Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte R Woodward
1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
Killed in action, 13.5.1915
Robin Woodward enlisted in Weybridge on 1 September 1914. He was not a long term resident having moved to the town at some point during the previous three years with his brother and his brother’s family. He was born in Aldershot in about 1893 to Alfred, a railway porter, and his wife Martha (nee Kinnear), an upholsterer. They married in early 1879 in Farnham; Robin’s siblings were Alfred Jonas, Frederick Alfred, Albert Edward and Joseph Edward. It has proved impossible to find the whole family living together; in 1891 Martha Woodward lived with (Albert) Edward and her widowed mother at 33, Cavendish Road in Aldershot, in 1901 Martha, Frederick, Edward and Joseph lived at 29, Perowne Street in Aldershot and in 1911 Robin and Edward lived with their brother Frederick, sister-in-law Fanny and their children at 78 Park Road, Aldershot. Alfred Woodward died in 1901; he was dead by the time Frederick married in August of that year but Martha did not describe herself as a widow in the Census on 31 March. She continued to work as an upholsterer throughout these years; Martha died in 1910.
Robin followed his mother and eldest brother in entering the furniture business, though not as an upholsterer, he became a French Polisher. He stood five feet and eight inches tall, had brown eyes and light brown hair. Robin was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment; they went to France on 26 January 1915. He and his comrades were sent to a position close to Ploegsteert Wood (12.5 km south of Ypres), in fact their communication trench led back to the Wood. This was a place that had already cost their battalion dearly; the defence of the Wood during October and November 1914 inflicted huge casualties – 29 officers and 655 NCOs and men. However, from January to April 1915 it was a relatively quiet location; they were shelled from time to time but much of their efforts were spent on improving the trenches and communications as well as strengthening their defences. In March they found themselves in support at the rear edge of Ploegsteert Wood. Robin must have been relieved to find that both enemy shelling and sniper fire decreased during this month; the winter weather and living conditions took a greater toll on the battalion than did the Germans – 95 were admitted to hospital through sickness. Nevertheless, to be in rest billets close to Bailleul in mid-April must have been a welcome respite.
Their reprieve did not last long as Robin and his comrades were about to be thrust into the vicious 2nd Battle of Ypres which began on 22 April with a German attack in which chlorine gas was used on the Western Front for the first time. The Germans were keen to destroy the Ypres Salient which bulged into their lines. The gas attack had a devastating impact on the French infantry which caused a gap in the Allied lines; Robin’s battalion was one of the units ordered forward. On 24 April they trained to Poperinghe and the following day marched to Vlamertinghe just west of Ypres with orders to go on to relieve the Canadians north of Zonnebeke at the extreme point of the Salient; the Canadians were forced to withdraw before the relief could take place. The Hampshires entered battered and vacant trenches on 26 April and remained in position for the next eight days. Robin’s Commanding Officer described that period as follows:
The story grows lengthy and no words can describe the passage of those eight days, for sixteen hours of daylight we crouched in the bottom of the trenches listening to the bursting and shrieking of the shells. For eight hours of darkness we toiled at repairing and extending our lines.
The 26 April was their worst day when they sustained over 100 casualties. The German positions gave them shelling access over the narrow salient; no vehicle could safely get closer to Robin’s battalion than three miles behind their line. The logistics of food and ammunition supply and the evacuation of the wounded was a nightmare. They were part of a general retirement on 3 May and by the next day were behind the Yser Canal. In just over a week 6 officers had been killed, 5 wounded in addition to 92 other ranks killed and 227 wounded. The battalion was desperately short of experienced officers and had lost many of its best NCOs.
Their relief was short-lived as on 10 May they were once again in the front line which was now much closer to Ypres and near Wieltje. Once again they endured heavy shelling but then had a fairly quiet day on 12 May. Normal service resumed at 6.15 am the next day with heavy shelling which lasted until 2pm. Robin was among the 37 men who were killed. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial (Panel 35) at Ypres (Ieper). Robin’s brother, Frederick and his family were still living in Weybridge in 1945 at 18 Old Palace Road, having moved there from 5 Minorca Road where they had lived until at least 1939.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey Recruitment Registers, 1908-1933, www.findmypast.co.uk