Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood VC GCB GCMG

In Zululand
Evelyn Wood was the son of a clergyman born near Braintree in Essex. His family had naval connections and it was as a midshipman on HMS Queen that he began his career. He switched to the army during the Crimean War to serve in the 13th Light Dragoons. He went to India during the Indian Mutiny and joined the 17th Lancers and in 1862 went to the infantry, first joining the 73rd, then the 17th and finally the 90th LI. It might have been better if he had become a doctor as his life was littered with accidents and dangerous illnesses. Perhaps his strangest accident was being trampled by a giraffe when he rode it for a bet, and fell off. One of his aides in Zululand said that Colonel Wood's baggage was like a mobile pharmacy, as he needed so much medicine for his various ailments. One of his biggest drawbacks was deafness which became progressively worse.

But he was a very brave man who was more than once recommended for the VC, which he gained during the Indian Mutiny. He was also studious and literate, writing books and press articles, as well as studying law, becoming a barrister in the middle of his successful military career. He was included in Wolseley's ring but fell foul of Wolseley himself, especially after the humiliating treaty he was instructed to sign with the Boers in 1881. He was placed in command of the army after the defeat at Majuba and was confident that he could turn the tide, but the British government ordered him to make peace. Wolseley wrote of Wood that he was vain and cunning and would never be capable of high command.

The Zulu War 1879
Wood's Staff
But Wolseley could not take away what Evelyn Wood achieved in Zululand. In the first invasion Lord Chelmsford's failure at Isandhlwana was offset by Wood's victory over the Zulus at Kambula. Colonel Wood was placed in command of the 4th column to operate in the north from Bemba's Kop with instructions to contain the Zulus in that area so that they did not reinforce the impi operating near Isandhlwana .

He had 2,000 men which included the 1st Battalion 13th LI and his own regiment, the 90th LI. In the second invasion he commanded the Flying Column which had a large number of mounted troops as well as the 13th, 80th and 90th. After the final battle at Ulundi, news came through that Chelmsford was to be replaced by Garnet Wolseley. After the handover Chelmsford sailed back to England taking Redvers Buller and Evelyn Wood with him.

Colonel Wood
Wood's injuries and illness blighted his career from the beginning. As a young midshipman he fought in the Crimea, finding that the heat of battle suited him. But at Inkerman, when he was 16, his arm was shattered by enemy case-shot. Doctors wanted to amputate it but he stood his ground and managed to save it, although he was removing bone splinters from his arm for weeks afterwards. He returned to the Crimea as a cornet in the 13th Light Dragoons but fell ill with pneumonia and typhoid fever. His mother, Lady Emma Wood, was informed that he was going to die so she, being a strong and determined woman, went to Scutari. Her arrival was timely because Evelyn was in a state of near starvation, and suffering mistreatment from Miss Nightingale's nurses. Lady Wood removed him from the hospital against all advice, and brought him home where he recovered. He also sustained bad injuries from hunting accidents, a sport that he was addicted to. He almost died from a morphine overdose when it was administered by a doctor who claimed that it would cure his insomnia.
In 1867 he married the Hon Mary Paulina Anne Southwell, but this arrangement was fraught with difficulty. At first Paulina's brother, Viscount Southwell, forbade the marriage because their family were Catholic and the Woods were Protestant. For four years Evelyn had no contact with her, and then he proposed by letter. She did not reply for a week or so, in which time Evelyn decided to embark on the Abyssinian expedition. But when he found out that it was General Robert Napier leading the campaign, not General William Napier, he changed his mind and carried on with his marriage proposal. He made Paulina promise that she would not interfere with his efforts to secure a command on an overseas campaign. She agreed and they were married. The problem with religion reared it's head later when his rich Aunt Ben was handing out allowances to Woods' sisters but for Evelyn there was to be nothing, on the grounds that he was married to a Catholic.
Aunt Ben was an important figure in Wood's life because he was not a rich man in his own right. When money wasn't forthcoming from the unreliable Aunt he had to be financed by his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Barrett whose generosity allowed Sir Evelyn to keep several horses, grooms, servants and a pack of hounds. When Aunt Ben was nearing the end of her long life she capriciously changed her will in favour of Wood's sister, Kitty O'Shea. Evelyn, his brother Charles and sister Anna tried to have her declared insane but she charmed the doctor who was sent to ascertain her state of mind. After her death the siblings ganged up on Kitty who famously caused a great scandal by having an extramarital affair with Charles Stewart Parnell. After lengthy legal wrangling Evelyn received 20,000 pounds.
Sirdar of the Egyptian Army
After the campaign against Arabi Pasha in 1882, in which he served, but did not take part in the battle at Tel-el-Kebir, Evelyn was made sirdar of the Egyptian Army. He made many improvements including giving the men regular payments and allowing them to go home on furlough. During the cholera epidemic of 1883 he instructed his British officers to tend the sick soldiers, which amazed the men and increased the trust they had in the British leadership. During the Gordon relief expedition, Wood criticised Wolseley's route along the Nile, the only senior officer to do so. He also quarrelled with his friend Sir Redvers Buller over the speed of the supply transport. Wood also upset the doctors by insisting on having women nurses in the Aswan hospital.
In 1889 he was given the plum job of the command of Aldershot. He took advantage of this period to improve cavalry and musketry training and generally make life a bit easier for soldiers, whether in barracks or on leave.
Quartermaster General c1896
He established a school of cookery and arranged for sick soldiers to have their food cooked in the hospital rather than brought to them from their regiment. This job lasted until 1893 when he was made Quartermaster General of the army, but whilst in Aldershot his wife died, in 1891, having produced 3 sons and 3 daughters.
Adjutant General
General Wood
In 1897 he was made Adjutant-General and started by insisting that the army be increased in size by 9,000 men.
Wood and Wolseley c1895
Nothing was done but he was proved right because the Boer War brought about the need for an immediate increase in recruitment. He was frustrated not to be given a command in this war. Wolseley told him that it would be inappropriate to send him to war after having signed the 1881 peace treaty with the Boers.
Field Marshal
Field Marshal Wood
His last job in the army, in 1901, was as commander of the Second Army Corps, which later became Southern Command. He was promoted to Field Marshal on 8th April 1903 and set up home at Sherborne where he could ride with the Blackmoor Vale Hunt. He still tried to improve the lot of ordinary soldiers, securing an issue of 3 shirts each instead of two, and abolishing unnecessary guard posts. He was very keen on cleanliness, hygiene and sensible clothing. He involved himself with the Army Medical Corps which is not surprising since he had experienced first-hand almost every known injury and illness. He was also very enlightened in his outlook on religion, bringing about changes in the services to consecrate new Colours to make them more ecumenical.
Lying in State
He retired at the end of December 1904 and spent his time writing books and hunting. He was appointed Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards in 1907 and Constable of the Tower in 1911. He lived until the end of the First World War and died peacefully in Essex on 2nd December 1919. His body was brought to Aldershot to lie in state and be buried in the military cemetery there. There is a plaque to him in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral which says: INTREPID IN ACTION, UNTIRING IN DUTY FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY
Evelyn Wood
Further Reading
Eminent Victorian Soldiers – Seekers of Glory
by Byron Farwell (Viking 1986)

From Midshipman to Field Marshal
by Sir Evelyn Wood (Methuen 1906)

Evelyn Wood VC – Pillar of Empire
by Stephen Manning (Pen & Sword Military 2007)

Our Fighting Services
by Sir Evelyn Wood (1916)

Winnowed Memories
by Sir Evelyn Wood (Cassell 1917)


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