Joseph Richard Woodcock's entry on the Arras Memorial. Image courtesy of Paul R
JOSEPH RICHARD WOODCOCK
Date of Death:13/04/1917
Regiment:Royal Army Medical Corps
Unit:53rd Field Ambulance
Panel Ref:Bay 10
Joseph Richard Woodcock was born in Winsford,Cheshire, in 1884. His parents were William (a Salt Boiler) and Margaret. Siblings were Jessie, Henry, Mary, Harriet and Maggie. In both the 1891 and 1901 censuses the Woodcock family were living on Station Road in Winsford (this was still his parents address after WW1). By 1901 Joseph was working as a Fitter's Labourer. In 1910 he married Maria Leach and shortly afterwards they moved to Lancashire, setting up home at 12 Hartley Street in Shaw. That same year their first child, Horace, was born. In 1911 Joseph's occupation was that of Fireman in one of the local cotton mills. Another son, Thomas, followed in 1913 by which time they had moved to Royton. The family address given after his death was 287 Higginshaw Lane.
By the time war broke out Joseph had changed occupation again - he was now a self employed wholesale baker. Joseph enlisted into the Royal Army Medical Corps in October 1914 in Oldham. He reached France for active service on July 15th 1915 and was a member of the 53rd Field Ambulance. This was a mobile front line medical unit and one of 17th Division's three Field Ambulances. Each one of which took responsibility for the care of the casualties of one of the Brigades of the Division. The capacity of a Field Ambulance was 150 casualties but so often during battle the sheer number of wounded men would overwhelm the medical units. The Ambulance was responsible for establishing and operating a number of points along the casualty evacuation chain, from the Bearer Relay Posts which were behind the Regimental Aid Posts, and then down to the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) and finally the Main Dressing Station (MDS). There was usually one ADS per Brigade and then a MDS for the whole Division. At full complement a Field Ambulance would be composed of 10 officers and 224 men.
When Joseph got to France the 17th Division was familiarising itself with trench warfare and manning the lines in the southern area of the Ypres salient. They were involved in various actions in that area in spring 1916 and then in the summer of that year the 17th Division were engaged at the Battle of the Somme.Needless to say Joseph's unit would have been extremely busy. The next offensive the Division were involved in was the Battle of Arras in 1917. It was during this that Joseph was killed. The lack of a grave for him indicates it may have been from shellfire but a book published about Winsford's war experience - Winsford Returns - states that he was shot by a sniper whilst going to help a wounded comrade. If that was the case then it's likely that his grave was lost or destroyed in later fighting.
Back home in Royton, Maria Woodcock received the official notification in early May that he had been killed in action. A friend of Joseph's wrote shortly after:
"I am writing you a few lines with regard to your husband's death. I offer you my deepest sympathy, and wish to join you in your great sorrow. He never shirked his duty, and he has died a British soldier's death"
Joseph Richard Woodcock is also commemorated on the war memorial of his native Winsford.