Quartermaster Lieutenant John Woon, RM (1824-77)
Quartermaster Lieutenant John Woon, RMLI, by Jack Bridge. He is wearing (left to right) – Royal Marines Meritorious Service Medal, Arctic Medal 1818-1855, and Second China Medal 1856-60 (clasp-Canton 1857). © Frederick Feather, Woon’s great-great-nephew
by Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
Nineteen year old John Woon enlisted in the Woolwich Division, Royal Marines, on 28 June 1844. Just two years later he was promoted to corporal, and two years after that he made sergeant. The Cornwall native came to prove he was every inch a Marine – in peace and war.
Traditionally, the Marines provided the Royal Navy with a sea-going infantry and an internal security force aboard each ship. Sergeant Woon and his corporal headed up the eight-man Marine detachment onboard HMS Investigator. The 1850 expedition of HMS Enterprise and HMS Investigator had a shortage of the normal shipboard domestic help due to restrictions on the number of men taken on the voyage. Consequently, the Marines did double duty and every officer had a Marine servant who kept his cabin in order and did his washing and mending.
Sergeant Woon was a also sledger and a very active hunter, and made a deep impression on Captain McClure who wrote, “One person especially distinguished himself not only as a sportsman, but in the execution of any service requiring unflagging energy and marked intelligence; and this was the non-commissioned officer of royal marines, Sergeant Woon.”
Woon proved his mettle on 4 January 1852, when a seaman named Anderson got lost while out hunting alone. The fog rolled in, and combined with the bitter cold and fatigue, panic overtook Anderson. Sergeant Woon was also out hunting and happened upon his shipmate, who was paralyzed by fear. Woon exercised much persuasion to induce him to walk a little, but the Marine soon ended up dragging the fellow. After ten hours, and now only a mile from the ship, Woon could do no more, and set off for help alone. He met two of the three search parties sent out for them, and when Anderson was eventually found he was barely alive. He was brought back to ship and revived.
Another incident occurred seven months later, again while out hunting. On this occasion, Woon came upon with two musk-ox bulls. The sergeant shot both animals in a manner described as cool and soldier-like. One bull had charged directly at him and dropped dead at his feet. Together, the animals yielded 300 kilograms (650 lbs.) of much-needed meat for his shipmates.
After returning to England and being promoted, Colour Sergeant Woon received a unique Arctic Gallantry Medal for his bravery and intrepid actions during the above two incidents.
Woon later served in the Second China War (1856-60) as an acting sergeant major, and was mentioned with commendation in the dispatches of Rear-Admiral Hope for the unsuccessful attack on Peiho Forts in June 1859. He was also cited for conspicuous gallantry, leading to him receiving the Royal Marines Meritorious Service Medal and a yearly payment of £10. Promoted to quartermaster lieutenant in 1867, Woon passed away ten years later of acute rheumatism and cardiac disease, aged 52 years.