WOOLFITT, Philip Pearce

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'WOOLFITT, Philip Pearce' page

Canadian Over-seas Expeditionary Force

88th Btn. and 43rd Btn.

Born 1897, Died 1916

During the First World War, both local newspapers, the Newark Advertiser and the Newark Herald ran extensive coverage on local casualties, which are of great interest and value for those researching their family history from this period.  

The following articles appeared in each newspaper:

NEWARK HERALD – 4th November 1916 


The many friends of Mr & Mrs W P Woolfitt of New Balderton, will learn with much regret and sympathy of the death from wounds of their eldest son, Pte. Philip Woolfitt, of the gallant Canadians.  Pte. Woolfitt, who was only 20 years of age in August last, was an old Magnus boy, and upon leaving school went out to Victoria, British Colombia, five years ago, to his grandfather, Mr Tomlinson.  For the last two years before enlisting he was learning surveying and was engaged with his uncle, Mr Nowell Johnson, working under government.  As soon as he had turned the age of 19, and had finished his engagement, he joined the 88th Battalion of Canadians at Victoria in December last and came over to England in June when he had a few days leave and re-joined his parents at New Balderton. 

Returning to camp he volunteered to join a draft and was transferred to the 43rd Canadians, being sent to France early in August.  He was in the firing line about a month when he was severely wounded on October 9th, being wounded through the right arm, left hand, slight wound in the head, and a severe shrapnel wound in the hip, which caused complications.  He arrived in England on 17th and was sent to King George’s Hospital, London where he underwent several operations.  He was treated with the best medical skill possible and with every care and attention, but owing to septic poisoning and haemorrhage, no hopes were entertained of saving the young life and his parents were sent for and they were able to be present when he passed away most peacefully, practically in his sleep, at 10.15 on Wednesday night. 

The greatest sympathy is extended to Mr and Mrs Woolfitt in their great loss. 

The funeral, which will be of a military character, will take place this afternoon.  There will be a service in the Parish Church at 2.30, and the interment will be at the Cemetery at 3.20.

NEWARK ADVERTISER - November 8th 1916 (p.5)


Pte Philip Woolfitt: died of wounds. 

With full military honours, the mortal remains of Pte. P Woolfitt (eldest son of Mr & Mrs W P Woolfitt, New Balderton) who died of wounds sustained in France, were laid to rest in Newark Cemetery on Saturday.  Deceased, who was 20 years of age, was an old Magnusian, having won a scholarship from the Mount School. 

After leaving school he went out to Victoria, British Columbia, to his grandfather, Mr J H Tomlinson.  During the last two years of his stay in the Colonies he was learning surveying with his uncle, Mr Norwell Johnson.  As soon as he was 19 years of age he joined a Canadian Battalion, and came over to England in June.  Early in August he was drafted out, and after being about a month in the firing line he was badly wounded in the right arm, left hand, slightly in the head, and severely in the hip. 

He arrived in England on 17th and was sent to King George’s Hospital London where he underwent several operations.  Owing to septic poisoning and haemorrhage, no hopes were entertained of his recovery, and his parents were sent for.  He passed away practically in his sleep at 10.15 on Wednesday night, All Souls’ Night.


The funeral service was conducted by the Vicar of Newark (Canon W Paton Hindley), and the obsequies were attended by a firing party, bugle and drum and fife band of the Royal Engineers.  The first part was in the Parish Church, where the hymn “How those glorious spirits shine” was sung.  Mr W T Wright, A.R.C.O., presided at the organ. 

The chief mourners were Mr & Mrs W P Woolfitt (father and mother), Misses Eva and Nora Woolfitt (sisters), Masters Donald and Albert Woolfitt (brothers), Mrs F E Hoe (aunt), Mr and Mrs W H Tomlinson and Mr H S Whiles.  Amongst those also present were Rev. H Gorse (headmaster), and scholars from the Magnus Grammar School, Mr G B Friend, Ald. J C Wright, Ald. L Priestley, Mr C H Whitehouse, Mr and Mrs T A Watford, Mr G B Heading, Mr F Allott, Mrs. Garner (Commandant of the VAD Hospital, Lombard Street, Newark), Miss Garner, Mrs M H Colton, Mr E Winter Rose, and others. 

The cortege, as it wended its way towards the Cemetery, was headed by the Royal Engineers band playing the Dead March.  Then came the firing party, walking with arms reversed.  When near the Cemetery gates the band played “Abide with me”, and lined up each side of the entrance to allow the body, enclosed in an oak coffin, on which was the Union Jack and deceased’s cap, to pass through to the burial place.  After the Vicar had concluded reading the burial service, the customary three volleys were fired over the grave, and the buglers sounded the “Last Post”. 

In addition to the family wreaths, beautiful floral tributes were sent as follows:

With deepest sympathy from Uncle Albert, Auntie Jane and Auntie Fanny.

In loving remembrance of dear Phil., from Aunty Lill and Uncle Billy (Hoveringham).

In loving sympathy from J W P Hall.

From Mr and Mrs E Harker and family, with deepest sympathy.

With deepest sympathy from Mr and Mrs Otter and family.

In loving sympathy from Mrs Heppenstall and Miss Heppenstall.

With deepest sympathy from Mr and Mrs B Newbound.

With sincere sympathy from Mrs Wright and the Misses Parnham.

With kind remembrance and deep sympathy from Mr and Mrs Vason

With love from Mrs H M Coles.

In affectionate remembrance from Lieut. and Mrs J H W Ford and family.

From Elizabeth Anderson “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”

With deepest sympathy for a dear friend – Frank Slater.

With deepest sympathy from Mrs H M Colton and family, South Scarle Hall.

With deepest sympathy for a young life nobly sacrificed for his country’s cause, from a few friends at the Brewery Office.

With pride in an old schoolfellow and in deepest sympathy, from the boys of the Magnus Grammar School. 


In the course of his sermon on Sunday morning, the Vicar (Canon W Paton Hindley) made a touching allusion to the death of Pte. Woolfitt.  He quoted from a letter written by the Chaplain of King George’s Hospital, who said: “He died at 10 p.m. last night, and all of us who have come in touch with the dear boy have felt that it was fitting that he should be called away on All Saints’ Day.  His sheer goodness has inspired us all.  His patience and cheerfulness were wonderful all through for he has been suffering much pain.  On Sunday morning he received Holy Communion with much joy and devotion – we have lost a lot of boys since July, but in no case do I remember such a wide-spread feeling of sorrow and sympathy in the Hospital as was felt today.  

It is interesting to read how the two newspapers dealt with this report.  The papers also included a photograph of the young soldier (unfortunately too grainy to re-publish here).

Private Philip Woolfitt – 1897-1916 – who had gone to Canada and enlisted in the Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment) and died in the November of 1916 aged 19.  He is buried with his parents William and Emma, in Newark cemetery, and was the elder brother of Sir Donald Wolfit (1902-1968), the actor (who changed the spelling of his name later in his career).  The family lived on London Road, Balderton, where a plaque to Donald was erected in 1974.

Yet I am sure the family never forgot Phillip, aged just 19.

Jill Campbell

Newark Archaeological & Local History Society

If you can add any further biographical or service information, please do so via the 'Comments' link below

This page was added by Jill Campbell, Nalhs Newark on 09/06/2011.
Comments about this page

In his autobiography "First Interval" published in 1954, Philip's younger brother, Donald (the noted Shakespearian actor) recalls how Philip went off to Canada aged 17 to join his grandparents and learn the trade of a surveyor in that country's untamed wildernesses.  Donald (p.37) recalls having seen little of his brother thereafter, stating that he had only one short period of leave from the military "before he was shot to pieces at Passchendale".  Donal concludes, "I think my mother loved him [Philip] the best of all her children and the loss f him broke her heart".

By Janet Rush
On 23/06/2014

In Newark public library there is an interesting file of transcipts of letters sent home by Philip Woolfitt, both from Canada (in pre-war days) and from the trenches during WW1.  In a letter dated 6th October 1916 written to his mother and father in Newark he talks about returning from his first period at the front, describing it as a "positive hades on earth".  He continues, "Needless to say we are all feeling pretty rough but we are glad to be able to tell the tale which is more than a good many of our boys can do.... You've no idea and I hope you never will have of the awfullness of this war, dear Mother and Father, and I shan't try to tell you anything about it.... I don't want to worry you with all this talk".  Three days later, Philip received the injuries that would prove fatal.

By Jon Steel
On 19/11/2014

Thank you Janet and Jon for your comments on my article about Philip Woolfit.  I will certainly seek out the transcripts of the letters at the Library.

Jill Campbell

By Jill Campbell
On 24/11/2014

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.