Philip James Woods

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Colonel Philip James Woods CMG DSO (23 September 1880 – 12 September 1961) was an independent unionist politician in Northern Ireland, member of the Northern Ireland House of Commons. He was a colonel in the Royal Irish Rifles and also worked as a textile designer.

Military career[edit]

A staunch Imperialist, P.J. Woods had an eventful career before entering politics. Originally serving in the South African War under Baden-Powell, he became involved in the Ulster Volunteers and joined the Army on the outbreak of war. He served with the Royal Irish Rifles (RIR) as part of the 36th (Ulster) Division and, during the 1916 Battle of the Somme, was active in the Thiepval Wood section when it suffered heavy losses achieving its objectives. In 1917 Woods led the 9th (West Belfast) Battalion of the RIR until it was amalgamated with 8th Bn to form 8/9th Bn. on 9 August 1917. This leadership included action in the Battle of Messines.

In June 1918, he went as part of the Murmansk force involved in the Allied intervention to Russia. Its task was to obstruct the Viena expedition by German-officered White Finn forces threatening East Karelia and the Murmansk-Petrograd railway. Operating out of Kem on the White Sea, he established a Karelian Regiment, supplied and officered by the British. The "Irish Karelians", as they were known, adopted a regimental badge, designed by Woods and consisting of a green shamrock on an orange field. With this force he was able to push the Germans and Finns established in Uhtua out of White Karelia (Vienan Karjala) in 1918. His success with the Karelians fostered unrealistic hopes of national self-determination which were ultimately unfulfilled, caught as they were between the Finns and Russians. The formation melted away as a transfer to White Russian command was attempted and Woods was evacuated in October 1919 with the rest of the British forces.

In 1919-1920 he served with a group of British officers organising the nascent Lithuanian Army, defending it against various German Freikorps and Polish threats. Arguments over their agreed British Army rates of pay led to the group eventually leaving Lithuania.

Political career[edit]

Standing as the Fighting Colonel he was first elected in a by-election held on 2 May 1923 for Belfast West, following the assassination of William Twaddell, the sitting MP. He stood in 1925 in both Belfast West and Belfast South, winning both seats, but opting to sit for Belfast West. Woods campaigned in the Parliament for ex-servicemen and on economic and social issues. As the only MP without party affiliations before the Nationalists took their seats, he operated as a lone opposition voice to the dominant Ulster Unionist Party government.

He unsuccessfully contested the 1929 election in Belfast St Anne's. His loss can, in large part, be attributed to the abolition of proportional representation in February 1929, its replacement with a first-past-the-post system and the establishment of new electoral constituencies which divided his support base. Lacking a party machine, he also lost the Westminster election in Belfast South held eight days later.

Later life[edit]

After his political career in Northern Ireland had ended, Woods moved to England in the 1930s and re-married, living in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire. He was incidentally an employer of William Joyce at this time, but had no direct links with the British Union of Fascists. During the Second World War he fund-raised in Yorkshire for the war effort.


  • Baron, Nick. The King of Karelia: Col P.J. Woods and the British Intervention in North Russia 1918-1919. A History & Memoir (London: Francis Boutle Publishers, 2007).

Short publishers description

  • Baron, Nick. "The King of Karelia", History Today, June 2007
Parliament of Northern Ireland
Preceded by
Thomas Henry Burn
Robert Lynn
Joseph Devlin
William J. Twaddell
Member of Parliament for Belfast West
With: Thomas Henry Burn to 1925
Robert Lynn to 1929
Joseph Devlin to 1929
William McMullen from 1925
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Thomas Moles
Hugh Pollock
Julia McMordie
Crawford McCullagh
Member of Parliament for Belfast South
With: Thomas Moles
Hugh Pollock
Arthur Black
Succeeded by
Thomas Moles
Hugh Pollock
Arthur Black
Anthony Babington