St Albans war hero who witnessed Japanese surrender passes away

John shortly before going on active service

John shortly before going on active service - Credit: Archant

War veteran John Woodward, who witnessed first hand the Japanese surrender in 1945 before dedicating himself to teaching history, has died aged 90.

John's picture of the Japanese surrender

John's picture of the Japanese surrender - Credit: Archant

John, who saw active service on the battleship HMS Nelson during the Second World War, lived in St Albans and the surrounding area for nearly 20 years.

Born in Huddersfield in 1925, he won a place to read History at Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he began his studies in the autumn of 1943.

But only months later in May 1944, he was called up to join the British forces fighting in the war.

HMS Nelson, was the flagship of the British fleet and active around the Malayan Peninsula. John’s role during Action Stations was to load up the shells from below decks and he recalled the experience of being attacked by Japanese dive bombers.

HMS Nelson

HMS Nelson - Credit: Archant

The Japanese forces formally surrendered aboard his ship and he witnessed the surrender documents being signed as well as the visit to the ship of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command.

John regarded himself as fortunate to have survived the war and in January 1946 returned to Cambridge to complete his Master’s degree.

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He trained as a teacher and became a history master at Spalding Grammar School before going on to become head of history at Midsomer Norton Grammar School. As a councillor on Wells City Council, he successfully campaigned for a new relief road in the city.

In 1998 he and his wife Christine, with whom he had three children, moved to the St Albans area to be nearer their family.

John was a keen golfer, playing for a time at Harpenden Common Golf Club, and for many years could be found reading the paper at the end of the day at the Blacksmiths Arms in St Albans.

He enjoyed a lifelong love of reading and built up a collection of books on history, politics and cultural affairs. He and his wife became familiar faces at St Albans Abbey, where three of their grandchildren were choristers.

John died in Verulam House, St Albans, last month after a short illness. At his funeral service in the Abbey friends and family were told of his ‘exceptional modesty, his kindness and consideration to others, and of his humour, often self-deprecating and imparted with a twinkle in his eye’. He leaves his wife, three children and five grandchildren.