3 Years on the Western Front with 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment

Charles Woodbury was born 1891, son of a prosperous Cobham butcher. He is shown as a ‘grocer’ in the 1911 census return, completed by his sister. He volunteered in June 1915 at Farncombe as a private soldier, although married with a baby son. He trained with the 11th Battalion East Surrey Regiment, before being sent to France where, in October 1915, he joined 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment, which had suffered heavily at Loos on 26.9.15. He was wounded 29.6.16 at Wulverghem, near Ypres, and sent to a U.K. hospital. Charlie returned to 9th East Surreys in October. He was wounded again, in the legs, 27.6.17 at Ypres, but not seriously. Badges in an autumn 1917  photograph, taken when home on leave,  show he was a qualified ‘bomber’, i.e. grenade thrower, and had earned a good conduct ‘stripe’. The great German spring offensive began 21.3.18. The 9th East Surreys were obliged to join the general retreat. Charlie’s ‘D’ Company was detached on 23 March, as a rear guard, but found itself isolated by the German advance on the wrong side of the Somme canal. Charlie with around 20 others managed to swim across, but the rest were captured. The depleted battalion was virtually annihilated on 26 March in a famous last stand, but Charlie escaped. After the battalion was rebuilt, it joined in the Allied Advance to Victory. Over the River Selle, 16 October, 9th East Surreys made an initially very successful attack, capturing the village of Haussy with 300 prisoners. Unfortunately, a heavy German counter-attack forced the Surrey men back and around 100 were cut off and captured. Charlie was one of them, being listed under Dulmen P.O.W. camp. He was repatriated after the Armistice and demobbed on 1.4.1919. Unfortunately his war experiences, including a head wound, seem to have driven him to drink. He sadly died of pneumonia and alcoholism in 1922. He is buried at Cobham.

Main sources: 1911 census; 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment war diary; Charlie’s will; Surrey Advertiser cuttings from July 1916 and November 1918; family photograph; Medal Card; Red Cross POW records; death certificate.

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