Raised From The Ranks: Capt. John Woolcott




An interesting and rare piece came across my desk not too long ago, a nice and clean 1897 Pattern Infantry Officers Sword, common enough in itself but the owner is what made it unique is the fact that this chap had been raised from the ranks. This is a living article and will be updated as more information comes to light. The earliest record I can find of Captain J. S. Woolcott is as a freed POW in the Boer War whilst still a Lance Corporal in the 2nd Battalion DCLI, serving as a Lance Corporal and being present at five actions over the course of the war.


Woolcott then drops off the map until the beginning of the First World War, as a common soldier in peacetime there is often a lack of records. What we cans we is that during this time he transferred to the 1st Battalion and gained promotion to the batallions Colour Sergeant Major before being shipped out to France in 1914 as one of the Old Contemptibles of the British Expeditionary Force.


After taking part in the advance into France including the victories and retreats Woolcott was mentioned in dispatches during the October defence of Lorgies, one of the pivotal moments of the Battle of La Bassée. From the casualty lists and the war diaries the DCLI took incredibly heavy losses to attacks and bombardments and shortly after this in 1915 John Woolcott was granted a field commission to Second Lieutenant and the following year became Lieutenant.





The circumstances of the First World War changed the dynamic of the officer class, the casualty rates of officers was higher than that of the other ranks and field promotion of rankers became more common as the NCO's of units led them in the absence of fallen officers. When it became clear that the replacements would not be sufficient to fill the gaps these positions were made official.


It appears after serving in the thick of the Boer and First World Wars John Woolcott ended his career as a captain.


This is a true life example of a Sharpe like story with a common soldier of the light infantry leading his fellow men as an officer.