Friday, August 11, 2006

2nd Lt Thomas Victor Wood, 7th Royal Sussex Regiment

Thomas Victor Wood was killed in action on 4th August 1916. This is his story.

Thomas's service record survives at The National Archives in London, from which the bulk of the following information has been gleaned. I find his father's last letter to the War Office particularly poignant, expressing as it does, anger, frustration and sadness in equal measure.

Chailey Parish Magazine first mentions Thomas Victor Wood in its April 1916 issue when it states, “Wood, 2nd Lieut V, 10th Ry, Sx, France”. In September 1916, Wood’s name is added to the magazine’s Roll of Honour and reads: “2nd Lieut V Wood, 10th Royal Sussex, killed August 4th 1916, in France”.

In fact Thomas Victor Wood was serving with the 7th Royal Sussex Regiment when he was killed on Friday 4th August 1916. Officers Died In The Great War records his rank as Temporary Second Lieutenant whilst The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his rank as Second Lieutenant.

He was born at Paddock Wood, Kent on 9th July 1893, the son of Wallace and Rhoda Wood. By 1901 however, the family was living at Blacksmith Cottage, The Common, Lindfield, Sussex. Wallace Wood (aged 36 and born in Horsted Keynes), was the village blacksmith. He was married to Rhoda (aged 32 and from Hurstpierpoint) and the couple had two children: Thomas Victor (aged seven) and Eva Constance Wood (aged six). Two more children would be born later: W G Stanley Wood (in about 1903) and Frederick Charles Cecil Wood (in 1905).

Thomas was educated at Ardingley College, Sussex and Goldsmith’s College London where he enlisted in the University of London OTC as a cadet on 24th December 1914. Later, at Norwich, on 3rd July 1915 his application for a temporary commission in the Regular Army for the period of the war was approved. He gave his address as Teagues Farm, Scaynes Hill, Haywards Heath, Sussex.

On 11th August 1915 he was certified by the University of London (which gave him a B+ for his work and a B- for his personality).

His precise movements over the next six months are unclear but presumably he was training in England. What is known (confirmed by the University of London OTC Roll of War Service, 1914-1919 and the published history of the 7th Sussex Regiment) is that he embarked for France in 1916 and joined A company of the 7th (Service) battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment on 3rd March that year.

On 9th July 1916, with the Battle of the Somme just over a week old, the battalion history states: “We marched by brigade via Millencourt to Senlis and had dinner while the 32nd Division cleared from the village. The following officers now remained with the battalion: A Company: 2nd Lieutenants H F Broughall, C F Rolfe, T V Wood and I D Margary.” Rolfe, Wood and Margary, together with seven other second lieutenants from the other three companies, formed the battle reserve and did not go into action.

On 4th August 1916, with fighting raging around Thiepval, Second Lieutenant C F Rolfe recalled in the battalion history in later years: “I received orders at 3.30am to attack as soon as possible and consolidate the position in Ration Trench which had been captured. We pushed on for some 800 yards till we came to an imposing looking trench, which we entered with little opposition and, I think, few casualties. Leaving Lieutenant Wood there (he was shortly afterwards killed), I pushed up the trench to the left in pursuit of the retiring Germans…”

The 7th Sussex Regiment war diary entry for that day reads:

“At 3am received orders to send one company over to RATION TRENCH to get in touch with 8th Royal Fusiliers and work up to the right, also one platoon to attack Strong Point on the right, after this had been captured they were to work down RATION and get in touch with ‘A’ Coy. ‘A’ Coy went too much to the left but reached RATION TRENCH finding the Buffs already there, Col Cope, (O.C. Buffs) ordered ‘A’ Coy to push forward and take the ridge which they reached without any difficulty but were heavily counter attacked and obliged to fall back to RATION TRANCH. The platoon on the right came under heavy Machine Gun fire and were not able to capture the Strong Point. Later in the day orders were received for two Companies to attack the right of RATION TRENCH in conjunction with attack of 9th Royal Fusiliers. Two platoons were again to attack Strong Point on right from POZIERES TRENCH ‘B & ‘D’ Coy’s attacked across the open but lost direction, some however reached their objective and got in touch with 9th Royal Fusiliers. The two platoons of ‘C’ Coy were unable to capture Strong Point owing to heavy Machine Gun fire. The result of this operation was that practically the whole of RATION TRENCH was captured and consolidated. Casualties during this two days, 2nd Lts WOOD & LE DOUX VEITCH killed, 2nd Lt’s COOKE, FITZSIMONS & ROLFE missing, Captain TROWER wounded. Other Ranks 18 killed, 25 missing, 109 wounded.”

On 13th August, the official War Office telegram was sent to Thomas Wood’s parents at Scaynes Hill. It read, “Deeply regret to inform you 2 Lt T V Wood Sussex Regt was killed in action August 4th. The Army Council expresses their sympathy.”

Three days later, Rhona Wood wrote to the War Office.

“I am very deeply grieved to hear from you of my dear son’s death. Will you kindly send me all possible particulars or inform me to whom I should apply. Also will you tell me how to proceed to obtain his personal property. I was very ill when my dear son left for France, after only a few hours with me, and I have never seen him since. Please oblige me with all early answers.”

There is no record of a response from the War Office and on 20th November the department received another letter, this time from Wallace Wood:

“Will you please send me a certificate signed by a responsible person of the death of my son the late 2 Lieut T Victor Wood. I have sent in a claim to a society to which he had belonged enclosing the war office telegram to me announcing his death, but am informed that I must get a certificate of the death or the claim can not be acknowledged.”

The certificate must have been sent almost immediately because Rhona Wood received it on 24th November and it was back at the War office by the 27th.

On 3rd February 1917, Rhona Wood wrote to the War Office again, obviously in response to a letter from them:

“In reply to yours of this morning I am sorry not to have answered your letter of November 21st last. I was not aware that you had any money belonging to my dear boy and having already settled his affairs at Messrs Cox and Co, London, I concluded that there was a mistake especially as I received by a late post the certificate of Death from you, for which I applied on November 19th. My son left no will with us, neither have we seen one but if there is any money with you belonging to him he would wish it paid to his father – Wallace Wood. We are filling up the form which we received from you, in November last.”

The final item of war-time correspondence in Thomas Wood’s file at The National Archives in London is from his father, Wallace Wood. Dated 6th May 1917, it was received by the War Office the following day.

“As I have never heard whether my son (the late 2nd Lieut T Victor Wood, 7th Royal Sussex Regt) body has ever been recovered I am writing for further particulars. I received a letter from Captain Osbourne [sic] stating that he was shot on August 4th last in taking a German trench but as the enemy counter attacked so strongly they were unable to recover the body. We wrote asking where the body was left but have received no reply. As we never knew where he was when alive, I think we have a right to know where he was killed. I regret to have to make a protest here in the way he was sent out to France and hurried up to the trenches at once. We were told that every man was wanted but we find that was not so. After perhaps, all the willing ones were gone there seems about two thirds of the unwilling ones get exemptions which is very unfair and unjust. I think every man ought to do his duty. My son could of do farm work as others and good milker. I know we want more men and more men on the farms but I do not think it fair to keep back about 90 per cent of farmers single sons as it seems to be the case about here, at the cost of other peoples sons.

We have several older men about here been on farms nearly all their life have had to leave in order to keep young strong single ones back and the older doing gardening etc. One of my neighbours has a single son who was a Baker when he registered [but] has changed his occupation twice since to avoid his duty. In one case he had to leave his place as there were two of military age on about 6 acres and 3 cows ----- join the army. Instead he gets on another farm. We have within ¾ of a mile, several farmers I contract for got two single sons at home and one I am told has three. Is this fair? Why was all leave stopped for those that had been in danger nearly all the time? Why was not enough fresh men sent out for the Somme advance? My son’s leave was about two months over due when he might have been home with Hundreds of others to see their Friends.”

On 26th April 1932, Thomas Wood’s brother Frederick wrote again to the War Office:

“I am writing with reference to my brother Temp 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Victor Wood, 7th Royal Sussex Regt who was reported “killed in action” August 4th 1916. I understand that no record has been found as to his grave, and that his name has been recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to be unveiled on Whit Monday, 16th May next, and, as I propose to be present at this ceremony, I should esteem it a favour if you would kindly inform me as to the system in which the names are recorded on the memorial (ie whether alphabetically in ranks, regiments etc), in order that, in view of the possible crush on that occasion, I would pick out my brother’s name without undue difficulty.

“I should also esteem it a great favour if you could inform me, in what locality my brother (or failing any record of him personally, the 7th Royal Sussex Regt), was probably engaged during July – Aug 4th 1916, as I should like to visit any such places on my return from Thiepval.”

A handwritten note in Thomas Wood’s file reads:

“Battn was on date heavily engaged in attack on German line approx 1000 yards NW of POZIERES (Sheet Lens 1:100.000 I.6) or 2500 yards SE of Thiepval about road from Thiepval to Pozieres. Name of officer appears in list of casualties but no details as to how he became a casualty appear in war diary.”

This response was duly sent to Frederick Wood on 5th May 1932 along with advice to contact the Imperial War Graves Commission regarding memorials to fallen officers and soldiers.

Thomas Victor Wood has no known grave and is commemorated on Pier and Face 7C of the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme. In England he is commemorated in several places: on the war memorial on Chailey village green; the memorial tablet inside St Peter’s Church, Chailey; on the stone tablet inside St Augustine’s Church, Scaynes Hill, Sussex and on Ardingley College war memorial.

Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry. The crop from Thomas Wood's service papers is Crown Copyright, The National Archives. Photograph of Thomas's name on the Thiepval Memorial courtesy of Garth McGowen, for which many thanks.


VHB said...

The story of Thomas Victor Wood caught my attention. Thanks for sharing it!

Vincent Bartning
San Jose, CA, USA

Chailey1418 said...

Thanks for reading about him and commenting, Vincent; appreciate it.