Obituary: Family pay tribute as decorated Norfolk war hero Jack Woods dies, aged 98

Normandy veteran, Jack Woods. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Normandy veteran, Jack Woods. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

A Norwich-born Normandy veteran, whose bravery heralded the beginning of the end for Hitler and who was applauded by world leaders has died aged 98.

Jack Woods died just two days before the 78th anniversary of D-Day, a commemoration he had not missed for decades, in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

In memory of Normandy veteran Jack Woods; a cross is laid at Juno Beach in France where he landed in

In memory of Normandy veteran Jack Woods; a cross is laid at Juno Beach in France where he landed in 1944. - Credit: Archant 2022

A highly-decorated soldier, the manager of Norwich’s first discotheque, a tireless campaigner for veterans, Jack’s death was mourned in Normandy and Norfolk alike.

Jack Sidney Woods grew up on Newmarket Road in Norwich with parents Sidney and Ethel, the second of four alongside sisters Joan and Peggy and brother Alan.

He went to Crooks Place School – now Bignold – and then to City of Norwich School, which he always spoke about fondly and with pride.

Normandy Veteran Jack Woods pictured in 1944Picture: Nick ButcherCopy: Steve SnellingFor: E

Normandy Veteran Jack Woods pictured in 1944 - Credit: Eastern Daily Press ©2004

Jack volunteered for action on May 23 1942, his 18th birthday, and a little more than two years later landed on a Normandy beach and into a whole new and terrifying world.

The Allied invasion of Normandy was the largest amphibious assault ever launched, involving an invasion force of more than 156,000 soldiers and in total, British and Commonwealth casualties on D-Day numbered around 4,300. Thousands more died in the ensuing Normandy Campaign that opened the Allied march to Paris.

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Jack served with the 9th Royal Tank Regiment and, although he landed after D-Day (June 6 1944), fighting was still intense. Many of the soldiers he fought with had never seen combat.

Sent to support the 15th Scottish, Jack was immediately told to report to the Recce Officer as a driver had been injured and he was to serve as his replacement.

Normandy Veteran Jack Woods (far left) pictured in 1944.Picture: Nick ButcherCopy: Steve Sn

Normandy Veteran Jack Woods (far left) pictured in 1944 - Credit: Jack Woods

He went into battle, passing tanks riddled with holes and others that were on fire, their ammunition rocketing into the sky and their crews either dead or stumbling away in shock.

Further up the frontline he saw dead infantrymen hanging from the side of a burning tank and then a group of Germans killed by soldiers who were crouching in the hedgerows beside them. As they took in the scene, a Spandau (German machine gun) fired at them.

This was his first day of combat.

“Every time you moved into attack you had no idea what you'd come up against,” he said, “There wasn't time to be frightened then but when you had your days off, that's when the fear kicked in.

“Our greatest fear was being burnt alive inside your tank – really, they were like huge steel coffins.”

After Caen, Jack was involved in the crossing of the Orne River and the crossing of the Seine which was crucial to ending the Battle of Normandy.

22/03/03.WAR VETERAN JACK WOODS PICTURED IN PALMANOVA, NORTH ITALY IN FEB 1947.

22/03/03.WAR VETERAN JACK WOODS PICTURED IN PALMANOVA, NORTH ITALY IN FEB 1947. - Credit: Jack Woods

He spent the rest of his war in Le Havre, Dieppe, Arnhem, the Ardennes, Roosendaal and the corridor to the Rhine, in Holland, Belgium and in Italy. 

Back in Britain, Jack – who has two children, Carol from his first marriage and John from his second to wife Hilda – flirted with several small jobs before being asked to be manager of The Federation Club in Oak Street, later The Talk of the East.

He married Hilda in 1953 and after the birth of John, the family moved to Aylsham Road, which would remain Jack’s home until his relatively recent move to Harker House care home in Long Stratton.

Jack oversaw big changes at The Federation Club, leading it from a venue with seats, tables and an in-house orchestra to a name change to The Industrial Club and then to become Norwich’s first discotheque, The Melody Rooms.

Launched in 1964, The Melody Rooms was hugely popular and became famous for its caged go-go dancers and performances from bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum and Gene Pitney.

He left the venue in 1968 and opened his own disco with brother Alan in a Great Yarmouth cellar close to the seafront before beginning a number of different ventures.

“My father was not a natural employee,” laughed John, “he liked to be in charge.”

Jack ran a catering supplies company and had two shoe shops in Norwich, one on Magdalen Street and another in Dixons Shopping Centre in Reepham Road.

John, who with wife Michelle has Jack’s two grandchildren Andrew, 29, and Bethany, 26, worked for the family business until Jack’s retirement in 1986.

In 1995, Jack’s beloved Hilda died after living with Multiple Sclerosis for many years.

“Dad devoted himself to mum and looked after her so well,” said John, “he used all the organisational skills he used throughout his life to organise everyone: doctors, carers, even hairdressers!”

Jack loved to return to Roosendaal, where the Liberators were fondly welcomed back, but it was Normandy that called him back time and time again.

Normandy veterans ready to head for France in 2015. Suffolk veteran Alan King, third right, and Norf

Normandy veterans ready to head for France in 2015. Suffolk veteran Alan King, third right, and Norfolk veterans from left, Norman Taylor, David Woodrow, Len Fox, Jack Woods, Neville Howell, and Peter Hemp. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Each year, as secretary of the Norwich and Norfolk Normandy Veteran Association, he would organise a coach trip from Norwich – often stopping to pick up veterans from across the country on the way – for a meticulously planned itinerary of events in Normandy.

Jack Woods, left, and Len Fox celebrate with pints of Monty's Gamble, the Wolf Brewery beer which ha

Jack Woods, left, and Len Fox celebrate with pints of Monty's Gamble, the Wolf Brewery beer which has helped raise money for the Normandy Veterans plans to mark the 70th anniversary in 2014. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

Staying at The Best Hotel just outside Caen, veterans would be treated like royalty by the grateful French and Jack would be first to the bar after dinner and be full of stories to regale the room with.

Normandy veteran, Jack Woods, with a crowd of admirers as D-Day is remembered at Arromanches. Pictur

Normandy veteran, Jack Woods, with a crowd of admirers as D-Day is remembered at Arromanches. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

The life and soul of any gathering, he always had time for people who wanted to stop and chat to him and was a tireless ambassador for the veterans he loved so much. He remained passionate about the importance of remembrance and was often moved to tears as he spoke about those who had fallen during the Normandy Campaign.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown (centre) and his wife Sarah stand with British D-Day veteran Jack Woods

Gordon Brown (centre) and his wife Sarah stand with British D-Day veteran Jack Woods - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

In 2009, Jack was presented with the rank of Officer of the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest military distinction, by President Nicolas Sarkozy in a ceremony watched by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Prince of Wales and US President Barack Obama.

At the ceremony, which was held close to one of the Normandy landing beaches, Mr Brown praised Jack and his comrades for their bravery.

“…the young of our nations stepped out on those beaches below and into history. As long as freedom lives, their debts will never die,” he said.

Normandy Veterans Association member Jack Woods talks to year 6 pupils at george White Junior school

Normandy Veterans Association member Jack Woods talks to year 6 pupils at George White Junior school in 2009 - Credit: Archant © 2009

Photographer Denise Bradley and I were lucky enough to accompany the veterans to France on many occasions: I first met them in Caen for the 65th anniversary of D-Day, having previously met Jack on a school visit in 1998.

Jack Woods, secretary of the Norwich and District Normandy Veterans Association at Bayeux Cathedral.

Jack Woods, secretary of the Norwich and District Normandy Veterans Association at Bayeux Cathedral. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

He was truly a force to be reckoned with, a social whirlwind and master of the timetable along with his partner Jean Chapman, who he spent many happy years with.

Jean passed away in December 2019 and John says his father’s heart broke: his health began to rapidly decline and he moved to a care home in Long Stratton.

“The love that people have shown for my Dad is absolutely overwhelming,” said John, “whatever he did, he did it with 110 per cent effort and he was a true man of the people.

“He once asked me ‘were you happy with your upbringing? Did I do a good job?’ and I said ‘Dad, you did a great job’, and he did. He was always there for me no matter what, in good times and bad – he never, ever gave up on me. He was so proud of his family.”

John was with his father just a few hours before he passed away and, when he played him some music from the Last Night of the Proms, Jack squeezed his hand.

Emotions running high for Normandy veteran, Jack Woods, at the remembrance ceremony at Rots. Picture

Emotions running high for Normandy veteran, Jack Woods, at the remembrance ceremony at Rots. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

“My dad taught me what being a good man is all about. He made such a difference to so many people. I am so proud of him,” said John.

In Normandy in 2017, Jack told me: “It is only by remembering the horror that we can try to ensure that nothing on a similar scale ever happens again. It's not about glory hunting, it's about learning the lessons from war and not repeating the same mistakes.

“I will go back until I can't go back anymore. I have to. When I am here, I feel my friends back with me, I feel them beside me. They may be dead, but remembering them keeps them alive. And one day, it will be our memory that needs to be kept alive.”

The Norwich Normandy veterans on Sword Beach in 2015. From left, Alan King, Len Fox, Jack Woods, Pet

The Norwich Normandy veterans on Sword Beach in 2015. From left, Alan King, Len Fox, Jack Woods, Peter Hemp, Neville Howell, and David Woodrow. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

As Jack falls into line with the comrades who have gone before him, he can be assured he will continue to inspire the generations that follow him to keep remembering just that.

A funeral service is to take place at St Faith's Crematorium on Tuesday, June 28 at 11.45am. Family flowers only please, but donations in lieu, if desired, may be made to: Harker House Amenities Fund, and sent c/o Gordon Barber, Church Lane, Eaton, Norwich, NR4 6NZ.