Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Woodford, John George
WOODFORD, Sir JOHN GEORGE (1785–1879), major-general, born on 28 Feb. 1785 at Chartham Deanery, near Canterbury, was second son of Colonel John Woodford, and younger brother of Sir Alexander George Woodford [q. v.] He was educated at Harrow under Joseph Drury [q. v.] In 1800 he was sent to Brunswick to learn his military duties under the Duke of Brunswick, whose wife, the Princess Augusta, sister of George III, showed him much kindness. In May 1800 the Duke of Gloucester gave him a commission as ensign in the first regiment of guards, but arranged that he should remain to complete his year's training in Brunswick. On his return to England he attracted the notice of the last Duke of Queensberry (‘Old Q’), who took him to Windsor to present him to the king, and made him a present of a fine horse. When the duke died in 1810 he left Woodford, though in no way related to him, 10,000l. Woodford joined his regiment in 1801, but it was not until 1807 that he saw active service, when both he and his elder brother Alexander were at the siege of Copenhagen. In the following year he went to the Peninsula with the expedition under Sir David Baird [q. v.], which joined the British forces under Sir John Moore. Woodford was deputy-assistant quartermaster-general and aide-de-camp to Sir John Moore during the many engagements in the memorable retreat, and at dusk was wounded in the heel in the battle of Coruña by, it is said, the last shot fired. In eighteen months' time he was again able to join the army which, under Wellington, had just crossed the Ebro, and to resume his staff appointment of deputy-assistant quartermaster-general. He was present at the battles of Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, and Toulouse, for which engagements he received a cross. In the final engagement at Toulouse on 10 April 1814 Woodford, serving under Sir Henry Clinton (1771–1829) [q. v.] in the sixth division, took a distinguished part.
In September Woodford was back in London, and with the legacy left him by ‘Old Q,’ which had been paid in 1813, he purchased his captaincy in the first regiment of the grenadier guards, which is equivalent in rank and pay to that of lieutenant-colonel of infantry in the line. On the unexpected return of Napoleon in 1815 he joined Wellington's army, serving as assistant quartermaster-general to the fourth division under Lieutenant-general Sir Charles Colville. The division was detailed to support Prince Frederick of the Netherlands on the road to Hal when the great engagement of Waterloo began. Woodford was despatched by Colville on the dark and stormy night of 17 June to the general for orders, and, riding with great difficulty through the forest of Soignies, arrived in the early morning at Wellington's quarters. The duke informed him that the battle was imminent, and that it was too late for the Hal division to move up, but ordered Woodford to remain with him as aide-de-camp. He continued to serve under General Colville in the march to Paris, and assisted in the occupation of Cambray. On the break-up of the army in Paris he returned to London, but in 1818 was appointed to the command of the army of occupation until the final evacuation of France in October of that year. He took advantage of his position to obtain leave to make a survey of the field of the battle of Agincourt and its vicinity. Discoveries of considerable antiquarian and historic interest resulted.
In 1821 he was given the command of the 3rd battalion of the grenadier guards at Dublin, and finally he was posted to it as colonel on 23 Nov. 1823. He carried out various reforms in military discipline. He would not allow flogging in the battalion under his command, and on 26 May 1830, on his own responsibility, published the order, ‘The punishment called “Standing under Arms” is abolished.’ Though Woodford's action drew from the Duke of Wellington a strong remonstrance, the punishment was never restored. The regimental orders of the grenadier guards from 1830 to 1835 are full of evidence of his thoughtful desire to improve the conditions of a soldier's life. On 18 May 1835 Woodford gave evidence before the commissioners for inquiry into the system of military punishments in the army. He published a pamphlet in the same year entitled ‘Remarks on Military Flogging: its Causes and Effects, with some Considerations on the Propriety of its entire Abolition.’ Woodford, among other reforms, recommended recreation for soldiers in barracks, the establishment of carpenters' shops, &c., to teach the men useful trades, and regimental libraries. His command of the household troops brought him into contact with the king, William IV, who presented him with the royal Hanoverian Guelphic order of knighthood; but his reforming zeal, particularly an attempt to introduce a more comfortable uniform, greatly annoyed the king. Largely owing to Woodford's advocacy, and in spite of the Duke of Wellington's persistent opposition, purchase of commissions, and the stock, which he considered a useless discomfort to the soldier, were abolished before his death. In 1834, under the will of his aunt, Lady William Gordon, he inherited an estate on the western bank of Derwentwater, with Waterend House, erected by Lord William, and, resolving to occupy it, he issued on 10 Jan. 1837 his last regimental order, was promoted to the rank of major-general, and retired from the service in Oct. 1841. He had been made C.B. in 1815 and K.C.B. in 1838. As a consistent advocate of abolition of purchase, he sold his commission to the government for 4,500l., half its market value. A good linguist, of scholarly tastes, he subsequently devoted much of his time to antiquarian research. Though he continued to live much like a soldier in camp, he surrounded himself with rare books and curiosities. Removing to Keswick, he died there on 22 March 1879.[Memoir by J. Fisher Crosthwaite, Kendal, 1881, with photographic portrait; personal knowledge.]