Private David Daniel Woodward 201375 1/5th (Flintshire) Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers
David Daniel Woodward was born in late 1891 in Llanferres the only son of Adam and his second wife Jane (née Roberts) Woodward. He had two older sisters and a younger sister. His father’s occupation was as a farmer, and David, then aged 18, was working on the farm at Tyn-y-Mynydd along with his elder sisters in 1911, after his father’s death in 1905.He married Agnes Fenton from Halkyn in Ruthin in early 1915 and had a surrogate daughter from Agnes’ first marriage and a son with Agnes, which the dates suggest, he probably never knew. He enlisted also in early 1915, and after basic training in Kinmel Bay and Oswestry qualified for active service at the end of June that year.The battered remains of the RWF had returned from Gallipoli in December that year and David joined the 5th battalion “A” Company as a draft replacement. Throughout he continued his regular correspondence with his younger and favourite sister Polly (born Mary) until his last letter in late March 1917 a few days before his death.By the end of 1916 the Sinai was free from enemy invasion, and the British began to push a railway and water pipeline along the Egyptian coast towards Gaza, an important stepping stone before Jerusalem. What was known as the Desert Column, consisting of the Australia and New Zealand Mounted Divisions, the Imperial Mounted Division and the 53rd Division were due to attack the Turks at Shellal near the Egyptian border, when they withdrew from their strong positions northwards to the city of Gaza. Sir Archibald Murray, commanding officer, had been instructed that no advance should be made further into Palestine until the autumn, but interpreted an addendum to maintain “pressure on all fronts” and therefore an attack on Gaza, as falling within War Cabinet policy.After crossing the Wadi el Arish the countryside almost magically changed “from sand to green grass” the regimental records commenting even further that “all is covered with the brilliant colour of red and yellow poppies, pink dianthus, white and pink convolvulus”, a rare botanical diversion from the near endless lists of casualties.The Turks further allowed the lower slopes of the Wadi Ghazze a short distance south of the city to be reconnoitred, Captain Ashton, Brigade Major describing them as “rather jolly outings” including a “picnic lunch, an hour’s easy, and one would start off home again”….”the ground fairly covered with little scarlet tulips”The more serious matters took place early on the morning of the 26th March, the town having gradually been part encircled over the previous week, was to be attacked before dawn with the 5th battalion at the head of the column, of a total force of around 12,000. The battalion appeared punctually at 1.00am and waited for the guide who was lost, and only found by officers at 1.30am. The column started out “on a clear starlit night with no moon”… “marching through nearly full grown barley and green crops; there was a heavy dew, and all ranks were soaked to the waist”. It soon became clear that the guide “had not the vaguest notion where he was” and Brigadier-General Mott took over guiding the brigade to a crossing of the wadi (not the correct one) and the brigade finally stood on the right bank at 4.35am, nearly an hour late and dawn now breaking. A thick sea fog then rolled inland reducing visibility to “about 50 yards”, masking Gaza completely by 10.30am, at which time all offices were called to a conference at Mansura, midway between the wadi and the city.There confusion reigned, the artillery was believed to be 2 hours late (although had already fired on the city) but a revised plan of attack agreed upon, at noon “after which everyone rested” [Ashton - “I had a desperate job to keep awake”].158th brigade including 5th battalion were to attack from the east, now 30 minutes ahead of the agreed revised time. Lieutenant-Colonel Borthwick commanding the 5th advanced a 1,000 yards, now in full view of the enemy, who fired shrapnel which burst high. Supported by the 6th & 7th battalions they wheeled north to about 500 yards from the enemy position. The whole line then remained stationary until 3.50pm awaiting support and for the bombardment of the enemy positions to lift.There was little direct support for the 5th other than a solitary Lewis machine gun until knocked out by support fire; this incident seemed to spur an assault, through prickly pear hedges, initially successful with the capture of opposing trenches and 20 Austrian and German prisoners as well as Turks.There had been sporadic success elsewhere with 159th Brigade taking Clay Hill, “a nasty hummock with a lot of cactus hedges” and 161st Brigade taking Green Hill on the right of the RWF, and elsewhere the outskirts of the city had been penetrated.Rumours, however, began to spread of a Turkish relief force, and then, even by WW1 standards, a catastrophic muddle of orders and counter orders brought the advance to a standstill and a withdrawal ordered that evening at 6.10pm, reaching the 5th battalion around midnight, and more advance elements around dawn. The Brigade Major wrote in his diary “the whole remnant of the (Turkish) garrison, and Gaza itself, was like a large plum, and no one to pluck it….” concluding ruefully “orders were orders”The 26th had been a fairly cool day but the 27th was very hot with khasmin blowing (a hot sandy wind) and the 5th were exhausted having started at dusk on the 25th, with two 7 mile marches, and fighting in difficult terrain, and then the retreat over the exposed plain, unable to fire on the enemy due to the wounded they had left behind.Not until 10pm that evening did they return to the banks of the Wadi Ghazze; casualties had been heavy with 4 officers and 33 ORs killed, 8 officers and 186 ORs wounded, 9 missing. David was one of those Ordinary Ranks wounded, and died of his wounds on the 27th aged 26.The Regimental records states “the result of this battle was precisely nil” but it was clearly a defeat, the initial estimate of Turkish losses between six and seven thousand probably three times the total defending forces prior to their re-inforcement.Gaza was not to be occupied until 7th November 1917 (being heavily refortified after the March battle) when the Turks withdrew after a third battle, and Jerusalem was finally captured on 9th December effectively ending Turkey’s role in the war.There was a short eulogy in the Denbighshire Free Press 14th April 1917“The War - official intimation has been received that Private David Daniel Woodward, only son of the late Adam Woodward of Tyn-y-Mynydd died of wounds on March 27th in Egypt.He leaves a widow and two young children.He was of a quiet and kind disposition, and was beloved by all who knew him. He was remarkable for his physical strength.Much sympathy is extended to his family, widowed mother and relations”Agnes later re-married and returned to Halkyn.David was probably buried at sea and is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial and on his parent’s grave in Llanferres Churchyard.He was awarded the British Medal and the Victory Medal and would have qualified for the 1915 Star.Article by Noel Headley of Llanferres. You can contact Noel via thecontact page
Friedrich Freiherr (Baron) Kress von Kressenstein, a military engineer, in charge of the Ottoman forces at Gaza. Whilst the first defeat was largely self inflicted he successfully co-ordinated the second British defeat in April that year and the orderly withdrawal of his forces in November 1917. The British replaced numerous generals after the first two battles and the uncompromising General Allenby took over, and his tactics eventually drove the Turks from Palestine.
The war in Palestine is probably best remembered for the exploits of T.E.Lawrence immortalised in the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia” starring Peter O’Toole. Born illegitimate in Tremadog Gwynedd, he studied at Oxford and was a keen archaeologist and fluent Arabic speaker. Assisted by irregular Arab troops he conducted a spectacular guerrilla war against Turkish forces from the end of 1916 - not least the capture of Aqaba in July 1917. Awarded the DSO, he had a price of £15,000 placed on his head by the Turks, but was never betrayed.