Robert Wood (1892 - 1916)
Brother of Geoffrey Wood and Richard Wood. Robert volunteered to join the Army in September 1914. He served with the Border Regiment at Gallipoli and later on the Western Front, until his death whilst leading a Trench Raid.
- Died in the Great War
- 51.970381, 1.017431
|Robert Basil Wood
|2nd Battalion, Border Regiment
|Date of Death:
|12th October 1916
|Plot I, Row J, Grave 14, Tancrez Farm Cemetery, near Le Bizet, Belgium
Family Background and Early Life
Robert Basil Wood – or Basil as he was called by his family – was born on 24th December 1892 at his parents’ home at Melways, 28 Greencroft Gardens, in Hampstead, London.
Basil’s father, Ernest was the third son of John and Francis Wood, of Melton Hall near Woodbridge, and a Solicitor by profession. Ernest had married Katherine Grace Poingdestre from London in 1888. Basil was the fourth of Ernest and Grace’s six children (though one died in infancy), all of whom were sons.
Like most children of his class, Basil was privately educated at boarding school. He first attended Eaton House (a Preparatory Boarding School) in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and later – between 1906 and 1911 – the well known independent educational establishment, Uppingham School in Rutland.
The fact that Basil was able to remain in education until he was 18 was an indication of his privileged background, as most children at the time left school at the age of 13.
Basil’s parents left London, and moved to the White House on Rectory Hill, East Bergholt at some point between 1901 and 1906. 1 Ernest and Katherine renamed the property Melton Cottage. It has since reverted to its original name. Basil and his brothers almost certainly spent a large part of their school holidays there.
After leaving Uppingham in April 1911, Basil joined an engineering company in Sandycroft, Cheshire.
Joins the Army
On 5th September 1914, one month after the outbreak of war, Basil enlisted as a Private in the 17th Service Battalion, of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. Towards the end of the year, he applied for a Commission to become an officer. He asked to serve in the 6th Battalion of the Border Regiment. 2 Basil’s uncle, Lewis Ironside Wood was a pre-war officer in the Border Regiment, and at that time commanded its 2nd Battalion in France. Lewis Ironside Wood died of wounds on 16th May 1915 and is buried at Le Touret Military Cemetery, near Bethune, France. One of the Referees on his application was the Rector of East Bergholt, the Reverand T.F. Paterson
Basil was transferred as a Private to the 6th Battalion of the Border Regiment on 13th March 1915, and at the end of that month he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.
It is distinctly possible that Basil then left the Battalion to undertake an officer’s training course. In July, the 6th Battalion left the U.K. bound for the Dardanelles, arriving on the Gallipoli Peninsula towards the end of the month.
It seems that Basil only went out to Gallipoli in the September. He actually joined the Battalion “in the field” on 6th October, at which time they were in Reserve near Suvla Bay.
Due to the insanitary conditions, there was a far larger proportion of casualties due to disease on the Peninsula, than on the Western Front.
It was whilst Basil was at Gallipoli that Ernest and Katherine were notified that their son Geoffrey, a Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, had been killed in action. 3 Geoffrey Dayrell Wood was killed on 13th October 1915, during the Battle of Loos, France, aged 24. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the Missing, near Lens, France.
The 6th Battalion went into the line on 11th November, but within a few days Basil had been admitted to hospital – he was found to be suffering from Enteric Fever, a form of Typhoid.
Hospital and return to England
Basil was initially sent to hospital in Alexandria, Egypt and in December he was evacuated to England. Upon arriving in England on 18th December, he was admitted to 1st London General Hospital, Camberwell
Discharged from hospital on 25th January 1916, Basil seems to have spent most if not all of the next three months convalescent leave at home in East Bergholt.
The findings of a Medical Board at the end of April declared that Basil was unfit for General Service in the U.K., but he was fit for Light Duty. Basil therefore reported to the Regiment’s 10th Reserve Battalion at Seaford, in East Sussex. By the middle of June, he had recovered sufficiently for another Medical Board to find him “fit for General Service”. Within weeks Basil was posted to France to join his uncle’s old battalion, the 2nd.
Basil joined his new battalion on 21st July 1916, at which time they were in billets, having spent most of the previous 3 weeks involved in the fighting during the opening weeks of the Battle of the Somme. The 2nd Borders were again committed to the Battle of the Somme in early Sept, when they spent four days in the line south of Delville Wood.
In mid-September, the Battalion were sent north, to what was then the relatively quiet sector of Le Touquet on the Franco- Belgian border, near Armentieres. However, on the Western Front quiet never meant safe.
On 7th October, after completing two six- day tours in the trenches of their new sector (separated by a spell in Brigade Reserve), the 2nd Borders went into billets at Pont de Nieppe.
Soon afterwards, the Battalion received orders for a raid to be carried out against the German trenches approximately half a mile south of the crossroads hamlet of Le Gheer, on the night of 12th October 1916. 4 Le Gheer is situated on the edge of Ploegsteert Wood, approximately 8 miles south of Ypres (Ieper). The aim of the raid was identify the enemy units there, take prisoners, capture or destroy material and inflict casualties. Basil was to lead the Assault Party.
The Battalion’s War Diary, written the following day, describes what happened:
“The Battalion remained in billets in Brigade Reserve.
In accordance with instructions from Headquarters, 20th Infantry Brigade, arrangements had been made for a raid on the enemy trenches to be carried out by the Battalion. The raiding party had been selected & the ground continually patrolled at night. All arrangements were completed and the assault fixed to take place at 7.30 pm 12/10/1916.
At 6.58pm the raiding party (consisting of 2nd Lieut S.B. BENDLE (OC ) 2nd Lieut R.B. WOOD (O.C. Assault) Lieut R.G.HENNESSY (O.C. Enterprise) & 35 Other Ranks) was assembled at their rendezvous.
When the barrage commenced 2nd Lieut R.B. WOOD led the way, to the triangular trench in front of the point of attack. Unfortunately No.1 and 2 parties following in rear of him came under heavy Machine Gunfire from the right & losing both leaders (save for a few isolated cases) took no further part in the raid. 2nd Lieut R.B. WOOD’s party pushed on & finding the wire cut satisfactorily entered the German trench at the point of attack. 2 Lieut WOOD assumed command of the Right party & himself bombed down the German trench accounting for two Germans who were seen to fall. This officer went back to find the remainder of the raiders & during the journey was wounded, dying shortly afterwards.
The 10 minutes allotted having elapsed his party retired.
Of the left party 3 men entered the German trench. A German who was making his way towards what appeared to be a fixed rifle was bombed. This party also retired bringing in some wounded.
The fact that not more than 8 or 9 men entered the German trench was most probably owing to both leaders being wounded by Machine Gun Fire early in the venture.” 5 Extract from the War Diary of the 2nd Battalion, the Border Regiment, October 1916 (National Archives Ref. WO 95/ 1655).
The Trench raid had cost the Battalion 13 casualties, 3 of whom – including Basil – had been killed.
On 16th October, the Wood family were sent a telegram from the War Office, stating “Deeply regret to inform you 2 Lt RB Wood Border Regt was killed in action Oct 12th. The Army Council express their sympathy.”
Just 3 days earlier a similar telegram had been delivered to Melton Cottage, advising Ernest and Katherine that their eldest son Richard, had been killed in action on 9th October. 6 Lieutenant Colonel Richard Poingdestre Wood, M.C., commanding the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire and Lancaster Regiment, was killed in action on 9th October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, aged 26. Richard has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
Ernest and Katherine erected two tablets in memory to their sons, on the South Wall of the Chancel in St. Mary’s Church. They sold Melton Cottage in 1925 and moved away from East Bergholt though Katherine returned to the village following Ernest’s death in 1938. She then lived at Commandree on Gaston Street until her own death in 1944.
Basil was buried in Tancrez Farm Cemetery, just over a mile from where he fell. He is the only one of Ernest and Grace’s three children who died in the Great War, to have a known grave.
Copyright © Mark Ashmore, 2024
- Died in the Great War
- 51.970381, 1.017431
- 1Ernest and Katherine renamed the property Melton Cottage. It has since reverted to its original name.
- 2Basil’s uncle, Lewis Ironside Wood was a pre-war officer in the Border Regiment, and at that time commanded its 2nd Battalion in France. Lewis Ironside Wood died of wounds on 16th May 1915 and is buried at Le Touret Military Cemetery, near Bethune, France.
- 3Geoffrey Dayrell Wood was killed on 13th October 1915, during the Battle of Loos, France, aged 24. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the Missing, near Lens, France.
- 4Le Gheer is situated on the edge of Ploegsteert Wood, approximately 8 miles south of Ypres (Ieper).
- 5Extract from the War Diary of the 2nd Battalion, the Border Regiment, October 1916 (National Archives Ref. WO 95/ 1655).
- 6Lieutenant Colonel Richard Poingdestre Wood, M.C., commanding the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire and Lancaster Regiment, was killed in action on 9th October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, aged 26. Richard has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.