John William Bottrill, who was killed serving with the Royal Artillery in Greece, has one of the most complicated back stories of any of our soldiers who died in the First World War. He was born illegitimately, brought up by his aunt and during his lifetime was known by three different surnames. To confuse matters further, in George Phillips' Rutland and the Great War, John William's surname is recorded as Botful. He was born on 24 October 1884 in Oakham to a Hannah Baker, aged 18. His birth certificate says his father's name was unknown. But he did not stay with his mother. Instead, he was brought up by Hannah's sister Ellen and her husband John Broom who in 1891 were living in John's Court, Oakham. Why this happened, we do not know. Ellen, who had been born in the Oakham Union Workhouse, was a machinist in a shoe factory. John had been registered as John William Baker and the census of 1891 described him as John Broom's nephew. John Broom died aged 38 in Oakham in 1892 and sometime after that Ellen and John William moved to Loughborough. The 1901 census has her and the boy living with a John Rodgers, a bricklayer's labourer. She and John William, by now 16 and an engineering labourer, have both taken the Rodgers name and John William is described on the census as "son." Two years later John William, now living in Coventry, married a young woman from Loughborough, Sarah Ann Jarram. Another name change has occurred, as the parish register for the marriage records John William's surname as Bottrill. The census of 1911 eight years later shows John William, now a family man, living in 9 St Agnes Lane, Coventry with Sarah, their three children, Nellie, Sarah and Thomas, and Ellen, who is described as a widow. All called themselves Bottrill. War came in August 1914 and John William left his labouring job to enlist on 5 January 1915. He was sent for training with the Royal Artillery in Portsmouth and later posted to Aldershot where he fell foul of the authorities and was given five days punishment for overstaying his leave. On 5 September 1915 he left Aldershot with A Battery, 100th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and set sail for Marseilles and then on to Salonika in Greece. He arrived there on 13 December and quickly earned a promotion to Bombardier (Lance Corporal). Fifteen months later he was seriously injured by a shell on 4 March 1917, aged 32, while attached to the 200th Railway Construction Company, Royal Engineers. He died in 29 General Hospital, Salonika. There was some confusion in informing John's widow, Sarah, about his death. Records show that she received an official notice on 15 March 1917, but three days later, on the 18 March she received a telegram telling her he had been dangerously wounded. She contacted the War Office desperate to find out the truth and presumably her worst fears were confirmed. John is buried at Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemetery, grave 946. But he is not remembered on Oakham's war memorial in the town where he spent his early life, although he is on Loughborough's Roll of Honour where Sarah was living after the war, in Ashby Square. John William Bottrill left behind four children, the fourth named Elizabeth had been born in 1913 and was just four years old when her father died. John William's entry in Rutland and the Great War is short and sad. It says simply he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery, was killed in Salonica (as it was known then) and that he was the brother of a Mrs Taylor, of 24, Finkey Street, Oakham. Mrs Taylor, as we now know, was Hannah, his real mother. A year after giving up her son to her sister, she had married a John Taylor in 1885 and the couple had nine children together.
Photograph courtesy Loughborough Roll of Honour. Many thanks to Marigold Cleeve of the Carillon War Memorial Museum, Loughborough, for her research into John William's background.
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