Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthSeptember 29, 1881
Place of BirthExeter, Devonshire
CountryEngland
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinWife: Janet
Trade / CallingTailor
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number199160
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion1st Regiment Canadian Mounted Rifles
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentMarch 16, 1916
Age at Enlistment34
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathDecember 31, 1951
Age at Death70
Buried AtZion Cemetery, Wainfleet, Ontario

Woodrow, Bertie

Bertie Woodrow, a tailor by trade, served from the opening days of the war until its end in two different armies, earning two sets of service medals.

Born in Exeter, Devon, England, Bertie was the second of three children of John and Emily Woodrow. His brother Henry John was born in 1880 and sister Louisa in 1886.

Trained as a tailor by his father, Bertie joined the British Army in 1903 when he was 18, serving a standard short-term enlistment of three years active duty and nine years reserve duty with the 2nd Devonshire Regiment.

The year after his release from active duty he married Janie Elizabeth Parsons in 1906 and they settled in Bertie’s home town of Exeter where he worked as a tailor.

In November 1912 Bertie and his brother John Henry Woodrow, also a tailor, immigrated to Canada, coming to Kenora where they opened a tailor shop on Matheson Street. Bertie had left his wife, who was expecting their second child while he established a new home for them in Canada. Janet followed the next summer, bringing with her their two children – Stella Louis, born Sept. 19, 1909, and infant daughter Violet Mary Julia, born May 9, 1913.

When war broke out, Bertie received a telegram recalling him to active duty and along with two other British Army reservists in Kenora they were the first to leave town for the war, being given a community send off at the local train station on August 17, 1914. Shortly after, his wife Janet and their two daughters returned to Exeter in England to wait out the war.

Bertie rejoined his regiment in England, was assigned to the regiment’s 1st Battalion, and arrived in France on Sept. 19, 1914 as part of the British Expeditionary Force under the command of Sir John French. As a member of Britain’s small pre-war standing army, he was one of the Old Contemptibles, as they self-styled themselves after a derisive comment to the German Kaiser about their abilities.

After serving in the front lines during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November, Bertie was hospitalized in late November of 1914 due to health problems including an infected tooth and rheumatism from the damp weather. After nine months of treatment and convalescing at army hospitals and rear army depots in France, he was attached to the 4th Entrenching Battalion, one of several reserve units in the field used by the army  for older, veteran troops and as training units to ease new recruits into life at the front.

When Bertie’s term of enlistment expired in January 1916 he was returned to England for release from the army.

On his return to Kenora after discharge in March of 1916, despite his age and rheumatism, Bertie almost immediately volunteered for service with the 94th Battalion CEF being raised in Kenora and elsewhere in northwestern Ontario. According to a newspaper article, Bertie arrived back in town on March 11. On March 16 he signed his Canadian attestation papers.

Shipping overseas with the battalion in June 1916 aboard the SS Olympic, Woodrow along with other members of battalion were transferred to the reserve battalion system for use as replacement troops for units in the field. In January of 1917 Woodrow was transferred to the 1st Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles in France. Originally sent overseas as cavalry units, six of the Canadian Mounted Rifle battalions were reformed as four infantry battalions in January of 1916 when it became apparent mounted troops were unsuited for trench warfare. The 1st CMR had been originally recruited in Manitoba and included many men from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario. In the field it was part of the 8th Brigade, 3rd Division of the Canadian Corps from 1916 to the end of the war and took part in most of the major campaigns during Woodrow’s time with the unit including Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in 1917.

In June 1918 Bertie Woodrow’s name was listed on casualty reports. At the time the battalion was in a reserve position, although its troops came under German artillery fire on several occasions with several men reported killed or injured.

Woodrow returned to Canada on the SS Adriatic in April 1919, sailing from Liverpool to Halifax. He was back in Kenora in early May, where his wife and children joined him.

For his war service Bertie Woodrow was awarded five medals – three for service in the British Army including the 1914 Star, also called the Mons Star after the first major battle of the war, which was awarded only to those who’d served in France and Belgium from the outbreak of the war to Nov. 22, 1914. Woodrow’s award also included the clasp and rosette for use when only tunic ribbons were worn. The clasp and rosette indicated the recipient had been in combat or within range of enemy artillery during the first three months of the war. Of the 378,000 1914 Star medals authorized in 1917, only 145,000 were approved to wear it with the clasp which was authorized in 1919 to honour those who actually saw combat during the opening months of the war. Only 160 Canadians, members of the 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital, were awarded the 1914 Star medal, along with a few officers attached to British Army units, some of whom were also awarded the clasp. Along with his 14 Star, Woodrow was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal for service in France with the British Army.

Because he was formerly discharged from the British Army and re-enlisted in the Canadian Army rather than being transferred between the two, he was also awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal given to Canadian soldiers who served in France or Belgium.

After the war Bert and Janie settled in Kenora, purchasing a home on Fourth Avenue South in Lakeside. An article in the Kenora Miner and News on May 10, 1919 said Bertie had just returned from overseas and he was planning to open a tailor shop at 127 Matheson Street. In 1920 he took a job as a baggage handler at the local CPR train station, later serving as baggage manager for the station. He and his wife had a son Clarence born on Feb. 2, 1921. In 1936 they made a return trip to England.

Bert retired from the CPR in September 1945, after 25 years of service. Sometime after that he and his wife moved to the township of Moulton near Dunnville, Ontario, where their daughter Stella lived. Bertie passed away at Stella’s home on Dec. 31, 1951. He was survivived by his wife, their daughters Stella (Mrs. Herbert Carlson) and Violet (Mrs. Stanley Zroback), and their son Clarence ‘Woody’ Woodrow of Kenora.

Bertie is buried in Zion Cemetery in Wainfleet, Ontario. His son Clarence died in 1994 and he is buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora.

By Bob Stewart

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