|Date of Birth||January 13, 1897|
|Place of Birth||Kenora, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mrs Elizabeth Woods, mother, 613 Jessie Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Clerk with Great West Permanent Loan Company|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Date of Enlistment||October 8, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||18|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||November 6, 1917|
|Age at Death||20|
|Buried At||Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium|
|Plot||LVIII. B. 29.|
Walter Ralph Woods was born on 13 January 1897 in Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora), Ontario. His parents Russell Woods, originally from Quebec, and Elizabeth Fletcher, born in Ontario, had married in Winnipeg on 29 December 1886.
By the 1891 Canada census the Woods family was living in Rat Portage East, father Russell’s occupation given as locomotive engineer. Children in the household were Grace Maud, 7, Russell Clyde, 5, Clarence Fletcher, 3, and Daisy Dean, 1. For the 1901 Canada census the family was still living in Rat Portage where Russell continued to work as a railroad engineer. Family members in the household were Russell and Elizabeth and children Grace M age 17, Russell C age 15, Clarence F age 13, Daisy D age 11, and new family members born since the last census, Irene I age 9, Joseph S age 7, Milfred H age 5, Walter age 3, and Elisabett age 9 months.
Then tragedy struck the Woods family. Russell Woods was reported as missing and then later, as his body was found at the foot of the Kenora dock, death by drowning listed on 26 August 1902. On 29 November 1904, Clarence, working as a switchman, lost his life due to an accident.
By 1911 Elizabeth and some of the children were living on 613 Jessie Street in Winnipeg Manitoba. Children listed were Russell, Hene (Irene), Stewart (Joseph), Milfred, Ralph (Walter), Bessie (Elizabett), and an addition to the family, Olena (Olive) Russell, a girl born in February 1903, six months after her father’s death. For the 1916 Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta census the family was still living at 613 Jessie Street with the widowed Elizabeth and the following children listed: Elizabeth, Joseph Stewart, Milfred Hueston, Walter Ralph, and Olive Russell. However the census notes that Joseph Stewart, Milfred Hueston, and Walter Ralph were all overseas, occupations given as soldiers. Grace had died on 19 June 1913.
Ralph enlisted in Winnipeg on 8 October 1915. A clerk with the Great West Permanent Loan Company, he was only 18. As a Private with the 90th Battalion, he embarked from Halifax aboard the Olympic on 31 May 1916. Upon arrival in England Ralph trained at the military camp at Shorncliffe, transferring to the 11th Battalion in early July. Once in France Ralph was taken on strength with the 27th Battalion in the field in early September.
The 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion was the first independent battalion to be raised in Manitoba in the First World War, raised as part of a response to the demand for reinforcements early in 1915 as Canada struggled overseas. On 17 May 1915 the 27th Battalion left Quebec aboard the Carpathia. Their first major offensive was the battle of St Eloi, 5 kilometres from Ypres. Begun on 27 March 1916 by the British, the Canadians joined in on 4 April with the 27th Battalion taking over the front line, fully exposed to artillery fire. Casualties were high.
One of the most notable battles of Somme the 27th Battalion participated in was the Battle of Courcelette, begun on the morning of 15 September 1916. This battle marked the first time in history that tanks were used in warfare although all 6 tanks were knocked out that day. Lasting until 22nd of September, the Canadian Corps lost about 7200 soldiers. Shortly after the conclusion of this battle Ralph reported from the base to the field ambulance as ill and had sore feet, a common occurence amongst the lads in the trenches.
On 15 October 1916 Ralph was attached to the 255th Tunneling Company, rejoining the 27th Battalion on 10 March 1917. Shortly after his arrival with the unit he was appointed as Acting Lance Corporal with pay and then Lance Corporal on 29 May 1917. In August he was granted ten days leave. On 8 October 1917 Ralph was awarded a Good Conduct Badge.
With the 27th Battalion, Lance Corporal Woods was reported as killed in action on 6 November 1917, exact details of his death unknown. From the Battalion’s War Diaries: 6 November 1917, ‘The Battalion assembled for the attack on Passchendaele with Battalion headquarters at Hamburg. Assembly was complete at 4 A.M. Zero hour was at 6 A.M. The attack proceeded exactly as planned and all objectives were captured by 7:40 A.M.’ ‘Owing to the length of the trail and the terribly heavy ‘going’ it was impossible to carry out the dead other than Officers. However, the dead in the advance of the original front line were all buried where they fell before the Battalion was relieved in the line.’ According to the CEF Commonwealth War Graves Registers, Walter Ralph Woods’ body was later exhumed from where he had fallen and was subsequently interred in the Tyn Cot Cemetery in the area of Passchendaele.
Tyn Cot Cemetery is the resting place of over 11 000 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces, making it the largest number of burials contained in any Commonwealth cemetery in either the First World War or the Second World War and the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. Walter Ralph’s CEF Commonwealth War Graves Registers card also states that Headstone Inscription and Cemetery Registration forms were dispatched to Elizabeth Woods at 917 1/2 Winnipeg Avenue, Winnipeg on 14 July 1924, and the Memorial Register being sent 14 November 1929.
Ralph’s brother Joseph Stewart who had enlisted 5 February 1915 in Winnipeg and along with brother Milfred went overseas with the 1st Reinforcing Draft of the 44th Battalion in June of 1915, also made the ultimate sacrifice, commemorated on the Vimy War Memorial as having died 26 September 1916. His brother Milfred survived the war and returned to Winnipeg. He died on 11 September 1949 and is interred in the Brookside Cemetery. His mother Elizabeth and brother Clyde had died in Winnipeg in June of the same year.
Lance Corporal Walter Ralph Woods is commemorated on page 353 of the First World War Book of Remembrance in Ottawa, and along with his brother Joseph Stewart, he is commemorated on the Kenora Cenotaph, on the Kenora Legion War Memorial, on the Kenora Keewatin High Schools plaque, on the family grave marker, and on the Next of Kin Monument in Winnipeg.
by Judy Stockham
Grave marker photograph by Marg Liessons as found on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website.