Colonel Sir Evelyn Wood VC KCB

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.

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 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.

The photo shows him soon after the Zulu War in the regimental uniform of the 90th Light Infantry with a crown and star on his collar denoting the rank of colonel at that time. The star badge below his medals is the KCB, Knight Commander of the Bath which he was awarded in 1879. It was ungraded to GCB, Knight Grand Cross in 1891.

A fuller biographer of his career can be read here

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by Stephen Luscombe