13th Dragoons

Evelyn Wood

Henry Evelyn Wood initially served in the 13th Light Dragoons for 2 years, from September 1855 to October 1857. It was his first Army unit, having been a Midshipman in the Navy and a naval cadet before that. It was as a 16 year old Midshipman that he had his first experience of war. He was part of a 1400-man Naval Brigade sent to the Crimea in 1854. He manned 68 and 32 pounder guns positioned on a ridge facing Sebastopol, coming under fire himself. He wrote home that he was nervous at first but after a week, 'was conscious of a decided feeling of exultation in the presence of danger'. Wood was recommended for a VC but did not receive it at this time. To add injury to insult, he was severely wounded by case-shot just below the elbow. The doctors wanted to amputate but he refused to let them and he was invalided home.
Wood was a passionate hunter and it is perhaps, for this reason that he decided to join the cavalry. When he reported to the 13th Light Dragoons at their depot in Dorchester he still had his arm in a sling. He did not gamble, smoke, or drink but had to pay his full share of the mess costs. Most officers at the time had a private income in excess of '400, Wood's father, a clergyman, could only afford to give him '250.
At the end of 1855 wood was ordered to the Crimea. He arrived at Scutari on 22 January 1856 and found himself in hospital with pneumonia and typhoid fever within a month. His parents were notified that he was terminally ill. Although he was attended by a soldier servant and two female nurses, his treatment, at times, was brutal. He had become so emaciated that the bones of both hips had come through the skin, and one of Miss Nightingale's nurses, instead of wetting the lint before changing it, simply ripped it off, tearing away the flesh and drawing blood. His mother, Lady Wood, arrived at Scutari on 20th March and went to his bedside to find a nurse striking her son as he lay in his bed. She was a woman of exceptional vitality and determination and flew into a fury at the nurse. Evelyn was shipped home against all the doctors' advice and began to improve before reaching England.
An uncle paid for his promotion to Lieutenant and he returned to the 13th at the end of 1856 while they were in Ireland. When the Indian Mutiny broke out, Wood joined the 17th Lancers as he was keen to see some action. He proved his bravery many times over, winning the VC in 1859 after rescuing a rich landowner from a large band of robbers in a Sironj jungle.
He saw action in the Ashanti War of 1873-4, the Zulu War of 1879 and the Egyptian expeditions. He was responsible for the peace negotiations at the end of the first Boer War in 1881, a task he carried out with his hands tied (so to speak) and which made him very unpopular. Wolseley referred to the treaty as ignominious and thought Wood should have resigned his commission. But he was in favour with the politicians and with the Queen. The ordinary soldier had much reason to thank Evelyn Wood. In his position as Quartermaster-General (1893) and later Adjutant-General (1895) he brought about many changes that improved the quality of life for the soldiers of the British Army, especially the medical facilities and sanitary arrangements. He reached the rank of Field-Marshal in April 1903 and effectively retired in December 1904. Sir H. Evelyn Wood VC GCB GCMG died peacefully in essex at the age of 81.

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by Stephen Luscombe