14841 Private Richard Charles Greenwood
13/East Surrey Regiment.
Died of Wounds received in Action, 25 April 1917.
Buried in the Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme, near Albert.
Richard’s place the Greenwood family
In 2015 I was asked to research the men commemorated on the World War Two Face of Ham’s Parish War Memorial, one of whom was Robert Ernest Greenwood.
In the process of researching Robert Greenwood, I needed to go back to his great grandfather, the founding father of the Greenwoods in Ham, a man whose many descendants have long been ‘part and parcel’ of Ham. The research I had done on that family in 2015, was to save considerable time when I discovered there was yet another Greenwood to research—a casualty in World War One, whose name is not on Ham’s Parish War Memorial.
Ham’s informal Roll of Honour, headed ‘The European War’.
The discovery of Richard Greenwood as a casualty of the Great War was made known to me in October 2018 when I was sent news of an unexpected find in St Andrew’s Church, something that seemed to be a temporary, handwritten Roll of Honour. This list included the name Richard Greenwood. but that name does not appear on the World War One face. I felt fairly confident that this man must be related to the Greenwoods of Ham and that Richard could well be another to add to my list of those Missing from The Memorial.
Like Robert, Richard was a great grandson of the legendary Cornelius Greenwood. Richard’s father, Charles Greenwood, was the son of another Richard Greenwood (1843–1882), the youngest son of Cornelius’s first marriage.
We start Richard’s story with his great grandparents, Cornelius Greenwood (1806–1899) and his first wife, Susan Stocker (1817–1844).
Record of the baptism of Cornelius Greenwood Polden
Richard’s great grandfather was born Cornelius Greenwood POLDEN in about 1806 in Ewelne, near Benson in Oxfordshire where he was baptised on 29 December 1806, and identified as the natural son of Maria Polden. The insertion of Greenwood into the baptismal record may have been intended as a pointer to the child’s natural father, though it could also be to a relative on his mother’s side or to a benefactor.
The first record found for him as Cornelius Greenwood is the entry for his marriage to Susan Stocker in Isleworth in 1835. The couple lived in Molesey, moving later to Ham, where Cornelius found work as an agricultural labourer. He moved rapidly up the ranks to Bailiff and Market Gardener, ultimately achieving wider fame as one of the ‘agitators’ who took on the Earl of Dysart in the case known as The Defence of Ham Common.
Susan, Cornelius’s first wife, was the eldest daughter of Samuel Stocker, and his wife, Sarah Knight. Samuel’s working life, as a Bargeman and Barge Carter, seems to have been spent along and on the River Thames. After the birth of their daughters, Susan and Sarah, the family moved from East Molesey to Petersham in about 1820, where they joined the community of boat builders and watermen based there. The Stockers lived first in a cottage in the Sandpits area and later in nearby Sudbrook Lane. Five sons were added to the Stocker family after their move to Petersham and all were baptised at St Peter’s.
Susan died about the time of Richard’s first birthday, and just days after the birth of her youngest child, Ann, who died the following year aged 9 months. With Susan’s death, Cornelius was left a widower, with six children under the age of eight.
On 20 October 1845, eighteen months after the death of his wife, Cornelius Greenwood was married in St Andrew’s Church to a Ham lass, Louisa Brown (1821–1880). The entry in the Marriage Register has him down as a bachelor, rather than as a widower!
It would have been difficult for Cornelius at the time, and later for his second wife, Louisa, to cope with so many very young children, and that on top of the children likely to be born of that second marriage, so it is quite possible that the children’s maternal grandparents were called on to help with their care. Certainly the youngest, Richard, was recorded in 1851 in Sudbrook Lane, Petersham, with his maternal grandmother, Sarah Stocker, This child was the grandfather of our Richard Charles Greenwood.
Researching Richard Charles Greenwood
The starting point for this research was the name Richard Greenwood on that temporary Roll of Honour, which was maintained at St Andrew’s Church during the Great War. While Alec Willows, recorded on that Roll of Honour, was not commemorated on the Parish War Memorial, Richard had a right to be there, as he fulfilled one of the criteria for commemoration—he had been born in the parish.
A search for Richard Greenwood on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s database generated seven Greenwoods with the first name Richard and another nine Greenwoods identified by an initial R (i.e. including R with or without another initial). It was R C Greenwood who turned out to be a match. The information for Richard Charles Greenwood hinted at a connection with the Richmond and Kingston area, since this soldier was recorded as born in Richmond, and a Private in the East Surrey Regiment. It was not unusual for residents of Kingston and Richmond to regard the East Surreys as their preferred ‘local’ regiment and to choose to enlist in that regiment rather than in one of the many London Regiments.
Richard was born on 17 August 1897 in New Road, Ham and was privately baptised a week later, on 25 August 1897, the parish register describing the infant as the “son of Charles and Edith Greenwood”. Perhaps the loss of their first child, made the couple keen to have Richard baptised as early as possible. The GRO index entry for his birth records SLADE as the maiden name of his mother and with this information, a search was made for the marriage of his parents, revealing that Richard’s father, Charles, had married Edith Sarah Slade at St Andrew’s on 14 April 1895. The baptismal register seems to make clear that Richard was a native of Ham, and therefore could indeed have had his name included on its War Memorial.
Charles and Edith’s first child, John, died in 1895 soon after his birth. He was followed by Richard Charles, born also in Ham in 1897, and then by William, born in Richmond, in 1900. The family was living in Canbury Park Road in 1901, but had moved to Southfields, Wandsworth, where Edith Ada (1903), Alice Lilian (1905), Frederick (1908) and James (1911) were born.
Richard enlisted in the 13th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment—the Wandsworth battalion—a Pals’ battalion, but also a Service battalion which had been raised by the Mayor of Wandsworth in June 1915 and adopted by the War Office two months later. He attested as Charles Greenwood which could suggest that he was known as Charles to his family and friends; his name was, however, recorded officially as Richard in the two censuses in which he was enumerated. He enlisted on 5 November 1915, giving his age as 19 years 1 month, though he had only relatively recently celebrated his 18th birthday. Following training at Witley, at Aldershot and at Blackdown, his battalion arrived in France in the first week of June 1916, one month before the Battle of the Somme began. Richard would have seen some action in the Battle of the Somme, which he survived.
For a Service Battalion, the 13th seems to have been involved in as much fighting action on the Front line as some fighting battalions and a large number of casualties. Working Parties were in reality more exposed to shelling than were men in the trenches, and often came under fire intended to disrupt the essential work they were carrying out. Even during otherwise quiet periods, these battalions could experience the loss of some lives.
To give a taste of a Richard’s war, on a “quiet day” in September 1916, the battalion provided “large working parties” for the Royal Engineers with the remaining soldiers deployed to improve the battalion’s billets at Maroc, not far from where the Battle of Loos had been waged a year earlier. The 13th battalion had been billeted in cellars which needed to be cleaned, whitewashed and strengthened. With the return of the working parties, work to improve the cellars continued for several days “with a view to the approach of winter”. This included laying sandbags on the ‘roofs’ of the cellars, to provide further cover in the ruins under which they had been billeted. While at Maroc, they cannot have slept easily in their “three tier beds” given the accounts of shrapnel shells and rifle grenades being fired towards their billets. The War Diary shows they were also under fire when on duty in their support and front trenches. Even in that week of relative “quiet”, there were casualties and far too soon after, came intensive action. Lighter moments were sometimes recorded; one night members of the battalion managed to place announcements in German on the enemy’s wire, letting them know that Romania had declared war on Germany and Austria. The diary also records their sending the same messages into the enemy trenches by means of rifle grenades.
While Richard’s Medal Roll index card does not even record the fact of his death, the record of his effects confirms that he died “of wounds” on 25 April 1917.
The puzzle behind the “died of wounds”
Because so many records have been damaged or destroyed, when a soldier is recorded as dying of wounds, it is difficult to work out just when he was wounded. He may have been stabilised, at least enough to be moved further away from the action for treatment, and could thus have survived for an unspecified time thereafter.
Here’s how it worked. The Army operated a casualty evacuation chain with the first stages being the Dressing Stations—the Aid Posts and Field Ambulances close to the front line, where the men were stabilised before being moved to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). The tasks of the medics at a CCS was (1) to treat men who were sufficiently fit to go straight back on duty and (2) to stabilise and treat those who needed to be evacuated to a major Base Hospital. If a man were to be buried some distance from his unit’s action and its location at the time of his death, there is a possibility that he lived long enough to have been stabilised at a Dressing Station near the battlefield, and then to have been moved to a Casualty Clearing Station and, possibly, subsequently even further away to a General Hospital.
In Richard’s case, I viewed the War Diary for his battalion at The National Archives, and noted that in the first fortnight of April, the 13/Battalion had been working under the supervision of the Royal Engineers on the Maricourt–Péronne railway line. It was back-breaking work for up to ten hours at a time, but essential because the line provided vital supplies (food, medicines, weapons, equipment) for the troops. These men were then tasked with a march spread over three days (the second being a break for rest) to Gouzeaucourt Wood, ahead of a planned attack on Villers-Poulich. Richard was on that march.
Documents held by the CWGC record that Richard was buried at a British Military Cemetery near Bray-sur-Somme, 33 km away as the crow flies. (Seven others from Wandsworth’s Pals are buried there.) This cemetery was used during April 1917 by the 5th and 48th Casualty Clearing Stations, which suggests that Richard died at one of these, and therefore before he could be transferred to a Field Hospital or a Military Hospital.
It is rare that the name of a casualty from the lower ranks is recorded in the War Diary of a battalion. As some records for the the East Surreys survive in the Burnt Records, I located a few legible pages from Richard’s service records, but none relating to events for him as a casualty of war. Here’s what I think happened. Because of the distance between Gouzeaucourt Wood where Richard was wounded and Bray-sur-Somme which is near the Casualty Clearing Station to which he was sent, and the delays in finding transport for the injured, during similarly intense periods of fighting, I think it is more likely that Richard was wounded on the 22 or 23 April than in the heavier, more brutal action on 24 April.
Richard was buried in the Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme, alongside an East Surrey officer, Lieutenant Forster Crampton Johnston, whose death was recorded on 23 April, two days earlier than Richard’s. Might the two men perhaps have been moved to Bray at the same time? I searched the Battalion’s War Diary, and found the action in which Lieut. Johnston had been wounded. This occurred on 21 April 1917 at Gouzeaucourt Wood where the battalion was in action for several days.
Here is the account as recorded in the battalion’s War Diary:
The battalion was ordered to move forward in conjunction with the 119th Brigade on the right and the 11th Bn KORL Regt on a line from FIFTEEN RAVINE exclusive to Q17 d 8.7.
12.30am Patrols reconnoîtred our objective but found no signs of the enemy. Strong posts were thereupon dug along the line.
4.20am Under cover of our artillery barrage, parties from D Coy advanced and occupied posts from FIFTEEN RAVINE to Q18 c 9.4; and from C Coy Q18 c 9.4 to Q17 d 8.7. One platoon from A Coy was attached to each of C and D Coys.
A Coy (less 2 platoons) occupied the line of resistance along the North Eastern edge of GOUZEAUCOURT WOOD.B Coy were in reserve at Q23 c 8.4.
A small trench running from the sunken roads Q23 c 5.4 to Q 23 a 8.6 was deepened and occupied by the remainder of C and D Companies.
Casualties: 3 o[ther]r[anks] wounded.
Except for the occasional interchange of shells, the situation was quiet. With a view to an attack on Villers-Poulich, it was proposed to capture the enemy strong point about Q18 d 5.8. The 14th Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders attempted to bomb down the enemy’s trenches in Q18 a [r?b?] but was unsuccessful. The operations on the enemy post at Q18 d 5.8 were therefore postponed. During the night a continuous trench about 4 – 5 feet deep was dug fro FIFTEEN RAVINE to Q17 d 8.7. Enemy snipers were very busy, causing several casualties.
Casualties: 2nd Lt F C JOHNSTON, Lieut L A SEELEY, 2nd Lt F L WARLAND and 4 o[ther]r[anks] wounded.
The enemy artillery were much more active shelling the sunken roads at Q23 c 5.4. the track from there to QUEENS CROSS and GOUZEAUCOURT WOOD.
Casualties: 1 o[ther]r[anks] killed; 9 o[ther]r[anks] wounded.
2nd Lt F C JOHNSTON died of wounds.
Although there were to be even more casualties on the 24th, I think it is likely that Richard was one of those 4 foot soldiers who were wounded on the 22nd.
We know what items Richard had with him when on the front line, as these are listed under his Personal Effects. The list describes them as follows—explanations in italics are mine:
Disc Identification Disc
Pkt Diary Pocket Diary—keeping a diary was forbidden, lest it fall into enemy hands.
Relig Bk Religious Book
PC s Post Cards
Xmas Card Christmas Card
This list tells us what might have been returned to his next of kin: Richard’s identification disc, letters he’d received from friends and family, photographs, a pocket diary, some sort of religious material perhaps as little as a tract of a book from the New Testament, a case, postcards and a Christmas Card.
Richard was still in his teens when he died, a few months short of his twentieth birthday. We can only imagine the grief of his parents at their loss of their son and for Richard’s five siblings, their “big brother”. Only William among them would have been old enough to enlist, and that not until January 1918. But even then, with three months’ training, he would at least have missed the colossal sacrifice during the Kaiserschlacht in March.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND BACKGROUND
The Greenwood on the Parish War Memorial’s WW2 Face
Robert Ernest Greenwood (1920–1942) who is commemorated on the World War Two Face of Ham’s Parish War Memorial, was a grandson of Walter Greenwood, one of the sons from Cornelius’s second marriage to Louisa Brown. Both Robert and Richard were great grandsons of Cornelius Greenwood—their relationship being half third cousins because they shared only one of their eight great grandparents.
Cornelius Greenwood Polden
For any interested descendants, it was an Ewelne resident, John Greenwood, who stands out in the field of possible fathers of the infant, Cornelius. John Greenwood and Maria Polden were never to marry each other, although both did eventually marry.
The timing of Richard’s injuries
An account of a commemoration, a few years ago, of three Victoria Cross recipients from Wandsworth (one of whom, Reginald Haine, was a Petersham Scout) includes a description, on 24 April 1917, of the exploits of Corporal Edward Foster V.C., a Wandsworth Council dustman from Tooting who was serving in the 13/East Surrey Regiment. This seemed a significant attack but it occurred the day before Richard’s death, and given the distance from Villers-Poulich to the Clearing Stations at Bray-sur-Somme, and the time it would take for him to be removed there, I thought it unlikely that he was involved in the action on that day. I have downloaded a digital copy of the relevant war diary and hope in due course to have time to transcribe the entries for 24 April and the days preceding 22 April, and add them to the Richard’s story. For the time being, I am going for the action on 23 April.
An easy way to follow Richard’s war experience is provided on the website of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment, offspring of the East Surrey Regiment. My transcripts are of the images I viewed at The National Archives. For those unable to travel there, I provide links to both in my list of sources.
The National Archives, WO 95/2612/3, War Diary of 40 Division, 120 Infantry Brigade, 13 Bn East Surrey Regiment, 1 June 1916–31 January 1918, 24 April 1915.
Note: If you download this document at The National Archives, the action of the battalion around the time of Richard’s death of wounds is in the first pdf, namely WO 95-2612-3_1.pdf. The action for 21 April 1917 commences on image 83 of 123.
13th Battalion Home Page, East Surrey Regiment (“The Queen’s”) War Diaries, http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/war_diaries/local/13Bn_East_Surrey.shtml, accessed 11/8/2019, June 1019––July 1918.
Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, ‘Wandsworth honours three brave VC winners’, https://www.wcit.org.uk/networks/154/master2017_thread.html?threadid=3094, accessed 8/7/2019.