Albert “Bert” Woodman was the eldest son of a prosperous Protestant family living in Glasnevin, a suburb on the north side of Dublin. When the First World War began in August 1914, the Woodman family was living at “lvanhoe,” 15 Lyndsay Road in Glasnevin. Bert’s father, William, had been born and raised in England and was a civil servant who worked as an accountant. His wife, Askin, was Scottish. In the late 19th century, William was assigned to the General Post Office in Dublin, and, consequently, all of his children were born in Ireland. Bert was born in 1891, followed by four younger siblings: William, twins Clifford and Reginald, and sister Kathleen (“Kit”). Though there was no history or tradition of military service in the family, William Senior’s devotion to public service inspired his sons to similar pursuits. Given the family background, it is not surprising that all four sons answered then-Secretary of State for War Horatio Kitchener’s call for volunteers.
Reginald served in the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, which was formed from the Ulster Volunteer Force and was associated with West Belfast. Sadly, Reginald was fated not to return, as he was killed in action in August 1917 near Langemarck, Belgium, during the Battle of Passchendaele campaign. The younger William and Clifford both enlisted in “D” Company, 7th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and participated in campaigns in Gallipoli and on the Salonika Front. Having survived the war, William joined the Civil Service and transferred to the UK after Irish Independence while Clifford immigrated to New Zealand and became a sailor in the Merchant Navy.
Bert, meanwhile, had been working in the General Post Office’s Telegraphic section prior to the war, and so chose to enlist in “L” Signal Company of the Royal Engineers, which allowed him to apply his telegraphy skills as a signaller. Prior to the establishment of the Royal Corps of Signals in 1920, responsibility for signaling within the British Army lay with the Royal Corps of Engineers. “L” Signal Company was the equivalent of the General Post Office and was responsible for handling the telephone and telegraphic communications and carrying messages between G.H.Q. and the various Army Headquarters on all parts of the front.
Bert was first sent to France in August 1915. While home on leave in late 1917, he married his longtime sweetheart, Nellie May Valentine Preston. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Dunkirk and started keeping a detailed diary, which he intended for his wife. The diary notebooks included Bert’s address, along with a note providing instructions to give the diary back to Nellie if something should happen to him.
Bert’s job was to serve in the Army’s post office behind the battle lines. In addition to entries that discussed the weather, fishing and walking on the beach, Bert wrote about his time in Dunkirk, detailing the various bombardments and German offensives against Allied forces. As a signaller primarily stationed behind the front lines, Albert would have had access to news and information other soldiers didn’t. In various diary entries, he noted the developments on the front, local German air raids, and shelling from German ships. His diary entries indicate that he was aware, for example, of the impending German Offensive in March 1918. He passed a remark to an orderly named Murphy on 20 March that “Fritz is due tonight – we’ve heard it over the wireless.”
On 11 November 1918, one of Bert’s last diary entries mentions that his Division has learned of the cease-fire at 11 AM and he declares, “PEACE AT LAST.”
After returning home to Ireland, and to Nellie, Bert went back to his job at the General Post Office, working there until his retirement. During World War II, he worked as a censor and redactor. Bert and Nellie had two children, Cecil (born 1921) and Thelma Joy (1925). After living in military housing provided by the government, Bert and Nellie bought a home on Rathlin Road, in Glasnevin. Bert passed away in 1969, at the age of 78.