TWO brothers went to war. One was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery in No Man’s Land and he survived to raise a family which included one of the country’s greatest comediennes.

The other was killed, and his war story died with him. His identity was a mystery to the enemy who had taken his life so they buried him in a makeshift battlefield grave and for decades he laid beneath a headstone which simply said he was “an unknown soldier” who was “known unto God”.

But dedicated Belgian researchers discovered his name and, on October 18 last year, a proper white British military headstone was unveiled over his grave, watched by his great-nephew, Chris Foote Wood.

Now of Barnard Castle, Chris, who has stood for elections on 44 occasions and represented Bishop Auckland for 40 years, has told the brothers’ contrasting stories in a new book.

The Northern Echo: John WoodSgt John Wood, with his radio, in 1914

Chris is the grandson of Sgt John Wood, who was the brother who survived.

Sgt Wood rarely spoke of his experiences, only telling his grandson that “I just looked after the horses”.

Chris now believes this was a reference to his involvement in the British withdrawal from Gallipoli, in Turkey, in January 1916. Sgt Wood was ordered to ensure that nothing was left behind that would be of use to the enemy – that meant the guns which were too big to be moved had to be spiked, all equipment that could not be carried had to be rendered inoperable, and all horses for which there was not room had to be killed. Shot.

Later in the war, Sgt Wood rescued a stricken colleague lying under heavy fire in No Man’s Land near Ypres. Even though he never spoke about this incident, Chris has the citation that the Belgian government awarded him for his “conspicuous bravery” which ensures the story lives on.The Northern Echo: Chris Foote-Wood with his grandfather's Croix de GuerreChris Foote-Wood with his grandfather's Croix de Guerre

Sgt Wood returned from the war. He and his wife, Eleanor, had one son and four grandchildren: Chris, the eldest, and Victoria, the youngest, who, of course, found fame as a comedienne.

The other brother in the story was 2nd Lieutenant Frank Wood of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Like Sgt Wood, he fought for several years in several campaigns, but, on September 29, 1918, just six weeks before the end of the war, he was ordered to lead his platoon across flat, open ground at Passchendaele, near Ypres, that was awash with machine gun fire.

He was killed. He was 29.

The British never recovered his body and so inscribed his name on the memorial to the missing in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

The Northern Echo: Ilkley Grammar School students at Tyne Cot MemorialThe monument at Tyne Cot cemetery on which 2nd Lt Frank Wood's name was listed

But the enemy did discover him. They couldn’t know his name, but from his uniform they could tell his rank and his regiment, so they put those details on the wooden cross above his hole in the mud. When the British found the grave, they took the nameless body to Vichte cemetery and reinterred it beneath an “Unknown Soldier” headstone.

Ninety years later, Belgian researcher Luc Degrande came across the details from the wooden cross, and began to work out which 2nd Lieutenant from the Lancashires was killed in that area on that day.

The Northern Echo: Frank Wood's "dead man's penny"Frank Wood's "dead man's penny" which was given to his family by the government

He narrowed it down to one – 2nd Lt Frank Wood – but still he had to convince the British authorities that the Germans did not have a second 2nd Lieutenant as prisoner who might have died at that time in that area and so could have been referred to on the cross.

When everyone was convinced, 104 years after his death, a headstone with his name on it was finally unveiled and Chris, his closest next of kin, was present.

The Northern Echo: Frank Wood, the unknown soldier, finally got his own headstone in 2021Frank Wood, the unknown soldier, finally got his own headstone in 2022

Chris finishes his book by saying: “At the end of the service, the colonel presented me with the Union Flag that had been used in the ceremony. It is now one of my most precious possessions, along with my grandfather’s Croix de Guerre and my great-uncle’s ‘dead man’s penny’.”

The Northern Echo: Chris Foote-wood's book

  • Two Brothers Went to War. One Came Back by Chris Foote-Wood costs £7.50 (£10 with postage). It should be available in bookshops or by emailing the author at