18th Battalion, AIF
Date/Place of Birth: 7 January 1894, Penrith NSW
Date/Place of Death: 19 May 1918, France
Geoffrey Besant Woodriff was the son of Francis Henry and Margaretta Mary Woodriff of “Combewood”, Penrith. Geoffrey was related to Captain Daniel Woodriffe, an early pioneer in the Penrith district who received a grant of 1000 acres. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School.
At the time of his enlistment, Geoffrey was a member of the 41st Infantry Regiment. Geoffrey enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 3 May 1915 and was originally allocated to the 4th Battalion (7th reinforcements) but instead transferred to the 18th Battalion.
Woodriff left Australia aboard the transport ship A40 HMAT Ceramic on 25 June 1915 and joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 18 August 1915. The battalion landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 20 August and two days later the battalion took part in a diversionary battle for Lone Pine (Hill 60). Woodriff was wounded in the arm, leg, back and hand by shrapnel fire on 25 August. He was evacuated to Mudros and then to Hunt’s Green Hospital, Hampstead England.
Woodriff returned to Egypt in January 1916 and rejoined the 18th Battalion on 7 March 1916 shortly before the battalion sailed for Marseilles, France. He was promoted to Corporal on 28 June 1916 shortly before the battalion took part in the attack at Pozieries. Although Woodriff came through the attack unscathed, he was hospitalised at the end of 1916 for trench foot and a few weeks later for influenza.
On 7 June 1917, Woodriff was sent to Number 4 Officer Cadets Training School, Oxford England. In September that year he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and rejoined the 18th Battalion in France on 14 October 1917. On 1 January 1918, Woodriff received his second star.
On 19 May 1918, Woodriff took part in an operation designed to straighten a large bend in the Australian lines. Woodriff and his platoon attacked a heavily defended cross road and established their own strongpost. A German machine gun started firing on the platoon’s position killing several members of the platoon. Woodriff, along with two members of the platoon, attacked the machine gun post. Woodriff was hit in the chest and died immediately.
After Woodriff’s death, his father had an ongoing battle with the Department of Defence to obtain his late son’s personal effects and pay. After more than two years, he received £162 11 7.
Woodriff’ s name is listed on Memorial 26, Villiers-Bretonneux, France and on the Penrith Roll of Honor in Memory Park. His name is also recorded on the Roll of Honor at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Penrith.
Australian War Memorial First World War Nominal Roll
Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour
Nepean Times 2 October 1915, p3 c5
Our Soldiers: Mr F H Woodriff, of Penrith, has been officially notified that his son, Private Geoffrey Woodriff, who enlisted in the war several months ago, has been wounded.
Nepean Times 1 June 1918, p2, c3
Our Soldiers: It is officially reported that Leut. Geoffrey B. Woodriff, third son of Mr and Mrs F H Woodriff, of Combewood, Penrith, was killed in action on May 19 in France. Further details fo the late lieutenant will be given in the next issue.
Nepean Times 8 June 1918, p3 c2
Our Soldiers: Three sons of Mr and Mrs Francis H Woodriff, of Combewood, Penrith enlisted, and one (Lieut Geoffrey B Woodriff) has paid the supreme price – word having been received that he was killed in action on 19th Mary, 1918. The deceased officer, who was the third son, and 24 years of age, left Australia on 25th June, 1915, in the 18th Infantry Battalion, and after three weeks in Egypt landed at Gallipoli in the early morning of the 18 August, 1915, where he was wounded a few days later and sent to hospital in London. Rejoining his unit in Egypt when convalescent, he crossed with the First Australian Divisions to Flanders in March, 1916. In the attack at Pozieres he came through with but a few scratches (though his company was reduced to 10). He was afterwards promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and later sent to Newington College, Oxford, to study for his commission. In this he was successful, and returned to France in October. He received his second star some three months later. The late Lieut Woodriff was a keen sportsman, and most popular with all he came in contact with.
Nepean Times 3 August 1918, p4, c2
Late Lieut. Geoff Woodriff: Following are extracts from a letter received by Mr F H Woodriff from Lieut. Len Robson, and old Grammar Schoolmate of the late Lieut. Geoff Woodriff, who was killed in action in May last:- “When he (Geoff) came back with a commission, I was greatly surprised at the way he had opened out and developed. But all the time he remained the same in quietness and manner and gentleness, as he has always been. He gradually worked himself up, so that the C.O. did not hesitate to remember him at the first opportunity for his lieutenancy; and he gained the reputation of being one of the most solid workers in the battalion. The last operation was one which promised a good many difficulties, and Geoff was selected for one of the most important jobs. The line was to be swung out from the middle of our sector, and to be captured and consolidated on a road several hundreds of yards ahead. This was to relieve a big bend in the line at a certain cross roads. Geoff was selected to occupy these cross roads with his platoon and establish a strong post there. He did the job most thoroughly, took the position and consolidated it well. The NCO’s and men who were with him speak highly of his work in the advance. A machine gun was troubling them a great deal as they moved forward, and some of the men were inclined to hang back. Geoff at once rushed forward, took the lead, and showed them the way. He was mainly responsible for silencing the gun eventually. After the position was taken the C.O. went round the line and and had a chance to congratulate Geoff on his work. Soon after he had gone on his way, a machine gun opened out, causing casualties among the troops consolidating. Geoff and two men crawled out towards it to bomb it. They had not gone far when Geoff was hit; he must have had a very quick end. None can speak sufficiently highly of his work, and I can sincerely ensure you that some of the things I have heard said of him by the men who were with him would go far to show in what esteem he was held. I cannot tell you how he is missed by us all; his sort are few and far between…May the realisation that he had more than done his duty, and that he died a truly gallant gentleman in every sense of the word, be some small salve to you, and a very great comfort.”
Acknowledgment: Thank you to Michael Vickers for providing biographical details of Geoffrey Besant Woodriff.