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Norwich man publishes his father’s ‘warts and all’ account of life in World War II

PUBLISHED: 13:50 09 May 2020

Back in England in 1944, in East Anglia, preparing for D-Day. Timber is standing second from the right. Picture: Family collection from A Soldier’s Story.

Back in England in 1944, in East Anglia, preparing for D-Day. Timber is standing second from the right. Picture: Family collection from A Soldier’s Story.

Family collection from A Soldier’s Story.

This is the way to discover what serving in the Second World War was really like. From the words of a tough front-line “ordinary” soldier written at the time. Derek James reports.

Neville standing in front of the Desert Rat Memorial at High Ash in Thetford Forest. He had stayed in a Nissen hut behind the memorial in 1944. Picture: Family collection from A Soldier’s Story.Neville standing in front of the Desert Rat Memorial at High Ash in Thetford Forest. He had stayed in a Nissen hut behind the memorial in 1944. Picture: Family collection from A Soldier’s Story.

Yes, it has been the 75th anniversary of VE Day. A time, in 1945, of dancing in the street and making merry but now it is more important than ever not to forget the full horror of what happened during this bloody and terrible conflict.

Mike Wood of Norwich, you may know him as the chairman of the Anglian Singers, spent many years transcribing the “illegal” war diaries written at the time by his father Neville

At times a difficult task considering just what his father went through.

The result is a compelling, no-holds-barred, book which paints a vivid picture of war and all that surrounds it.

There is no flannel or historian ”what if” speak in this volume. It is straight to the point. It could make you laugh, it may make you cry.

A soldier’s life was like no other, and completely alien to how we live our lives today…for most of us in civvy street anyway.

Neville ‘Timber’ Wood, didn’t come from this neck of the woods – although he was in these parts for a while during the war – but that doesn’t matter.

His story cuts across counties, countries and generations and his diaries are a thought-provoking read especially this year.

As our own General the Lord Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff (Head of the Army) says: “This captivating account …is the story of an ordinary soldier, but an extraordinary man.”

Neville Wood was a Yorkshire lad who joined the 50th Northumbrian Division aged 18 in 1939. He never rose higher than Lance Corporal and throughout his entire war he was breaking the rules by keeping illegal dairies - five small A1 hand-written diaries.

Thank goodness he did. They deserved to be published and now they are…thanks to Mike.

Neville spent his war as a driver for the Royal Army Service Corps, responsible for moving ammunition and high explosives to the front line.

He was at Dunkirk one of the last few thousand to be rescued by HMS Basilisk after three long days waist deep in sea water and unprotected on the beaches.

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Neville was captured by the Germans during a battle in Egypt, taken to within 20 yards of the Desert Fox himself, Erwin Rommell, before escaping in a stolen German ambulance and finding shelter with a South African division.

He spent no less than 993 consecutive days away from English shores in battle zones across the world, had a brief spell at home, and then went back for D-Day, dropped onto the beaches in amongst the blood and chaos.

Neville ended his war in “hell” inside Bergen-Belsen just after its liberation, delivering the small amount of food that the army could spare to the starving men, women and children, witnessing first-hand the horrors and evils of the concentration camps.

As he looked at one of the huge mounds of earth he pictured the piles of bodies, buried under the grey bare earth, head bowed…he wept.

As he turned 85, his youngest son Mike, who worked for Norwich Union and moved to Norfolk in 1994, started to record his father’s experiences. Endless conservations were written down using the diaries as reference points.

Neville was part of the 50th division which were based in Norfolk after returning from Sicily and before heading to Normandy.

Mike presented his father with the finished transcript for Father’s Day in 2006, and they remained unread by anyone else until Neville’s death five years ago aged 94.

They have published a book which deserves to be read.

“There are so few of these remarkable men left and soon their memories will be consigned in full to the history books,” said Mike who lives at Cringleford with his wife Anita. They are both choristers at St Peter’s Church and members of the Anglian Singers.

After many years of work and research this book has finally appeared. “Here it is, warts and all. A unique insight, a priceless reciord of one which, while making me feel very humble, also makes me incredibly proud to say this is the story of my dad’s war,” added Mike.

Now, one we can all share.

<t> A Soldier’s Story: Neville ‘Timber’ Wood’s War, from Dunkirk to D-Day by Mike Wood is published by Robinson at £20 and at the moment is available via Waterstones.com or Amazon.co.uk


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