L/Cpl Reginald Coley Woodhouse: Catching the Irish Mail

Introduction
The next soldier that I chose to investigate was to be Woodhouse. Woodhouse was picked on the basis that one of my few regular blog readers is named Woodhouse and he asked me about the Woodhouse on the memorial gates, after he read the article on Joseph Masters (the photograph of the plaque with Masters’ name on it in that article also showed that of Woodhouse). What came from my basic research was that there is another error on the gate plaques and that, yet again, the real Woodhouse is as elusive as many of the other men on the memorial. Remember to click on the photographs to enlarge.

W.M.C Woodhouse on the Great Wyrley memorial gates. 2014.

W.M.C Woodhouse on the Great Wyrley memorial gates. 2014.

Woodhouse… but which Woodhouse?
Having already exposed a couple of errors on the Wyrley gates, I was a little sceptical of the Woodhouse entry in the first place. William Henry Simpson is listed as Simpson, W.M.H (as shown by the photograph). He suffers from a simple error (and he isn’t the only one – William Henry Gretton is the same), in that it is likely that the name was presented originally as Simpson, Wm. H. and this, in translation, has become three initials. This would have made the Woodhouse entry Woodhouse, Wm. C., but I could not link this name, or indeed any Woodhouse, W. to Wyrley. This in itself isn’t proof that the name is wrong, but there are two other sources that threw all but the ‘Woodhouse’ part of the name into question.

The first source is the Staffordshire Roll of Honour, compiled in February 1926 by the Staffordshire War Memorials Committee and containing the all the Staffordshire war memorials and the names upon them. This had our man as Woodhouse, R.C. Private (this in itself is a slight error – he was a Lance Corporal). The second source is the Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist plaque. This plaque, erected on 14 October 1928, contains 18 of the 25 names from the Wyrley gates. It has our man as Reginald Woodhouse and so is corroborated by the Staffordshire Roll of Honour.

It seemed to me that what I needed to do was to find and, if possible, follow a Reginald Woodhouse both in Wyrley prior to the War and in the vastness of the military records available. This I did, but other than a casualty entry, Reginald’s military records were non-existent – and this includes, worryingly at first, the absence of a medal card. I have managed to piece together a basic story, but it leaves many questions and the sadness of another life lost just a month before the armistice was signed.

Reginald Woodhouse on the Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist plaque (1928). 2014.

Reginald Woodhouse on the Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist plaque (1928). 2014.

Reginald Coley Woodhouse: Early Life
According to his casualty record, Reginald Coley Woodhouse was born in Richmond, Surry. In fact, while this may in itself be possible, everything else points to his being born in Bridgtown, or at least the Cannock area. Whichever, the happy event took place in the middle months of 1898. Reginald would be joined by a brother, Dennis Leyton Woodhouse, in the middle months of 1900.

Reginald and Dennis would be the only two children of a couple that married somewhat later in life. Stephen Woodhouse had been born in 1868 and was the son of a chain-maker from Cradley Heath, Worcestershire; in fact, all of his siblings would turn-out to be chain-makers too. Stephen was to be the family exception: he would become an elementary school teacher, having likely gone through the pupil-teacher scheme from the age of 13 onward (the 1881 census would describe him as a scholar at the age of 14). Stephen would meet and marry Alice Coley in the middle months of 1895. Both families were living in Cradley Heath at the time. Alice Coley, from where Reginald gets his middle name, was also a chain-maker and two years younger than Stephen.

By 1901, Stephen and Alice had moved to Cross St, Bridgtown. Both Reginald and Dennis were described as being born in Bridgtown. Stephen is described as being an assistant schoolmaster (elementary) and being from both Cradley Heath and Rowley Regis.

1901 census for the Woodhouse family, living in Cross St, Cannock. (National Archives)

1901 census for the Woodhouse family, then living at Cross St, Bridgtown.
(National Archives)

In 1911, we have the proof we need to show that Reginald did, at one stage, live in Landywood. The Woodhouse family were now ensconced in Streets Lane, Landywood. Now, for a few suggestions. Three doors away, in 1911, was living Samuel James Mason. Mason, now 48, was also originally from Rowley Regis. In 1901 he too was living in Bridgtown, but was already the headmaster of the Great Wyrley Elementary School. I find it difficult to believe, with the Rowley, Bridgtown, Landywood and elementary teaching links, that these men are not connected in some way – and I would suggest that the Great Wyrley school is where Woodhouse is also teaching (and I have later proved this to be true – he was the most senior assistant teacher to Mason back in 1896 – so it suggests that Woodhouse moved to Bridgtown at that time). It isn’t known when the Woodhouse family moved to Streets Lane, but he would have witnessed the Wyrley school being extended in 1904. Stephen Woodhouse would also later serve on the Parish Council.

1911 census for the Woodhouse family, now living in Streets Lane, Landywood. (National Archives)

1911 census for the Woodhouse family, now living in Streets Lane, Landywood.
(National Archives)

Reginald Woodhouse: Military Life
And now we turn to a most puzzling of military careers. The last we have of him was on the 1911 census, when he was a 12 year-old scholar. We know from his casualty card (via Ancetry.co.uk) that at some stage he left Landywood, although this was given as his address, to enlist in the Household Cavalry (and Cavalry of the Line) at Kingston-on-Thames, near London. This is why he gave Surrey as his place of birth. It is unclear as to why but he is placed into the 2/1 Battalion of the Scottish Horse Yeomanry, which is in fact a territorial unit. Now, the territorials were not the Home Guard of WWII, they didn’t go home on an evening – so Reginald was not in a reserved occupation. If he was under-age when he joined, or had ticked the home-service box only on his territorial attestation papers, he would have still been liable for overseas service in 1917, when he was 19; therefore the facts suggested to me at this stage that he was possibly classed as physically unfit to serve overseas.

Name: Reginald Coley Woodhouse
Birth Place: Richmond, Surrey
Residence: Landywood, Walsall
Death Date: 10 Oct 1918
Death Place: Home
Enlistment Place: Kingston-on-thames
Rank: L Corporal
Regiment: Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line
Battalion: Scottish Horse Yeomanry
Regimental Number: 18951
Type of Casualty: Died
Theatre of War: Home

So, all we know is that at some stage, likely between 1916 and 1918, Reginald Coley Woodhouse found himself in the 2/1 Scottish Horse Yeomanry. He attains the rank of Lance-Corporal, which may suggest an earlier attestation date. This Yeomanry was a territorial unit from 1908, when the restructuring of reservist soldiers occurred. The 2/1 battalion were raised in Scotland, pretty much as war was declared. By early 1915, they were stationed at Kettering, Northamptonshire; by the end of that year they had moved north, to Alford, Lincolnshire.

1916 would see a major reorganisation, when the 2/1 Scottish Horse, now the 19th Mounted Brigade, were converted into a cyclist brigade – first the 12th, then re-designated the 8th in the November. This would seemingly make a mockery of my suggestion that Reginald was unfit for front-line service; although it is possible that Reginald joined the unit at this stage because he may have had specialist skills in this area.

British cyclist troops on the Somme in 1917. (Imperial War Museum)

British cyclist troops on the Somme in 1917.
(Imperial War Museum)

The purpose of a cycling unit was simply to be another form of mobile infantry (they did not go into battle on them, mind), although they could act as couriers and did reconnaissance as well. In 1917 the brigade was moved north, to Ladybank in Fife. It is possible that Reginald was with them by this stage. Then, the big change occurred. In April 1918, the old 2/1 Scottish Horse would find themselves at the Sarsfield Barracks at Limerick, Ireland; and we know that Reginald was with them there.

Limerick barracks, Ireland. Reginald was posted here in April 1918. (Limerick History Society)

Sarsfield barracks, Limerick, Ireland. Reginald was posted here in April 1918.
(National Library of Ireland)

Reg’s posting to Ireland in 1918 was not a cushy number. Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom prior to the War, but had effectively been promised home rule. This had led to rising tensions between Ulster and the rest of Ireland, as Ulster was Protestant. When war broke out the home rule question was effectively put on hold and most Irish people seemed to accept this, however, a rising by the Irish Republican Brotherhood against British rule did take place in Dublin at Easter 1916. This rising was efficiently put down by the British army and never really had popular support.

Things were to change dramatically after the British, insensitively at best, decided to shoot 15 of those captured at Kilmainham Jail over the next month. The lack of support, apathy and even open hostility to the rising was turned spectacularly into popular support by the shootings. In 1918, the year of Reg’s arrival, tensions were running even higher due to fears that Irishmen were to be conscripted into the British army. By the time that Sinn Fein won the Irish elections in December 1918 and the Irish War of Independence started in 1919, the First World War would be over and Reginald would be dead.

Reginald Woodhouse died on 10 October 1918. His casualty card states he died at home, so originally I assumed he had contracted influenza or some other illness before he got to the front. When I checked for his grave, I was surprised to find he didn’t have one. In fact, he appears on the Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton, as his body was never recovered. Reginald died on the RMS Leinster, the sinking of which was the the worst ever loss of life in the Irish Sea. The frustrating thing, in hindsight, is that the Ludendorff and Hindenburg had took the decision to seek an armistice on 29 September; they had then contacted Woodrow Wilson, the US president, to broker the deal. It took several weeks to get to the signing and in that time thousands died, many of them Americans. Indeed, Wilson turned on the Germans after the sinking of the Japanese liner the Hiranu Maru and the Leinster, which led the German command to order a cessation to the sinking of merchant shipping from 20 October – all too late for Reg.

The RMS Leinster in pre-War livery. (Holyhead Maritime Museum)

The RMS Leinster in pre-War livery, painted in 1900 by R Waring.
(Holyhead Maritime Museum)

It is difficult to know why Reg was abroad the RMS Leinster on the morning of 10 October 1918, but in all likelihood he was returning home on leave. The ship entered into service in 1897 and was operated by the Dublin Steam Packet Company. The ship was fitted with armaments for the War and painted in camouflage livery. At around 9 am, it departed from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) bound for Holyhead. The ships compliment consisted of 771 passengers and crew, many of which were military personnel.

About an hour into the crossing, and after one near-miss, the ship was struck by a torpedo from the UB-123. According to sorting officer John Higgins, this torpedo blew a hole in both the port and starboard sides. Despite this, the ship turned and tried to head back to port, but was struck by a second torpedo that caused fatal damage and it sank quickly. The official death toll was 501, but this seems currently to stand at around 546 (see the RMS Leinster website). Bodies were plucked form the water over on-coming days, but Reg was never found. On 18 October, the UB123 itself sank after hitting a mine.

The sinking of the RMS Leinster, painted in 1918 by Simeon Hughes. (Holyhead Maritime Museum)

The sinking of the RMS Leinster, painted in 1918 by Simeon Hughes.
(Holyhead Maritime Museum)

The front pages were full of a sinking that has been sadly forgotten in time; even the Cannock Courier had a feature, although the local connection was not yet known. The Woodhouse family never disclosed Reg’s loss to the papers, preferring a quiet tribute. Reginald never received any medals, as he never entered a theatre of war as such to qualify him.

The laconic acknowledgement over the loss of Reg, Cannock Advertiser 30 October 1918. (Cannock Library)

The laconic acknowledgement over the loss of Reg, Cannock Advertiser 30 October 1918.
(Cannock Library)

After the Wyrley memorial was unveiled, Stephen and Alice Woodhouse would move to 71 Lichfield Rd, Bloxwich. They were certainly there by 1924. Dennis would marry Ena Baldwin in 1930. Alice died in 1937, at the age of 67. Stephen passed away in 1951, at the age of 83. He left much of his estate to Dennis, who was a pathologist at this stage. Dennis himself would move to Shrewsbury, where he passed away in 1981.

I would hope that it is now clear that WMC Woodhouse is in fact L/Cpl Reginald Coley Woodhouse.

UPDATE
One thing that a blog beats a book on is the fact that it can be updated. By pure chance, when researching another person, I found that Reg had in fact gone to school at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall. He attended the school from 1911 – 1917 according to his obituary photograph below. This means that straight after he left school he went to sign-up in the Scottish Horse. A look at the photograph would show that he wears spectacles – so his eyesight may not have allowed him to serve in the regulars – although this of course is conjecture.

Reginald Coley Woodhouse, former Queen Mary's, Walsall pupil (QMS Magazine December 1918)

Reginald Coley Woodhouse, former Queen Mary’s, Walsall pupil
(QMS Magazine December 1918)

In memory of Reginald and the Woodhouse family. As Wyrleyblog has just reached 200 blog and Facebook followers, this article is written as a thank-you to the people that take the time to read it; especially to Diane, Brian, Tony, Linda, Clive, Pedro and my good friend Angus, who go out of their way to like, re-tweet, ask questions and offer thoughts and basic encouragement.

As ever, my thanks to:
Gt Wyrley Methodist Church
Queen Mary’s Grammar School
Cannock Library
National Archives
Imperial War Museum
National Library of Ireland
Holyhead Maritime Museum
(a cracking little museum I visited last year)

Ancestry.co.uk

http://www.rmsleinster.com/index.htm

Comments
  1. The Memorial Men responsible for the G W Gates didn’t intend later historians to have an easy time! Good job they have you!

  2. angvs72 says:

    I do look forward to new posts on this blog 🙂 with such a small number of names and the percentage of errors on the Wyrley gate memorial, I dread to think how many of the larger more extensive lists are faulty!

  3. Martin Woodhouse says:

    Thanks you so much for this informative research. I’ve forwarded it to our family historian. Hopefully he will find a connection.
    Martin

  4. Elisabeth Round (Mrs) says:

    whether it’s of any interest or not to anyone, Dennis & Reginald were both cousins of my Grandmother, Annie Price. Annie’s mother Lucy was the only sister in a family of boys, including Stephen, mother of Dennis & Reginald. I have pictures of both boys taken around1912 (signed & dated) which were obviously sent to Annie. It has been good to discover another facet to my family history. If anyone has a family photo of this generation, I’d love to see them. Bit by bit i’m building up a pictorial history of the Woodhouse clan – rather a large one!

  5. […] L/Cpl Reginald Coley Woodhouse: Catching the Irish Mail […]

  6. Elisabeth Round (Mrs) says:

    Sorry, have only just seen your reply, oops. Will post them as soon as I can.

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