Francis Philip Woodruff

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Frank Richards a.k.a. Francis Philip Woodruff DCM, MM (1883–1961) was a World War I soldier and author. Born in Monmouthshire, he was orphaned at the age of nine, and was then brought up by his aunt and uncle in the Blaina area of the South Wales Valleys in industrial Monmouthshire. The uncle, his mother's twin brother, and surnamed Richards, adopted Frank who then changed his surname. During the 1890s Frank Richards worked as coal miner and joined Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1901, serving in the British Empire forces in British India under the British Raj and Burma from 1902 to 1909, after which he transferred to the reserves. He is best known as the author of one of the most widely acclaimed memoirs of the Great War to be written by a ranker, Old Soldiers Never Die.


Richards, an orphan, was brought up by his aunt and uncle in Blaina, Monmouthshire where, in the 1890s, he worked as a coal miner. He joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in April 1901 and served in India and Burma from 1902-09 when, having completed his seven years with the colours, he transferred to the military reserves. However he extended his reserve service for a further four years until 1912.

A reservist soldier when war broke out in August 1914, working as a timber assistant, Richards rejoined the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in which he remained for the duration of the war.

Remarkably, Richards saw action in virtually all of the major British campaigns on the Western Front without suffering any notable injury. Unable to return to the coal mines following the war because of a physical injury, Richards was obliged to earn his living from numerous temporary jobs.

Fifteen years after the close of the Great War, Richards published in 1933 his classic account of the war from the standpoint of the regular soldier, and which differs in many ways from memoirs written by officers who joined the army specifically to serve in the war. Old Soldiers Never Die, written with the uncredited assistance of fellow Fusilier Robert Graves (who, along with Siegfried Sassoon, receives approving mentions in the book), was an instant success. Richards followed up Old Soldiers with another successful memoir, this time of his service in India, Old Soldier Sahib, in 1936.

Richards, who at no point rose above the rank of private during the war, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal. He was interviewed by the BBC for their classic multi-part documentary of the conflict, The Great War, in 1954.

Frank Richards, who continued to correspond regularly with Robert Graves, died in 1961 at the age of 78.

DCM & MM[edit]

In 1933 he published his memoir Old Soldiers Never Die—with the help of Robert Graves—about his time on the Western Front, where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal while always resolutely refusing promotion from the lowest rank of Private.

In 1936 he published a second memoir, Old Soldier Sahib, covering his time in the British Army of India. Private Frank Richards aka "Big Dick" features in Captain J. C. Dunn's The War The Infantry Knew 1914-1919.

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