2nd Lieutenant Sidney Woodroffe
Speech by Brig Rob Thomson CBE, DSO (late The Rifles) given at the unveiling ceremony of a Victoria Cross Memorial in memory of 2Lt Sidney Woodroffe VC, The Rifle Brigade, on 30 July 2015 in Lewes, Sussex “It is a great privilege to be here today and, alongside The Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, to mark the courage of a young officer 100 years ago, who served in one of the modern day RIFLES famous antecedent regiments, namely the Rifle Brigade. If commissioned today, Sidney Woodroffe would be in one of 5 regular Rifles battalions who have all served in Iraq and Afghanistan and he would have felt very much at home, both with the officers and the Riflemen. Sidney Woodroffe was born in Lewes on 17 Dec 1895, educated at Marlborough College and commissioned into The Rifle Brigade on 23 December 1914. He accompanied the 8th (Service) Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (8 RB), to France in May 1915 as a platoon commander in A Company. His VC citation describes his act of gallantry on 30 July 1915….. ‘The enemy having broken through the centre of our front trenches, consequent on the use of burning liquids, this Officer’s position was heavily attacked with bombs from the flank and subsequently from the rear, but he managed to defend his post until all his bombs were exhausted, and then skilfully withdrew his remaining men. This very gallant Officer immediately led his party forward in a counter-attack under an intense rifle and machine-gun fire, and was killed while in the act of cutting the wire obstacles in the open.’ (London Gazette, 6 September 1915) Woodroffe’s commanding officer later wrote to Woodroffe’s father describing his son as ‘simply one of the bravest of the brave … He risked his life for others right through the day and finally gave it for the sake of his men.’ He was not the only Woodroffe to die in the Great War. Two older brothers also joined The Rifle Brigade. Kenneth, the eldest, was killed at Neuve Chapelle on 9 Jul 1915. Sidney would have known his brother had been killed in action before he was himself killed. Leslie, the middle brother, served with Sidney in 8 RB and was severely wounded at Hooge. He later recovered from his wounds, returning to France on 1 June 1916. Tragically on the very day of his return he was wounded again and died in hospital on 4 June 1916. The pain to the parents of all three sons being killed in action in a little over a year can only be imagined and the grief too awful to contemplate. Woodroffe’s parents received their son’s VC at an investiture by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 29 November 1916. The VC was sold privately to Lord Ashcroft in 2001 and is today on display in the magnificent and humbling Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum in London. 2nd Lieutenant Woodroffe has no known grave but is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
We salute his service and his sacrifice. Having had the privilege of commanding today’s Riflemen on operations, I can assure you that whilst the context has changed greatly, there is no change to the human demands placed on today’s soldiers. Your young servicemen and women show extraordinary amounts of conviction, courage, character and compassion and have done so in some of the harshest and most complex environments in the modern and not so modern world. It is therefore a great privilege to include Rifleman Jacobs in our regimental team today – he was awarded the prestigious George Medal for his exemplary courage and selflessness in Sangin almost six years ago. I think Lieutenant Woodroffe would be honoured to know that a young, courageous and tough Rifleman who has followed in his steps of service is here today in Lewes to mark Lieutenant Woodroffe’s sacrifice.
Thank you for including us and for your hospitality. As Woodroffe would have heard on those harsh French fields of battle, Bugle Major, ‘Sound the Advance’.”