The Forgotten Essex Man: Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood

Throughout the centenary of the First World War, the Friends of Historic Essex are running the Essex Great War Archive Project. One of the aims of the project is to collect First World War documents relating to Essex to add to the ERO collections to preserve them for current and future generations. One such document acquired recently is a scrapbook kept during the First World War by Minna Evangeline Bradhurst of Rivenhall Place, now catalogued as Acc. A14491 (you can read some more background on it here). Caroline Wallace, a History MA student from the University of Essex, has been researching the contents of the scrapbook, to see what it can tell us about the lives of Minna and her family during the First World War.

Ask most people to name a famous or influential person from Essex and they would most likely reel off a list including Jamie Oliver, Olly Murs, Ronnie O’Sullivan, possibly Dame Maggie Smith or even Boudicca (if you’re lucky!). It is possible that no one will mention Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, veteran of Crimea, the Indian Mutiny, the Zulu and Boer Wars and commander of the Egyptian Army.

Photograph of Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, one of the many cuttings about him in Minna Evangeline Bradhurst’s scrapbook

I first learned about him through the photographs, letters and newspaper cuttings about him in the scrapbook of his niece, Minna Evangeline Bradhurst, held at the Essex Record Office. It appears that Minna was incredibly proud of her Uncle, even keeping newspaper cartoons in which he was ridiculed.

Cartoon from the Westminster Gazette of 31 May 1900 regarding clothing being sent to British troops in South Africa. Christine thought she recognised her uncle Sir Evelyn Wood, a senior army figure, depicted sewing army underwear.

Sir Evelyn was a man of his time; patriotic, loyal to the British Empire, and elaborately moustachioed. He was involved in many of the key British military campaigns throughout the second half of the nineteenth-century, and more than once was recommended for the Victoria Cross. He was also known for vanity and hypochondria, and was subject to frequent illnesses and accidents.

Born in Cressing near Braintree in 1838, Evelyn was one of 12 children of Revd Sir John and Emma Caroline Page Wood. He attended Marlborough College until the age of 14 in 1852, when he left to join the navy as a midshipman. By 1854 he was serving in the Crimea, where he was badly wounded and almost lost his left arm. Undeterred from military life, he joined the army, and was sent back to the Crimea, where almost straight away he contracted typhoid and pneumonia. His mother travelled to Scutari to bring him back to England, and nursed him back to health.

A teenage Evelyn Wood in his naval uniform, published on the flyleaf of his autobiographical ‘From Midshipman to Field Marshal’, published in 1906. The original painting was by Lady Wood.

Sir Evelyn photographed in his later years by Fred Spalding

His next major trip abroad with the army was to India, where the British army was handling the Indian Rebellion. He was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions in this campaign. It was during his time in India that he decided to ride a giraffe for a bet, when trying to dismount he fell, the giraffe kneed him in the chest and stood on his face causing some quite severe injuries.

For the next 20 years Wood held a succession of army posts; in Ireland during the Fenian disturbances, in West Africa as part of the Ashanti Expedition, during the Zulu War he commanded troops as Brigadier-General, was mentioned 14 times in dispatches during 1878-79, and took command of operations against the Boers in South Africa in 1881. He was largely responsible for brokering the peace deal with the Boers, and was much criticised in the British press for doing so. In 1882, he led a division of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to deal with the Arabi Revolt, and was made Sirdar of the Egyptian Army for his efforts.

He was made Deputy Lieutenant of Essex in 1897 and awarded a Knighthood in 1901. He was the author of several books on military tactics, the Battle of Waterloo and the cavalry. During the First World War, he maintained a national presence by writing regular newspaper articles praising the war effort and supporting British troops across Europe – most of which appear to be included in his niece’s scrapbook. In honour of his outstanding contribution to the cause, a road was named after him in Cressing and a public house in Chelmsford, both of which remain today.

Upon his death in 1919, his obituary appeared in newspapers around the globe (again, many of them are in the scrapbook) and he is remembered with plaques in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Brecon Cathedral in Wales, and in Marlborough College Chapel. He is buried in the Military Cemetery in Aldershot.

The Sir Evelyn Wood public house in Chelmsford. Reproduced with the kind permission of Grays & Sons.


ERO is stronger with Friends: purchase of the Saulez collection

The Friends of Historic Essex are a charity which supports the ERO. Throughout the centenary of the First World War, the Friends and ERO are working together on the Essex Great War Archive Project, which aims to preserve documentary evidence of the period for educational study, family history research and community histories. The project includes looking out for documents relating to Essex people and places during the War, and where possible acquiring them for our collection.

If you would like to help, would you consider making a donation or becoming a member of the Friends? Details are available on the Friends’ website.

Here, Archive Assistant Sarah Ensor shares details of the most significant purchase made as part of the project to date – the Saulez family collection. (A version of this article first appeared the Autumn 2014 edition of the Essex Journal.)

The Friends of Historic Essex have recently acquired a family collection which has since been deposited at the Essex Record Office (Accession A14026).

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Rev. Robert Travers Saulez (D/P 511/28/1)

A large part of the collection consists of letters and telegrams from and relating to the sons of the Reverend Robert Travers Saulez (right). Robert was born in India in 1849 where his father, George Alfred Frederick Saulez, was an assistant chaplain at Nainee Tal. After gaining his degree from Trinity College Cambridge Robert served as curate in Lancashire, Hampshire and London before moving to Essex in 1886. According to Crockford’s Clerical Directory he was vicar of Belchamp St. Paul from 1886 to 1901 and rural dean of Yeldham from 1899 to 1901, vicar of St. John, Moulsham from 1901 to 1906 and rector of Willingale Doe with Shellow Bowels from 1906 to 1927. He retired to Twinstead where he died in 1933.

Robert and his wife Margaret Jane had three sons and a daughter between 1882 and 1887. Their sons, Robert George Rendall, Arthur Travers and Alfred Gordon were all educated at Felsted School and later served in the army. The letters deposited appear to date from towards the end of the Boer War through the Great War and beyond.

Robert George Rendall Saulez answered the call to serve in the South African Constabulary from 1902 to 1904 so is likely to be the author of the earliest letters in the collection. He volunteered soon after the outbreak of the Great War and served with the Army Service Corps in Egypt and Palestine. He was a good horseman and was recognised during the war for his share in providing an efficient transport service by ‘Horse, Camel or Motor’. After the war he served in the Supply and Transport Corps in the Indian Army until about 1922 after which it is believed he settled in the country.

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Bundles of letters fill the boxes

On leaving school Arthur Travers Saulez attended the Royal Military Academy before joining the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was posted to India in 1907 but returned to England prior to 1914 and was sent to France in May 1915. He achieved the rank of Major and having survived the Battle of the Somme was killed on 22 April 1917. The pencil in his diary which is amongst the collection is lodged in the page of the week of his death. A window was erected in the church at Willingale Doe in memory of Arthur Travers Saulez by the officers, NCOs and men of his battery.

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The diary of Arthur Travers Saulez, with the pencil still marking the spot where he made his last diary entry before being killed in April 1917


Hart’s Annual Army List for 1908 shows that the youngest of the brothers, Alfred Gordon Saulez, had joined the Army Service Corps in 1906 and when war broke out he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Like his brother Arthur he rose to the rank of Major but unlike his brother he survived the war; however nothing is known of his service throughout the conflict so hopefully some of his letters are in the family collection and will reveal more. Following the Armistice he was posted to Mesopotamia where he died in 1921 apparently as a result of the ‘excessive heat’; he left a wife and two children.

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One of the more unusual items within the collection – a remedy for poisonous gas

Robert and Margaret’s daughter Margaret Hilda embraced the opportunity that the Great War gave women to be involved. She served with the Scottish Churches Huts which, like the YMCA, provided support behind the lines in France. Following the war she married Wilberforce Onslow Times at St. Christopher’s in Willingale Doe with her father conducting the service.

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Marriage of Margaret Hilda Saulez, with her father as minister (D/P 338/1/11, image 95)

Until this collection of over 300 letters and other items can be sorted and catalogued the full story of this family’s experiences serving their country remains untold. It is hoped that funding can be raised to expedite the cataloguing and storage of the collection and the provision of an educational resource for students and people of all ages. If you as an individual, group or institution are interested in helping fund this project then please contact the Friends of Historic Essex by e-mail or by writing to them care of Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT.

You can also help to support the Essex Great War Archive Project by coming to a fundraising quiz organised by the Friends on Friday 17 April 2015 at Galleywood Heritage Centre – full details, including how to book, can be found here.