Wednesday, January 8, 2014

First World War Centenary. 1: Lance Corporal Peter Wood

Lance Corporal Peter Wood   Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Saturday 29 April 1916


On Saturday, 29th of April, 1916, Pádraig Pearse, the Irish nationalist, issued the following communiqué:
"In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the commandants of the various districts in the City and County will order their commands to lay down arms."
The Easter Rising, the most significant armed struggle since the Rebellion of 1798, was over. To those who had shown the courage of their convictions, the dream of an independent Ireland must have seemed like the rubble which littered the streets of Dublin. 

However, it was not the only unconditional surrender that day. At Kut-al-Amara in Iraq, 3700 miles from Ireland's capital, the British Sixth Indian Division, under the command of General Sir Charles Townshend, laid down its arms to Halil Pasha of the Ottoman army. Over 10,000 men and officers were now prisoners of war. At the time, it was the most humiliating military disaster ever to have befallen the British Army.

On the Western Front, Lance Corporal Peter Wood of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was killed in action at Hulluch (Pas-de-Calais, France).  He was only about 370 miles from home when he died, but it was a world away.

Lance Corporal Peter Wood (1895-1916)

Peter was born in Salford, Lancashire, England on 29 August 1895, the third of five children. He was baptized a Roman Catholic at Mother of God and St. James Church in Pendleton.[7] His father, Walter Wood, whose family came from Cheshire, was a labourer. His mother, Margaret Ann Brennan, whose parents had emigrated from Ireland in the early 1860s, was born in Salford like her husband. Margaret's father, Patrick Brennan, was born in County Leitrim, and her mother, Ann, was from County Meath.  The family lived in the suburb of Pendleton at 24 Doveridge Street. Peter first worked as an assistant in a pork butchers, but shortly before the war he found employment as a carter for an established Pendleton timber merchant called Grant and Aldcroft.  

Timber and Wood-Working Machinery v. 23 (22 Feb 1896)

In 1914, he married Mary Jane Platt, known affectionately as Polly, at St. George’s Church, Charlestown, Pendleton.  Their honeymoon was hardly over when the First World War erupted, and he enlisted in September.  Peter was assigned to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and was trained in Ireland before being sent to France on 20th December 1915. He was 21 when he was killed in action, having managed to survive 132 days on the Western Front.

Peter was assigned to the newly formed 8th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, which was a component of the 48th Brigade in the 16th Irish Division of Kitchener's Second New Army (K2).[1]. The 8th Battalion began training at Buttevant in County Cork, and was then moved to Ballyhooly in June 1915. This "renowned tented camp" was a dismal and unhealthy affair with twelve men to a rain-soaked tent and rutted, muddy roads"[2]. Following months of training in Ireland, the 16th Division left in September 1915 for a final three months of training at Blackdown Camp near Aldershot in Surrey. On the 2nd of December, the 16th Division, proudly marching to the tunes, Garryowen, Come Back to Erin and St. Patrick's Day, was reviewed by Queen Mary. Twelve days later, the battalion received orders to depart, embarking on the 19th December, and landing at Le Havre the next day.  During the early part of 1916, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were introduced to trench warfare in the Loos sector, but their baptism of fire came at Hulluch on the 27th of April.

Battle of Hulluch [3]

First Gas Attack (27 April 1916)

Just before daybreak, the uneasy calm was shattered by the deafening roar of German artillery.  The shelling was concentrated upon Irish troops, who were holding a chalk-pit salient immediately south of Hulluch. Then, just after 5 o'clock in the morning, the bombardment stopped, creating a silence that was punctuated only by birdsong. It could have been a perfect morning, with a clear blue sky and a gentle northeasterly breeze, but the light wind turned out to be a poison chalice.   At 5:20, a dense pall of white smoke could be seen drifting toward the Irish positions. Within the smoke screen was poison gas. In response to a gas alert, the men donned their PH hoods [4] and waited.  Behind the cloud, raiding parties of German infantry advanced, but were repulsed by withering fire.

Aerial view of a gas cloud released at Hulluch

Second Gas Attack (27 April 1916)

Thinking that the worst was over, many soldiers allegedly removed their gas masks [5] only to be surprised by another, quickly ensuing, gas attack. However, some reject this argument of "poor gas discipline" on the part of the troops, and believe that the gas hoods were deficient in the face of such a concentrated and lethal attack.[6]  The second attack was preceded by an artillery bombardment and the detonation of mines, which began at about 5:55 am. Then, at about 7:00 am,  a second cloud of greenish gas was released from 3,800 cannisters. It was much more toxic than the first, inflicting heavy casualties and stultifying the defenders.  This time, the Bavarian troops advancing behind of the gas cloud, were successful in invading the forward trenches, which were occupied by the Inniskillings and Royal Irish of the 49th Brigade.  The German attack was halted and the trenches cleared by a counter-attack of other units of the 16 Division, including the Royal Irish Rifles, Royal Munster Fusiliers and two battalions of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. 

Philip Gibbs (official war correspondent) Times, London, 1 May 1916)

Third Gas Attack (29 April 1916)

It was a tense night. At 3:50 am, a smoke and gas cloud, about 3,000 yards wide, came rolling across no-man's land toward the Irish trenches. The deadly concoction of chlorine and phosgene hardly had time to dissipate when a second cloud was unleashed fifteen minutes later. In a trench, known as 'The Kink', nearly every man was killed by gas, even though some were found with their gas masks in place. This was followed by an intense artillery bombardment, which lasted about ten minutes.  Then, the northeasterly breeze unexpectedly reversed, and blew the gas back upon the Germans trenches, becoming like Ethelwyn Wetherald's

The wind of death that silently
Enshroudeth friend and enemy.

The 16th (Irish) Division was fortunate in the dedication and bravery of its chaplain, Father William Doyle, SJ, who described the following scene in a letter home:

"There they lay, scores of them (we lost 800, nearly all from gas) in the bottom of the trench, in every conceivable posture of human agony : the clothes torn off their bodies in a vain effort to breathe ; while from end to end of that valley of death came one low unceasing moan from the lips of brave men fighting and struggling for life."

Peter Wood gave up the struggle on the 29th of April. His body was never recovered, perhaps due to the intense shelling that followed the gas attack. He is remembered on the Loos Memorial.

Loos Memorial. Panel 128

Peter Wood

Medal Card
(click on image to enlarge)

     1914-15 Star          Victory Medal        British War Medal

Ireland's Memorial Records 1914 - 1918

The Eccles Journal reported in 1916:
Mrs Wood, who resides with her sister-in-law, at 13 Long St, Swinton, has received official news that her husband, Lance-Corporal Peter Wood (Royal Dublin Fusiliers) was killed in action, in France, on April 29th. The deceased young soldier – he was only 20 years of age – enlisted in September 1914, and had been on active service for the past five months. Prior to enlisting he was a carter in the employ of Messrs Grant and Aldcroft, timber merchants, of Pendleton. His parents reside in Earl St, Pendleton, and he is better known in that locality than in Swinton. He was promoted to Lance-Corporal since arriving in France. The first information of the sad news came from a sergeant in the same company, but no details were given – Pte John Wood (Manchester regiment), an elder brother of Peter, lost his right arm through a shrapnel wound received at La Bassee in October 1914, and has now been discharged from the Army.

Last Will and Testament


The following soldiers of the 8th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died on the 29th of April, 1916.

Name                                      Rank             Service No. Age

BAIRD, R                                               Lance Corporal  16520             
CARROLL, J                                         Private                  18894             
PAUL, PETER                                      Private                  21435              29
TAYLOR, F                                            Private                  14025             
TAYLOR, M                                            Lance Corporal  13994             27
CALLAGHAN, PATRICK                     Private                  19052              32
COTTER, CORNELIUS                      Private                  14505             36
DOYLE, J                                               Lance Corporal  22839             
GALLAGHER, CHRISTOPHER         Private                  19705             19
McALINDON, HUGH                           Private                  24559              27
MURPHY, J                                           Private                  24971             
MURTAGH, CHRISTOPHER             Lance Corporal  17624              23
THORPE, HAROLD                             Private                  14414              26
CUMMINS, D                                        Private                  18803             
GRAY, EDWARD                                  Private                  23753              22
CALLENDER, B                                   Lance Corporal  22218             
CARROLL, CHRISTOPHER              Private                  23218              23
WOOD, PETER                                    Lance Corporal  14056              21
CONNOR, PHILIP                               Private                  16351               42
HARVEY, GEORGE                             Lance Corporal  24561             
KEARNEY, MICHAEL                          Private                  19810              27
LAMBERT, WILLIAM                            Private                  13942             
BYRNE, MICHAEL                               Private                  18854             
CONWAY, DENIS                                Private                  25732             
HAYES, THOMAS                                 Serjeant               14496              29
JOYCE, STEPHEN                              Private                  14471              24
LEE, LAWRENCE                                Lance Corporal  23488             
WALSH, JACOB                                   Private                  13938              19
BRENNAN, JOHN                               Private                  17089             
KENNEDY, JAMES                              Private                  16963             
MACKEN, THOMAS                             Private                  18807              22
McKINLEY, JOSEPH                           Serjeant               13943             
WALLACE, JOHN                                Private                  8644               
CAHALL, WILLIAM                               Private                  22643              24
HENRY, THOMAS                                Private                  9438               
HICKEY, MICHAEL                              Private                  21132              36
MILLER, ALEXANDER                        Private                  21698             
HAYES, DAVID                                     Private                  22775             
KELLY, THOMAS                                 Corporal               9365               
ANDREWS, PATRICK                         Private                  8537                24
BOYCE, EDWARD                               Private                  14538              35
HYLAND, LUKE                                   Private                  22778             
McHUGH, STEPHEN                          Private                  7480                30
CONROY, DANIEL                              Private                  5726                34
KANE, THOMAS                                   Private                  19996              38
McCAHILL, FERAGIL                          Private                  16968             
WEIR, JOHN                                         Private                  9596                19
ASHTON, ANTHONY                           Corporal               10576             28
CONNELL, JAMES                              Private                  16744              25
DALY, CHRISTOPHER                       Lance Corporal  14448             
GILMORE, PATRICK                           Private                  18805             
GOOLEY, JAMES                                 Private                  14501             
O'NEILL, MICHAEL                              Private                  23330              20
HAIDE, JAMES                                     Private                  14006              35
O'DRISCOLL, PATRICK                     Lance Corporal  13756              37
O'FRILL, FRANCIS                              Private                  14514              32
NAYLOR, JOHN                                   Private                  14578              36
O'REILLY, ALEXANDER                     Private                  21593              23
O'REILLY, HENRY                               Private                  12097             
PICKETT, JAMES                                 Private                  16849              30
QUIGLEY, WILLIAM                             Serjeant               4524               
HARTE, ANDREW                               Private                  16238              19
HANLON, WILLIAM                              Private                  14030             
NOLAN, JAMES                                    Private                  14015              27
ROONEY, FRANCIS                            Corporal               16736             25
STRANGWAYS, GUY ERNEST         Private                  23387             
RUSSELL, JOSEPH                           Private                  19097              27
TERRETT, THOMAS                           Lance Corporal  21779             
SPILLANE, EDWARD                         Private                  22838              17
RUSSELL, THOMAS                           Serjeant               14513              35
SHERIDAN, PATRICK                        Private                  14428             
TRACEY, MICHAEL                             Private                  22741              39
TRAINOR, FRANCIS                           Private                  23479             
SIMPSON, JOHN                                 Corporal               14477              30
TRAYNOR, W                                       Private                  16882             
DONOHOE, MICHAEL                        Private                  22482             
EIVERS, WILLIAM                                Lance Corporal  17098             
DOYLE, JOHN                                      Private                  19972              27
FINNEGAN, JOSEPH                          Private                  14437              36
FITZHARRIS, THOMAS                       Private                  14447             
DUNNE, HUGH                                   Private                  22201               50
DUNNE, JOSEPH                               Private                  14020             
DOCHERTY, JOHN                            Co. Sgt. Major      14507              37
DOYLE, PATRICK                                Private                  22498              18
COLE, JOHN                                        Private                  21225              21
HYNES, J                                              Private                  14530             
MULLEN, SYLVESTER                       Lance Sgt.          14433               37             
Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Peter's brother, John Wood, was an Old Contemptible.


Peter Wood is commemorated on the walls of the lych gate of St.Peter's Church, Swinton
IN MEMORy by Pierre Vandervelden


[1] 48th Brigade (16th Irish Division): Commander: Brig. Gen.  Kenneth .James Buchanan ; 8 Btn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers commanded by Lt. Col. Sir Frederick William Shaw, DSO : (buried in Rathfarnham).
[2] Irishmen or English soldiers? : the times and world of a southern Catholic Irish man (1876-1916) enlisting in the British army during the First World War (Liverpool University Press, 1995)168.
[3] The description of the battle is based on several sources: Father William Doyle, S.J. (1922:231ff.) ; The Irish on the Somme, vol.2 (1917:130ff.) ; Literary Digest History of the World War, vol.3 (1919:172-73) ; Gas Warfare Bulletin. 1, German Methods of Offense (1918:26-30) ; Literary Digest v.52:20 May 1916, p.1484 ; Story of the Great War, vol.10 (1916:2910 ; Gas and Flame in Modern War (1918) p. 93ff.
[4] Method of wearing the PH Helmet in Gas Warfare Bulletin. 1, German Methods of Offense (1918)
[5] See Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (v.10) 1918: page 298 ; Scientific American. Suppl. 85 (1918) page 142.
[6] Irish Regiments in the Great War ; World War I Gas Warfare Tactics and Equipment ; History of the Great War. Medical Services : Diseases of the War, v. 2 (p.282-284)
The gas used was a deadly mixture of chlorine and phosgene: see  Gas Warfare Bulletin. 1, German Methods of Offense (1918) 
[7] Baptism: 29 Sep 1895, Mother of God and St James, Pendleton, Lancashire, England
Peterus Wood - filius Gaulberti Wood, Protest. & Margaritae Annae (formerly Brennan)
Born: 29 Aug 1895
Abode: 24 Doveridge St.
Godparents: Arthur Carter; Rosanna Brennan
Baptised by: Jacobo Ryan
Register: Baptisms 1883 - 1897, Page 654, Entry 175
Source: Salford Diocesan Archives