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Woods, Percy William (1885–1937)

by J. B. Hopley

This article was published:

Percy William Woods (1885-1937), soldier and manufacturer, was born on 8 November 1885 in Sydney, third child of Frederick Woods, a decorator from London, and his Melbourne-born wife Isabel, née England. After leaving school he was employed by James Sandy & Co. Ltd as a decorator. Slightly below average height, Woods was thickset, muscular and strong; as a young man he was a prominent amateur wrestler.

Commissioned lieutenant in the Senior Cadets, New South Wales, in 1911, Woods enlisted on 4 September 1914 in the Australian Imperial Force as a private and was allotted to the 3rd Battalion. He was a sergeant when the unit embarked for Egypt in October and landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Commissioned on 19 May and promoted lieutenant on 7 August, Woods was a platoon commander in the attack on Lone Pine in August. It was said that the strain of that operation turned his dark brown hair quite grey. He was mentioned in dispatches for his work on Gallipoli where he served until the evacuation.

On the formation of the 5th Division, A.I.F., in Egypt, Woods was transferred to the 55th Battalion in February 1916 and promoted captain on 12 March. After operations with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, the battalion moved to the Western Front in June. For his courage and initiative in the battalion's first major action, at the battle of Fromelles on 19-20 July, Woods was awarded the Military Cross. As a major—with temporary rank from 1 January 1917, confirmed on 14 April—he led the battalion in the capture of Doignies, France, in the Hindenburg line operations in April, in the 2nd battle of Bullecourt in May and other front-line service (in the absences of the commanding officer) to 1 June. Woods took over command on 19 June as lieutenant-colonel. He received the Distinguished Service Order for the praiseworthy manner of his command and his direction of the battalion at Doignies.

In further service in France and Belgium during 1917 Woods fought in the actions at Polygon Wood and Wytschaete Ridge. In 1918 he took part in the major engagements of Villers-Bretonneux in April, and Péronne and the breaching of the Hindenburg line in September. He was awarded a Bar to his D.S.O. for conspicuous gallantry and able handling of his battalion at Péronne, and was thrice mentioned in dispatches for service on the Western Front. As battalion commander, he always sited his headquarters near his troops and frequently visited the front line. He was particular about his own appearance, and also insisted on smartness in all ranks and efficiency in all aspects of military operations.

Woods returned to Australia in December 1918 and maintained his concern for his men's welfare as patron of the 55th Battalion's Veterans' Association. Continuing his interest in the army, in 1921-25 he commanded the 55th Battalion, Australian Military Forces; he retired in 1926. On 24 January 1914 Woods had married Ethel Elizabeth Cook with Anglican rites at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney. Divorced on 6 March 1928, he married Annie Donohoe at Dulwich Hill, Sydney, on the 31st. There were no children of either marriage. After the war Woods set up in business as a clothing manufacturer, working chiefly as a sales representative.

His application in 1932 for disability benefits was rejected by the Repatriation Commission on the ground that his ill health was not due to war service. Appealing against this decision, Woods was supported by wartime associates, including his batman and orderly-room sergeant; they testified that Woods had refused evacuation from the front line, despite being gassed on three occasions. On review, his pulmonary fibrositis was accepted as being war-related and a pension was granted. It was increased in 1933 when Woods stated that he was totally incapacitated. Survived by his wife, he died of cerebro-vascular disease on 5 January 1937 in Sydney Hospital and was cremated. Forty-two wartime members of the 55th Battalion were among the mourners at the service.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1942)
  • E. Wren, Randwick to Hargicourt (Syd, 1935)
  • London Gazette, 28 Jan 1916, 1 Jan, 28 Dec 1917, 1 Jan, 24 May 1918, 1 Feb, 11 July 1919
  • Reveille (Sydney), Feb, Mar 1933, Feb 1937
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Dec 1918, 7, 8 Jan 1937
  • Sydney Mail, 13 Aug 1919
  • records, Department of Veterans' Affairs, Canberra.

Citation details

J. B. Hopley, 'Woods, Percy William (1885–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 29 November 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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