Many mysteries during war-time. Tidworth Military Cemetery, Wiltshire, England
Many mysteries during war-time. Tidworth Military Cemetery, Wiltshire, England

Recruit’s change of name adds to wartime mystery

THERE are many reasons why people enlist in the army in time of war and the First World War was no exception but some of those who fought, and died, remain a mystery to us.

One of these is Richard Bennett Woodcock who enlisted in Lismore on May 22, 1917 under the name of Richard John Bennett.

When he enlisted Richard stated that he had been born in London, was aged 35, single, Anglican and worked as a sawyer. He was a resident of Stokers Siding, Murwillumbah. As his next of kin he named his brother, Charles William Bennett who was said to be living at Tottenham, London. Later his record was amended to add a sister, Miss E. Woodcock, also of Tottenham but the brother’s name remained unchanged.

At Richard’s initial medical examination it was noted that he was partially blind but it was not considered sufficient to reject his enlistment application.

The Army required reinforcements urgently and he was attached to the 4th Pioneers Battalion and embarked on August 1, 1917.

His unit was sent to Salisbury Plain for training but he failed his musketry course and he was declared unfit.

He then underwent another medical which reported he was in very good health though he had unilateral blindness.

His record is hard to follow but it appears he spent some time at the 1st Australian General Hospital at Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, which is not far from Salisbury Plain. Possibly they were assessing his sight or perhaps he was working as an orderly at the hospital.

He is shown as embarking for Rouen, France in 1918 with the 4th Pioneers. However, the 1st General Hospital was also based in Rouen at that time.

In 1919 he is shown as being on duty at Sutton Veny with the hospital but on July 30, 1919 he is listed as sick in hospital at Rouen. He had concussion of the brain received in an accident a few days earlier.

He was returned to Sutton Veny where he died on August 4, 1919.

He was given a full military funeral on August 8, 1919 with a bugler and band. His sister was with him when he died and there was an inquest into his death. Its verdict was that his injuries were received accidentally.

Prior to leaving Australia he had made a will and the Public Trustee Office eventually came forward with the news that his real name was Richard Bennett Woodcock and that it wanted documentary evidence that he was indeed dead.

His brother’s name was then given as Charles William Woodcock instead of Bennett as on the enlistment papers.

As Richard died at Sutton Veny one might be forgiven for thinking that he died of Spanish influenza. Apparently a large number of Australian soldiers are buried near the village of Sutton Veny, most of whom died of flu in 1918-1919. While our soldier was probably assisting in the nursing of influenza victims there, he died accidentally.

As no available record lists his parents it is difficult to complete the story of Richard John Bennett Woodcock, whoever he may have been.

Possibly his parents were dead when he emigrated to Australia and that is why he listed his brother’s name on his enlistment papers. But, why give his sister’s name as Miss E. Woodcock? Could she have been a half-sister? There are so many questions.

To make it more confusing, in his army record it states that he was buried at Tidworth Cemetery as “R.J.B. Woodcock” who died on August 4, 1919 while attached to the Australian Army Medical Corps.

Searching this name, or Bennett, at Tidworth and Sutton Veny cemeteries achieves nothing. The mystery continues.

Prepared by Geoff and Margaret Henderson for Richmond River Historical Society, Lismore. Telephone: 6621 9993. Email: Hours: Museum – Monday-Friday 10am-4pm; Research Room – Monday & Wednesday 10am-4pm.

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