Lieutenant Robert Gartside Wood

Robert Gartside Wood was born in Stalybridge on June 10, 1890. His father, Robert Wood, was a licensed victualer (landlord of a pub) and later became an alderman of Stalybridge. In 1911 Robert Gartside Wood was living with his family at the Fox Tavern on Ridge Hill Lane and working as a clerk at a cotton mill but by 1914 he was working at the Stalybridge Gas Works.

He was commissioned into the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment on February 20, 1914 and sailed with the battalion to Egypt serving with them through their training and preparations for action. Whilst in Egypt he was promoted to full Lieutenant on November 4, 1914 along with several other junior officers.

Lieutenant Wood landed with the Battalion in Gallipoli on May 9, 1915 and the 1/9th went into the line for the first time on May 21st. Divisional orders were to advance the line 100 yards by digging new fire trenches at night, under cover of darkness. The 1/9th achieved their goal but the 1/10th Manchesters, immediately to their left, failed and so were compelled to try to achieve the same goal but now in broad daylight. Major Richard B. Nowell in a letter to Alderman Wood described what happened and it was published in the Ashton Reporter on November 13, 1915.

The letter stated that Lt. Wood went from his own lines to the assistance of a man wounded in the forward trench of the 10th Manchesters, which was under construction. He reached it in safety, though the approach was swept by machine gun fire, but was shot in the leg immediately after he got out the wounded man. He succeeded in rolling back into the trench, where he in his turn was rescued from drowning in the liquid mud by Private Burke and Private Smith. He was subsequently brought away by these two men, and carried to hospital.

He was wounded on May 25, 1915 by a machine gun bullet to the left buttock and left tibia with compound fracture. He was medically evacuated from Lemnos to Malta sailing on the hospital ship Neuralia, embarking on May 26 and disembarking on June 4th. In Malta he was admitted to the  Blue Sisters Hospital where he remained for approximately 2 months. At Malta, he subsequently embarked the hospital ship Somali on August 2nd, disembarking at Gibraltar on August 6th. Three weeks later he embarked on the Andania finally arriving at Plymouth on August 30, 1915. Here he was medically assessed and admitted to Mrs. Burns’ Hospital for Officers, Stoodley Knowle, Torquay where he remained for several weeks, meeting the King and Queen who happened to make an official visit to the hospital while he was there.

Lt. Wood, who was by this time recuperating at home, was interviewed by the Ashton Reporter, and stated:

“When I was wounded our surgeon saw that both the ankle bones were broken, and it looked almost impossible for it to heel. He said there was no hope, and on the hospital ship that took me away from the Peninsula they asked me if they might take the leg off. I said I would wait until we got to hospital at Malta to see what they said there. At Malta I was placed under a surgeon who, before being attached to the forces, was the head surgeon in St. Thomas’ Hospital, London. I went under two operations, and after the second it was thought there was no hope of saving my foot. I lay on my back absolutely numb for three months. My foot was saved, and I am recovering very well from the injury.”

Lt. Wood was awarded the Military Cross for his actions that day (Gazetted November 8, 1915) and was later also awarded the French Croix de Guerre (Gazetted February 24, 1916). He received his Military Cross from the King at Buckingham palace on Thursday February 3, 1916.

Despite his upbeat statement to the press, his recovery was long and painful and throughout the course of the next two years he was medically assessed on a regular basis. Shortly after receiving his medal from the King he rejoined the 3/9th Battalion at Codford passed fit for light duty, (office work). This was a little optimistic and he was subsequently granted 6 weeks medical leave from June 2 to July 13, 1916.  He was again passed fit for light duty and on November 23 joined the Command Depot at Heaton Park. As a decorated officer he was a natural fit for recruiting and so on March 10, 1917 he was assigned to recruiting duties in the Manchester recruiting area.

On September 12, 1917 he was promoted to Captain with precedence from June 1, 1916 and in January 1918 joined the 8th Reserve Battalion, Manchester Regiment at Filey. Here, on March 4, 1918, he was pronounced permanently unfit for active service, the medical report noting that his operations had left him with a permanently shortened leg and that he still walked with a limp.

Somewhat remarkably, the Ministry of Labour requested his services and he was eventually transferred to the 191 Prisoner of War Company which was a Labour Corps company that used prisoners of war as skilled but forced labour.

On October 15, 1918 he married Eliza Esther Hardy, of Stalybridge, at Manchester Cathedral but there wasn’t to be much of a honeymoon as he embarked for France 4 days later en-route to a Prisoner of War camp. He was finally demobilised on November 2, 1919, with medical category B2 and joined the Territorial Reserve. He was promoted to Captain in the Territorial Reserve on February 3, 1921 and finally relinquished his commission on Sept 30, 1921 retaining the rank of Captain.

In 1923 he was accepted into the Special Constabulary, a part-time volunteer  arm of the regular police force, where he served for at least the next 19 years. reaching the rank of Inspector.  He served in this capacity during World War Two and subsequently received the Defence Medal to accompany his Special Constabulary Long Service Medal with Long Service Clasp. Throughout this time he and his wife continued to live in Stalybridge, on Mottram Old Road, where he worked for a brewery until they retired to Blackpool. Captain Robert Gartside Wood, M.C., died in 1965 in Blackpool. He was 75 years old.