“A Man, A Medal and A Watch”, Christopher Woodward’s Great War.
Lord Kitchener proposed a new Army of 100,000 volunteers. The call to arms was announced on the 7th of August. The flood of recruits in County Durham continued throughout August and September. Alongside many others who enlisted, was Christopher Woodward, a 26 year old quarryman, who enlisted at Ferryhill on the 8th of September 1914. Every soldier in the vast New Army was given a number, but for each number there was a man, 18011 was the number of Christopher Woodward. The flood of recruits must have had an impact on local employment, the station porters, miners, teachers, quarrymen and local shop-workers all rushed to enlist. William Arnett and William Bayles were both teachers at Dean Bank School; they enlisted into the 8th Battalion of the DLI and were killed in France in 1915.
The recruits were assembled at the Regimental Headquarters based at Fenham Barracks, Newcastle. Such was the numbers that they were tented on the Town Moor. After basic training in England, the battalion was transferred to France in August 1915. So began Christopher Woodward’s Great War.
Having survived the Battle of the Somme, Christopher Woodward remained on the Western Front, the battalion having moved to the Ypres Salient in October 1916. In April 1917, a British aircraft was shot down in “No Man’s Land”. Christopher Woodward was a stretcher bearer sent out to rescue the pilot and observer. The observer was brought to safety, but, under heavy enemy fire, the rescue party had to return to bring back the pilot, who had a broken leg. Charles Olsen, the other stretcher bearer was awarded the Military Medal for his part in the rescue.
In July 1917, whilst in a raiding party, Christopher Woodward was wounded in the leg. Returning to duty in August, a message to the battalion from the OC Canadian Hospital read; “I wish to bring to your attention the gallant conduct of Pte. C. Woodward in giving blood to a patient in this hospital on July 12th, 1917.”
In November 1917 the battalion was posted to Italy. At the end of March 1918, they were all issued with a strange array of kit; fur boots, snow goggles, alpen-stocks, and ice grips. They were heading up to Mount Magnaboschi on the Asiago plateau. After spring on the Venetian plain they were off into the mist and cold of the Dolomites.
In June 1918 everything changed for Christopher Woodward. On the 12th of June, the brigade moved to the left of the line. In expectation of an assault by the Austrians, the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers together with the 12th and 13th Battalions DLI were in the trenches overlooking the Austrians. The 14th of June was eerily quiet. At three o’clock on the 15th a heavy bombardment was started by the Austrians. Old soldiers like Christopher knew what to expect. Four hours later, the Austrians led by “storm troops” of bombers, machine-gunners and men with flame-throwers attacked. A hail of bullets from the machineguns and rifles of the DLI stemmed the advance.
The Austrians established a machine gun in the dead ground in front of the 12th Battalion. Sjt Jack O’Hara, from Merrington Lane, led his section, including Christopher Woodward, to attack the enemy position. They took two prisoners, and killed some of the Austrians who stood their ground; the rest retreated back to their own lines. Christopher Woodward was wounded in the head from a bullet. The ten men were each awarded the Military Medal for the attack.
Christopher Woodward was sent to the Canadian General Hospital, on the Italian Riviera, where he had had an operation to remove the bullet from his head. Leaving the Canadian nurses behind, on the 24th he was moved to France and the Australian Hospitals of No 62 and 57 General Hospitals before being shipped home on the 11th of July on board the Hospital Ship “Warilda”. Almost three years since he last set foot in England.
At some point he was presented with a gold watch by the people of Ferryhill in recognition of his bravery. Thus ended Christopher Woodward’s Great War. Well almost!
Christopher Woodward’s military service didn’t end then, on the 3rd of December 1919, aged 37, he re-enlisted for one year in the Royal Fusiliers, described as “A very suitable man, he has served during the war.” On the 15th of December 1919 he was posted back to Belgium with the Garrison Rifle Unit of the 47th Battalion serving at Ypres and Zonnebeke. When the census was taken on the 28th of August 1920 he was with F Company in Ypres. On the 28th September he was posted to England for demob, leaving on the 12th of October after 5 years and 46 days as a soldier.
John Bradley inherited the watch from his father. Mr. Bradley had been the landlord of The King’s Arms and The White Horse pubs in Ferryhill and had been given the watch in settlement of a debt. John now wishes to return the watch to a descendant if the History Society could help him trace any family members. The watch is inscribed “Presented to Pte. Christopher Woodward 18011 by the inhabitants of Ferryhill on obtaining the M.M. 27-6-18.”
Christopher Woodward lived until 1973, an old man, which leaves only one question to conclude the story. Are there any living relatives of Christopher Woodward so that John Bradley can return Christopher’s watch to them?