This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990
James Park Woods (1886-1963), soldier and orchardist, was born on 4 January 1886 at Two Wells, South Australia, son of James Woods, blacksmith, and his wife Ester, née Johnson. After his parents' death James was reared by a stepsister and, with his brothers, worked on a vineyard. Soon after war broke out in 1914 Woods tried to enlist in Adelaide, but was rejected because of his height (5 ft 4 ins, 163 cm).
He travelled to Western Australia with his brother Will, and carted timber and fenced in the Katanning area before becoming a vigneron at Caversham. Following further unsuccessful attempts, James eventually enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 29 September 1916 when the height requirements had been lowered. He left Australia in December as a reinforcement for the 48th Battalion.
Having spent two periods in hospital in Britain, he reached France in September 1917, only to be invalided on and off until August 1918. On 18 September the 48th Battalion attacked the Hindenburg outpost line near Le Verguier, north-west of St Quentin. It took its objective, but British troops on the Australian flank were held up and a company of the 48th was sent in support. Ordered on patrol, Woods and two companions discovered a German post comprising six machine-guns and over thirty troops. Without waiting for the force which was being organized to assault the strong-point, Woods led his small party against it. One German was wounded, another was captured and the rest of the garrison fled. The Germans then counter-attacked. Despite heavy fire, Woods climbed onto the parapet and, while lying there, held off successive attacks by throwing bombs handed to him by his companions. So effective was his defence that, when Australian reinforcements arrived, they were easily able to secure the post. Woods was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the action.
Returning to Australia in August 1919, he took up a small vineyard and orchard in the Swan Valley. On 30 April 1921 at the Caversham Methodist Church, Perth, he married Olive Adeline Wilson. Like many veterans of the A.I.F., Woods did not return home unscathed: he was plagued with ill health as a result of gassing and chest infections in the trenches. In 1937 he was granted a full pension and, although given only a few years to live, enjoyed a quiet retirement for the next twenty-six years. A keen cricketer when younger, Woods now took up fishing as a hobby. For a time he was president of the Caversham sub-branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. In 1956 he joined other Australian V.C. winners in attending the V.C. centenary celebrations in London.
His sons Gordon and Norman served in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II; Gordon (the first-born) was killed in October 1943. Late in life Woods lived at Claremont, Perth. Survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters, he died on 18 January 1963 in Hollywood Repatriation Hospital and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.
Matthew Higgins, 'Woods, James Park (1886–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/woods-james-park-9178/text16207, accessed 6 December 2013.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990