Lieutenant (later Captain) Charles de Witt WOODYER (‘C’ Coy) Awards: M.i.D., M.C.
Invalided Home: 18 August 1914 Rejoined: 1915
Personal: Charles was born on 9th June 1891 in Wyoming, USA. He was the son of Herbert John Charles Mason (Solicitor) and Gerardine (née de Witte) Woodyer and had 4 younger brothers, John Mason, Herbert Merricks, Francis Freeman and Henry Mawby. [See Footnotes below]
The family arrived back in England on board the S.S. Lucana, at Liverpool, on 12th October 1894, a few months before the birth of Herbert, and the 1901 Census (RG 13/560) finds them living at 75 Devonshire Road, Lewisham, London.
By the next Census (1911 RG 14/8847) the family were still all together at 54 St Michael’s Road, Bedford. Charles was enumerated as “British Army, 2nd Lieutenant“.
The 1919 “Absent Voters’ List” shows Charles de Witt (1st Cheshires), Henry Mawby (Lt. 3rd Beds. Regt.) and John Mason (Lt. 2/11 Rajputs, Indian Army) still resident at 54 St Michael’s Road, Bedford. Charles was on the same list, at the same address, two years later.
On 23rd September 1923, 32 years old Charles sailed from London on the S.S. Omar, bound for Ceylon (Sri Lanka) although the ship’s final destination was Australia. (It could be Charles was visiting his brother, Francis, in Ceylon – Francis died there on 2nd October 1926.)
Charles did make it to New Zealand by the time he married Irene Nellie Scruby in 1929. (The year before she was living at Masterton, Wellington, New Zealand.) It is believed they had 2 children. Irene was a Teacher who had travelled, alone, from Southampton to Auckland, New Zealand, on 2nd February 1922, on the S.S. Remuera. (see Footnote below)
On 12th July 1930 Charles and Irene arrived back at Southampton, from Brisbane, via Colombo (having originated their journey in New Zealand) on the S.S. Largs Bay. Their proposed address was listed as 54 St Michael’s Road, Bedford, the home Charles’ recently widowed mother, Gerardine. (Father, Herbert John, had died on 5th May 1929). Their first child was born there in 1932, although the family cannot be found on the 1939 Register.
Charles died at 7 Vicarage Road, Chester, on 4th October 1964, aged 73. His estate was left to his wife, Irene, valued at £229 (equivalent to about £4500 today – 2020). Irene died in 1978, having moved to Yeovil, Somerset.
Military Service: On 25th March 1911 Charles was among the: “Gentleman Cadets from the Royal Military College (Sandhurst) to be 2nd Lieutenants” (London Gazette, 24 March 1911, p. 2427). He was promoted to Lieutenant on 24th December 1913.
Further promotion, to Temporary Captain, came on 23rd October 1914, becoming a full Captain on 23rd January 1915. On 14th March 1916 Charles moved into the ‘Motor Machine Gun Service‘.
Charles was with the 1st Battalion when it docked in Le Havre on 16th August 1914 and the Battalion disembarked at 4.00 p.m. and marched to their rest camp. However, the War Diary for the 18th reads: “8.30 p.m. Arrived at Le Cateau. Detrained and proceeded to Pommereuil. Lieut. C de W Woodyer remained at Le Cateau sick“. Charles returned to England shortly afterwards so did not take part, with the rest of ‘C’ Company, in the Battle of Audregnies on 24th August 1914.
It is not known when Charles returned to the Battalion. His next mention in the War Diary and other records is on 5th May 1915. Early on the morning of 5th May 1915 the 1st Battalion was ordered forward to the support trenches facing Hill 60. When they got out into the open country around Zillebeke Lake they ran into a heavy shell barrage accompanied by clouds of gas. At this time the gas mask was a primitive affair consisting only of a piece of wadding held over the mouth by elastic bands.
The Battalion War Diary records that it was stationed in the: “Casemates in Ypres and École de Bien Faisance”. The next three days were spent “.. in Brigade Reserve”, but on 5th May it was: “Called out at 8.00 p.m. to move up to support the trenches, Hill 60, trenches 40, 43 & 45 occupied by the enemy. Arrived Larch Wood at Railway Ctting at about 10.20 a.m., drove some of the enemy from vicinity of Larch Wood and 41 and 42 support trenches.”
[N.B. ‘Casemates’ were the tunnels, passageways and rooms built into the ramparts and bastions by the French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban (1633-1707), during the French occupation in the 1680s, were used by French and British troops as shelters, accommodation, medical dressing stations and headquarters from October 1914.]
The Diary continued: “In the evening Bn. occupied trenches as follows: ‘A’ Company in Larch Wood , ‘B’ Coy. in trench 42, with one platoon in 40, ‘C’ Coy in 41 less one platoon in Dump; ‘D’ Company with Bedfords and Norfolks. The K.O.S.B. [Kings Own Scottish Borderers] attacked Hill 60 but without success.”
The 1st Battalion had been very short of officers and Lt. Col. A. de C. Scott, Capt. Savage and Lt. W. Mills were sent to join it from the 2nd Battalion on the 4th May. As well as the loss of their C.O., “Capt. Woodyer; Capt. Savage; 2/Lieutenant Pym and Lieutenant May” were wounded.
Lt.-Col. Arthur De Courcy Scott was killed on the 5th. He had a given long and honourable service to the Regiment and great was the extent of his loss.
He was a man of deep scholarship and charm, known to all ranks as ‘Brother’ Scott and loved by them. Major C.G.E. Hughes took over command of the battalion. [Source: “Ever Glorious” – Bernard Rigby, Chapter 37]
For this action Charles was Mentioned in Despatches, Field Marshall J.D.P. French, 5th April 1915, ( 3rd Supplement of the London Gazette 29200, 22nd June 1915, p. 5994), along with Lieutenant A. Pogson, Quartermaster (Honorary Lieutenant) J. C. Sproule, and 7 other men of the 1st Battalion.
Charles had recovered sufficiently from his wounds by 24/25th May 1915, when he was back with his Company defending Hill 60. Crookenden (p. 52) makes mention in passing when he was being relieved by Lt. Nares.
Charles was reported missing on 27th May 1918, whilst serving with the 11th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment. He had been taken prisoner at “Concevreux” and taken to Karlsruhe. The 11th Battalion War Diary contains few details, only that during the month of May: “Drafts received …. 15 Officers, 302 O.R.“.
The 11th Battalion were among troops being attacked by the Germans on the Aisne and on 27th May, one of a series of offensives, known as the Kaiserschlacht, launched by the Germans in the spring and summer of 1918.
Battalion casualties after the attack were “… 18 Officers and 451 ORs“. After this the unit was declared cadre strength and later absorbed into 1/6 Cheshires. The War Diary at the end of June 1918 noted: “Strength of staff – 8 Officers, 37 O.R.“.
The War Diary entry for 27th May is very sketchy. Captain H.M. Wilkinson, MC, is described as assuming command of the battalion and then being killed in action the following day. However, the Diary includes a 1931 letter from the ‘dead’ Captain himself. He is responding to a request for information, from the Director, Historical Section (Military Branch), about what happened on the 27th. He explained that he was knocked out and left for dead and wouldn’t be able to help much.
Prisoner of War Records show that a “Message Transmitted” on 15th August 1918 stated Charles was a Prisoner at Schweindnitz and a letter sent to his mother on 12th November 1918 (the day after the Armistice) that from 23rd July 1918 he had been at Rastatt Camp (near Baden-baden).
Charles’ Military Cross was issued under the King’s Birthday Honours dated 23rd June 1915, although there is no citation. (London Gazette, p. 6122) The local paper, The “Liverpool Daily Post” (9th August 1915), under the heading “Decoration of War Heroes” reported: reported that he was decorated by the King with his MC at Windsor Castle on 7th August 1915.
“… who had arrived at Windsor the 12.40 train and were driven in Royal carriages to the Castle. These included Captain C. de W. Woodyer, Cheshire Regiment, who was awarded the Military Cross.”
After the War Charles emigrated to New Zealand, where he married (see above). He and his wife, Irene, returned to England in 1930 and he died at 7 Vicarage Road, Chester, on 4th October 1964, aged 73.
Charles’ younger brother, Lt. Herbert Merricks Woodyer (formerly Private 2209, Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps), served in Egypt from 17th November 1914.
Herbert was appointed 2/Lt. 15/Cheshires on 11 November 1916, and whilst serving with the 15th Cheshires he also won the Military Cross, (Gazetted 1st February 1919, p. 1703). The Citation read: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the operations before Wervicq on 30th September 1918. He pushed forward with his company, seizing the railway embankment, and being unable to find the unit on his right, immediately formed a defensive flank, and held on until the troops on his flank came up. His courage and example inspired his men.‘
Charles’ younger brother, Capt. John Mason Woodyer, served with the 2/11 Rajputs, Indian Army. He was posted to Mudros (Gallipoli Campaign) on 5th November 1915.
Charles’ younger brother, 2/Lt. Henry Mawby Woodyer, served in 3rd Bn., Bedfordshire Regiment. He was posted to the BEF in France on 4th October 1916.
Charles’ father-in-law, Pt. 17029 Thomas John Scruby, was 45 years old when he enlisted in Army Service Corps on 23rd June 1915. He was transferred to the Royal Engineers on 5th November 1916.
Charles’ future wife’s brother, Pt. 69410 William Alexander Scruby, 12/13th Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed in action on 25th October 1918, aged 19. He is buried in Grave IV. B. 22. Cross Roads Cemetery, Fontaine-au-Bois.