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Commonwealth War Graves Commission database records war dead from Kent streets with story of Gillingham Royal Marine Herbert Woollacott as part of War Graves Week


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War casualties are being remembered in the very streets where they lived as part of a new project.

The stories of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who died in the First and Second World Wars will be rediscovered in the database created by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Royal Marine Herbert Arthur Woollacott, from Gillingham, died when HMS Queen Mary sunk at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He is commemorated at Chatham Naval War Memorial and is one of thousands of people remembered as part of a new Commonwealth War Graves Commission project. Picture: CWGC
Royal Marine Herbert Arthur Woollacott, from Gillingham, died when HMS Queen Mary sunk at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He is commemorated at Chatham Naval War Memorial and is one of thousands of people remembered as part of a new Commonwealth War Graves Commission project. Picture: CWGC

Among them is Herbert Woollacott, from Gillingham, who was just 33 when he died after HMS Queen Mary sunk during the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916.

He has no grave but is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial which bears the names of 8,517 sailors of the First World War and 10,098 of the Second World War.

This week as part of the first Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) national awareness War Graves Week, his sacrifice is being remembered.

Herbert, who was born in Warrington but lived with his wife Florence in Canterbury Street, Gillingham, was a Royal Marine who rejoined active service when war broke out in 1914.

Before the war he served as a marine before marrying his first wife, Mabel, and the couple had a son.

Chatham Naval Memorial bears the name of 19,000 sailors from the First and Second World Wars. Picture: Tony Stigle
Chatham Naval Memorial bears the name of 19,000 sailors from the First and Second World Wars. Picture: Tony Stigle

But when he was three, Mabel died and her sister Florence cared for her nephew. She and Herbert married three years later.

Herbert and Florence had a son of their own later that year. Tragically, in 1918 – two years after Herbert died – Florence also passed away leaving the two boys orphaned.

Herbert, born on July 30, 1882, was on board the battlecruiser Queen Mary when she was hit twice by the German battlecruiser Derfflinger early in the engagement.

Her magazines exploded and the ship sunk with the loss of 1,266 officers and ratings. The wreck was discovered in 1991 in several pieces, some upside down on the seabed in the North Sea, and is designated as a protected war grave.

CWGC has now compiled a database of men and women who lost their lives and pinpointed where they lived based on military records and census data.

Sgt Woollacott lived at number 336 Canterbury Street, Gillingham with his wife Florence. Picture: Google
Sgt Woollacott lived at number 336 Canterbury Street, Gillingham with his wife Florence. Picture: Google

By entering a postcode, people can now search for those who died from their own area and maybe living in the same house as them – just like Herbert who lived at number 336 Canterbury Street with Florence.

The database lists some 400,000 casualties, where the person is buried – a local churchyard, battlefield cemetery or commemorated on a war memorial – and where they were from.

Packs are being sent out to addresses by the CWGC this week and to communities to mark the first War Graves Week which runs until Friday.

The week aims to reunite communities with the heritage and personal stories connected to their doorstep and remember the people who gave their lives in war.

A series of tours, talks and virtual events on social media channels are taking place at cemeteries and memorials throughout the week by the Commission. Residents can also download a tribute from the CWGC website to share in their window.

Herbert Woollacott is one of the thousands of sailors and marines commemorated at the Chatham Naval Memorial. Picture: Brian Harris
Herbert Woollacott is one of the thousands of sailors and marines commemorated at the Chatham Naval Memorial. Picture: Brian Harris

Claire Horton CBE, director general of the CWGC said: “We are delighted to be launching our first ever War Graves Week. For us at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, remembrance and the sharing and caring for World War heritage is a daily duty.

"We wanted to take a chance to help people to see that work in action and make a local discovery. Many people already know about their family’s links to the World Wars, but all of us have somewhere we call home today, and those places have their own stories too.

"By simply entering your postcode on our website you can take the first step towards making a new connection. We want people to share the stories they find and download a tribute for the men and women from their communities and display it in their window for War Graves Week.

"Behind every name on a war grave or memorial is a human story, just like Sergeant Herbert’s, waiting to be discovered, and War Graves Week is the perfect opportunity to do just that."

The week marks a new project for the CWGC which maintains cemeteries and memorials in 153 countries around the world, including the battlefields of the Western Front in France and Belgium.

In the UK alone, there are 12,500 places where a Commonwealth war grave or memorial is located.

Three events will be held in Kent this week to mark War Graves Week:

  • Chatham Naval Memorial - Thursday, May 27, 11am
  • Dover St James Cemetery - Tuesday, May 25 11am and 2.30pm, Wednesday, May 26 11am
  • Folkestone Shorncliffe Military Cemetery - Wednesday, May 26 11am and 2pm, Saturday, May 29 11am and 2pm

Yesterday, the mayor of Sevenoaks, Cllr Dr Merilyn Canet, met with Sarah Nathaniel from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and local historian Matt Ball at Greatness Park Cemetery to lay crosses at the war graves and learn about the project.

For more information and to learn more visit www.cwgc.org/wargravesweek and for events head to www.cwgc.org/our-war-graves-your-history/war-graves-week-events/ to book free tickets.

Are you related to Herbert Woollacott or do you know what happened to his two sons? Do you live in the house of one of the war casualties from the CWGC database? Get in touch at medway@thekmgroup.co.uk

To read about the Armed Forces and how they have served Kent and beyond, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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