Private John Thomas Branston Woodward, son of John and Mary Ann Woodward, was born in London on 23 May 1891 and went on to have some of the most extraordinary experiences of any of our soldiers, including being shipwrecked twice in an hour. Known as Tom, he spent part of his childhood in Tickencote but was living in Caldecott when he joined the 9th Battalion Suffolk Regiment on 8 January 1915. His family, including brother Charles and sister Rose Mary, were now living in Wisbech. Tom's battalion was sent to the Western Front on 29 August 1915. During the Battle of Loos in October, he carried his injured colonel off the battlefield and had his wristwatch shot off but escaped injury. Subsequently he was invalided home with trench foot expecting to have his leg amputated and was on board the hospital ship Anglia when it struck a mine. He was wearing a lifebelt which he took off and gave to a nurse who was also in the water, which probably saved her life. Tom was rescued by another ship, a collier called SS Lusitania (not the liner of the same name), and hauled on board, only for that ship to be blown up as well sending him back into the sea. Once again he was rescued. The effect of being in the water for so long had somehow done some good to his leg and doctors decided they did not need to amputate it after all. After recovering in England, Tom volunteered for trench mortar duty, and returned to France. On 13 September 1916, his battalion was in trenches south-east of Ginchy during the Battle of the Somme. The battalion war diary records how the Suffolks captured two lines of German trenches in the morning but suffered heavy casualties from artillery and machine guns. "At 7.30pm A Coy were ordered to attack the Quadrilateral [a German strongpoint] but failed to reach their objective owing to heavy machine gun fire. A new trench was dug by the Battalion which enabled them to get in touch with the 2nd Sherwoods on the left and 8th Bedfords on the right, it also cleared up the situation. During the attacks the Battalion behaved splendidly and it is regretted the casualties were heavy." In Rutland and the Great War, George Phillips wrote that Tom was killed during the evening when a German high explosive shell known as a "coal box" burst inside his trench. "He was a fine, big fellow, over six feet, and nicknamed by his comrades 'Long-Un,'" he wrote. "He was full of fun and no end of practical jokes," said a comrade, "and was beloved by all who knew him." Tom is buried in the vast Serre Road Number 2 Cemetery, the biggest on the Somme, grave XXXIII.D.9. He is remembered on Wisbech's Roll of Honour but not in the two Rutland villages where he spent part of his life, Tickencote and Caldecott. His sister Rose married Fred Chapman from Wisbech who also died on the Somme, in 1918. She was later recorded as living in Wothorpe, near Stamford. His cousin, John Thomas Branston, from Great Casterton was also killed in the war. John's father Richard was the brother of Tom's mother Mary, also known as Polly. Tom had joined up just seven months after his elder cousin was killed.
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