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George Woodcock was born into a Roman Catholic family in  Preston in 1895. His father was Irish-man George Joshua Woodcock and his mother was Elizabeth and he had at least two younger sisters, Lillian (b. c1897) and Florence (b. c.1899). In 1901 the family were living at 50 Pleasant Street, Preston and George Joshua (his father) was working as a fellmonger’s labourer.

Shortly after war broke out in 1914 he enlisted in the Army at the Preston on 2nd September where he joined the newly raised 10th (Service) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the number 13896. He was 19 years 2 months old, single and had been employed as a spinner in the thriving cotton industry. He had no previous military service.

At his enlistment medical the officer described George as standing 5ft 3.75ft tall, weighing 102lbs with a 35in chest. He had blue eyes, auburn hair and was of pale complexion.

George was still living at home before he enlisted and obviously was concerned about how his mother would cope without his wage coming into the house. For this reason he asked the Regimental Paymaster to pay her a separation allowance of 5/3 and allotted a further 3/6 from his pay to go straight to his mother.

The 10th Battalion started their training for war service down at South Downs and Eastbourne. It was Eastbourne that he received the first entry on his Regimental Conduct sheet on 4th March 1915, ‘whilst on active service, absent off morning parade’ for which he was given 6 extra piquets. Moving onto Andover in May he received another entry, ‘whilst on active service, overstaying his pass from 12 midnight 11th May to 11:30 a.m. on 12th May (11hrs 30mins); his punishment now was being confined to camp for two days.

Then at Windmill Hill, shortly before the Battalion sailed to France, he was charged for overstaying his pass again, from 14th – 19th July 1915.  For this offence he was deducted 5 days pay and was awarded 14 days confinement to camp which wouldn’t have been completely served by the time they sailed for France eleven days later, 31st July 1915.

The Battalion were in the 112th Brigade of the 37thDivision and when they arrived in Boulogne the next day the strength of the Battalion was 33 Officers and 949 men.

The final entry on his Regimental Conduct sheet was added on 12th December 1915, ‘whilst on active service – absent from parade, and because of this he was given three extra digging parades as punishment.

Private George Woodcock was killed in action on the Somme when the Battalion launched their attack near Pozieres Ridge on 11th August 1916.

Extract from 10th Battalion War Diary 10th Aug – 11th August 1916

10.8.16 – This Battalion relieved the 8th East Lancashire Regiment in trenches east of BAZENTIN-le-PETIT, the relief commencing at 4pm and being complete by 6.30pm.

11.8.16 – At 2am this morning after 3 minutes bombardment, 2 companies – (A & C Coys) attacked a portion of trench called the intermediate line. By 2.50am – 2/Lt. Duggan finding all 4 officers were wounded (2Lt. Gordon eventually dying) took command of the whole new line – length about 250 yards. At 3am the enemy counterattacked but were driven off by bomb and lewis guns. Again at 4am the enemy counterattacked in great force but were driven off suffering very heavy casualties – a third time at 5am the enemy made a feeble attack and were once again driven off leaving many wounded.

At 7am the enemy’s artillery quietened and a new company (B Coy) were put in the new line – A and C Companies being then withdrawn. The rest of the day passed quite quietly.

One Company (C) commanded by Lieut J.A. GRAVETT, (2nd in command 2/LT WADESON) – as soon as the barrage lifted dashed along the top of the trench throwing bombs as they went. The head of this company being held up for a second, was ably supported by A Company under Lieut. W.H. Proctor (2nd in Command 2/Lt. H.F. GORDON) – This company charged along the top of the trench and jumped in – bayoneting and bombing all Germans within view. By 2.30am the trench as far as the road from BAZENTIN-le-Grand to Martinpuich was completely in our hands. Then 2/Lt Duggan with a party mostly comprising men with picks and shovels began to build a barricade about 50 yds from the road. This work was accomplished.

The total casualties were Officers killed – 1, wounded 3. Other ranks killed – 20, wounded 77. Died of wounds since 7.

The following is a report of the operations from the 10th Bn. Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Cobbold;

Report of Operations –  B.G.C 112th Brigade. 11th August 1916

06:30 am Aug 11th.

I beg to forward herewith a preliminary account of the operation against the intermediate line which my Battalion undertook early this morning.

The objective was that part of the intermediate line from the Barricade at about S2D96 to the road westwards where it crosses the intermediate line.

In order to avoid as far as possible the enemy barrage, I determined to attack in enfilade in preference to a frontal attack.

The dispositions were that two companies were employed. I withdrew from the remaining two companies all their best bombers and mixed them with the fighting groups of the companies detailed for the attack.

Lt Gravett, C Coy was detailed to lead the attack, with A Coy, Lt Proctor in support.

These two companies occupied the line previous to the attack, ‘C’ in the left, ‘A’ in the right, their place being taken by the company in close support as they formed their dispositions previous to zero time.

A ramp was constructed to enable the men to get out of the trench quickly. By 01:55 am – (zero being 02:00 am), the leading company were all above ground in proper formation.

I ordered the O.C ‘A’ Coy to sweep the objective and either side of it thoroughly with Lewis Gun fire from 01:55 am till 02:20 am and stationed four rifle grenade men on the top, near the barricade to continue firing rifle grenades over the attacking infantry into the trench and along each side of it.

Lt Gravett led the attack with twenty bombers carrying waistcoats, ten bombs in each. Each man with rifle bayonet fixed, slung.

Behind him, four fighting groups under their own NCOs with whom they have (their) instructions – nine men in each group, bombers wearing waistcoats, ten bombs each – every man in addition carried two bombs each. Behind these, trench clearers and men carrying buckets of bombs (all these in the trench).

The Lewis Guns were on the right flank, one fired ahead, the second swept the ground to the North, i.e. the right flank.

A right flank guard, 50 yards from the trench was to sweep up snipers.

As soon as the last men of ‘C’ Company passed the Barricade, the orders were for the leading group of ‘A’ Company to get into the trench and follow-on. The two last groups to carry one pick and one shovel each – Two groups carrying buckets of bombs.

In addition, one selected NCO and twelve expert bombers and determined men were selected to advance along the left side of the trench – in order to support ‘C’ Company if held up, and take the enemy in rear.

The artillery barrage is reported to have been weak and ineffective, in fact, the Officers inform me that they could not have told when the barrage lifted at zero, had they not been accurately clocked. It did not keep the enemy snipers heads down nor apparently interfere with their machine-gun fire.

At zero precisely, Lt Gravett and his twenty bombers rushed along the trench, as they passed the Barricade, throwing bombs into the trench and pressing on at the double. The remaining groups followed on, some in the trench, some outside as detailed. There was little opposition for 100 yards, when the enemy began to throw bombs from the trench and put up the SOS signal, and many flares.

The men took cover in shell holes and crept forward throwing bombs, the groups doing their work in the trench.

At about 150 yards, the enemy opened machine-gun fire with two guns from the road, and enfiladed the trench and both sides. Under a shower of bombs our men fell back, there being many casualties. Lt Gravett was also wounded by shrapnel and incapacitated from throwing bombs.

Lt Proctor and party now came up on the left side of the trench and attacked the Bosche vigorously, driving them back and carrying on the whole attack again.

The men shouted out “Bolton” – “Bolton” – being apparently mostly men from that town.

They charged forward in the trench, some men still under Lt Gravett still on top and bombing; they finally drove the enemy back over the road.

The last forty yards being quite straight and a machine-gun firing from behind the road directly into the trench – after several men had been knocked out it was decided to block the trench at this point, which was done and a second barricade erected forty yards further back. The first barricade being held by Lewis Guns in position.

The enemy fired great numbers of rifle grenades as the attackers advanced into the trench and on either side. Lt Gravett was a second time wounded in the head by a bomb, but remained most gallantly in command of his men till the trench was finally taken and consolidated. Lt Proctor was also wounded in two places by bullet and bomb. These were the only two officers concerned in the actual attack and are the only officers in the companies which took part in the operation.

The enemy bombarded the captured trench heavily at once and continuously and the officer who was placed on guard at the new barricade has just been severely wounded. The leaves me actually with four 2nd Lts, myself, my Second in Command, and my Adjutant.

The men have suffered heavily and although I have not yet received the total list of casualties – I fear that the two companies have lost 50% in killed and wounded. Both the Company Serjeant-Majors were killed. I am informed by the medical officer and by my 2ic that the men are however in good spirits and have got unlimited pluck in them notwithstanding.

At 04:45 am the enemy made a determined counter attack – crossing the road and attacking our barricade in the trench whilst large numbers attacked across the open, from another trench near the road. These attacks were all beaten off and the enemy driven back over the road. The Lewis Guns killed a considerable number in the open.

In the trench itself, twenty Germans were killed. The remainder scattered across the open and across the road. The Lewis Guns doing good execution.

I cannot speak too highly of the gallantry and determination of Lt Proctor, and Lt Gravett who personally let their men with very great courage and I wish to recommend these officers for the Military Cross. Lt Proctors jaw is smashed, Lt Gravett I trust is not so severely wounded.

R. Cobbold, Lt Colonel, Comd 10th Loyal N. Lancs.

The body of Private George Woodcock was not recovered from the battlefield and as such he is remembered on the memorial to the missing at Thiepval. No effects were returned to his next of kin, which he had nominated as his mother. She would however later take receipt of the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory medal he was awarded, along with a memorial scroll and plaque bearing George’s name and in recognition of his sacrifice.

The following notice was placed in a local newspaper;

13896 PT GEORGE WOODCOCK 10TH BN-1

Presumably it was his mother who submitted his name, on the card below, which was added to Preston’s Roll of Honour at the Harris Museum.

13896 PTE GEORGE WOODCOCK 10TH BN

Rank: Private
Service No: 13896
Date of Death: 11/08/1916
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 10th Bn.
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

Paul McCormick
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Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the creator and administrator for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment website. Since 2010 he has been researching the soldiers that served during the First World War and sharing their stories on his website. You can contact Paul through the website 'Contact Me' page or on Twitter and Facebook.
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