Monday 13 May 2024

R. H. HOOD - 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry

Richard Henry Hood (Private No. 5385945) - 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry (Formally in Oxford & Bucks L.I.) - 28th Brigade. 

Dick, as he was more generally known, was born on August 31st, 1914, the second son of Albert and Florence May Hood. His older brother was also named Albert, and he was 20 months Dick's senior. Father Albert was popularly known as "Scottie" Hood and was the village coal merchant. He and May went on to have a family of five sons and two daughters at their home in the heart of the old Eton Wick Village at 3, Albert Place. Unfortunately, the elder girl, Rosie, died of tuberculosis as a teenager. 

Dick attended the village Infant School until April 4th, 1922, when he registered at Eton Porny. He left school, nearly a month before his 14th birthday, on August 2nd, 1928. Three years later he joined the regular peacetime army, serving in the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry. Presumably this was not exactly to his liking, for in 1933 he persuaded his father to buy him out of his army engagement. Father had been delivering coal in the village by horse and cart for many years until early one evening, in the spring of 1931, a tragic fire destroyed his stable in Sheepcote Road, and killed the poor horse trapped inside. Scottie then had motor truck, but he never really mastered its temperamental mechanics in a way which compensated for his love of the old horse. 

By the mid 1930s his two elder sons, Albert and Dick, were running the business. At this time Dick was well known and a popular villager. In his leisure time he played right back for the Eton Wick F.C. and Saturday evenings, after the matches, he often played his accordion in The Grapes public house, for the landlord, Mr Dick Whittington. 

War came in 1939 and Dick had left the business to do military service. He was duly transferred from the Oxford and Bucks L.I. to the 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. He was now 25. Without his help, Albert probably became unsettled, causing him to volunteer for service in the Royal Air Force. When he arrived at this decision, his brother-in-law, Walter Farmer, moved from Sapperton in Gloucestershire to work in the village coal business before himself joining the R.A.F. in 1941. The business was subsequently sold to R. Bond & Sons for £100. 

In April 1941 the 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry became a unit of the 2nd (Gibraltar) Brigade which was formed for the defence of Gibraltar, and in consequence they served there until December 1943. On December 1st 1943 the Brigade was re-organised as the 28th Brigade and two weeks later, on the 15th, they left The Rock en route for Egypt. Other battalions effected included the 4th Devons, the 7th Kings Own, the 1st Herts, the 2nd Kings, 1st Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and the 2/4th Hampshires. They were nine days in transit and arrived in Egypt on Christmas Eve 1943, where they served until March 10th 1944. 

Dick and Albert Hood together for the last time. 

At some time during the 10 week stay in North Africa, Dick managed to meet brother Albert. This rendezvous was very probably in Cairo and was certainly the last occasion he would see any member of his family.

The battalion sailed north to Italy, arriving there on the 15th. American and British forces had landed in the south of Italy on September 3rd 1943 and had steadily advanced up through the country. Particularly fierce opposition had been encountered at Cassino, south of Rome. On January 22nd landing barges poured more troops into Anzio. The stubborn defenders of Cassino still held on. 

On March 16th Dick was among fresh reinforcements landed at Anzio and the Battalion's first battle in Italy of note was recorded as Cassino II fought between May 11th and 18th 1944. Dick was reported as missing on May 13th and later recorded as died on that date. The Battalion took part in four more Italian battles in 1944. Cassino fell to British and Polish forces on May 18th. As with so many families whose kin were reported as missing, the hopes remained that one day their loved one would return. Most soldiers reported as "Missing" were in fact those whose bodies had no means of identification, many would be buried in graves with the headstone inscription "Known Unto God". The Commonwealth War Graves Commission says: 

Private Hood, Richard Henry, 5385945, 2nd Bn. The Somerset Light Infantry. Died 13th May 1944. Commemorated on the Cassino Memorial, Italy, Panel 5. 

Dick is commemorated on the Eton Wick Memorial and on the Village Hall Memorial Plaque. He was unmarried and 29 years old. 

This is an extract from Their Names Shall Be Carved in Stone  
and published here with grateful thanks to the author Frank Bond.

No comments:

Post a Comment