Wood R

Private 8935 Robert Wood , 1st Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers


Killed in action 16/06/1915

*The sources of information available for Robert Wood contain numerous ambiguities and discrepancies. The family appears to have moved out of Stokesley before the Book of Remembrance was created, and perhaps this is why there is no photograph of Robert. The image to the right shows the empty page in the Book, with its poignant message: 'Photo promised'

Robert Wood was born in Kildale, (Stokesley Registration District) in 1895, the son of Fred Wood who was born at Ampleforth in 1871 and his wife Jane, who is recorded as having been born in Sand Hutton. It seems that a Fred Wood and Jane Hannah Mason were married in the Northallerton Registration District early in the same year, 1895, and it is probable this is the marriage of Robert's parents. (Fred was always moving from place to place, so it is hard to be sure of some of the details of his life).

In 1901 Robert was living at 2, Railway Cottages, West Rounton with his parents and his two sisters Rose Mason Wood (10) and Elizabeth Wood (4), Rose’s middle name lending credence to the identification (above) of her mother. Robert’s father Fred was a platelayer on the railway, and on either side of the Wood residence were two other 'railway families' whose heads were a signalman and a platelayer like Fred.

Robert’s mother died in 1903 in the Stokesley district, so by then his father had probably moved into the town. Fred re-married two years later in 1905. His second wife Emma Atkinson was born in Commondale and in 1901 had been living in Ingleby Arncliffe

Robert Wood appears to have moved out of the family home soon after, and although the 1911 census shows Fred and Emma living in West End, Stokesley with 4 children (Elizabeth (13), Florence (2), Percy (1) and John Thomas Atkinson (6) described as Fred’s stepson, Robert himself was living at Ingleby Cross as a farm servant where he was working for Henry Dickens.

The uncertainties surrounding Robert's life do not end here, however, as there are several discrepancies between the various sources of information available about his military career.

The official record of the fallen (Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-18) tells us that Robert enlisted at Newcastle–upon–Tyne into the Northumberland Fusiliers as Private 8935, and that his birthplace was Sunderland. It might be suspected that this man is not ‘our’ Robert Wood, but the Regimental Number given for him is the same one as is recorded on his War Grave commemoration, which identifies him as ‘Son of Fred and Emma Wood of Brick Row, Commondale, Grosmont, York’

Unfortunately, Robert Wood's service records have not survived, but the card index to his awards tell us that he arrived in France on 27th December 1914. This indicates that he joined up very soon after war broke out, as he would have had to undergo hard training before being sent to the Front. Robert was part of the 1st Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, and from the information given in the Book of Remembrance he was killed in the Battle of Hooge. It would appear therefore that Robert took part in the action known as the Battle of Bellewaarde, June 16th, 1915. It is possible to understand something of this battle from reading the official accounts in the regimental war diary.

On the eve of the battle, British forces had to march for several hours through the night so as to be in position to attack before first light. It was probably in the course of this march that Robert 'gave his last message home to a Stokesley friend'. (See Book of Remembrance). Confusion between various units caused several delays, however, and by the time the Northumberlands were approaching their forward positions, it was light enough for the Germans to pick them out and open fire on them.

The Northumberlands were to occupy previously dug trenches within a hundred meters of the enemy front line, and they rushed through enemy fire to reach them. As they threw themselves into the sanctuary of these defences, it was discovered that the trenches were hardly more than a meter deep. By lying flat, they could keep safe from machine gun and rifle fire, but officers moving up and down the trenches had to crawl over their men, as to stand would invite instant death. Worse, the shallow trenches were little defence against shelling.

The British heavy guns opened the attack by unleashing a heavy bombardment on the German lines. It was very effective, but unfortunately large numbers of casualties were caused amongst their own forward troops both from odd shells falling short and from shrapnel flying back from the hundreds of shells exploding on the German lines. An account written by one of the Northumberland Regiment officers gives the opinion that given the circumstances, such casualties were inevitable.

After the barrage lifted, the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers went into the attack, assaulting the German trenches opposite them. They had a complement of 15 officers and 645 other ranks, including Robert Wood. Capturing their objectives, the advancing troops had to set up markers to show the British artillery where they were. This was to ensure that they would not be hit by friendly fire. The smoke and dust of battle acted as a screen, however, and British artillery could not see the markers. ‘Friendly’ shells continued to fall on British troops. At the end of the day 1st Battalion was decimated: all officers and 414 other ranks were recorded as killed, missing or wounded, and only one officer was able to continue to function. All over the battlefield NCO's and even Private soldiers took responsibility fortheir comrades, and led small scattered groups of Fusiliers in the action. The war diary drily remarks that the carefully laid battle plans could no longer be effectively directed. The confusion was immense. In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Robert Wood was listed as wounded, but within days he had been classed as missing. It is not surprising then that the Book of Remembrance simply states that Robert was not seen after that day, or that his medal card baldly records him as “dead”.

Robert Wood was 19 when he fell. He was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1915 Star. He has no known grave, but is commemorated on Panels 8 and 12 of the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.

In a final discrepancy, the Memorial records his age as 21.

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