Dedication: Private Harry Woods
From World War I Document Archive
This Biographical Dictionary is dedicated to all the men and women who lived, fought, sacrificed and died during the turbulent era of the Great War. It is our hope that by reading about the lives of those involved, that the Great War will be remembered for the immense human drama it was, and will not lapse into obscure statistics, dates and myths.
Born Shrivenham, Berkshire, England. Harry Woods was born in Shrivenham, Berkshire and was living in Shaftesbury, Dorset, when he joined the 1st Battalion, the Dorsetshire Regiment.
There is only one contemporary reference to Harry Woods's Army career - a mention of his death, made in the diary of another soldier. On 5th July, 1915, the 1st Dorsets were holding trenches at the foot of Hill 60, near Ypres, Belgium. They had endured the fierce fighting, gas and mines of the May attacks and counter-attacks. By the beginning of July, the Germans had established themselves on the crest of the hill (nothing more than a small mound of earth) where they were to remain until the Messines action of 1917.
But Hill 60 was never quiet. Bombardments would begin, apparently without reason, last for a while and end just as unexpectedly. July 5th 1915 saw the beginning of a bombardment which lasted several hours and which included the use of a heavy trench-mortar. At the end of it, seventeen men were found to have been killed. Two bodies were found lying in a pool of water seventy yards away. Others were badly mangled. Private Woods was found in eight pieces.
All seventeen men were buried the next day in a little cemetery near to a dressing-station just off the railway-cutting, where the Dorsets had their dug-outs. When the diarist made his notes, recalling the bombardment, the deaths and the burials, he mentioned only one man - Private Woods - by name, presumably because of the horrific manner in which he died.
Because this one name was given it was possible to locate a grave and to find, with it, the graves of the other 16, buried in one row, all with the same date-of-death. Because the name of Harry Woods was known, we can know the names of the others, and we can know how they died. We can read their names in the cemetery register and learn a little of their lives from the entries there.
Of Harry Woods himself, however, there is little information. The cemetery register gives only the details given on the gravestone; number, regiment and date-of-death.
Despite having made diligent searches over some years, the present writer has been unable to learn much more about Harry Woods. There is no record of his birth at Shrivenham. There is no record of his having lived at Shaftesbury. No photographs, no letters. He appears to have had no next-of-kin to put his name forward in later years and so his name does not appear on any known war memorial "at home." His Christian name and age were taken from his Army Death Certificate which, together with his gravestone, his single-line entry in a list of soldiers died in the war and that one diary entry (unread for 70 years,) forms the only record of his life.
Today, Harry Woods represents so many of the others.