John Michael Paul Woodbridge was born in Grenfell in 1891, the second son and seventh child of Benjamin and Mary Ann Woodbridge. By the time World War One was declared the family had relocated to Orange. John – or ‘Jack’ as he became known – and his older brother, Patrick, were working as shearers in northern Queensland; an older brother, William, was a boundary rider in the same area.
The three brothers enlisted in Queensland within a few months of each other and embarked together from Brisbane in April 1915, all privates in the 15th Battalion bound for Gallipoli.
Jack fought at Gallipoli for just three weeks; on 8 August 1915 he was reported as wounded and missing in action.
One month later, on 9 September 1915 the Secretary of Defence sent the following telegram to Private Woodbridge’s father:
Regret Son Private JMP Woodbridge wounded between 7th and 8th August. Not reported seriously. No other particulars available. Will immediately advise anything further received.
In late November 1915 Jack’s brother, Patrick, wrote a letter from Abbassia in Egypt to his sister Rose in Orange stating:
Bill or I don’t know where Jack is since the eight of August, he has been missing, he never came back after a charge on Sunday August the eight, but he might be in England but we can’t hear of him.
In January Jack’s sister, Mary, wrote a letter to the Minister of Defence in Melbourne requesting details as to her brother’s whereabouts. Earlier letters to Mr George Briner, Member for Raleigh, and the Information Bureau in Sydney had proved fruitless.
Late the following month the family received a telegram so say that John was “Wounded and Missing”. This was six months AFTER the event.
Telegrams received by the family on 22 March and 10 May 1916 stated that there was evidence of John’s death, however in July 1916 Mary again sought the assistance of George Briner, whom she went to visit in person. Meanwhile, John’s mother, Mary Ann, was also seeking clarification of her son’s whereabouts with the assistance of a solicitor and the Salvation Army National Headquarters.
A court of enquiry dated 6 April 1916 declared Private Woodbridge to have been killed in action on 8 August 1915, however it would appear that this information had not been conveyed to his family.
In September 1916 Jack’s parent received a package containing their son’s personal effects: one hair brush, one shaving brush, one prayer book and a handkerchief.
John’s brother William died of wounds on 14 August 1915, just six days after John was killed in action. Patrick survived the war, returning to Australia in July 1919.
The name Woodbridge appears on the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph.
In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte Woodbridge”; it is unclear whether this tree was in honour of William or John. The tree was donated by W Bartlett. Very few of the trees are still standing today.