Lance Corporal Arthur Woodfield of the 1/4th (TF) Battalion Hampshire Regiment, Regimental Number 2199, died of illness, aged 27, on the 8th June 1916 and is buried at Basra, Iraq.
Arthur was born on the 4th December 1888, to George and Sarah (née Luck) Woodfield, in Plumstead, Kent. Arthur was the youngest child of eight. In the census of 1891, the family was living at 32, Heavitree Road, Plumstead. George was an office writer at the Woolwich Arsenal.
Woolwich Arsenal circa 1900
The eldest child, Elizabeth (22) was still living at home and there is no occupation listed for her. George junior, (21) had married the previous year and left the family home. Sarah (19) was a dressmaker, Edward (15) a scholar and his older brother Ernest (13) was described as an office lad. James (11) and Harold (6) were still at school and Arthur was 2 years old. In the previous census there was another child, Susan, two years younger than George, but no record has been found for her after 1881. By 1901 Arthur’s father George was described as a Government Clerk working for the Civil Service. There were only two children left at home, Harold, now a carpenter joiner and Arthur who was still at school.
Arthur attended the London County Council School in Ancona Road, Plumstead, before taking a position as a pupil teacher at Vicarage Road School in Plumstead. In the intervening years his brothers and sisters had all married and left home. Elizabeth had married Charles Quick in 1894 and Edward had married Charles’ sister, Kate Quick, in 1898. By the next census in 1911, George Senior was a widower living with his eldest daughter Elizabeth and her husband William Rolfe, in Forest Gate, London. He was described as an arsenal pensioner and builder’s clerk. Arthur’s mother Sarah had died in 1906. Arthur was living in The Lodge, Lion Lane, Haslemere, Surrey, in a two roomed house. His occupation was given as an assistant schoolmaster, working for Surrey Education Committee. Although Arthur had not yet attended Winchester Training College to undertake his professional training, he was still able to work as an uncertificated teacher.
He had two appointments as an assistant teacher: at St. Mary’s Church of England School, Rochester, Kent, and St. Stephen’s School, Shottermill, Surrey. Arthur took exams in Acoustics, Elementary Chemistry and Geometrical Drawing in preparation for entry to college. He sat the Preliminary Examination for the Certificate in 1907. There is no explanation yet found to explain why there was such a long gap between sitting the entrance exam and Arthur actually taking up his place at Winchester.
Winchester Training College
Arthur arrived at Winchester Training College in 1913 for a two year course. In view of the time that Arthur had worked as an uncertificated assistant teacher, it is possible that he entered college as a certified student on a one year course. This however is not made clear in the college records.
The new students in 1922 were sent a list of items they were required to bring with them to College. It is unlikely that the requirements in 1913 were very different.
Each student must bring with him
A linen bag for laundry (1ft 6in x 2ft) plainly marked in large letters
An apron for use in the workshop
A white singlet and breeches for physical drills will be supplied to all at cost price
White canvas shoes with rubber soles
A sweater (white) recommended but not essential
All linen must be marked with the owner’s name, plainly in a conspicuous place.
All of these items in addition to the other supplies that the student would need would represent a significant outlay for the new student, particularly as most of them came from backgrounds that were far from affluent.
The College magazine The Wintonian 1910-1914 included a list of the New Sports Captains in June 1914. Arthur was named as the captain of the tennis team. Unfortunately that is the only personal information that has been found for Arthur from his time in Winchester.
The only academic record we have for Arthur from his time at college is his average mark from the Christmas exams in his first year. He achieved 67.1%.
When war was declared in the summer of 1914, Arthur was just half-way through his training course. The College premises at West Hill were comandeered for the duration of the war and the students in Arthur’s year were given the opportunity to continue their training at Bede College, Durham. Some of the students, who were training with the 4th Battalion Hampshire Regiment on Salisbury Plain at the outbreak of war, decided to stay with the Regiment and prepare to go to war. Arthur was one of those students who were mobilised on 5th August 1914.
Winchester Training College courtesy of Alwyn Ladell
From Winchester to Mesopotamia
Arthur would in all probability have enlisted with the College Company of the Territorial Force while he was a student. Along with many of his peers, and other alumni who were still in the Winchester area, staying with the Hampshire Regiment would have seemed the natural step. The movements of the College Company after the declaration of war are laid out in the Winchester Training College, Reports and Balance Sheets document:
The following will show the movements of the College Company from July,1914, to March,1916:-
The ordinary Camp was held on Salisbury Plain (Bulford), July 25th to August 4th, 1914.
Aug. 4th, 1914 – Proceeded to Hilsea.
Aug. 5th, Date of mobilisation
Aug. 9th, Left Hilsea
Aug. 10th, Arrived again at Bulford. Training on the Plain at Sling Plantation, Hamilton Camp, and Bustard Camp.
Oct. 5th, Billets, Winchester
Oct. 9th, 1/4th Battn. Left for Poona, India.
Dec. 12th, 2/4th Battn. Left for Quetta, India.
Arthur enlisted in Winchester, as far as we can ascertain, in January 1915. He first entered the Mesopotamian theatre of war on 25th October 1915.
We do not have a date for when he arrived in Quetta, India, now a part of modern-day Pakistan. Arthur was not the only Winchester Training College alumnus in Quetta. There were three others from his year group, and two who had been in the year above him. ‘A’ Company of the 1/4th Hampshires were in Mesopotamia fighting the Turks and volunteers were called for, to embark for Basra, to join the forces already there. Along with his College friends, Arthur was one of those volunteers. A farewell supper and concert was held for their send- off on 11th October 1915. Captain Goddard reported, in a letter , on the remarks made by Lieutenant-Colonel W.Naish to the men;
…he was sure those about to proceed to the Persian Gulf would uphold the excellent reputation that the 1/4th Hants had achieved. He wished all the men God-speed and a speedy and safe return to England. He said that they were all aware of the hardships, but he knew they would face them with a good spirit, and pull through like the true Hampshireman always did.
Those who left for Basra were then attached to the 1/4th Hants . Assuming that Arthur then arrived in Basra not long after the farewell concert, the Allied forces, including ‘A’ Company of the 1/4th Hants, under the command of Major-General Townshend, had won possession of Kut-el-Amara and were preparing to advance towards Baghdad. It was at this point in the Mesopotamia campaign that things started to go wrong for the Allies. The Battle of Ctesiphon was not decisive for either side and the Allies withdrew to Kut, pursued by the Turks. The Siege of Kut began on 7th December 1915. At this point, Arthur and his friends were no longer required as reinforcements, but instead they became part of a desperate attempt to relieve the siege. In January 1916 the first attempt to reach Kut moved away from Ali-al-Gharbi and met the Turkish forces at Shaikh-Saad. From there they moved on through the Wadi, until the British attack at Hanna was defeated. Four of Arthur’s fellow Wintonians lost their lives at Hanna, and one more was taken prisoner.
Map showing the area around Kut
The first relief attempt had failed and in March, with the situation becoming increasingly desperate in Kut, a second attempt was mounted. This too stalled before reaching Kut, at Dujailah Redoubt and Es Sinn. It was at this point that T.E.Lawrence was part of a ‘secret mission’ to discover if the local Arabs could be persuaded to revolt and cause an unwelcome disruption for the Turks. This plan was not supported by the British authorities and was not pursued. In early April a third relief attempt was tried. This time they were blocked at Sannaiyat, and at the end of April Major-General Townshend surrendered to the Turkish commander at Kut.
At some point Arthur was taken ill and returned to the base hospital at Basra. On 8th June 1916, Arthur died of disease. We have not discovered the illness that was the cause of death for Arthur, but cholera, typhus, malaria,and dysentry were some of the diseases that claimed the lives of so many soldiers in Mesopotamia. Arthur was buried at Basra, Iraq. The Telegraph newspaper reported, in November 2013, that the cemetery, which contained the graves of thousands of servicemen who died in both World Wars, had been destroyed. The graveyard had been left without a single headstone standing. Some headstones were thought to have been removed by a local caretaker for safe keeping but many had been looted and sold for use as building materials. The Commonwealth War graves Commission has erected fencing in an attempt to secure the site while renovation work is undertaken.
Arthur left £12 18s 6d to his father George.
Researcher and Author: Dee Sayers
Alwyn Ladell photography. (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alwyn_ladell/sets/72157665876163520/ [Accessed 2018].
Ancestry (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk [Accessed 2018].
British Newspaper Archive (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk [Accessed 2018].
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, (2018). Home page. [online] Available at www.cwgc.org/ [Accessed 2018].
Crowley, P. (2016). Kut 1916: the forgotten British disaster in Iraq. Stroud: The History Press.
The William Leach Collection (Various). Records of RSM W.F. Leach including the records of Mrs. E. Bowker [documents, notebooks, photographs and artefacts] The Royal Hampshire Regimental Museum, Winchester.
The Telegraph (2013). Iraq cemetery containing graves of British servicemen is destroyed. [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/britain-at-war/10438147/Iraq-cemetery-containing-graves-of-British-servicemen-is-destroyed.html [Accessed 2018].
Vickers, J. University of Winchester Chapel Memorial Rail image.
Wikimedia (2009). File:Kut-el-Amara-map.jpg [online] Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kut-el-Amara-map.jpg [Accessed 2018].
Wikimedia (2018). File:Woolwich, Royal Arsenal, Middle Gates, c 1900.jpg [online] Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woolwich,_Royal_Arsenal,_Middle_Gates,_c_1900.jpg [Accessed 2018].
|University of Winchester Archive – Hampshire Record Office|
|47M91W/||P2/4||The Wintonian 1899-1900|
|47M91W/||P2/5||The Wintonian 1901-1902|
|47M91W/||P2/6||The Wintonian 1903-1904|
|47M91W/||P2/7||The Wintonian 1904-1906|
|47M91W/||P2/8||The Wintonian 1905-1907|
|47M91W/||P2/10||The Wintonian 1908-1910|
|47M91W/||P2/11||The Wintonian 1910-1914|
|47M91W/||P2/12||The Wintonian 1920-1925|
|47M91W/||D1/2||The Student Register|
|47M91W/||S5//5/10||Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia|
|47M91W/||Q3/6||A Khaki Diary|
|47M91W/||B1/2||Reports of Training College 1913-1914|
|47M91W/||Q1/5||Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949|
|47M91W/||R2/5||History of the Volunteers Company 1910|
|47M91W/||L1/2||College Rules 1920|
|Hampshire Record Office archive|
|71M88W/6||List of Prisoners at Kut|
|55M81W/PJ1||Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903|
|All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.|