Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Charles Woodiwiss Rhodes

Charles Woodiwiss Rhodes :

Charles Woodiwiss Rhodes : Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Relief of Kimberley', 'Paardeberg', 'Driefontein', 'Johannesburg', 'Diamond Hill'

Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Relief of Kimberley', 'Paardeberg', 'Driefontein', 'Johannesburg', 'Diamond Hill'

Charles was born on the 24th January 1877 in Manchester. He was christened at Manchester Cathedral on the 29th April. His father was called James Woodiwiss and his mother was Jane. He had a younger brother called Arthur Woodiwiss. The family were members of the Church of England.

James worked as a clock and watch repairer. In 1881 the family lived at 19 Rhoda Street in Manchester. Ten years later they had moved to 53 Westbourne Grove in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester. In this year James was self-employed; we don't know whether he always was. Charles was an apprentice to his father.

This life must not have suited Charles, because on the 24th January 1895, his 18th birthday, he joined the Army. He chose to enlist in the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 4529. When he enlisted he was 5 feet 3 7/8 inches tall and weighed 126 pounds. He had a 'fresh complexion' and brown eyes and hair.

Charles trained at the Manchester Regiment Depot in nearby Ashton-under-Lyne until the 9th April. He then joined the 1st Battalion at Preston, Lancashire. They moved to Aldershot in Hampshire during 1896. Charles left them on the 9th February 1897. He had been posted to the 2nd Battalion at Dinapore, now Danapur, in India.

James spent less than a year in India. Whilst he was there he began to receive an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay on the 4th September. On the 29th he obtained his 3rd Class Army Certificate of Education.

The 2nd Battalion left India in November. They sailed to Aden, now part of Yemen, and were based here for the next year. They then returned to the UK. Charles was stationed in Manchester, Lichfield and Dublin over the next 18 months.

On the 1st August 1899 Charles was trained to operate as a Mounted Infantryman. Mounted Infantry rode horses as a way of moving about the battlefield quickly. Unlike cavalry, they fought dismounted with rifles.

Over the course of 1899 tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising. War broke out on the 11th October 1899. The first few months of the war saw a number of significant defeats for the British, and they began sending as many soldiers as possible to the country.

Charles was sent to South Africa on the 23rd October. He later became a member of the 1st Mounted Infantry Battalion, although we don't know whether he was serving with this unit when he arrived.

The town of Kimberley had been under siege by the Boers since the beginning of the war. Charles was a member of the force that relieved it on the 15th February 1900.

Between the 17th and the 26th February Charles took part in the Battle of Paardeberg. This was a siege of a large Boer force by the British. It ended with the capture of the Boer General Piet Cronje and around 10% of the entire Boer Army. It was a major victory, but did not bring the war to an end.

Charles earned the 'Driefontein' clasp on the 10th March and the 'Johannesburg' clasp on the 29th May. On the 11th and 12th June 1900 he took part in the Battle of Diamond Hill. The summit of this hill was held by the Boers. The British charged and drove them off the hill. This prevented the Boers from advancing and recapturing the city of Pretoria. The British officer in command, Ian Hamilton, later regarded it as 'the turning point of the war'.

Charles served in South Africa until the end of the war on the 31st May 1902. The British had been victorious and kept soldiers in the country to guard against more fighting breaking out. Charles eventually returned to the UK on the 30th October and was transferred to the Army Reserve.

When he enlisted Charles had agreed to serve for 7 years as a Regular soldier, followed by 5 in the Reserve. The extra time he had served as a Regular would be deducted from his Reserve service. As a Reservist he could find a home and a job, but could be called back to the Army in an emergency. None arose, so he was finally discharged on the 23rd January 1907. His conduct had been 'Good'.

On the 9th January 1905 Charles married Mary Gasper at Manchester Registry Office. Their daughter Mary Elizabeth was born on the 31st in Manchester. James Arthur was also born in Manchester on the 4th November 1909. After this the family must have moved to Salford. Alice was born there on the 23rd November 1912, and so were George on the 18th December 1914, Winifred on the 30th May 1916 and Josephine on the 10th October 1919.

We don't know anything else about Charles' life during this period. By May 1917 he was working as a band knife cutter and living at 21 Caroline Street in Lower Broughton, Salford.

By this time Britain was at war. The First World War broke out in August 1914. The British Army expanded massively, but it was still not enough. In January 1916 conscription was introduced, meaning that men could be called into the Army whether or not they wanted to join.

Charles was 'deemed to have enlisted' on the 1st October 1916. He was 'called up for service' on the 31st May 1917. Charles was passed as fit for the Army, and graded C.II (C 2). This meant he was not fit enough for front line service as an infantryman. Instead he was assigned to the Mechanical Transport (MT) Branch of the Army Service Corps and given the service number M/320510.

Charles was trained at the MT Training Depot at Isleworth in Hounslow, London. He passed his learner's test on the 12th September and was assigned to 373 MT Company.

Mechanical Transport Companies used motor, as opposed to horse drawn, vehicles to transport supplies. At first Charles did 'general duties', but by September 1917 he had qualified as a 'heavy lorry driver'.

Charles served with 373 Company until the 9th November 1917. On this date he was posted to 977 MT Company. This was also a Home Service unit.

Later in November 1917 Charles was stationed at the Curragh in County Kildare, Ireland. We know this because he found himself in trouble twice during this month. Firstly he was absent without leave from 10am on the 10th until 10am on the 13th. He was admonished for this. Secondly, on the 23rd Charles went absent again. He did not return until the morning of the 26th. For this he was 'deprived of 21 days pay'.

By August 1918 Charles had moved to Barnham Camp near Thetford in Norfolk. Here, on the 23rd, he was confined to barracks for 14 days for overstaying his leave from 10:30pm on the 21st until 2:30 pm on the 23rd. This sentence was passed by an officer serving with Number 310 Field Ambulance (Home Service). We don't know whether this means Charles was a patient here at the time.

The Army Service Corps was renamed the Royal Army Service Corps in November 1918. Charles left 977 MT Company on the 8th February 1919. His conduct with them had been 'Good'. He spent just over a month with 700 MT Company at Southport in Lancashire, and then on the 18th March joined 615 MT Company, again as a Driver. This unit was based in Dublin, Ireland.

The war ended on the 11th November 1918, but the Army still needed soldiers. They offered financial bounties to men willing to extend their service for a short period. On the 28th April 1919 Charles took advantage of this offer. He agreed to serve for 1 year in the 'Armies of Occupation', who were controlling areas of western Germany.

We don't know whether Charles ever went to Germany. In December 1919 he was at Carlow in Ireland. At 9pm on the 19th he 'absented himself from his lorry without permission while on breakdown duty'. He did not report until 2:30pm the next day. As punishment Charles was confined to barracks for 3 days.

In March 1920 Charles had returned to the Curragh. On the 4th he missed a unit tattoo, or parade. He was fined 5 days pay for this. He was again absent from a parade on the 20th. For this he was confined to barracks for 14 days, and forfeited his pay for this period.

By this time Charles' Army service was almost over. He was 'dispersed' in London on the 13th April 1920 and returned home to Caroline Street. His service officially ended on the 11th May. Overall, Charles' conduct was assessed as 'Good'.

We know almost nothing about the rest of Charles' life. In October or November 1923 he was arrested for attempted murder. His trial was scheduled to begin on the 26th November at Manchester Assizes. We don't know the verdict.

Charles' medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1949. As well as his Queen's South Africa Medal, Charles was also awarded the King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901' and 'South Africa 1902' for his Army service. We don't believe he served overseas during the First World War, which would mean he was not awarded any medals.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council