19.24 – John Arthur and Elizabeth Woodhead

John Arthur Woodhead was born in 1889 in Todmorden – in 1891, he was living at 12 Shade Street with his parents, 5 siblings and maternal grandmother. His father John Herbert Woodhead was a clogger with a mildly chequered past; serving time at various points for stealing and unpaid debts, with the theft being from his own father. His mother, Elizabeth Farrar Woodhead, stayed at home with the youngest children – but she died in 1897, leaving John and his siblings motherless at a young age. By 1901 they were living at 162 Knowlwood Road, and all the children bar the youngest were working as cotton spinners. The entire family were Wesleyans and various marriages were registered at Mankinholes Wesleyan Chapel.

John Arthur Woodhead, from his funeral notice in the Todmorden District News

John Arthur was living at 148 Bacup Road when he joined the army in 1908, and was known to be a keen and talented rugby footballer with his regiment – he was a three-quarter back when his battalion, the 2nd West Riding Duke of Wellington, won the Army Cup in March 1914. This was reported incorrectly in the Leeds Times, leading the team captain to write to the paper asking them politely to acknowledge this, “as there are many in your readership who will be keenly awaiting the correct information to be printed”.

John Arthur served in France for not even half a year before receiving the injuries that sent him first to a field hospital in the Netherlands and then back to England – a shattered kneecap and frostbitten toes. Knowing what we do about his love of rugby football you can imagine the deep disappointment and frustration he must have felt. He recovered from those injuries well enough at the Northern General Hospital in Newcastle, which had been set up for treating injured soldiers. After spending time in the hospital and enjoying 12 weeks of furlough home he was back in Newcastle preparing to return to the front when he fell ill with pneumonia.

He died July 25th 1915, aged 26, and was buried at Christ Church on July 30th. His cause of death is given as double pneumonia, as we stated before. Did you know that 1 in 8 of all WW1 deaths were from illnesses, not injuries? How many reading this story have ever had pneumonia? We forget sometimes how much more at the mercy of these illnesses we were in the past. A young fit athlete, and still, it killed him.

Article about burial that accompanied photograph

His eldest brother, Ernest Farrar Woodhead, joined the army the year after John Arthur died, and served overseas up until 1919 when he returned home to Hyde after his final posting in Egypt.

This plot also contains John Arthur’s mother, Elizabeth. His father John Herbert died in 1911 in the workhouse (according to the burial register) and is also buried at Christ Church, but we don’t know where.

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  1. Pingback:35.14 – John McGrail – F.O.C.C.T.

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