Private Walter Woods

Regiment: 18th (Pioneer) Battalion  Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment
Service no: PW 6397
Date and place of birth: 1st quarter 1876 at Headley, near Alton, Hants.
Date and place of death: 26 October 1917 (aged 41) south of Ypres, Flanders

 Private Walter Woods was born in 1876 in Hampshire in 1876 the son of a farm labourer. He married in 1900 and by 1911 he and his wife had had eight children of whom only two were still living. He joined the Middlesex Regiment and died of wounds following fighting during the third battle of Ypres.

Family background

Walter Woods was born in the second quarter of 1876 in the village of Headley near Bordon in the Alton registration district of Hampshire. He was the son of James Woods (1838 – 1910) a farm labourer and his wife Mary née Fyfield (1842 – 1918) and one of at least four children.

The family moved to the Chithurst area before the 1891 census and Walter’s two elder brothers were both working and his younger sister was still at school. There is no occupation given for Walter himself.

In 1900, Walter Woods married Elizabeth Esther Cook. She was the older sister of George Cook who also died during the Great War and is listed on the Iping memorial. The young couple lived initially with Mary Cook’s widowed grandmother at Malthouse near Cobed Hall, Chithurst. The 1901 census listed Walter Woods as a road labourer.

The couple must have had a difficult life since the 1911 Census reveals that they had then been married for eleven years. Eight children had been born to them during that time but only two were then surviving: Florence aged 5 and Ethel aged 2. The family was living at Copy Hall, Chithurst. Walter Woods was working as a general labourer.

Military service

It is not clear where or when Walter Woods enlisted into the army. He was a member of the 18th Service Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment (1st Public Works Pioneers). The Pioneer Battalions were set up by the army to do many of the general labouring tasks necessary to keep the army supplied and fighting. These included construction of roads and railways, camps, the movement of supplies etc. Private Woods’ experience and expertise as a road labourer must have made him useful to this unit.

The 18th Battalion was formed in London in January 1915 and after several moves within England landed at Le Havre in November 1915. The 33rd Division to which this Pioneer Battalion was attached took part in various phases of the Battles of the Somme in 1916. In 1917, they were used during the Arras Offensive but the fighting during which Walter Woods lost his life came during the Third Battle of Ypres in October 1917.

Death and commemoration

The battle of Polygon Wood took place between 26 September and 3 October and the 33rd Division was involved in this. The War Diary for the 18th Battalion shows the unit working at Gable Farm near Wulverghem near Ypres during late October 1917. They were working on laying trench board tracks in the extensive trench network in this area. They suffered continuing low numbers of casualties presumably from enemy shelling. For instance one man was listed as wounded on 26 October and two men were killed and four wounded on the previous day.

It is not known when or where Walter Woods sustained the injuries of which he died on 26 October 1917 at the age of 41. His body was buried at the Kandahar Farm Cemetery some 14 kilometres south of Ypres which was then the site of an Advance Dressing Station. It seems likely that he was one of those noted as wounded in the previous days.

His name is listed on the memorial in Iping church.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project