In front line infantry battalions serving on the Western Front the junior officers suffered an incredibly high percentage of losses. The pressures of leadership, the harsh conditions and the enemy, all took their toll and the odds were not good for a Subaltern to make it through unscathed. More than 40 Lieutenants and 2nd Lieutenants and over 20 Captains were killed while serving with the 1/1st Cambs and many more were wounded, often on multiple occasions.
The young officers of the Cambs came from a range of backgrounds, but in the early days of the War many came from Cambridge University and its Officer Training Corps. Some received commissions straight away, but others in their haste to join up and serve their country did not wait and chose to join the rank and file instead. One such individual who joined the Cambs in this way was Eric Wood, he would go on to become a legendary figure in the history of the Regiment.
Born in 1892, Wood was the son of Arthur and Frances Wood, of Derby. He attended Denstone College, Staffordshire, for 11 years, where he was a prefect and Captain of the School; his father was director of music at the college. He served in Denstone College OTC, lastly as Clr-Sgt during 1911/12.
Obtaining a scholarship to read Modern History at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge in 1912, he joined the Cambridge University OTC in 1914 and when war was declared joined the Cambs Regt as a private, being commissioned 2nd Lt on October 8, 1914.
He sailed to the Western Front with the 1/1st Btn on February 14, 1915 as an officer of A Coy, 2 Platoon but moved to B Coy on July 29, 1915. He made a good impression with the battalion’s new commanding officer, Lt-Col Ted Riddell. He was soon in charge of B Coy and promoted T/Capt on August 13, 1916.
Another Cambridgeshire officer, Major Harry Few wrote about Wood:
In September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when in command of his company he was awarded a bar to his MC (which he had gained earlier in the year) for great gallantry and coolness, whereby the division was saved from what might have been a serious disaster. For this he was recommended for immediate promotion as second in command of one of the other battalions in the division, but unfortunately was severely wounded shortly after.
That wounding, by a piece of shell, took place during the battalion’s attack on the Schwaben Redoubt at Thiepval on October 14, 1916. He was sent home to England and once his wound had healed was posted to 3/1st Btn, where he served as adjutant from April to October 1917. He was promoted to Captain on August 29, 1917 and posted back to the Western Front in January 1918, serving as adjutant to 1/st Btn.
Major Few wrote:
He again proved his ability as a leader of men, doing invaluable work during the German offensive in March and April and for the second time his name was sent up for promotion and unfortunately a severe wound again prevented this.
He received a certificate of appreciation from the Major-General, commanding 39th Div, for his conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Cayeux, Longavesnes and Aubercourt from March 21-31, 1918. It was felt by many of his colleagues that his gallant actions and leadership during this period should have resulted in the award of a Distinguished Service Order, however the recommendation was never officially put forward. He was wounded in the arm on April 26 1918 at Voormezeele, and again sent to England to recover.
Unable to resume front line service, he started work in the Colonial Office in August 1918 and married Madeline Georgina Annie Campbell (1896-1964), who was a nurse during the war. His best man was Capt Conrad Corfield MC, who went on to join the Indian Civil Service.
Wood also joined the Indian Civil Service and in 1939 was created a Companion of the Order of Indian Empire (CIE). He died in 1977 in Sussex.
Eric after his promotion to Captain in 1916.
Eric while serving with the 3/1st in 1917.
This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark 100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
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