b. 09/02/1838 Cressing, Essex. d. 02/12/1919 Harlow, Essex.
Wood was born at Cressing near Braintree, Essex as the fifth and youngest son of Sir John Page Wood, 2nd Baronet, a clergyman, and Emma Caroline Michell, daughter of Charles Collier Michell. Wood was an elder brother of Katherine Parnell (Kitty O'Shea). Sir Matthew Wood, 1st Baronet, was his grandfather and Lord Chancellor William Wood, 1st Baron Hatherley was an uncle. His maternal grandfather had been an admiral in the Portuguese navy. One of his mother’s brothers was a British admiral, another rose to be Surveyor-General of Cape Colony. Wood was educated at Marlborough College but ran away after an unjust beating.
Wood began his career in the Royal Navy, serving under his uncle Captain Frederick Mitchell on HMS Queen, but vertigo stopped him going aloft. Wood served as a midshipman in the Crimean War during the siege of Sebastopol, in Captain William Peel’s 1,400 strong naval brigade, whose job was to man some guns on a ridge opposite Sebastopol. He was at Inkerman and aged 16, he was seriously wounded in an attack on the Redan, almost losing his left arm, which doctors wanted to amputate. Wood was mentioned in despatches and received his first, but unsuccessful, recommendation for a VC.
Wood returned to the Crimean Theatre (January 1856) but within a month was in hospital at Scutari with pneumonia and typhoid. His parents were told he was dying, so his mother arrived on 20 March 1856 only to find one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses striking him. He was so emaciated that his hip bones were poking through his skin. Against medical advice he was brought home to England to recover.
Wood considered joining the French Foreign Legion, but instead became a lieutenant in the 17th Lancers to gain passage to India. He reached Bombay on 21 December 1858. While out hunting he was attacked by a wounded tiger – it was shot in the nick of time by a hunting companion; – he also rode a giraffe belonging to a friendly Indian prince to win a bet with a brother officer - he stayed on long enough to win the bet, but was trampled badly, the animal's rear hoof breaking through both cheeks, crushing his nose.
Following his VC action, Wood also saw action at Kurai (25 October 1859). He became temporarily deaf for a week whilst studying Hindustani at Poona, which he attributed at the time to overwork. In December 1859 he joined the 2nd Central India Horse, whose main function was the suppression of banditry. In this role he had to deal with an incipient mutiny and sort out the regimental accounts. He was invalided back to Britain in November 1860 with fever, sunstroke and ear problems.
On 16 April 1861, Wood was promoted to captain. He was promoted again this time to brevet major (for services in India) on 19 August 1862. Nursing his children through diphtheria (he had sent his pregnant wife away), he was prescribed morphine for insomnia and nearly died of an overdose. Evelyn Wood was promoted to brevet lieutenant-colonel on 19 June 1873.
In 1878 Wood fought with the 90th Light Infantry under Lieutenant-General Thesiger (who later became Lord Chelmsford) in Natal. Evelyn Wood was employed as field officer of 90th clashed with the Gaika tribe in the last of the Battle of Tutu Bush (May 1878) during the Xhosa Wars. He was promoted to the substantive rank of lieutenant-colonel on 13 November 1878. In January 1879, Wood took part in the Anglo-Zulu War and was given command of the 3,000-strong 4th column on the left flank the army when they crossed the Zulu frontier. Defeat of other British forces at Isandlwana would force Wood to retreat to fortified positions at Kambula. Defeated at Hlobane on 28 March 1879, where he had his horse shot from under him. He recovered and the following day decisively beat the Zulus at Kambula (29 March 1879). He was preferred for the local rank of brigadier-general on 3 April and also took part in the final battle at Ulundi. Wood recommended Redvers Buller for his VC after the Zulu War. Wood was briefly placed on the staff in Ireland and in that role was again given the local rank of brigadier-general in December 1879.
Wood was then posted to command the Chatham Garrison ranked again in January 1880 as brigadier-general. With the First Boer War reaching a crescendo, he was sent back to South Africa in January 1881, again with the local rank of brigadier-general, as second-in-command to Sir George Colley, Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Natal, succeeding him after his defeat and death at Majuba Hill (27 February 1881), earning promotion to the local rank of major-general. The Queen thought highly of him (and Buller). Wood had already impressed Lord Beaconsfield (Prime Minister at the time), who had met him at the Queen’s suggestion after the Zulu War, and now impressed William Gladstone, the current Prime Minister.
In 1886 Wood returned to Britain to take charge of Eastern Command at Colchester. Then, from 1 January 1889 to 8 October 1893 he was General Officer Commanding of Aldershot Command, one of the most important posts in the army at home. He was promoted to lieutenant-general (1 April 1890) and advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on 30 May 1891.
Wood saw further staff service at the War Office as Quartermaster-General to the Forces from 1893 to 1897. He was promoted to full general on 26 March 1895 and was Adjutant-General to the Forces from 1897 to 1901. His duties in the 1890s were similar to those of a Chief of the General Staff, had such a job then existed. He also served as Deputy Lieutenant of Essex from 10 August 1897. and granted the freedom of the Borough of Chelmsford in 1903. He was also the responsible colonel of the 5th Battalion, the Essex Regiment.
After retiring from active service in December 1904, Wood lived at Upminster in Essex and became chairman of the Territorial Force Association for the City of London. On 11 March 1911 he was appointed Constable of the Tower of London. Wood died in 1919, and was buried with full military honours in the Military Cemetery at Aldershot in Hampshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ALDERSHOT MILITARY CEMETERY, ALDERSHOT, HAMPSHIRE.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
SECTION G, GRAVE 1402
St Mary's Church, Old Harlow, Essex.
Evelyn Wood Road, Cressing, Essex
All Saints Church, Cressing, Essex.
Marlborough College Memorial