Thursday, December 24, 2020

Eric Woodhouse – The Story of a Second World War Veteran

Matthew Eric Woodhouse, or Eric to his family and friends was born on 5th of July 1924. After attending school in York, where he met some Hitler Youth on exchange, which we now know were spying for the Nazis, he started an apprenticeship at Leadhams Garage near Lendal Bridge in York. The garage he worked at was taken over by the Ministry of Supply to prepare military vehicles for the British army at the outbreak of war as most of the army’s vehicles had been left at Dunkirk. Eric’s main role was an engine mechanic on Churchill tanks, cars and trucks. Eric also worked on Monty’s car before it went to Egypt with the 8th Army. All work was over seen by officers from the army and eventually the  newly formed Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Regiment.

Eric was on fire watch duty on one of the nights of the Baedeker Blitz in York, a bombardment of five major cities by the Luftwaffe. These raids were over several nights between 25 April and 3rd May 1942 which in total left over 1600 dead and destroyed 50,000 homes.

On the night of 28th/29th April the bombers struck the city of York. Watching the aircraft overhead releasing their deadly cargo, he was armed only with a stirrup pump to douse the flames of any bombs that landed on the garage. On this night the bombs were falling relentlessly, huge explosions lit up entire streets and several major buildings were hit. Perched on top of the roof of his garage he must have felt both helpless and nervous at the thought of what he was witnessing around him.

Eric decided to have a break and whilst downstairs in the garage, the place where he had been sat took a direct hit, the entire garage a mass of rubble, flames, smoke and dust. Scrambling to safety it was obvious that his decision to take a break saved his life. Eric’s father, also called Matthew, was the duty station manager at York train station on the night of the raids and thankfully he also survived. Others weren’t so lucky, the death toll in this city was 79.

It is incredible at just how many of his friends did not survive the war. Kenneth Fox went to school with Eric and died when his plane crashed upon landing on the way back from an air raid. A Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve for 514 Squadron, he was just 20 years old; at Kenneth's funeral in York Eric was a pall bearer for his lost friend.

Another school friend also in the RAFVR was James Crawford. He was also killed at a young age with 61 Squadron on 7th December 1941. At just 17 years old his body was never recovered and has no known grave.

Eric moved to Bridlington in 1957 and ran a chain of very successful garages for many years, retiring in the mid-1980s and then being head hunted to work for Thompsons in Hull as their service manager. Eric was married to Olga, who he met when she was working at Leadhams garage for the Ministry of Supply during the war. They had one son, Matthew who sadly passed away in 2015, Olga passed in 2017.

The photograph of him (left) shows him with a stirrup pump from the Second World War at his home in Bridlington.

My aim was to interview Eric when the restrictions were lifted and ask him more about his wartime service so that none of his stories were forgotten, but unfortunately it was too late. Eric passed away just a few weeks ago, on 22nd November 2020 at the age of 96.

I would like to thank his good friend and neighbour Martin Barmby who spent time with him in his final years and spent many hours chatting about his life and war stories and who has given me the opportunity to highlight his career and experiences today. Eric served his country in the Second World War as a vehicle mechanic and without the efforts of people like him in their reserved occupations, the Allies would not have been able to win the war against the Nazis.

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