Soldier Ancestor

My grandfather, like myself and my father, Alexander Wood, died when I was an infant. I easily traced his vital records but apart from these and a few of my father’s tales, I knew little about him.  He was born on 30th July 1893 in Rose Street, Gorbals, married on 18th July 1919 in Chalmers Street Hall, Glasgow, and died on 1st April 1952 in Kempsthorn Road, Pollock.  I knew that he had served in the 1914-18 War in the 9th (Glasgow Highlanders) Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, and had re-enlisted in 1939 and that he had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1918: the one memento of him which I possessed, apart from a solitary World War II photograph, was a card version of the London Gazette announcement of his DCM.

I had also traced, via the National Archives, his medal rolls.  His 1914 star qualifying date was 5 November 1914 the date of his arrival in France. He was awarded a Territorial Efficiency Medal in August 1923 and was therefore still a Territorial then.  I wanted to find more.

The Highland Light Infantry amalgamated with the Royal Scots Fusiliers to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers.  Their regimental museum is in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow: http://rhf.org.uk/rhf/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=24&Itemid=37 .

I started my search there and was in luck.

A superbly helpful librarian found for me the 9th HLI scrapbook.  I found two photographs of my grandfather. (A later visit unearthed a further photograph.)  The first shows a group of joking private soldiers at Territorial camp in 1914.
The other is again at TA camp, but in the 1920s and shows the battalion’s warrant officers, among them my grandfather.

I also was given a copy of Shoulder to Shoulder, a short type-script  history of the Glasgow Highlanders in the 1914-18 War by A.K. Reid who had commanded the battalion.  Reid tells of the battle of High Wood on the Somme, where, on 15 July 1916, the Glasgow Highlanders suffered 421 casualties.  My grandfather’s company advanced towards High Wood.  “As they advanced the Highlanders were simply mown down like grass.  From the front and right flank deadly fire was poured in on them.  Among the first casualties were Lieut. Ogg leading the first wave of B Company and 2nd Lieut. Terry Todd, who fell wounded while gallantly leading his platoon in support.  Sergt. Wood carried on, but soon he too was wounded.”

It also makes one other mention of my grandfather.  The Battle of the Lys, April 1918, followed the German spring offensive.  ” Sergeant Wood with A Company’s listening post heard singing and the sound of men marching up the road; evidently a good many of them.  He got word back, and two Lewis guns were opened on the road.  Cries and the sounds of a stampede were heard.  Sergeant Robertson and three men were sent out to investigate.  They found that the intruders had been a ration party who had bolted, leaving their loads behind them.  Two Germans, one of them wounded, were found hiding in a house.  They were taken prisoner, but the most acceptable part of the capture was the enemy’s rations – chiefly brown bread and sausages, with a liberal allowance of cigars and cigarettes for everyone.”

I was also put in contact with Alec Weir who was writing the Glasgow Highlanders’ history. Researching any soldier is always helped by finding a history of his unit.  Alec Weir’s Come on Highlanders! (Sutton, 2005) provides invaluable background material.

The most important sources of evidence which I have found however were his various military service records, secured as his next of kin from the Army Personnel Centre (http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/WhatWeDo/Personnel/ServiceRecords/MakingARequestForInformationHeldOnThePersonnelRecordsOfDeceasedServicePersonnel. )

My grandfather enlisted as a Territorial in April 1913 aged 19 years and 8 months.  He was employed as a warehouseman with Aitken Campbell. Here is the first mystery thrown up by these papers.   After the war, my grandfather’s occupation was normally given as a journeyman iron dresser but here he is noted as a handkerchief manufacturer’s warehouseman.  His address was 49 Adelphi Street in Glasgow’s Gorbals.  He was 5 feet 5 inches tall.

He was embodied on 5th August 1914.  He was, in other words, with the rest of the TA, called up to full-time service.  He joined the British Expeditionary Force on the 4th November 1914, the date his battalion sailed for France.  Various appointments and promotions are noted: to Lance Corporal in January 1916, to Corporal in June 1916.  He is noted as wounded on 15 July 1916, the already noted, fateful attack at High Wood. The one anomaly here is that Reid stated he was a sergeant at the time of High Wood.  In fact he was still a corporal.  It is likely that this is a simple error by Reid who, writing his memoir well after the war, recalled my grandfather’s role but confused the rank he ultimately attained with his rank at the time.  There was certainly not in the battalion, according to Weir’s book, any other substantive Sergeant Wood with whom Reid might have been confused.

He is noted as having been granted five days leave in December 1916 from the 6th Reserve Battalion to which he may have been posted after being wounded.  He was appointed Lance-Sergeant, back with the 9th Battalion, in October 1917, promoted Sergeant in December 1917 and, in May 1918, granted a bounty of £10.   He was granted his second leave of the war, leaving his unit on 18th July and returning on 18th August 1918.  He served only a further six weeks however at the front, coming home on the 30th September 1918.  His Distinguished Conduct Medal was announced in the London Gazette on the 3rd October 1918.  He served the remainder of the war at home, with the 5th Reserve Battalion of the HLI and the 3rd Battalion.  He was demobilised to civilian life in March 1919 and married four months later.  His was formally discharged in March 1920, his character being noted as ‘Very Good’.  One other mystery remains from the early records.  His next of kin is noted, not as any of his family, but as ‘R. Sword (Friend), 19 Flemington Street, Glasgow’.  Who, we wonder, was R Sword?

The soldiering bug had however bitten.  He re-enlisted in the 9th HLI on 7th July 1920, was promoted Corporal and appointed Lance-Sergeant nine days later. His height was 5 feet 5½ inches, half an inch taller than in 1913.  He had a fresh complexion, light brown eyes and brown hair, weighed 135 pounds and was a Presbyterian.  He was promoted sergeant in 1922 and Company Sergeant Major in 1924.  The photograph of the splendid Warrant Officers at Gailes Camp is from the period 1924-26, since my grandfather is wearing a Company Sergeant Major’s badge of rank.  He re-engaged annually, attended annual camp until 1926 and was discharged in 1927.   Even that however did not end his soldiering career.

On the 29th of August 1939, aged 46, five days before the outbreak of World War II, he re-enlisted, in the Glasgow Highlanders.  His occupation (labourer), his address and his previous service are noted on his attestation papers.  He is now allegedly 5 feet 7 inches, although to have grown an inch and half between the ages of 26 and 46 seems unlikely!  He was also now 147 pounds.  Within days of enlistment he was acting Sergeant, a promotion confirmed in December 1939 when he was transferred to the HLI’s 12th Home Defence Battalion.  His next of kin is initially noted as my father but his name is scored through and the name of Mary, his next oldest child substituted.  This was hardly surprising as my father was by this time himself a regular soldier and not at home for any communications.  In July 1940 he attended a Lewis Gun course.

He was granted 48 hours embarkation leave in October 1940.  Family legend now enters.  My own father received a telegram asking that he request compassionate leave since my grandfather was about to embark for overseas.  He applied and it was granted.  When he met his father in Glasgow he indicated his disbelief that a 47-year old was being sent overseas.  It was literally true.  It had gained my father a brief leave but grandfather’s overseas posting was to the Shetlands.

On the 21st of November he was admitted to camp hospital but moved next day to the Military Hospital, Scalloway.  While in hospital, he faced a Field General Court Martial under Sections 15 and 19 of Army Act.  Section 15 relates to absence without leave and section 19 to drunk and disorderly behaviour.  The first charge was struck out, he was found not guilty on the second and he returned to duty.

After seven days leave in February 1941, he returned to Shetland for a month, was granted further leave and was discharged in April 1941 in consequence of Para 390 (XVIII) (a) of King’s Regulations, “His services being no longer required for the duties for which he enlisted.”  It is uncertain what occasioned the court martial or whether there was any relationship between either the court martial or his hospitalisation and his demobilisation.  He had completed one year and 225 days service.  In March 1951 he applied for his 1939-45 War medal.  It was dispatched to him in November 1951, five months before his death.

From medal rolls, regimental histories, regimental museums, but above all from a soldier’s service records, the human details become apparent.  Some of the data poses questions rather than answers them, but few other documents uncover such fine detail about the individual ancestor.

 

The above article was first published in the June 2012 edition of Newsletter, the journal of the Glasgow and South West Scotland Family History Society.


 

1 Comment
  1. I have interest in the 9th Batt. H.L.I., as I have the 14 star trio to Captain G.H. Warren 9th H.L.I.,his brother Captain T.H.H. Warren was also in the 9th Batt. H.L.I. both brothers were wounded. If anyone has any info on either of them please contact me also the location of T.H.H.’s medals 14,-15 star trio.

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