b. 21/06/1882 Pocklington, Yorkshire. d. 15/08/1924 Bristol.
Harry Blanshard Wood (1882-1924) was born on 21st June 1882 in Pocklington, North Yorkshire. He was the son of John Wood, an agricultural labourer and his wife, Maria Nichol (nee Day). The family moved from Pocklington to Strensall, near York, where Harry went to school. Later they moved to York to live at 13, Grange Street, Fulford Road. Harry’s mother, was a relative of James Melrose, an ex Lord Mayor, known at that time as “The Grand Old Man of York.” Melrose spoke at Harry’s civic reception after the award of the VC.
After leaving school, Harry went to work on York Railway Station as a cleaner, and stayed there until he joined the 2nd Scots Guards. When he joined up under the Cardwell system, he was enlisted for 12 years (7 in the Colours, 5 in the Reserves). His enlistment papers state he was 5ft 10in tall and 19 years and 9 months old when he signed up at York on 4th February 1903. He extended his service to complete 8 years in the Colours on 19th August 1907. In May 1905 he had been promoted to Corporal, and by May 1907 he was appointed Lance Sergeant. Sadly, in 1908, he was tried by Court Martial for “drunkenness” and was reduced in rank to Private. It was as a Private that he was transferred to the Reserve on 4th February 1911. What Harry did between this date and the outbreak of the Great War is unclear, but he was mobilized in London on 5th August 1914.
The 2nd Scots Guards were not among the first troops to head to France, and indeed by the time they arrived the retreat from Mons and the advance back to the Aisne had already taken place. In the Autumn of 1915 Wood took part in the Battle of Loos, the first battle in which the newly formed Guards Division was involved.
On 15th August 1918 at Boyelles Railway Station, France, having lost his bearings in No Mans Land, Wood arrived at the enemy trenches. At the same time, he unfortunately made a noise which attracted a group of Germans, who quickly surrounded him. Reacting quickly, Wood shot two of them and wounded another. The Germans were slow to respond, and Wood took the wounded man as hostage, before getting clean away. Later, Wood's captured German was discovered to have important papers on him. For this action he was awarded the Military Medal.
Two months later, on 13th October 1918 at St. Python, France, when the advance was desperately opposed and the streets of the village were raked by fire, Corporal Wood's platoon sergeant was killed and he took command of the leading platoon. The River Selle had to be crossed and the ruined bridge gained, although the space in front of it was full of snipers, so the corporal carried a very large brick into the open space, lay down behind it and, firing continuously on the snipers, covered his men while they worked their way across. Later in the day he repeatedly drove off enemy counter-attacks.
For this action, Harry was awarded the VC (London Gazette, 14th December 1918) and was presented with his medal by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 22nd February 1919. Following the war, Harry went to live in Bristol and went to work as a commissionaire for the Anglo-American Oil Company. In November 1920 he was part of the VC Guard of the Unknown Warrior and attended the Cenotaph. He had met the King for a second time earlier that year when managing his stall at the Ideal Homes Exhibition when the royal party visited it. It was reported that the King spent a long time talking to Harry. His workmates had also presented him with a gold watch and his employers gave him £100.
On 28th July 1920, Harry married Georgina Dorothy Taylor at St James Church, Plumstead. She was 25 at the time of the marriage and 14 years younger than Harry. Tragically, the marriage would only last four years, when in early August 1924, while on holiday in Teignmouth with his new wife, the couple were walking along a street when a car suddenly mounted the pavement and made as if to hit the couple. Seeing that her husband's life was in danger, Mrs Wood pushed him out of the way, only to be pinned against a wall herself. Although she suffered only a few cuts and abrasions, her husband, possibly because of his nervous state as a consequence of his war service, was so shocked that he became unconscious and fell into a coma from which he never recovered.
Harry died on 15th August 1924 and was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol. Harry had died intestate and his wife quickly re-married and simply disappeared. Attempts by the Scots Guards to locate her after the Second World War failed and his grave in Bristol became sadly neglected. Eventually at a ceremony organised by the South Western Branch Scots Guards Association, at Arno's Vale Cemetery, Bristol, on 27th October 2001 a replacement headstone over the grave of Corporal Harry Wood VC, MM was placed.
The ceremony was attended by relatives and friends; the Bristol Royal British Legion; Regimental Adjutant Scots Guards; and a party representing the regiment from Headquarters Scots Guards. His medals including his VC and MM, along with the 1914-15 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 are held by the York Castle Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CASTLE MUSEUM, YORK.
BURIAL PLACE: ARNOS VALE CEMETERY, BRISTOL.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Newton le Derwent, Yorkshire