Woods, Humphrey Reginald

Humphrey Woods was the only child of Lieutenant-Colonel Reginald Herbert Woods OBE, MC, and Ivy Oswald Woods (née Saltmarsh), of Woodfield House, Rectory Lane, Stevenage, Hertfordshire. He came to Hopper’s from St. Aubyns, Rottingdean. His father was the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps in Calcutta from 1930 until October 1934:  “[He was the] son of the very popular commanding officer in Calcutta, who had devoted himself to the care of the young Riflemen of our Young Soldiers Battalion in this war…  (“Annals of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Volume VI”).

He was a House Prefect, Twelfth Man for the soccer XI, and as a keen cricketer got his Flannels. He went to RMC Sandhurst on a Nomination in September 1934, and on being gazetted to his father’s regiment joined 2nd Battalion (2KRRC) at Aldershot in January 1936. He spent two years with 1st Battalion (1KRRC) in Burma.

1KRRC then moved to Egypt, where Woods spent a year before getting his first leave in time for Green Jacket Week in the summer of 1939.   He served with D Company of 1KRRC until March 1943 when he was selected for command of 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, then operating in Sicily.   9DLI’s previous commander had been another Wykehamist, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Board Stephenson Clarke DSO (H 1920-1924) who had been killed in action on 23rd July (see individual entry).

Prior to this appointment he had seen action in Egypt, at Fort Capuzzo, near Sollum on the Libyan-Egyptian border when acting Captain in command of a Bren-gun carrier platoon.  On 14th June  1940 the fort was surrendered without inflicting a single casualty on Woods’ company, although he was wounded for the first time by the explosion of a mine whilst leading his platoon up to the walls of the Fort.     He described the scene thus:   “Three gates were found, out of which Libyans in every variety of garment continued to pour out, very frightened, throwing down arms, grenades, equipment and clothing”.    He was awarded the MC for distinguished service in the Middle East between August 1939 and November 1940.

From August 1940 1KRRC were on patrol duty along the frontier near Capuzzo and Fort Maddelena and in December Woods’ bren gun carriers were the first into  Fort Musaid, a fort on the Egyptian side of the border.  In January 1941 they cut off Tobruk from the west, then moved inland to Mechili, a desert fort, and then advanced a further 70 miles  to attack the fort at Sceledeima, south east of Benghazi.  There Woods’ carrier evicted an Italian observation post, although at dawn next day they lost two carriers to mines.   Shortly after this they were withdrawn to Cairo for a rest. They were then involved in the defence of Cyrenaica and after a series of small actions and patrols, were withdrawn to Gerawla on 26th June.

Woods saw further action in the fierce fighting at Sidi Rezergh in late November 1941 when two carriers were hit by anti-tank fire.  On the morning of November 21st, when ‘D’ Company helped to storm the German-held escarpment north and east of Sidi Rezegh airfield, Woods was left behind in charge of all the motor transport, two thousand yards short of the southern escarpment. He was lucky, because on November 23rd 1KRRC was overrun by German tanks, and in the ensuing chaos many men were lost, including the CO and the commander of ‘D’ Company.  Woods was then put in command of D Company.

In May 1942 Woods temporarily left the Battalion to help train a battalion of Sherwood Foresters in desert warfare and on his return found the unit much depleted with many of his former colleagues having been lost in action.  Between June and July the battalion was in action at the Battle of Gazala and for this, and his continued presence at the forefront of any action, he was awarded a Bar to his MC.

D Company were helping 44th Reconnaissance Regiment clear two minefields when it was found that a number of Reconnaissance personnel had been captured.  He led a charge upon the enemy, during which he destroyed two medium guns, five anti-tank guns, four heavy machine guns, and killed or captured 90 of the enemy.  All the men of the Reconnaissance Regiment were rescued.  Woods was immediately awarded the DSO.

On 20th March 1943 he joined 2nd Battalion KRRC as Second-in-Command, and quickly saw action on the hills along the Mareth Line.  On 28th March he took over 150 prisoners.

Woods was specially selected, at the age of 27, for command of  9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, then operating in Sicily.  Their previous commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Board Stephenson Clarke DSO (H1920-1924) had been killed in action on 23rd July.      He was back in England for a brief period late in 1943 to help prepare his battalion for the invasion of France.

On 6th June 1944 he led the assault on the beaches of Normandy when they took all their objectives.  After seven days of bitter and continuous fighting he was killed urging on his troops at Lingevres, near Tilly-sur-Seulles on the morning of 14th June.

Woods had planned the attack very carefully, and was seen encouraging his men forward.  The first two objectives had been achieved and he returned to his carrier to speak to HQ when the German defences opened up with mortar fire.   It was at this point that Woods was killed.

He lies in Grave 15.F.26 of the Bayeux War Cemetery.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: Woods
  • Forenames or initials: Humphrey Reginald
  • House: I
  • Years in School: 1929-1934
  • Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
  • Regiment: King's Royal Rifle Corps, attached to 9th Durham Light Infantry
  • Date of Birth: 23rd September 1915
  • Date of Death: 14th June 1944
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner G1
  • Decoration: DSO, MC and Bar
  • Burial Site: Bayeux War Cemetery: Grave XV.F.26