Harold Wood celebrated his 100th birthday on the 16th of February 2019. Here he recalls his wartime service in the Royal Canadian Airforce specialising in radar defences around the coast of the UK, arriving in Brixham to help with the D-Day preparations.
In the fall of 1940, Harold was called up and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a radar technician.
He was sent overseas to the UK immediately to install radar stations in England. He shipped out on an unescorted troop-ship in December, 1940. Arriving in Liverpool, England, he was sent to radar school for six weeks.
The Battle of Britain had ended, and the Blitz began, consisting of the bombing of major cities. A new development was the use of landmines, which instead of leaving a crater, blasted outward, destroying a whole city block. During his first weekend in England, he lost three of his classmates to a land mine in London.
When his radar course ended, Harold was sent to a radar station near Great Yarmouth on the east coast. Defenses consisted of a dozen WWI bayonets strapped to broomsticks. The Blitz was at its height until well into 1942. Harold was in Eastbourne when 1000 bombers passed over on their way to Germany. He was working on a radar station in North Wales when they announced Pearl Harbor. He recalls standing outside at night watching the bombing of Coventry only twenty miles away, where he saw four enemy planes shot down before his eyes.
In 1942, Harold received a field commission as Pilot Officer from King George VI (the father of the current Queen). The position was based in London. There he led a crew of THREE technicians installing IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) at radar stations on the East and South coasts of England from April 1941 to April 1944. Harold’s personal log shows him making 125 station visits during that time. The closest he came to danger was when he had to dive into a ditch when his station was strafed.
One of Harold’s proudest moments was accepting the first SCR-284 from the United States Military. This was a magnificent device that tracked enemy bombers, relayed the information to anti-aircraft guns and set proximity fuses. This device was extremely valuable during the Blitz.
In May 1944, anticipating the D-Day invasion, extra radar personnel were sent to east and south coast stations. Harold was stationed at Brixham, South Devon, on the shore of Torbay, a twenty-mile harbor where the invasion force was being assembled. He recalls seeing ships loaded with men departing for the invasion. It was the most chilling memory he has of the war.
His lodgings in Brixham was the Berry Head Hotel, a magnificent country estate hotel perched on the cliffs of Torbay. He recalls one time inviting a young lady to tea there. They spread a blanket on the green lawn, and his army buddy descended to the beach below, where he caught shrimp that were ultimately cooked for dinner.
About a month before the invasion was launched, Allied Forces were practicing the Omaha Beach landing at a nearby cliff, a short distance from the radar station that Harold and teammates were manning. A German submarine torpedoed the landing craft near the cliff and three landing craft and the men on board were lost. General Eisenhower swore that he would personally SHOOT anyone who leaked that information, as the invasion would be compromised. Dubbed Operation Tiger, it was the best-kept secret of WWII.
Forty years later, Harold and his wife Louise would return to Brixham for the celebration of D-Day where, as young man, he witnessed a landmark moment in World History.
One hundred years and counting
Alexandra Wittenberg Arizona Daily Sun
Feb 19, 2019
Last year, on Harold Wood’s 99th birthday party, Mayor Coral Evans gave Wood a key to the city and made him a promise that she would mark Feb. 16, 2019 on her calendar to celebrate Wood’s centennial birthday with him.
On Saturday, Evans honored her promise by attending Wood’s 100th birthday celebration at Little America Hotel. As for the key to the city, after a year of searching, Harold said he has yet to find a door in Flagstaff that it can open.
Harold wrote in an e-mail that his favorite part of his party was happy hour and visiting with his family and friends, including his newborn great-grandson. Besides the mayor, Coconino Community College president Colleen Smith, Professor Anna Canning and Major John Van Wyke also came out to celebrate Harold’s life so far. In November, Smith, Canning and Van Wyke honored Harold at a Veteran’s Day celebration at CCC, and shared some of his military accomplishments during World War II, which included working as a radar technician in the UK, receiving a field commission as pilot officer from King George VI and receiving the first SCR-284 tracking device.
The year Harold was born, 1919, was the year that the Grand Canyon became a national park, the year World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles and the year the US Congress approved the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. It was also the year that HAM radio was invented, which is one of Harold’s greatest hobbies.
Harold grew up on a rustic farm near Winnipeg, Canada. In 1929, the Great Depression struck, and Harold’s parents decided to move Harold and his older sister to the main city in hopes of finding better work. Harold recalled getting a single orange as his Christmas present that year.
“As a child, Harold was always very interested in chemistry and his bedroom was a virtual chemical lab,” Harold’s daughter-in-law, Dorris Wood, wrote in an e-mail. “His first job was as a chemical technician at a soap factory, and his salary was 25 cents an hour. He worked there five years until World War II broke out.”
In the fall of 1940, Harold was called up and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a radar technician and he was sent to the U.K. During his first weekend there, he lost three of his radar school classmates to a land mine, Dorris wrote. “He was working on a radar station in North Wales when they announced Pearl Harbor,” Dorris wrote. “He recalls standing outside at night watching the bombing of Coventry only 20 miles away, where he saw four enemy planes shot down before his eyes.”
After the war, Harold was offered a GI Bill to go to college. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1950 with a degree in engineering physics.
After graduation, Harold made his way to California with his two university friends, who had the high hopes of making $5 an hour and living in houses with swimming pools, Dorris wrote.
In August of 1950, Harold landed his career-long job at Southern California Edison electric company, where he tested and repaired house meters.
When asked what Harold’s favorite year of his life was, he wrote, “definitely 1951, the year I married my wife.” Harold married Louise Kelley in August 1951, a year and a half after meeting her at an office Christmas party. The couple had their first set of twins, sons Carl and Mike Wood, in May 1952. “Four years later, Louise informed him that she was expecting a second set of twins, daughter Carol and son Kelley,” Dorris explained during a speech at his birthday party. Harold then told the audience that after the doctor delivered his second set of twins, he turned to him and said, “the third set will be free.”
During Harold’s time at Edison, he went on many work and travel trips, one of which he witnessed the world’s first personal computer and first color TV at the basement of Iowa State University.
In 1983, Harold retired from Edison, where he decided to take a lifetime pension. “To date, Harold has collected over a million dollars in pension funds, along with fully paid medical benefits for him and Louise for life,” Dorris wrote. “In fact, a couple of years ago, he received a letter from Edison asking him to show proof that he was still alive, since they had noticed the total sum and couldn’t believe they had continuously paid him all those years.”
Harold moved to Flagstaff in June of 2017 to live with his oldest son, Carl, after the death of Louise. Harold wrote that his favorite things about Flagstaff are the Ponderosa pines, Snowbowl, the fall colors, the blue sky and crystal clear air, the interesting cloud formations and “the city’s compassion in caring of those who are not so fortunate.”
Dorris wrote that Harold is a voracious reader and is constantly at his PC, Mac or iPad. “He is like any teenager with time spent on his iPhone,” she wrote. “He must be reminded to set it down at mealtime.” Besides computers, Dorris wrote that “research experiments in circuits, coils and his ever-present microscope have kept him busy into his 90s.” Harold is also a lifelong camera buff that has thousands of photos and slides that he is currently digitizing.
Harold wrote that he always has oatmeal for breakfast and that having a wife and family who understand nutrition, as well as love and care, are what he believes led him to a long, happy life.
In Harold’s closing remarks Saturday, he told the crowd that he often gets asked what his secret is to his longevity.
“I say a healthy diet and regular medical checkups,” Harold said. “Just last week I had one. My doctor is a pretty lady. She told me what food to eat, and I said ‘how about cocktails?’ She said, ‘oh, Mr. Wood, I’m sorry, but I’m busy tonight.’”
My mother and I walked down to Bolton Cross to see what was going on and saw all the GIs in jeeps, tanks, bulldozers and ducks making their way down Fore Street to the harbour. I can remember their faces and their looks, not laughing, cheering faces we had seen before as they passed; their faces were sad and grim. Some did wave, knowing maybe they were going to their deaths.
I was a Belgian refugee during the war, in Brixham. I was 11 years old when the war broke out. One bomb fell near the gas tank which began to leak; another fell on the off-licence in Fore Street, killing the parents of a National School friend of mine. Three times, German planes gunned my father while he was fishing, but the last time was the worst…