This one has always intrigued me: How did the child of New Orleans’ Rebecca de Mendes Kruttschnitt (1889-1974) wind up being a Royal Air Force squadron leader credited with at least five air victories during World War II?
Well, Rebecca, the youngest daughter of my second great grandfather, Julius Kruttschnitt, Sr., married Henry de Clifford Woodhouse in New Orleans in January 1911. Census records indicate that Woodhouse was born in Canada in about 1878, and that his father hailed from England. Henry, Sr., married well. According to an article in the New York Times, the couple at marriage received a gift of $1 million in stocks and bonds from Rebecca’s father.
There are conflicting reports about where the couple was married. The New York Times reported that they took vows in New York City because Woodhouse “was too busy to make the trip to Chicago” where the Kruttschnitts lived after moving from New Orleans. But another seemingly more reliable eye-witness account from The Call has them getting married in New Orleans at the home of Rebecca’s aunt.
Later on, Rebecca’s spouse, while still married, was romantically linked to the poet Elinor Wylie, who audaciously wrote love sonnets about him in her last book, Angels and Earthly Creatures. The elder Henry also had a military background; he fought with Roberts Horse, a colonial unit of the Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa.
The couple lived in New York after their marriage. That’s where their children were born. Henry de Clifford Anthony Woodhouse, called nothing but Paddy from his earliest years, was born in the Big Apple on June 16th, 1915. An older sister, Gwyneth, was also born there in 1912. The family had moved to Vermont by 1920, according to Census records. Eventually they moved to England. Passenger records from transatlantic ships list England as their home as early as 1933. According to family sources, the family moved to England in the early to mid-1920s.
Paddy started flying bombing missions for the Royal Air Force early in WWII, when he was in his mid-20s. Records kept on various websites credit Henry de Clifford Anthony Woodhouse (1915-1944) with 5 and a fraction air victories. He fought in the Battle of Britain. At the age of only 26, he rose to the rank of commander of the infamous 71st Squadron also known as the “Eagle Squadron.”
The Eagle Squadron consisted mostly of American and Canadian reserves, most with no formal military training. It was infamous in the United States, where the group’s exploits received considerable newspaper coverage. Naive readers may have concluded from the stories that the squadron’s mercenary pilots were the sole force behind Britain’s survival. A Hollywood B movie, “Eagle Squadron,” made in 1941, perpetuated that myth. The movie was so light on accuracy that it was denounced by the very pilots it depicted.
The appointment of Woodhouse, a Brit, as commander of the squadron was controversial. He replaced a 36-year-old American leader, William E.G. Taylor, who was told by British command that he had flown the maximum number of missions. It’s not clear how Woodhouse was initially greeted by the largely American troops he commanded. But he was eventually given the affectionate nickname “Paddy.”
Woodhouse was credited with downing an enemy plane during the July 1941 Lille mission, which was launched to bomb an electrical power plant. Unfortunately, 25 to 30 German aircraft attacked the British formation. Yet the 71th Squadron managed to shoot down three confirmed enemy aircraft and maybe some others as well. The rag-tag squadron flew hundreds of missions that summer, their expertise growing with each one.
Woodhouse’s command of the Eagle squadron didn’t last long. Two months into it, he was replaced by E.R. Bitmead, who had also served during the Battle of Britain. Woodhouse was promoted to Wing Commander of another unit.
The pilots of Squadron 71 were sad to see Paddy go, according to Phillip D. Caine, writing in Eagles of the RAF: The World War II Eagle Squadron. “Not only had he come to be well liked and respected by the squadron, but he was also the catalyst for the unit’s transformation from fledglings to full combat pilots,” Caine wrote.
Woodhouse was serving as Wing Commander in the 85th Squadron of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve when he died on August 13th, 1944. He was shot down by friendly fire over the English Channel. He is buried at the Runnymede Memorial Cemetery.