Civilian Herbert Woods

 

Civilian (Retired Army Captain) Herbert Woods, M.C. and M.M, of Ballygroman House near Killumney/Ovens (probably near Newcestown)

Date of incident: 26 April 1922 (executed by IRA and disappeared)

 

Sources: London Gazette, 12 Sept. 1916, issue 29749, page 9006; London Gazette, 16 July 1918, issue 30801, page 8478; London Gazette, 15 Nov. 1921, supplement 32519, page 9115; CE, 28 April 1922; CCE, 6 May 1922; II, 3 Sept. 2006; Criminal Injuries Book, Cork East Riding, 1920-22 (Claim ID 37/163, 165, 167, NAI); Malicious Injury Claims, Ballincollig, Cork County Secretary Files, Box 16, Item 2 (Cork City and County Archives); Application of Edward Woods to Irish Grants Committee, 31 Jan. 1927 (CO 762/133/4, TNA); Application of Matilda Warmington Woods to Irish Grants Committee, 31 Jan. 1927 (CO 762/133/5, TNA); Application of Matilda Warmington Woods to Irish Grants Committee (undated separate application), received 4 March 1927 (CO 762/133/5, TNA); Witness Statement 810 of Tim Herlihy et al., 4 (BMH); Correspondence with Matilda Woods, Michael Collins Papers, A/908 (Military Archives); Preparatory Material Relating to Pensions for Members of the West Cork Brigade (in the possession of Diarmuid Begley, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork; Ó Broin (1985), 177; Hitchcock (1988 ed.), 266-68, 271, 276, 278, 293-96; Hart (1998), 273-92; Crowley (2005), 464-65; Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Donnelly (2014), 20-21; Keane (2014), 104-105, 121-42; Keane (2017), 85-89, 285;

 http://www.irishmedals.ie/Civilians-Killed-Civil-War.php (accessed 1 March 2018); https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/29749/supplement/9006/data.pdf (accessed 8 March 2018); https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30801/supplement/8478/data.pdf (accessed 8 March 2018); https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32519/supplement/9115 (accessed 8 March 2018);       

 

Note: Some hours after Commandant Michael O’Neill had been killed by Captain Herbert Woods at Ballygroman House, five of O’Neill’s comrades returned there from Bandon; they confronted Woods and the two members of the Hornibrook family (Thomas and his son Samuel) who had violently resisted O’Neill and the three other Bandon Battalion staff officers at about 2:30 a.m. earlier that day. After a brief exchange of fire and some fisticuffs, Woods and the two Hornibrooks were taken prisoner. Woods admitted to having fired the fatal shot at Michael O’Neill—with a Bulldog .45 revolver. See CCE, 6 May 1922. Instead of taking their prisoners back to their Bandon base, the five IRA men motored westward to the remote townland of Scarriff in Templemartin parish. The three prisoners were held there overnight. See Crowley (2005), 464-65. Volunteer Patrick Donovan, a member of the Quarry’s Cross Company, later asserted that he had guarded these prisoners that night at Scarriff. See Preparatory Material Relating to Pensions for Members of the West Cork Brigade (in the possession of Diarmuid Begley, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork). See also Keane (2014), 126-27. The next day the three men held responsible for murdering Commandant O’Neill were themselves killed by an IRA squad and then secretly buried—probably in the Newcestown district. Almost a century later, the three bodies have still not been recovered. See Criminal Injuries Book, Cork East Riding, 1920-22 (Claim ID 37/163, 165, 167, NAI); Malicious Injury Claims, Ballincollig, Cork County Secretary Files, Box 16, Item 2 (Cork City and County Archives); Hitchcock (1988 ed.), 266-68, 271, 276, 278, 293-96; Coogan, Michael Collins (1990), 359; Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Donnelly (2014), 18-19; Keane (2014), 121-42.

 

Captain Herbert Woods was a temporary resident of Ballygroman House for family and prudential reasons. He had previously been living in Cork city with his uncle Edward Woods, who was married to Thomas Hornibrook’s only surviving daughter Matilda. As a decorated war veteran and ex-officer of the British army, Woods was capable of helping to provide needed protection for the Hornibrooks. They had stoutly resisted an arms raid on Ballygroman House in 1919 and had subsequently experienced persistent IRA and/or agrarian depredations against their crops, livestock, farm implements, motor car, and other property; they had also been severely boycotted. The family had lodged numerous claims for damages under the Criminal Injuries Acts between 1920 and 1922. See Criminal Injuries Book, Cork East Riding, 1920-22 (Claim ID 37/163, 165, 167, NAI); Malicious Injury Claims, Ballincollig, Cork County Secretary Files, Box 16, Item 2 (Cork City and County Archives); Bielenberg, Borgonovo, and Donnelly (2014), 20, fn. 44; Keane (2014), 117-19.

 

Herbert Woods was in 1911 a resident of house 2 on Crosses Green Quay in Cork city with his uncle Edward Woods, the husband of Matilda Hornibrook—the daughter of Thomas Hornibrook and the half-sister of Samuel Hornibrook. Edward Woods was a wine-and-spirits merchant, and his nephew Herbert (then aged 18) worked as a clerk in his uncle’s store.

 

A letter mentioning Woods and his slaying was sent in 1922 by Alice Hodder of Crosshaven to her mother, who resided in England but periodically came to visit her daughter in Crosshaven. Alice Hodder knew Woods personally and socially. In the aftermath of the killings she asked her mother a simple question and then commented on Woods: ‘Do you remember him last summer [1921]? He used to bring us up lobsters and mackerel. He was a bit of a ne’er-do-well and a bit mad, but he’d done splendid work in the war and was recommended for a V[ictoria] C[ross].

 

. . . His aunt and uncle [Matilda and Edward Woods] had been subjected to a lot of persecution and feared an attack, so young Woods went to stay with them. [Woods did so in late 1920 when he was discharged from the British army; for awhile he lived with them at Crosshaven, but he later moved in with the ‘persecuted’ Hornibrooks at Ballygroman House.] Alice Hodder’s letter to her mother was forwarded in 1922 to Lionel Curtis as Secretary of the Irish Committee of the British cabinet in the aftermath of the killings of Thomas H. Hornibrook Sr, his son Samuel Hornibrook, and Captain Woods. See Coogan, Michael Collins (1990), 359. 

 

Early in 1915 at Fermoy, Herbert Woods enlisted in the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (the Royal Canadians) and became a member of the Seventh (Service) Battalion. He was soon fighting in France, and on 12 September 1916 he was gazetted as a recipient of the Military Medal for ‘acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire’. He was then a corporal. See London Gazette, 12 Sept. 1916, issue 29749, page 9006. Less than two years later, on 18 July 1918, he was gazetted again, this time as a recipient of the Military Cross ‘for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as a platoon commander. By his courage and skilful dispositions, he repelled an attempted surprise attack with severe casualties to the enemy and captured two prisoners.’ He was then a temporary second lieutenant. See London Gazette, 16 July 1918, issue 30801, page 8478. See also London Gazette, 15 Nov. 1921, supplement 32519, page 9115; https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/29749/supplement/9006/data.pdf (accessed 8 March 2018); https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30801/supplement/8478/data.pdf (accessed 8 March 2018); https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32519/supplement/9115 (accessed 8 March 2018); Keane (2014), 104-105; http://www.irishmedals.ie/Civilians-Killed-Civil-War.php (accessed 1 March 2018).

 

In spite of medals won, Herbert Woods experienced hard fighting on the battlefields of Flanders, northern France, and German Westphalia in late 1917 and in 1918. Early in December 1917 his wounding on the Passchendaele front in West Flanders led to a stay in a field hospital before he returned to the Allied campaign in mid-January 1918. His service record shows that he had to be sent to Southampton in mid-February because of another wound—in his scalp. A few days later (on 18 February 1918), he was diagnosed as having suffered a mental collapse (probably from shell-shock). Until 8 July of that year he recuperated at Lady Carnarvon’s Hospital for Officers in London and subsequently at Holmrook House in Carlisle in north-western England. While he was at the latter institution, a bout of drunkenness led to his court-martial, and he was almost stripped of his Military Cross as a punishment. On 16 July he went back into active service—supposedly with the 88th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery. But according to his fellow officer Captain Francis Clere Hitchcock, who penned and later published (in 1937) one of the classic subaltern memoirs of the Great War, Woods actually rejoined the Second Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (C Company) and did not begin fighting with the Trench Mortar Battery (he was attached to it) until the second week of September 1918. With these troops he participated in the Fifth Battle of Ypres, coming under sustained fire from German artillery. (The ‘Fifth Battle of Ypres’ refers to a series of battles in northern France and southern Belgium from late September through October 1918.) Having survived heavy German shelling, Woods moved with British forces to occupy the German city of Cologne in Westphalia early in December 1918. He was then sent home to London, where he was specially employed in the Records Section of the War Office from early January 1919 until the following June. His discharge from the British army came on 1 November 1920 at the rank of lieutenant, but he appears to have re-enlisted and to have served for another ten months, though we cannot be certain. On 1 September 1921, Temporary Captain ‘H. Woods’ of the General List relinquished the rank of temporary colonel upon ceasing to be specially employed. See London Gazette, 15 Nov. 1921, supplement 32519, page 9115; https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32519/supplement/9115 (accessed 8 March 2018); Captain Francis C. Hitchcock, ‘Stand To’: A Diary of the Trenches, 1915-1918 (1988 ed.; first published London: Hurst and Blackett, 1937), 266-68, 271, 276, 278, 293-96; Keane (2014), 104-105, 242.    

 

At the end of January 1927, Edward Woods, who with his wife Matilda Woods had raised his nephew Herbert Woods, submitted a revealing claim to the Irish Grants Committee. Over five years earlier, Edward Woods asserted, while living at Glenbrae, Cross Douglas Road, Cork, he had received a ‘threatening notice to leave [the country] on the 5th June 1921 as follows: “Spy Woods. You are shadowed as a spy, harbouring spies in your house. Beware of your tongue, 48 hours will tell no more. You are doomed to death spy.” I then came to England. It was quite unsafe for me to go back to live in Ireland; things were only getting worse after the Truce. Later, in April 1922, my nephew Captain Herbert Woods, who had been living with my wife and myself as a son from his childhood, was foully murdered while visiting Mr T. H. Hornibrook at Ballygroman. Soon after the murders my wife [Matilda Woods] joined me in England, where we have had to live since, and I claim for the entire cost of living in England above that of living in Ireland since April 1922, viz., 5 years.’ Edward Woods added: ‘I have always been a staunch loyalist. My premises in Cork [city]’—a wine-and-spirits business—‘were burnt down as being a noxious person to the rebels.’ He sought compensation of £500 from the Irish Grants Committee. See Application of Edward Woods to Irish Grants Committee, 31 Jan. 1927 (CO 762/133/4, TNA). At the time of this application Edward and Matilda Woods were living at Eastwood, Crowstone Road North, Westcliff-on-Sea—a suburb of Southend-on-Sea, a seaside resort in Essex in eastern England on the Thames estuary. 

 


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