Charles Campbell Wood RAF
10th January Anniversary of the death of Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood. This throws a light on a little known corner of the history of Avenue House and the Stephens House & Gardens Estate in Finchley, together with a link to the iconic Hammersmith Bridge.
Charles was born on 8 December 1891 in Bloemfontein, though he had British nationality. When WW1 broke out, he initially joined the South African Medical Corps as a Private and took part in the German South West African Campaign for which he was awarded his 1914-15 Star. We do not know when he came to England, but by 1919 he had joined the 9th Brigade of the Royal Air Force as a flying officer and held the rank of Lieutenant.
Near midnight on the cold winter evening of 27th December 1919, Charles and a friend were walking across Hammersmith Bridge. They heard a scream and saw a woman fall from the parapet and into the river. Rushing onto the western, upriver side of Hammersmith Bridge, Charles saw she was in grave danger as the Thames is a tidal river with a very fast flow. Diving into the river from the upstream footway of the bridge, 30 feet above only 12 feet of water, Charles managed to save the woman’s life, but in doing so, he also struck and severely injured his head. He was originally taken to the West London Hospital however, as Charles was an RAF officer, he was quickly transferred to the Central RAF Hospital at Avenue House in Finchley.
Avenue House had served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital during WW1 and after the hostilities The War Office decided to retain the House & Gardens. In May 1919 the estate became the Central RAF Hospital. It would remain so until 1925.
Charles was never to leave Finchley. His severe injuries and the extreme dirtiness of the Thames had led to Tetanus. His death was registered, aged 28 years, in Barnet and he is buried in Plot I. 16. 136. at East Finchley Cemetery. The plot has a Commonwealth War Graves Commission head stone and bears the inscription chosen by his Mother. “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN”
Should you find yourself walking across Hammersmith Bridge look out for a small brass plaque on a handrail, placed in the summer of 1920, which still marks the spot on the bridge where Charles dived into the Thames, risking his life to save that of a complete stranger.
The playground is an amazing resource for the young folk of the local community and a sanity saver for many grownups. Sadly missed by all during the lockdown we are delighted to say it is now open again. There is no doubt that it is well used and desperately in need of some TLC. The fact the playground can be used at all is thanks to all those that donated through May and June for us to open the gardens and keep them open. Unfortunately due to our current financial situation caused by a lack of income during lockdown it is not possible to carry out essential maintenance. This may lead to us having to close of some areas of the playground if we cannot raise the money to carry out this essential maintenance and repairs. This work will include replacement sand for the sand pit, replacement play bark for the activity area, repairs to the playground surface and the refurbishment and replacement of some of the older equipment. The more we raise the more we can do. We are delighted to report that our anonymous benefactor that supported our appeal to keep the gardens open has kindly agreed to support this appeal as well, therefore once we get to £4750 they will top us up to the £6,000 target. Please Donate as much as you can afford Thank you for supporting our work and please do gift aid your donation is you are able.