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Dudley councillor killed in rehearsal for D-Day

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 15, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • Flying Officer John Teece killed in a rehearsal for D-Day

  • Jim and Gwendoline Wood on their wedding day in 1943

  • Walter Walker, Royal Artillery, killed in Normandy July 21, 1944

  • Eric Preston and daughter Christine

  • Stirling bomber towing a Horsa glider

  • John Teece with wife Marjorie and children Pamela Kathryn and Robert Dudley

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LAST Friday's 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings for many revived memories of family and friends who fought in one of the bitterest campaigns in history, many of whom gave their lives in the battle that heralded the final phase of the Second World War.

Back in 1998 a campaign was started for the names of the fallen of the Second World War to be added to the Holly Hall war memorial in St Augustine's churchyard and recorded alongside the names of the victims of the Great War. The new plaque was unveiled in 2010 and in preparation for it Val Worwood, Michael Smith, Christopher Smith, Don Kirby, and others, researched the life stories behind each name. Val has passed onto the Bugle details of those Holly Hall servicemen who died in the Battle of Normandy.

The invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was the culmination of years of planning and preparations. Sadly, many men were killed in "rehearsals" for the assault on Nazi-occupied Europe. One such was Flying Officer John Robert Teece of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

John, born in 1911, originally came from Crudgington, near Wellington, Shropshire, the son of a policeman. Around 1937 John brought his family to live at 144 Stourbridge Road, Holly Hall. A year later he became a councillor representing the Woodside ward on Dudley Council. He also served on the Health Watch and Maternity and Child Welfare committees.

With the outbreak of war he joined the RAFVR and began flying in early 1943, quickly qualifying as a navigator. He flew Wellington bombers with 196 Squadron, based in Yorkshire. The squadron changed to Stirling bombers and flew its last night bombing mission on the night of November 10-11, 1943. They then began on operations dropping supplies to resistance forces in occupied France and transporting agents.

In March 1944 the squadron transferred to Keevil, Wiltshire, where they began practising towing gliders in preparation for D-Day.

On April 4, 1944, Teece's Stirling, LJ842, took off from Keevil on Exercise Dreme, a D-Day rehearsal run, towing a Horsa glider (LG999) which carried two pilots and 24 paratroopers of No.3 Platoon, A Company, 7th (Airborne) Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers. John Teece's crewmates in the Stirling were W/O John Hugh Lees (pilot), Sgt Shayrene Meera (flight engineer), Fl/Sgt John Thomas Wilkinson (bomber), Fl/Sgt Kenrick Payne (wireless operator and air gunner) and Sgt Sidney Claypole (air gunner).

It was a three-and-a-half hour cross-country flight after which the glider was to be released over Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Around Winchester they encountered lower cloud than expected. The pilot decided to fly below the cloud but hit the top of a tree. The glider was released immediately and crashed at Warnford, killing all on board. The Stirling continued flying but crashed 15 minutes later, around 21.00, one mile south-west of Romsey. All crew were killed.

John, at 33, was the oldest member of his crew, the youngest was Sgt Meera, just 19. Aboard the glider the oldest was 37 and the youngest 18.

John Teece was buried at St Augustine's churchyard in Holly Hall.

The Battle of Normandy, lasting from June 6 to September 1, 1944, was one of the fiercest in history. Our view of the Second World War is sometimes clouded by our impressions of the First World War, but soldiers fighting in Normandy in 1944 were statistically more likely to be killed than those fighting on the Somme in 1916.

Eric Samuel Preston was born in February 1920, the son of furnaceman Samuel Preston and his wife Alice. They had a second son, Vivian, born in 1925, and the family lived at Low Town, Holly Hall.

Eric worked as a crane driver in Birmingham and, aged 19, he met nurse Mary Musgrove. They married in Darlington on October 25, 1941; their daughter Christine was born in May 1943.

Eric enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in July 1939. He took part in the Normandy Landings; Ranville was the first village to be liberated but Eric was killed in the subsequent fighting to hold the village. He died, aged 24, on July 27, 1944, and is buried at Ranville War Cemetery.

Walter Joseph Walker was another to be killed in Normandy. He was born in 1911, the son of Albert, a brickyard worker, and Florence Walker, who lived in Avenue Road, Holly Hall. Walter married Harriet Bradley at St Augustine's Church in 1936 and they had a daughter named Patricia.

Walter served in the Royal Artillery but was killed on July 21, 1944, just as his gun crew were about to move to a "safe zone" when an enemy shell exploded among them. He was 33 years old and is buried at Mouen Churchyard, near Caen.

James Cornelius Wood, known as Jim, was born in 1921. His parents were Ernest and Rhoda Wood of the Wren's Nest, Dudley, but from an early aged Jim was raised by his grandparents, William and Rose Wood, at their home in Hall Street, Holly Hall (now Hallchurch Road).

Jim attended Holly Hall schools and in 1943 he married Gwendoline Riley at St Augustine's Church. He served with the South Staffordshire Regiment but in June 1944 he was reported as missing in action, fighting around Caen. The family received a second telegram telling them that Jim was wounded. Then came a fateful third telegram, announcing that Jim had died of his wounds on July 16, 1944. Gwendoline, who was expecting their first child, was not told the sad news until after she gave birth to a son, James Norman, on August 23, 1944. Jim Wood is buried at Fontenay-le-Pesnel Cemetery in Normandy.

Many Black Country men fought in Normandy and returned home to tell the tale and you can read some of their stories on our website. Just go to www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk and search for "D Day".

Have you a story of D-Day or the Normandy campaign to share with Bugle readers? Were you there, or did a member of you family take part? What are your memories of the Home Front in 1944 and do you remember hearing the news of the Allies' invasion of Europe? Contact dshaw@blackcountry bugle.co.uk with any stories or pictures, or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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