John Woodward - Private
John Hubert Woodward was born on April 9, 1892 in the wide-open spaces of southwest Iowa to John and Sarah Woodward. The Woodwards lived in Hamburg, Iowa, in Fremont County, way down by the Missouri border. Fremont County is famous for the Iowa Championship Rodeo.
Since the older Woodward went by John, the new baby boy was called by his middle name, Hubert. He followed two older sisters, Lena and Elizabeth, and six years later there was a younger brother, Cecil.
The family was then – and is now still engaged in farming.
After graduating from high school, Hubert enrolled at Iowa State in a one-year dairy program from the fall of 1911 to the spring of 1912. We assume that he intended to apply his new learning to the family enterprise.
When John, sr. died in 1912, Hubert was 20 years old and continued working the family farm. In March 1915, he moved to nearby Sidney.
When the US became involved in World War 1, Hubert was drafted by the Army and reported for induction in Sidney on February 24, 1918. He joined C Company of the 350th Infantry Regiment, constituted at Camp Dodge.
In April 1918, he was re-assigned to L Company of the 117th Infantry Regiment. The 117th was a National Guard division primarily made up of men from armories in Tennessee and the Carolinas. Since these Guard divisions needed to be filled out with draftees or regulars to reach the 28,000 man standard for US divisions in WW1, the boy from Iowa ended up in this outfit.
Hubert went through basic training and arrived in France on May 11, 1918, where his training continued.
He was promoted to Private First Class on July 12.
On September 27, 1918, Allied troops won one of the most important victories of World War I when they broke through German fortifications at the Hindenburg Line. The Allied victory hastened the close of the war.
The Hindenburg Line was one of the most formidable battle lines known to history, constructed starting in 1916 by more than half a million German workers and Russian prisoners of war. It stretched from Lens to beyond Verdun and consisted of multiple layers of defense including steel-reinforced concrete forts and blockhouses, an antitank ditch, five barbed-wire barriers, another line of forts and blockhouses bristling with machine guns and an intricate system of zigzag trenches designed to prevent raking gunfire. The German command believed the line was impregnable and reduced the number of troops committed to that area.
Two days after the September 27 break-through, the Battle of St. Quentin Canal began on the 29th of September and involved Canadian, British, Australian and American forces spearheading an attack. The Allies took many prisoners and captured guns, artillery and tanks.
On the first and second of October 1918, Hubert’s unit continued its advance.
It was at that time on Oct. 3, 1918 that Germany and Austria sent peace notes to President Woodrow Wilson requesting an armistice.
On the night of the 5th and 6th of October, Hubert’s unit moved into a support position near Hargicourt and Bellicourt preparing for an attack the next day to realign the front. It was likely during this advance that Hubert lost his life, on October 6, 1918 near Ponchaux, France.
Hubert was buried four days after he died at Sevier Cemetery
The 117th Infantry fought on until October 20, when they were withdrawn from the front. After the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the 117th moved back to the United States and was demobilized at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia in April 1919.
Hubert’s remains were later moved to the American Somme Cemetery at Bony, France – about 98 miles northeast of Paris. Although the family was not able to bring his body back to Iowa, his mother and sister, Lena, participated in the American Pilgrimage of Gold Star Mothers and Widows that went to France in 1931 and they were able to visit Hubert’s grave.
Hubert was the first serviceman from Hamburg, IA to die in WW1 and a grateful community named Legion Post 156 for him. In addition, a headstone was placed for him in the Mount Olive Cemetery near Hamburg, among other Woodward family graves.
In 2009, among the papers of the Memorial Union’s first director, Harold Pride, a letter was found from Hubert’s mother, Sarah Woodward, dated April 4, 1929. In it she provided information that showed Hubert’s eligibility for name placement in Iowa State’s Gold Star Hall. The Memorial Union had opened the previous fall of 1928 with other World War 1 casualties listed. Although no action was taken to include Hubert at that time, we are pleased to do so now. You’ll see his name newly inscribed in Gold Star Hall in the World War 1 section.