Declaration of Peace – how Poole marked the event

The Armistice was declared at 11am on November 11 1918. However, it was not until the Treaty of Versailles was signed that the First World War was officially at an end. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War Project describes how Poole marked the declaration of peace and remembrance.

The local newspaper reported that the Peace Treaty was signed at Versailles on June 28 1919 ‘bringing to an end the greatest war the world has ever known’. How did Poole react? The newspaper reported that the news arrived in Poole at 4pm. People gathered in the High Street, flags and bunting appeared throughout the town, ships blew their sirens, and young people bought and set off fireworks. More fireworks were let off from the town and boats during the evening. What followed was a series of spectacular celebrations.

‘Poole’s Great 1919 Joy Day’ was held in Poole Park on July 9 1919. It had been hoped that airship S.R.I would fly over the town to advertise the ‘Victory Loan’ but unfortunately this did not happen. The town was decorated with flags and bunting and a carnival procession of 250 people and numerous floats went from West Quay Road to Poole Park where there was music, sports, boxing and dancing. It is believed that 14,000 people attended the event.

The Government announced that Saturday July 19 1919 was the official National Day for celebrating peace. The notification only appeared at the beginning of July but it was hoped that events would take place even though the time was short. It was also announced that Sunday July 6 1919 was the day for a National Service of Thanksgiving and in Poole this took place at St James’ Church.

Poole Peace Celebrations were held on Friday and Saturday 18 and 19 July 1919 – once again in Poole Park. Friday was for children and Saturday was for adults and ex-servicemen. Businesses in the town closed on the Saturday and the Post Office was open from 8.30am to 10am with only one delivery of letters. The Children’s Day was attended by 6,500 children with each school having an allotted space in the Park. Each child received a slice of cake and hot sweet tea was supplied in buckets and baths. After the tea and cake, the children were able to take part in sideshows such as hoopla, skittles, roundabouts and various sports. The Poole Town Band played music in the evening. While Friday’s event took place in bright sunshine, Saturday’s celebrations were spoilt by the wet weather. After processing to the park, 2000 men were given lunch in marquees. Unfortunately, the sports and water events were not held because of the weather. In the evening, fireworks were set off in the town and a large bonfire was lit on Constitution Hill.

Poole Park Peace Celebrations

Poole also held a ‘Peace Regatta’ on August 2 and 4 1919 with the aim of recognising the sacrifice made by merchant seaman during the First World War. The idea developed from a suggestion by the Mayor of Poole, Major Dolby. The British Motor Boat Club had already planned a meeting in Poole Harbour for that weekend and, even though time was short, it was decided to expand it into a much larger event.  Fields adjoining Salterns Works and ‘The Elms’ house were opened up for the crowds of visitors and a ferry went from Poole Quay and motor vehicles ran from Poole Park. On Saturday and Monday there were motor boat and sailing races. On Monday there was a full day of activities with races, rowing and ‘amusing aquatic sports’ such as the greasy pole; the latter activities were organised by Sandbanks RAF. Other entertainments included the Poole Town Band, sideshows, and dancing. In the evening, there was a firework display, boats were lit up and Salterns Pier was decorated with Chinese lanterns – even the Poole Gas Works crane had lanterns. The money raised was to be used in the establishment of the Russell-Cotes Nautical School in Poole which was to train boys for the Merchant Navy.

Apart from the special celebrations there were the more reflective events. Under a headline, ‘The Day of Remembrance’, the local newspaper reported that on November 11 1919 the ringing of church bells took place just before 11am. At 11am, trade stopped for 2 minutes, people stood still in the streets and ships put their flags at half-mast.  Afterwards, churches and chapels opened their doors for people to remember those who had died.

A year later there was an element of unhappiness expressed in the local newspaper that because the town did not have a war memorial there was no focal point for remembrance. Also, in contrast to the previous year, only a few flags were flown at half-mast and while the traffic stopped for 2 minutes there were still people milling about ‘in an unconcerned manner’. The evening was marked by a firework and torchlight display in Poole Park. The park was also to be illuminated. Admission was 6d for adults and 3d for children and there was a competition to guess the number of people who came to the display – tickets 3d with a prize of £5. For many, the prize was the equivalent of a week’s wages. Interestingly the newspaper reported that ’smoke clouds’ would be used to hide the display from those outside the Park. All the profits were to go to the Cornelia Hospital.

In September 1921, a major event took place in Poole Park to raise funds for the Tank Corps Compassionate Fund and Association. A grandstand was setup together with a special racetrack. The Grenadier Guards band came from London to play music during intervals in the event and Percy Hodge, the Olympic steeplechase champion from Surrey, gave a demonstration of hurdling. The Tank Corps Gymnastic team gave a display and there was a race for ‘cyclotracteurs’, which were bicycles with a small engine on the front wheel. After a series of sports events involving entrants from Poole and the South of England there was dancing, various sideshows and, in the evening, fireworks to be enjoyed. Prizes for the sports events were awarded by Lady Elles, wife of Sir Hugh Elles, Colonel Commandant of the Tank Corps.

1921 marked the change from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day. Artificial ‘Flanders poppies’ made by women and children in the war-affected areas of France were also on sale for the first time. The profits were to go to Lord Haig’s Fund for the Widows and Children and it was hoped that everybody would wear a poppy on the day. Miss F.E. Lever of Longfleet Poole, Hon. Sec. of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps Old Comrades Association, was a driving force behind their sale and she encouraged all women who were ex-service to get involved. Demand outstripped supply on the day and paper had to be bought to make ‘homemade’ poppies. The substantial sum of £195 0s 1 1/2d was raised in Poole. Oddly, the Local Education Committee had refused to allow the British Legion to sell poppies in schools.

The remembrance event in 1921 was larger than the previous year. A stage was set up near the Free Library in the centre of Poole and members of the Tank Corps, an armoured car, and trumpeters from the 5th Battalion Tank Corps were in attendance. The Mayor of Poole and various dignitaries gathered on the stage just before 11am as crowds waited in front of the library and on the High Street for the service of prayers. The theme of the previous years of the morning for a time of remembrance and the evening as a celebration for those who had returned was continued with a ‘meat tea’ being provided for all ex-servicemen of Poole and Hamworthy at the Shaftesbury and Liberal Halls.

 

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‘The Astounding Record of a Poole Girl’

A Culture Volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project has been exploring the local newspaper to discover what life was like in Poole during the war for the town and its residents. A headline, ‘The Astounding Record of a Poole Girl’, in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper of June 21 1917 was intriguing and, using other records collected by Charlie Lord (Poole Researcher), the remarkable life of Poole girl, Ada Fricker has been pieced together. A warning – the story is very convoluted and the accuracy of some of the information is open to question!

The newspaper article of 1917 described Mary Rogers as ‘one of the cleverest adventuresses who has been about in recent years’ when she appeared in a West London court. But who was Mary Rogers and what was her connection with Poole?

Mary Rogers was actually Alice Ada Fricker. She was born on October 22 1871 in a cottage in Cinnamon Lane in Poole to Samuel Fricker, a Poole seaman, and Emily Fricker. Cinnamon Lane ran from New Street around the back of the Almshouses and on to Market Street.

Cinnamon Lane from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Cinnamon Lane from the collection of Poole Museum Service

A newspaper article of December 26 1889 reported that her father had been drowned at sea while working as a mate on board the vessel ‘Cross House’ which was sailing from Southampton to Sunderland. He was knocked overboard in a gale when the vessel was north of the Spurn Lightship off the Humber Estuary. The deceased’s wife and two daughters were reported to be living in Shaftesbury Cottages, Market Street. Samuel Fricker had been at sea all his working life and was aged about 45.

Nothing has been uncovered about Ada Fricker’s life in Poole. A later newspaper report noted the ‘when 14 years of age she was a tall and pretty girl and looked much older’. At the age of 19, Ida Alice Fricker married Maurice Rogers, a medical student, at Barton Regis, near Bristol, and so became Mrs Rogers. That her first name had changed from Ada to Ida and her married name is often recorded as Rodgers is a characteristic of her story. Also how did a Poole girl end up getting married in Bristol? One possible answer is that she may have gone into domestic service which was a typical outcome for single young women at the time. It is also from this point that the tale begins to take an unusual turn.

Two years after getting married she had become an actress and appeared as Lady Gipsy Rodgers in the play ‘Apartments to Let’ and also in several other plays. She played Lady Agatha Carlisle in ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, a part she was apparently very good at, but none of her other performances were of note. However, she must have had a bewitching presence because, after meeting her, Stanley Napier Roberts, Edward Elgar’s brother-in-law, borrowed the considerable sum of nearly £2000 from London moneylenders to finance the theatrical companies in which she was involved. Unfortunately, the productions were a failure and instead of an easy retirement he found himself under pressure because of the debts he had incurred.

Three years later the self-styled Lady Gipsy Rogers and Lionel Rogers of the Trilby Theatrical Company were accused of assaulting John Roydon, an actor of the company, at Aberystwyth over a dispute about pay. Apparently he alleged that members of the company were close to starvation because they had not been paid. The defendants were each fined 5s (25p). The choice of name for the theatrical company is intriguing as George du Maurier, grandfather of Daphne du Maurier, had written a gothic novel, ‘Trilby’, in 1894. It was an incredible success with the London stage production being first presented in 1895. The style of hat worn by the leading female character, Trilby O’Ferrall, became known as the ‘trilby’. It is interesting to speculate if Ada Fricker thought that touring a theatrical production using the name of Trilby would be a profitable exercise; the play also features in another of her court cases.

The 1901 Census records an actress ‘Gipsy Ro(d)gers’, 23, as living in Southall, Middlesex, having married Maurice Rodgers in 1891. An age of 23 is rather hopeful with a date of birth of 1871 and she was also apparently living with two brothers who were actors. Strangely, she did run, for a time, a riding school in the West End of London.

In 1907, after being fined £14 at Clacton, Essex for keeping a manservant and carriage without licence she promised only to use the name ‘Mrs Rodgers’. Mr H. Lionel Somerset stated during the court proceedings that he was her brother, although he had previously said they were married, while she, unhelpfully, said he was no relation. A copy of a marriage certificate presented in the court case showed her to be ‘Ida Alice Faulkner Fricker’, daughter of a deceased Army captain (!).

In 1910, she interviewed the infamous murderer, Dr Crippen, in Pentonville Prison. The prison governor believed the interviewer was Lady Henry Somerset with ‘her object to evangelise the famous prisoner’. In actual fact, it was Ada Fricker posing as ‘Lady Mercia Somerset’ and she hoped to sell the interview to a newspaper if Dr Crippen was not convicted. She promised to take him to her country house if he was released – at the time she was a tenant of Broom Lodge, Huntingdonshire. She also carried out a correspondence with Crippen while he was in jail and published some of his letters in order to make some money.

January 1911 saw her once again facing criminal proceedings – this time at Huntingdon Assizes. She was living in Herne Bay and claimed she could not attend the Assize because she was very ill, although it was noted in court that it was strange she became ill ‘so suddenly after being served with notice to appear’. Debts had been run up in the name of Reed, a groom, who was supposed to be an employee. She claimed he was her husband so the debts were his, not hers, and that she had married Reed when she was 14. Under cross examination, she admitted that Reed was Rogers. She received 4 months. The prosecutor believed she was the daughter of a medical officer in the Navy, had married at 19, and had lived as the Hon. Ida Faulkner in Bristol. According to some newspaper reports she apparently kept bulldogs and, occasionally, a wolf wherever she lived.

In a later appearance, at Cirencester Police Court, she bore ‘herself with dramatic dignity’. She was arrested in 1913 along with Cecil Roslyn (also known as Lionel Somerset) whom Mrs Rodgers described as her brother. They had toured ‘Trilby’, a theatrical production, and, on their travels across the country, it was alleged they had persuaded numerous traders and hoteliers to give them credit or paid them with cheques that were not honoured. It was also alleged that the defendants had used the name ‘Lady Somerset’s Theatrical Touring Company’ in their dealings with traders. However, Mrs Rodgers claimed she did not need credit as she received £500 per year. Lady Henry Somerset, a member of the Beaufort family, did appear in court and said she knew many members of the family but the accused was not one of them. The prisoner claimed she received an income on the assumption she did not use the Somerset name – apparently a firm of solicitors provided her with £18 to £25 every month. The two defendants were convicted and received three months hard labour.

Her story had, by now, become so famous that ‘The People’ newspaper published the ‘Life Story of Lady Mercia Somerset’ in February 1913.

In 1917, Mary Rogers (33) Ellen Taylor, Edna Gordon (19) and Cecil Rogers (18) were in court for having stayed at a London hotel and pawned a large quantity of its bedding and sheets. Oddly, they were charged with illegal pledging and not theft. She claimed she had an army allowance of 25s a week for herself and one child (her husband was believed to have served in the war) and, as before, a £23 per month allowance from a ‘person’. Mrs Edna Gordon and Cecil Rogers were apparently her children so giving her age as 33 was optimistic. Mary Rogers and Edna Gordon were fined with the alternative of prison if the fines were not paid – which they were.

The court case had little effect as a year after the First World War ended a headline announced ‘Lady Mercia Again’ with the article referring to the defrauding of clergymen at Eastbourne. Edna Gordon, her 18 yr (?) old widowed daughter, was also arrested. Mrs Rodgers received 6 months and Mrs Gordon three months.

In one report it was said ‘she was very fond of beautiful dresses and had a passion for jewellery’. She ‘impressed tradesmen’ with the use of titles and presumably benefited from having been an actress. Her success also appears to be due to the prevailing respect to titled people at the time and the seeming expectation that they would run up debts which would eventually be paid. The society of the First World War era was cash based so that someone who used cheques was considered unusual. Banks were not common and there was a certain mistrust of them because there was no protection if they went bankrupt. The absence of a welfare state also meant that people had to rely heavily on their own devices if they got into financial difficulties.

One newspaper headline referred to her as the ‘Woman of Many Names’. It is believed that she used on her travels around the south of England: Ida Alice Fricker, Lady Mercia Somerset, Avis Fitzroy, Mavis Redfern, Irene Rodgers, Jane Jones, Mary Cullam, Aris (possibly a misspelling of Avis) Fitzroy, Mrs Alice Rogers, Avis Fitzroy Somerset, Mrs Reed, Mrs Reeves, Mrs A. Bolingbroke, Ida Rogers, Melia Rogers, Mrs Rodgers, Ida Alice Faulkner Fricker.

Her choice of aliases is interesting. Lady Mercia Somerset was her favourite and people usually assumed she had links to the Beaufort family whose name was Somerset. Fitzroy was often the middle name of members of the Beaufort family. Bolingbroke was the name of landed gentry in Wiltshire and Henry IV was also known as Henry of Bolingbroke. Interestingly, Faulkner is a name associated with St James’ Church, Poole – ‘Fawconer’s Charity’ provided bread for elderly women. One wonders if this was why she used the name.

It is interesting to consider her frequent change of names, flexibility of age etc from the viewpoint of the First World War era. Accuracy of names and ages seems to have been of no real concern simply because they rarely mattered and spelling, in particular, was often flexible. An earlier classic example would be the father of the Bronte sisters who decided his original name of ‘Brunty’ was not interesting enough and simply changed it to ‘Bronte’. Payment for work was by cash, most people rented and many could not write – accuracy of date of birth and name was irrelevant.

Many young women of Ada Fricker’s age went into domestic service and in 1900 there were around 2,000,000 women working as servants. The work was very hard with long hours for little reward. A newspaper article of 1915, under the headline ‘Fewer Servants’, commented that ‘the pressure of war’ was making it difficult to hire servants. This was partly because the incomes of large houses had been seriously eroded and they needed fewer servants. The First World War also offered many new employment opportunities that a lot of women found more attractive because they were better paid and had more independence. Post-First World War many of these jobs disappeared but the large houses could no longer afford a large staff. The lack of this traditional work for single women, with no clear alternative, meant they were increasingly encouraged to emigrate to countries such as Australia and New Zealand – another reason, sadly, was the lack of men of marriageable age.

The Nottingham Evening Post reported in 1928 that male impostors are ‘careful’ in their choice of titles while women appear more able to get away with it. The newspaper used, as an example, Lady Mercia Somerset (Ada Fricker) who managed to get photographed and be reported as an ‘enthusiastic politician’ who might even stand for parliament. The newspaper commented that ‘when women become imposters they are to be feared’.

 She was not beyond self-publicity. The Thompson Weekly News announced in 1923 that, as part of a series on the ‘The Scandals of Cinema Land’, the story of the ‘The Amazing Career of Lady Mercia Somerset’ would be ‘told by herself’. Unfortunately, neither a record of this article nor that in The People has so far been found.

A remarkable tale but there is one question that was never fully answered – did she actually receive a monthly allowance from solicitors and, if so, why? £20 a month was a significant sum given that the starting wage for a female munition worker at Holton Heath was £1 a week.

The tragic story of Sydney Woodroffe, Poole’s teenage VC winner, and his brothers

Three Poole brothers answered their country’s call to join the Army and fight on the Western Front.

One would be mentioned in dispatches; another won the MC; and the youngest, Sydney Clayton Woodroffe, ‘a boy with a wistful smile’, received the Victoria Cross.

All three began by serving with the Rifle Brigade. None survived.

Bournemouth Graphic image of 1915 commemorating Sidney, Kenneth and Leslie Woodroffe. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Bournemouth Graphic image of 1915 commemorating Sydney, Kenneth and Leslie Woodroffe. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Of the brothers-in-arms, the oldest, Kenneth, would be the first to be killed in action. Sydney died in a battle in which his other brother, Leslie, suffered terrible wounds. Leslie spent months recovering then returned to France… and was killed.

Their three names are inscribed on a roll of honour at All Saints Church at Branksome Park close to where the Woodroffe family lived.

All Saints’ roll of honour including the Woodroffe brothers.

All Saints’ roll of honour including the Woodroffe brothers.

The Woodroffes were well-to-do. The father, Henry Long Woodroffe, the son of a florist and nurseryman, was a wine merchant who had been born in London’s Paddington where he married at the age of 27. His bride was Clara Eliza Alice Clayton, 22 years old, whose father was described on the marriage certificate as ‘gentleman’.

Henry and Clara soon had a wine and spirits business in Lewes called Browning and Woodroffe. Later it would merge with the wine and spirits section of the local Beard’s Brewery.

Henry and Clara’s four children – all boys – were born in the Sussex county town.

The Woodroffes would also lease a public house called the Nutley Inn (later known as the Shelley Arms) near Maresfield in Sussex. It is unlikely that they involved themselves directly in running it for, in 1899, their address was still in Lewes and, in the 1901 census the licensee was another man who lived there with his family and two boarders. Henry also owned a property in the Finsbury district of London.

In 1904, after seven years, Henry’s involvement with the inn ended and, in time, the family moved west towards Poole.

By 1911 the Woodroffes were living at 20 Acresholt, in Branksome Wood Gardens and then on to a large property called Thorpewood in Branksome Avenue (today called The Avenue) in Branksome Park, Poole.

The two oldest Woodroffe boys, Hugh and Leslie, born in 1885 and 1886, had been sent as boarders to the prestigious Marlborough College in Wiltshire. Their younger brothers, born in December 1892 and December 1895, would follow them there.

Leslie, Kenneth and Sydney would excel at Marlborough, all becoming the college’s Senior Prefect (head of the school).

Sidney Woodroffe and two other editors of the Marlburian magazine, 1914. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Sydney Woodroffe and two other editors of the Marlburian magazine, 1914. (Courtesy of Marlborough College.)

Leslie was in the school rugby XV and cricket XI, and won a Classics scholarship to University College, Oxford. He went on to become a schoolmaster at Shrewsbury, but volunteered to serve soon after war was declared, obtaining a commission in the 8th Rifle Brigade.

Kenneth who went on to be a Classics scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge, was a first-class sportsman. He had been captain of Marlborough’s cricket team and became a Cambridge Blue in 1913 and 1914. A fast-medium bowler, he made an appearance for Hampshire at Bournemouth’s Dean Park against South Africa. He went on to play for Sussex taking 6-43 against Surrey in the county’s last game before the war. Within a month, he was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade. Later he would be transferred to the 2nd Welsh Regiment to fight at the front.

Sydney, the baby of the family at 18, had just finished school when war was declared. He had been a member of the college rugby, soccer and hockey teams and was all set to follow in Kenneth’s footsteps by going to Pembroke College, Cambridge to study Classics. He never did. Instead he obtained a commission to serve with the Rifle Brigade and left his Branksome Park home to go to war.

Postcard of Sidney Clayton Woodroffe.

Postcard of Sydney Clayton Woodroffe.

The oldest brother, Hugh, had left Marlborough at the age of 16 and had long gone to Malaysia to work in a business believed to be a rubber plantation. Still employed there when war broke out in August 1914, he was, by then a married man with a two- year -old son and his wife, Norah, was heavily pregnant. She would give birth to a son the following month. Hugh was not in a position to join Lord Kitchener’s Army half a world away.

It must have been a proud but worrying time for the boys’ parents, Henry and Clara, back in Poole with three sons in the Army. They had every right to be concerned. Tragic news would soon come knocking.

Lt Kenneth Herbert Clayton Woodroffe was in action almost constantly from November 1914. On 9 May 1915 he was killed during an attack on the German trenches at Neuve Chapelle in France. For his bravery, he was mentioned in dispatches. He had been leading his platoon and was the man nearest the enemy front-line trenches when shot through the head. Kenneth was 22.

The next news to reach Mr and Mrs Woodroffe just three months later was even worse. Both Leslie and Sydney were involved in the fighting at the village of Hooge, on the outskirts of Ypres in Flanders. The British had, days earlier, successfully blown a huge mine under the German entrenchments. But on July 30, the Germans launched a counter-attack.

It was memorable in military history because it was the first time that flamethrowers were used in battle. At 3am, the Germans spread ‘liquid fire’ into the British trenches and, with the weight of numbers against them, the Tommies were forced to retreat to their second line of defence.

That afternoon the order came to counter-attack to recover lost ground. With not enough artillery support and going uphill towards the strong German positions, it was a risky strategy.

Leslie, a captain in command of a company, led his men over No-Man’s Land into intense machine gun fire. He counted 160 steps before throwing himself flat but was hit in the thigh, knee and heel, according to Marlborough College accounts.

For six hours he lay there, before night fell and he was able to drag himself back to the British lines.

Captain Leslie Woodroffe would be awarded the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry in the field that day.

On that same ghastly day at Hooge, his brother, Second Lieutenant Sydney Clayton Woodroffe, too, had been in action.  After the enemy had broken through the front trenches, he and his men came under heavy attack by bombs from the front and rear. They defended their position until they had exhausted all of their own bombs.

Then, Sydney skilfully managed to bring what was left of his platoon back safely over 200 yards of open ground and then down a communication trench back to Brigade headquarters by a wood.

That afternoon, he took part in the ill-fated counter-attack.

His citation for the Victoria Cross, posthumously awarded, said: ‘This very gallant officer immediately led his party forward in a counter-attack under an intense rifle and machine-gun fire.’

He was killed cutting through the barbed wire in front of the enemy trenches to move the attack forward. Sydney was just 19 years old.

The Commanding Officer, Lt Col Ronald Maclachan, who had lost 19 officers and 469 men either killed or wounded, afterwards sent a letter to Sydney’s parents at Branksome Park. He wrote saying ‘your younger son was simply one of the bravest of the brave.’

He said: ‘He risked his life for others right through the day and finally gave it for the sake of his men’ and added, ‘he was a splendid type of young officer, bold as a lion, confident and sure of himself too.

‘The loss he is to me personally is very great,’ he wrote, adding that ‘his men would have followed him anywhere.’

In his letter, Lt Col Maclachlan included another personal observation that must have affected Henry and Clara’s deeply, this time about brother Leslie: ‘I shall always remember how I saw him last – just minutes before a counter-attack was to take place, quiet, cool and collected, as he always was when there are shells and bullets about, armed with a rifle and preparing to lead his men over an open sweep, uphill in a counter-attack.

‘He knew what it meant quite well.’

The Victoria Cross that Sydney was awarded must have been some small compensation for parents Henry and Clara who had now lost two sons to the war.  They received their son’s VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace.

A fellow officer, war poet Captain Charles Sorley, who would later be killed later that year at Loos, wrote a poem as a tribute to his friend Sydney. It read:

‘There is no fitter end than this.

No need is now to yearn nor sigh.

We know the glory that is his,

A glory that can never die.

 

Surely we knew it long before,

Knew all along that he was made

For a swift radiant morning, for

A sacrificing swift night-shade.’

The Poole and East Dorset Herald, like many other papers, reported Sydney’s death and the award of the Victoria Cross.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald report on Sidney Woodroffe’s Victoria Cross, 9 September 1915.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald report on Sydney Woodroffe’s Victoria Cross, 9 September 1915.

The wording of the report prompted the Poole Mayor, Cllr G.C.A. Kentish, to write to the Herald thanking them for correcting a mistake that said that Woodroffe’s Branksome Park home was in Bournemouth, not Poole.

‘Poole is indeed proud of her heroes,’ he wrote, ‘and would rather not have them annexed by other boroughs, though, of course, the temptation is great.’

Mayor’s Letter to the Poole and East Dorset Herald, 23 September 1915.

Mayor’s Letter to the Poole and East Dorset Herald, 23 September 1915.

Meanwhile, Henry and Clara’s badly injured but surviving child, Leslie, spent months in hospital recovering from wounds in both legs.

While there, he wrote a poignant letter, putting on a brave face, to a former teacher at Marlborough saying: ‘Isn’t it splendid dear old Boodles getting the VC? My people are awfully happy and I am especially pleased for their sake.

‘That wonderful phrase, “this very gallant officer” keeps ringing in my ears. What more could anyone want to hear said of their brother?’

Hardly recovered, Captain Leslie Woodroffe was posted again to the Western Front. He arrived back with his regiment on 1 June 1916.

A shell hit him that same day. He was taken to a casualty clearing hospital but died days later on 4 June.

A grieving Shrewsbury teaching colleague described Leslie as ‘one of the best men ever to put on a gown.’

After the war, the Woodroffes remained living in Branksome Park, at Thorpewood then, seemingly, a house called Woodmore or Woodmoor in Branksome Avenue.

The boys’ father, Henry, died nine years after the war had ended in a Bournemouth nursing home. He was buried in the churchyard at All Saints, Branksome Park. (Coincidentally, another VC winner Thomas Pride, a Royal Navy man who was awarded the honour for his gallantry in 1864, is also buried in the churchyard. And the parents of another British officer who won the VC in the First World War, Montague Shadworth Seymour Moor, lived in Tower Road, Poole, just a short hop away)

Henry Woodroffe’s widow, Clara, was in a hotel in Croydon when the Second World War began, living on private means. Later she would reside in a hotel back in Sussex, before passing away on 13 January 1951 at the age of 89.

She was buried alongside her husband at Branksome Park.

Their oldest son Hugh, left Kuala Lumpur soon after the war to return to live in Britain. In late 1919 he wrote to the War Office, successfully applying for a 1914 Star medal to be added to the Victory and British War medals awarded to his late brother Kenneth.

When the Second World War started, Hugh, now a wine merchant like his father had been, was back at Lewes. Over the years he would live in many places across London and the Home Counties and would marry for the second time in his late 70s. He died in 1972 at the age of 87.

Today Kenneth Woodroffe’s name is commemorated at the Le Touret Memorial in France. Leslie was buried at the Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, near Bethune, also in France. Sidney’s name can be found on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres in Belgium.

Sydney’s VC is now part of Lord Ashcroft’s Collection, housed at the Imperial War Museum.

Memorials commemorating Sydney Woodroffe can also be found in places such as Lewes, London and on the Rifle Brigade memorial in Winchester Cathedral.

At peaceful All Saints Church in Branksome Park, the three Woodroffe names are included alphabetically on a tablet on the wall, listing the dozens of men from the parish who sacrificed their lives in the Great War. The church organ is also dedicated to the war dead.

In the Treasury at the London church of All Hallows by the Tower, a sword is kept that is believed to have been Sydney Woodroffe’s. It was one of two that had once flanked what had been the church’s Toc H Chapel.

Newspaper cutting showing Sidney Woodroffe’s Marlborough rugby football cap on the memorial to Gilbert Talbot in what was the Toc H chapel at All Hallows by the Tower church. (Courtesy of All Hallows by the Tower.)

Newspaper cutting showing Sydney Woodroffe’s Marlborough rugby football cap on the memorial to Gilbert Talbot in what was the Toc H chapel at All Hallows by the Tower church. (Courtesy of All Hallows by the Tower.)

Why is it there? There is a link. The Rev ‘Tubby’ Clayton, who co-founded Toc H – signallers’ abbreviation for Talbot House, a rest centre for soldiers in Belgium during the war – was for a long time, vicar at All Hallows by the Tower. The other Toc H co-founder was the Rev Neville Talbot. Neville’s brother, Gilbert, was killed alongside Sydney at Hooge. The following day Neville, who could not bear to leave his brother’s body unblessed, crawled through the grass, defying shells and snipers, and found Gilbert and Sidney’s bodies. Gilbert’s body was recovered a week later. Sidney’s never was.

They had died near a communication trench that was known to the soldiers as ‘Old Bond Street’.

Sydney’s Marlborough rugby cap had also been displayed at the church before a bomb devastated the sacred building in the Second World War. It was placed on the memorial to Gilbert.

They are commemorated, too, on the roll of honour at their old school, Marlborough College, where a Memorial service for 2nd Lt Sidney Woodroffe was held in the September of 1915, not long after he had died.

A tribute given by the Master of the College, the Rev J.H. Wynne-Willson perhaps gives an insight into what Sidney, the 19-year old lad, rather than Sydney the soldier, was really like:

‘I have constantly in my thoughts the quiet, strong boy with a wistful smile, who went in and out amongst us doing big work in all departments of the school life, and yet so modest and self-forgetting, with a disposition strong, yet kind, vigorous, yet gentle.

‘Though rather reserved, he was very sensitive: he never expressed his feelings much, but they were strong.

‘Practical though he was, he would, I think, have made his mark in scholarship, for he loved literature and had a student’s mind.

‘In spite of his capacity as a Cadet officer, and his intense interest on the OTC, he shrank from war.

‘It was an effort to go, but therein he did his duty as in all else.’

Sources include:

Ancestry

The National Archives

Lest We Forget by Steve Annandale (2014, All Saints Church, Branksome Park)

Marlborough College and the Great War in 100 Stories (2018, Marlborough College.)

Public Schools and the Great War by Anthony Seldon and David Walsh (2013, Pen and Sword)

Bournemouth and the First World War by M.A. Edgington (Bournemouth Local Studies Publications, 1985)

‘Band of Brothers’ newspaper article by Kevin Nash (Bournemouth Daily Echo, 13 November, 2008)