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Lieutenant David Wood

Lieutenant David Wood in 1946

Lieutenant David Wood

Lieutenant David J. Wood

 

Unit : No.24 Platoon, "D" Company, 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

Awards : Member of the British Empire, Legion d'Honneur.

 

Lieutenant David Wood was born on the 23rd February 1923. He was posted to "D" Company in 1942, and he was received with a mild degree of apprehension by Major John Howard, who thought the 19 year old was "a bit too young for the toughies in my company". Yet Wood was full of enthusiasm and so Howard gave him No.24 Platoon to command, which was blessed with experienced NCO's, and there were no problems. 

 

No.24 Platoon, designated No.2 Platoon for the assault on Bénouville Bridge on the 6th June 1944, was the second glider to arrive at the bridge. The impact of the landing threw Wood out of the glider but left him unhurt. His platoon quickly gathered about him and he swiftly reported to Major Howard, who was watching the attack of No.1 Platoon go in across the bridge. As their assault seemed to be going very well, Howard gave Wood permission to carry out his pre-arranged orders of clearing the enemy defences on the eastern side of the bridge. The Platoon carried out its work magnificently, although Wood was wounded in the leg during the fighting.

 

David Wood recovered from his wound and continued to serve in the Army after the war, eventually becoming a Colonel. He died on the 12th March 2009. The following is his obituary as printed in The Times.

 

David Wood was the last surviving officer of the coup-de-main parties that captured the bridges over the Caen Canal and the River Orne in the early hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

 

The bridges were essential for the support of the 6th Airborne Division, dropped by parachute and landed by gliders east of the Orne, on the left flank of the Allied bridgehead. Gliders delivered the coup-de-main parties alongside the bridges, in what Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory commanding the Allied air forces on that day described as "the airmanship feat of the war".

 

The infantry and engineer assault troops, 126 men in all, were commanded by Major John Howard of 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Lieutenant David Wood led the men in the second of the three gliders that landed alongside the bridge over the Caen Canal, subsequently famous as "Pegasus Bridge". Although several shaken by landing on rough ground in the dark at about 90 miles an hour, he found himself in one piece and still clutching to his chest a bucket of 36 primed grenades he thought might come in useful in clearing the German defenders from around the bridge.

 

Ordered forward by Howard, who had climbed out of the wreckage of the leading glider only minutes before, he led his men up the slight slope to the bridge, checking that every enemy weapon pit was clear as he went. As he reached the road, a burst of enemy fire hit him in the leg and he went down with three bullets in it and a compound fracture of the femur.

 

His wound kept him out of action for the rest of the war and he needed a built-up shoe or boot for the rest of his life as his left leg was an inch and a half shorter than his right.

 

Howard, who had originally doubted whether the young, fresh-faced subaltern straight from officer training would measure up to the standard of the Airborne forces, had recorded immediately before the operation: "Wood is a rattling good officer and I wouldn't lost him for the world."

 

After the war Wood resumed regimental soldiering, attended the Staff College and moved through a variety of posts to achieve the rank of colonel. He was Military Assistant to the C-in-C British Army of the Rhine, for which service he was appointed MBE, and second-in-command of 1st Battalion The Royal Green Jackets, as his regiment had by then become, in Malaysia during the Indonesian "Confrontation" with the new Federation. In his final army posting, he was in charge of the Infantry Records office in Exeter.

 

In 1994 he was appointed Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by the French Government in recognition of his work on behalf of the Normandy Veterans' Association, of which he was president of the Exeter branch until his death.

 

Until his final illness Wood had been planning to be present in Normandy this June to mark the 65th anniversary of the capture of Pegasus Bridge when a new memorial to the men of the coup-de-main parties, the glider pilots and RAF aircrew is to be unveiled as a result of a fundraising campaign organised under the title Project 65.

 

The greater part of the money raised is to be donated to charities helping wounded, and needy service and ex-service men and women.

 

He is survived by his wife, Alice, a former officer of Queen of Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps.

 

 

The following is his obituary as printed in the Daily Mail.

 

The last surviving officer to serve in World War II's daring Pegasus Bridge operation which paved the way for the D-Day landings has died aged 85. Colonel David Wood was just 21 when he led a platoon of airborne troopers in helping to secure two key bridges in Normandy, just hours before the Allied beach assault. He was among dozens of troops who drifted silently behind enemy lines in six Horsa gliders in the early hours of June 6 1944 and took just ten minutes to take the bridges. The heroic mission prevented the Germans from sending in reinforcements and enabled Allied forces to continue their advance after taking the beaches.

 

It has been hailed as 'the single most important ten minutes of the war' and featured prominently in the 1962 Hollywood movie 'The Longest Day'. Colonel Wood was awarded the Legion d'Honneur for his heroic actions - the highest order of the French government. He went on to serve 36 years with the army before his retirement in 1978.

 

Colonel Wood, who lived with his wife of 25 years Sarah in Cullompton, Devon, died in hospital on March 12 after a long battle with prostate cancer. Yesterday, Captain Peter Hodge, honorary secretary of the Normandy Veterans' Association (NVA), led the tributes.

 

'He was an absolutely remarkable person,' he said. 'He was a figurehead for the Normandy Veteran's Association and he will be sorely missed.' Colonel Wood was just 21 when he led a platoon in the risky mission 'He was one of the nicest men anyone was ever likely to meet and, among veterans, he was household name.' Colonel Wood was commissioned into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, which later became part of the 6th British Airborne Division. He was commander of 20 men in Platoon 24 of the Pegasus Bridge mission - codename Operation Tonga - which was led by Major John Howard. The objective was to seize two bridges - Benouville bridge, known as Pegasus bridge, over the Caen canal and Ranville bridge, now known as Horsa bridge, over the River Orne. German forces had laced the bridges with explosives so they could blow them up in the event of an Allied advance.

 

Colonel Wood's men were in the second glider to land at Pegasus Bridge at 00.17 hours. Their objective was to clear trenches, machine-gun nests and the anti-tank gun pit along the east bank of Pegasus bridge. He was shot in the leg during the assault and was evacuated to a divisional aid post in Ranville and eventually back to England.

 

Both bridges were secured by 00.26 hours.

 

In a previous interview Colonel Wood said they had been blessed with two key strokes of good luck - the German major commanding the bridge was away from his post, reportedly enjoying a romantic liaison with a French woman, and German commander Field Marshall Erwin Rommel of the North Afrika Corps was visiting his wife on her birthday in Germany. Allied troops move across the Pegasus Bridge. Its capture was key to the success of the D-Day landings 'By the time the major returned we had captured the bridge,' said Colonel Wood. 'The surprise was complete and our losses were smaller than predicted. Two of our men were killed and only 14 wounded, including myself.

 

'I was shot in the leg and I am constantly reminded of my encounter with an enemy gun. My left leg, where I was wounded, is one and a half inches shorter than the other mainly due to the fractures I suffered.' Colonel Wood volunteered for the Army at 18 and became an officer cadet. He spent two years training in gliders for the assault on Pegasus Bridge. Exeter was the training ground for his mission because the bridges over the Exe and the Exeter Canal, including the swing bridge at Countess Wear, were identical to those across the River Orne and canal in France.

 

After the war Colonel Wood went on to serve all over the world with the Green Jackets and then the Royal Green Jackets, including Cyprus, Egypt and the second Suez crisis. His other postings were Northern Ireland, Germany, Malaya and Aden, where he was assistant military secretary. He also spent time at Exeter's Higher Barracks followed by a time as deputy commander of the Rhine area in Germany before retiring in 1978.

 

Colonel Wood, who was childless, was presented with seven campaign medals during his career and was made an MBE for his services to the military.

 

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