) was the first Territorial Army officer to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Woolley was the son of a clergyman, Rev. George Herbert Woolley the curate of St Matthew’s, Upper Clapton, Hackney in London, and his wife Sarah Woolley. He had seven sisters and three brothers, including the famous archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley and George Cathcart Woolley, a colonial administrator and ethnographer. Woolley was educated at Parmiter's School, Bethnal Green, St. John's School, Leatherhead and Queen's College, Oxford. He seemed destined to follow his father into the Church until the outbreak of the First World War, when he obtained a commission in the Queen Victoria's Rifles, the 9th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment of the British Army.[1][2]

The Queen Victoria's Rifles were posted to the Ypres Salient. On 17 April 1915, the British Army captured Hill 60, a low rise to the south-east of Ypres. In the midst of fierce German efforts to retake the hill, Second Lieutenant Woolley's company were sent up on the afternoon of 20 April to take ammunition supplies to the defenders. The situation quickly deteriorated, with many men and all the other officers on the hill being killed. Woolley refused verbal and written orders to withdraw, saying he and his company would remain until properly relieved. They repelled numerous attacks through the night. When they were relieved the next morning, he returned with 14 men remaining from the 150-strong company.[1] The citation for the Victoria Cross he was awarded for this action reads:

For most conspicuous bravery on "Hill 60" during the night of 20th–21st April, 1915.

Although the only officer on the hill at the time, and with very few men, he successfully resisted all attacks on his trench, and continued throwing bombs and encouraging his men until relieved. His trench during all this time was being heavily shelled and bombed and was subjected to heavy machine gun fire by the enemy.[3]

Two days later Woolley was promoted directly to the rank of Captain. He saw further action in the early stages of the Second Battle of Ypres until he was invalided back to England suffering from poison gas and psychological effects.[4] When Woolley had recovered, he was appointed as an instructor at the Officers Infantry School. He returned to the Western Front in summer 1916 as a General Staff Officer Grade II on the Third Army Staff.[1]

A granite headstone among other headstones
Geoffrey Woolley's grave at St Mary's Church, West Chiltington, Sussex, in 2014

After the war he resumed the study of theology at Oxford, was ordained in December 1920, and took a teaching post at Rugby School. In 1923 he resigned his commission and became a parish vicar in Monk Sherbourne, Hampshire, before moving on to the chaplaincy of Harrow School.[1]

In January 1940, Woolley resigned from the school and was commissioned into the Royal Army Chaplains' Department. He was appointed Senior Chaplain of the Algiers area in November 1942, reaching the rank of Chaplain to the Forces 3rd Class (Major). His son Rollo, a Spitfire pilot, was posted to North Africa in the same month, and killed in early December 1942 in a battle over Tunis.[1][5]

Woolley took on the parish of St. Mary's, Harrow in 1944. In 1952, finding it difficult to climb the hill, he resigned his commission and moved to the parish church of West Grinstead, where he stayed until he retired in 1958.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f G.H. Woolley (1963). Sometimes a Soldier. London: Ernest Benn. 
  2. ^ Leask, George A. (1916). "The Two Heroes of Hill 60". V. C. Heroes of the War. London: G. G. Harrap & company. The youngest son of Rev. G. H. Woolley, Old Riffhams, Danbury, Essex, he was educated at St John's School, Leatherhead, and Queen's College, Oxford. While at the University he joined the Officers' Training Corps. He studied for Holy Orders, and is all but a curate of the Church of England, inasmuch as he was on the eve of being ordained when, at the age of twenty-three, he decided to fight for his country. 
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29170. p. 4990. 22 May 1915.
  4. ^ Sometimes a Soldier, p. 36: "A rest for shattered nerves was obviously required".
  5. ^ "Casualty Details: Woolley, Harold Lindsay Cathcart". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 

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