Woodiss is Willing

Memoirs

Abstract

Henry Woodiss was the simple English gamekeeper whose affair with his boss’s wife thrust him into one of the most sensational scandals of the 1920s. He was vilified in the Press, a common man who had seduced a lady. She was Edith, the wife of a severely disabled war veteran, Sir Conngsby Coninsby-Clarke. Many years later, Woodiss wrote his account of these events. He tells how Lady Edith, who had artistic pretensions, ordered him to pose naked in the woods, sketched him, then shamelessly exploited her social position to seduce him. Underlying the affair was Woodiss’s relationship with Con. Woodiss had been born on the Coningsby estate, the son of the gardener. Despite the enormous gulf in status, he and Con had formed a deep friendship. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Woodiss, who had just left grammar school, enlisted in a local infantry regiment. Before he was twenty-one he had been grievously wounded twice, and twice returned to duty; he had been decorated for distinguished conduct and ordered to take a commission. Late in the war, Con was posted to Woodiss’s battalion, then in rest camp. Whilst there, he was involved in an incident which scandalised and embittered Woodiss, yet, at risk to himself, he protected Con, who escaped court-martial and certain disgrace. Any embarrassment either man felt was not prolonged. Within two days of going into the line, Con was on his way home. He would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. Given the nature of his injuries, it is likely he was impotent. On leaving the army Woodiss set up in business, but finding it increasingly hard to make a living, he laid off his men and went to live with his father. Before long he was Con’s gamekeeper. He felt keenly that he was now a servant, and a badly paid one, for Con had not been generous. After their affair came to light, Woodiss suffered his first painful encounters with Edith’s relatives, notably her grandmother, the eccentric Dowager Lady Topbottom, and he endured a humiliating interview with her father, whose insults Woodiss never forgave. Despite this traumatic start, the couple developed a loving relationship. After her divorce, Edith married Woodiss. She had financial support from her family, on condition that woodiss kept out of sight. They settled in a house, provided by her family, in an obscure northern town. This was Birstall, in the former Heavy Woollen District of the West Riding. In his memoir, Woodiss, who disguised most names, calls the town Briarmai...

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Henry Woodiss

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