Friday, May 19, 2006

9457 Corporal Horace Frank Wood, 8th RWK

9457 Corporal Horace Frank Wood was a patient at Hickwells, probably arriving there shortly after returning to England on 4th October 1915 after being wounded at the Battle of Loos.  His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

Cpl H. F. Wood. No 9457
8th R.W.K. Regt
May you live as long as you want
And never want as long as you live
Wounded at Loos on the 26th Sept 1915
Returned to England on the 4th October

He shares this page in the album with 16534 Private William Chadwick of the 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 5365 Private George Robert Alfred Lucas, also of the 8th Royal West Kent Regiment.

Horace was born at Westerham, Kent on 24th August 1891.  His birth was registered at Sevenoaks, Kent in the September quarter of that year.  He appears on the 1901 census as a nine year old living with his family at French Street, Westerham, Kent.  The household comprised: George Wood (head, married, aged 46, working as a carter), his wife Mary Ann Wood (nee Heath, aged 46) and seven children: Caroline Edith Wood (aged 18), Florence Ann Wood (aged 14), Walter Wallace Wood (aged 12), Horace, Percy Frederick Wood (aged seven), Albert Henry Wood (aged five) and Alfred Ernest Wood (aged two).  With the exception of Mary and Caroline Wood who were born in Oxted, Surrey, all of the other family members were born in Westerham.  Three older children: Mary Emma Wood (born 1876), William George Wood (born 1878) and Charles Wood (born 1880), had obviously moved away from the family home by the time the census was taken.  Another child, also named Walter Wood, had been born in February 1884 and had died the same month.  A twelfth child, Dorothy Blanche Wood, was born on 9th March 1901.

Horace  enlisted with the Royal West Kent Regiment around May 1910.  His number indicates an enlistment at around this time and it seems logical that he would have enlisted on his eighteenth birthday.  He would have enlisted for a period of seven years with the regular army and five years on the reserve. 

When war broke out, the battalion was stationed at Dublin and landed at Havre on 15th August 1914.  Horace though, arrived in France on 7th December that year.  He must have been sent to the battalion as part of a draft and conditions on the Western Front would have been a harsh awakening for him.  During one relief, men of the battalion, waist deep in freezing mud, had to be pulled out of the trenches with ropes.

Horace must have transferred to the 8th Royal West Kent Regiment before the Battle of Loos.  It is possible that he was a casualty due to either sickness or wounds and was transferred from the 1st Battalion to the New Army's 8th Battalion after recuperating. He was wounded during the second day of fighting at Loos.  The following extract is adapted from my narrative, The Hospital Way.

As dawn broke on the morning of the 26th September, Horace Wood and George Lucas found themselves shivering in a communication trench east of Lone Tree on the northern part of the front.  The 8th Royal West Kents was part of the leading Brigade (the 72nd) of the 24th Division and in a few hours time they would attack.

At 11am, Lucas and Wood and the rest of the 8th West Kents moved off down the slope from Lone Tree Ridge into the Loos Valley.  At their side, to the right, were men of the other leading battalion of the 72nd Brigade, the 9th East Surrey Regiment, all of them moving in immaculate order as if taking part in a Military Tattoo rather than walking towards the heavily fortified German second line. 

As the Royal West Kents, crossed the Lens-La Bassee Road they came under heavy enfilade fire from Hulluch on their left, Bois Hugo on their right and the German second line trenches straight ahead of them.  “To add to their discomfiture,” the Official Historian later commented in typical measured tone, “the enemy brought up two half-batteries of field guns into a concealed position in Hulluch and opened fire at point blank range with shrapnel and occasional gas shell, enfilading the whole length of the advancing lines.” 
Fired upon from all sides; gassed, shelled and shot at, Kitchener’s men from the Home Counties still pressed forward, a few who reached the uncut barbed wire even trying to cut a way through themselves.  But it was a hopeless task.  With the German defenders standing head and shoulders above their second line trenches and taking pot shots at the few survivors who had managed to get that far, the attack of the 72nd Brigade, like so many other efforts at Loos, withered and died.
The 8th Royal West Kents suffered most heavily of all, losing nearly 600 officers and men.  Divisional casualties, at 4,178 were slightly higher than those sustained by the 21st Division which, like the 24th, had been hurriedly rushed up to take part in the battle.

Horace notes that he arrived back in England on 4th October which indicates that he almost certainly spent time in a hospital in France before being packed onto a hospital ship for Brighton.  Once back in England he may have been sent directly to Hickwells from the 2nd Eastern General Hospital at Brighton or had an operation at Brighton and then transferred to Chailey.  He was certainly in the village at the beginning of November because he is mentioned in a Sussex Express newspaper article published on 5th November:
CONCERT - A highly successful concert was held at the Parish Room the other evening.  The proceeds were in aid of the building fund and the performers included several wounded soldiers… duets: Corporal Wood and Private Allan; … song “The Sunshine of Your Smile”, Corporal Wood … recitation, “Wreck of the Hesperus”, Private Goldborough… The soldiers were cheered immediately they reached the platform.
I am uncertain how long Horace Wood spent at Hickwells but he appears to have made a full recovery.  His medal index card held at The National Archives indicates that he transferred to the RFC (date unknown although this must have been before 1st April 1918 when the RFC became the RAF) and he served with the RFC (and latterly RAF) until transferred to the G Reserve on 30th March 1919.  His service number with the RFC/RAF was 301960.
Horace's brothers all served during the First World War.  Walter died in October 1918, a victim of the flu pandemic.  He must have been discharged from the army by this time as he is not classified by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a war casualty.  Alfred was killed in action on 15th April 1918 at Zonnebeke.

Horace Wood died on 2nd April 1967 and was survived for four months by his wife, Ellen Elizabeth.  The couple had two daughters: Edna Wood, born in 1918 and Evelyn Wood, born in 1920.

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