Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thomas Victor Wood

I am reproducing here, a letter from Wallace Wood - father of Thomas Victor Wood - which he wrote to the War Office after his son's death. The letter is also on Thomas's page on my website but I think it's worthy of a second airing here.

When we think of the First World War, we often recall images of grinning reservists or Kitchener volunteers in the early days and weeks of August 1914. As the war progressed however, the flow of recruits dried up, leading to the introduction of the Derby Scheme in 1915 and then the final recourse, conscription, in 1916.

Wallace Woods's letter is interesting from two angles. First because he draws attention to local Chailey people who quite clearly were doing everything they possibly could to avoid joining up, and second because we see here a rare example of anger and frustration at his son's death.

Letter from Wallace Wood to The War Office

6th May 1917

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.

Thomas, killed in action on 4th August 1916, has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial on The Somme. He is mentioned in the History of the 7th (Service ) Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment (see below).


"The 7th Battalion, R Sussex, was formed at Chichester on 12 August 1914 and allocated to 36th Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division with which it served throughout the war. It landed in France on 1st June 1915 and remained on the Western Front , distinguishing itself in many battles - Loos, Hohenzollern Craters, the Somme, Arras, Cambrai and the final advance. Seventeen Battle Honours were awarded. Total casualties numbered 147 officers and 3,500 other ranks, of whom 57 and 1012 died.

"It is easy to run out of superlatives [Says the Naval & Military Press, which has re-published this work] but this has to be one of the best histories I have come across, with graphic and detailed descriptions of the fighting, supported by clear maps and with photos that include trench scenes. Apart from the well-written narrative there is a wealth of information about the battalion to ensure a permanent record.

"Appendices record the diary of the battalion’s movements from embarkation (30 May 1915) to 16 June 1919 when the last remnants of the battalion left for England and this is followed by a table showing, year by year, the number of days spent in Rest areas, in Billeting areas, and in the Trenches from 1 June 1915 to 11 November 1918. Forty-two percent of the battalion’s service on the Western Front was spent in the trenches. There is a table summarising total casualties each year and another giving casualties in main engagements. There is the Roll of Honour of officers and of other ranks with dates of death, and there is the list of individual honours and awards headed by a summary. We have the nominal roll of officers, WOs and senior NCOs who embarked with the battalion in May 1915, and finally there is the list of officers who served with the battalion with their service records. There is also a 25-page index."

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