To an isolated theatre of war
Distanced from dreams.
Caught in a war that ceased, yet his battles far from eased.
Creating the Centena
For the past couple of months, James Wood has been in the back of my mind, and with every new bit of information I found out on this journey, my thoughts always turned to: “I wonder how he felt doing that?”
A conversation with my aunt about the project soon turned to her grandfather, James Wood. A man from Dalton-le-Dale who had a short 39-year life, which on the exterior seemed to be filled with hardship. By the age of 13 he was already working down the coal pits looking after the ponies, and aged 28 he found himself landing in Le Havre on what would be the start of a very long war.
Another conversation with Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life taught me that James was a Kitchener Volunteer, who signed up in late 1914, yet he only left for France in 1915. To my surprise, I found out that his regiment, the 9th Battalion Border Regiment, ended up leaving France behind and boarding a ship to Alexandria, and later, Salonika, where it seems the hardship was entrenched.
My aunt told me he survived the war, but died of pneumonia in 1926, which when reading Colonel H.C. Wylly’s account of events in Salonika in his fascinating book, “The Border Regiment in the Great War”, this information is of no surprise. Records at the National Archives show that James was treated for influenza, and given that the men had little to no tents, and later on only one blanket in exposed, weather-beaten camps, his fate seems to have been sealed there and then.
He was a pioneer, so did not see much direct combat, instead, they were constantly on the move; building and mending roads, wire and bridges along the Macedonian Front, and being split up into small parties to carry out the work.
It struck me when Col. Wylly mentions a “distant theatre of war”, and it’s from these four words where my inspiration came for the centena. I felt a real sense of how lonely and homesick these men must have felt while reading this account, with only one leave of absence the entire time. I felt saddened by it, despite reports of “good spirits” and so on.
Malaria and harsh terrain, combined with all the other difficulties, meant they were isolated – from home and from the rest of the world – in unfriendly surroundings. They overcame it, and James came home, married in 1920, but it was all cut short when he later died in 1926.
The events during his war never left him behind.
Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life are marking the centenary with special exhibitions this year – Remembrance 100, an open art exhibition by local artists, and Lest We Forget, which explores 100 years of remembrance.
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