Halifax Courier

Children caught up in war


I noted the mention of Dr John Woodyatt, of Halifax, and his family in connection with the shelling of Scarboroug­h in December 1914 (“East coast bomarded in early-morning terror from the sea”, First World War Centenary article, December 19 2014).

Dr Woodyatt’s daughter, Oriana, and son, Arthur, were at different schools in Scarboroug­h and had to be hurridly evacuated and brought home to Halifax.

Their father, John Fred Woodyatt, was an important figure in Halifax from the 1890s to the early 1920s. Born at Macclesfie­ld, Cheshire, in 1864, he qualified both as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and as a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. By 1891 he had settled in Halifax, “living in” at the old Halifax Infirmary in Blackwall and employed as senior house surgeon. By 1893 he was living at 45 King Cross Street.

In 1899, in Surrey, he married Violet Isabel Rowcroft and the couple settled at 21 King Cross Road. They were to have three children, Oriana Phyllis, Arthur Reinagle and John.

In August 1901 Dr Woodyatt was appointed medical officer of the new St Luke’s Hospital at Salterhebb­le (the workhouse, later Halifax General Hospital).

On the outbreak of war in 1914 Dr Woodyatt was made a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps and placed in charge of St Luke’s, then being converted into a war hospital.

Thousands of men passed through the hospital during the military occupation. Woodyatt’s organisati­onal and medical skills seem to have been exemplary.

In February 1921 Violet Woodyatt died, aged 46, and was buried in All Saints’ Churchyard, Dudwell Lane. Soon afterwards her widowed husband left Halifax and moved to Surrey before settling at Arundel, Sussex. He died at Arundel in 1931, aged 66. Lt-Col John Woodyatt, who was in charge of St Luke’s Hospital, Halifax during World War I.

It was Dr Woodyatt’s daughter, Oriana, who left Scarboroug­h so hastily following the German bombardmen­t in December 1914. She was at St Margaret’s School in Scarboroug­h and when the shelling began she, with her classmates, hurried away to Seamer station.Their school was hit and damaged.

As a young woman she moved to London and in 1926 married the artist Francis Albert Helps. During the Great War, in 1915 Helps volunteere­d for service with Artists’ Rifles, serving in France. He later created some memorable Great War paintings.

In 1924 he was appointed official artist for Mallory and Irvine’s ill-fated Mount Everest Expedition, for which he completed 80 paintings and drawings, which are mostly now in America.

Helps taught at the Royal College of Art and later was head of the school of painting in Leeds. He died in 1972.

It appears that he and Halifaxbor­n Oriana separated during the 1930s. She lived latterly in Chelsea, dying as recently as February 1999, aged 97.

Oriana’s elder brother, Arthur Reinagle Woodyatt, was at Orleton preparator­y school at the south end of Scarboroug­h when the bombardmen­t started “with a terrific clatter”.

He and the other 60 boys in the school were at breakfast when the shelling began. The boys were hurridly evacuated via Seamer railway station, wearing whatever they could grab, and Arthur arrived in Halifax wearing just his football jersey and pants.

He later entered the RAF and in August 1924 was promoted to pilot officer, No 32 Squadron.

In May 1925 Arthur was involved in an accident at RAF Northolt when his Sopwith Snipe singleseat RAF fighter crashed and he was killed. This son of Halifax lies buried at Whyteleafe, Surrey.

The youngest of the family, John Woodyatt, born here in 1912, died in Kent in 1986.

David Glover

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