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Gordon Arthur Woodward and Vera May Baker (1923-2013)

Gordon was the second child of Horace Woodward and Annie Johnson. He was born in Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, married Vera May Baker in 1945, raised four children and died in 2000. Vera died in 2013.

Gordon Woodward Gordon was born at 102 Eton Road, Burton on Trent, Staffordshire on 26 March 1923. He was the second and last child of Horace and Annie Woodward. He was nothing like his father and took after his mother's side of the family. In fact he wasn't like the Woodward's at all. He stood about five feet four inches tall whereas most of his uncles and cousins were nearer six-foot. His father earned good money working as a foreman cooper and his mother's family were fairly well off financially. 

His father came to Burton on Trent as a child in 1891 from Smethwick, Birmingham, and after a short spell in Yorkshire during WW1, where he met Gordon's mother, he returned to Burton where he lived the rest of his life. Gordon's maternal grandparents owned a pub in Selby, Yorkshire and his father married Gordon's mother in 1919. Her parents moved from Selby, Yorkshire, to run a boarding house in Scarborough and Gordon's parents moved there for a while after their marriage. He spent many summers in Scarborough when he was young.

When he was eleven years old, Gordon attended Burton Grammar School as a fee paying pupil, paid for by his mother. On leaving school he started work at the Burton Town Hall as a trainee valuer in the Valuation Office but didn't stay there for long. In 1940 he joined Bass's Brewery as an apprentice Cooper, working with his father.

Gordon first met Vera in 1938 on Eton Road recreation ground at the back of his parents house. They got on well together and she once said that soon after she met him she knew they would end up getting married. He didn't get on with Vera's mother and she didn't like him. (They remained antagonistic towards each other until she died in 1957. He even told the vicar to pour concrete onto her coffin to make sure she couldn't come back and haunt him!)

In 1940, Gordon's mother had a nervous breakdown after the death of her mother and was admitted to Bretby Hospital. When the resident psychiatrist at the hospital died in 1957 all his patients' were re-assessed. They told Gordon that his mother should only have been in the hospital for a few weeks, not seventeen years! She was released and went to live with Gordon. During his mother's absence Gordon and his brother Geoff spent a lot of time at their grandmothers' bungalow at Stretton while his father, Horace, worked at the brewery.

The Second World War

In April 1942, just after his nineteenth birthday, Gordon enlisted in the Army, joining the Royal Army Ordnance Corps at Old Dalby, Leicestershire. He hated working at the brewery as a Cooper, a physically demanding job that wasn't ideally suited to a small man weighing only eight stone. His older brother, Geoffrey Paul Bernard Woodward, joined the Merchant Navy in 1940, but his ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic and he spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

At Old Dalby, Gordon worked in the stores and became very proficient at ordering and controlling spares and supplies. In October 1942 he transferred to the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (R.E.M.E) at Ashford, Kent where he took the rank of Corporal.  
He was then assigned to the 79th Armoured Division to drive a duplex drive (DD) 'swimming' tank, a Valentine tank, fitted with floats. They were nicknamed Donald Ducks and could be launched out at sea to 'swim ashore' ahead of the infantry during the D-Day landings. Most of his training was in Devon with Valentines, but later his unit was assigned Sherman Tanks which were lighter and could swim with their gun facing forward, ready for action when they landed. On D-Day in June 1944 his landing craft broke down in the English Channel, and he finally arrived in France on D+1.

During the German's main counter-offensive in December 1944, often called the Battle of the Bulge, he became cut off from his unit whilst recovering damaged vehicles. He and a friend took refuge with a Belgian family, and stayed with them until the end of January 1945. He then rejoined his unit and set off towards Germany. On almost the last day of the war, whilst driving an army lorry to Beilefeld in Germany, he was involved in a major road accident and received such a serious head injury that it was a miracle he survived. The lorry he was driving was hit by the gun barrel of a tank on the back of a transporter going in the opposite direction. The gun sliced the top off the cab of his lorry and a piece of steel took a large chunk of bone out of his forehead, just above his left eye. It missed his brain by millimetres. A field doctor performed and emergency operation and effectively saved his life. He was flown back to England to a hospital in Oxford where he stayed until his release from the Army in October 1945. His injury left him with a deep dent in his forehead which he had for the rest of his life. He was classified as 80% disabled for pension purposes. He returned to Burton on Trent after his discharge from hospital, and on 18 December 1945 he and Vera Baker were married at Stretton Church, near Burton on Trent. There are only two photographs of the wedding - one is below right. Vera said this was because the photographer was drunk.   

Vera Baker (1924-2013)

Vera Baker Vera (left) came from a very different background to Gordon. She was born on 5 February 1924 at 201 Wetmore Road, Burton on Trent, a small terraced house backing onto Bass's Meadow, beside the River Trent. Her parents were Fred and Catherine Baker. They had moved into the house on Wetmore Road just after they were married in 1911.

Vera's mother, Catherine Outram-Hatto, was born in Hungry Bentley, Derbyshire. Her grandmother, Fanny Outram, had worked as a servant at Mayfield Hall, Derbyshire, until she became pregnant and had to leave shortly before Catherine was born. Fanny later married a James Hatto at Stapenhill Church, Burton, which is how Catherine's name became Outram-Hatto. (See the Outram and Jeffery family tree for more details.)

As a teenager, Vera's mother, Catherine, went into service, working as a cook and later as a housekeeper at Crakemarsh Hall, Derbyshire, owned by Lady Ann Cavendish.  In 1911 her employer's son and daughter-in-law, Tyrell William Cavendish and Julia Cavendish, decided to visit America, sailing on the Titanic. Catherine was asked if she would go as their maid but declined as she'd soon to get married.
Vera & Gordon's wedding

In 1912, Tyrell William Cavendish and his wife Julia Cavendish sailed from Southampton on the ill-fated liner, Titanic, with a maid, Nellie Barber. They had a cabin in first class (No. C46) and when the ship began to sink Julia Cavendish and Nellie boarded a lifeboat and survived, later being picked up by the ship, Carpathia. Tyrell Cavendish stayed on the Titanic and drowned. (See more about this story at Titanic.)

The Baker's were originally from Linton near Gresley, Derbyshire, but later settled in Sudbury, Staffordshire and then Burton on Trent. Fred worked as a brewery labourer at Bass's brewery in Burton, but in 1914, along with his six brothers, he volunteered for army service as part of the call to arms for World War One. He was badly injured during the first Battle of the Somme in 1916 and came home paralysed down his left side. His six brothers all survived the war without serious injury - a miracle when you think of the millions killed in that seemingly senseless conflict. After the war Fred couldn't work and stayed at home pegging rugs. He lived on a war pension of £2.10s.0d (£2.50) a week until he died in 1956. (More details about the Bakers can be found on the Fred Baker page).

Vera was the youngest child of Fred and Catherine Baker and the only girl in the family. After school she became a book keeper, a skill she had a natural flair for; later in life she could add up a shopping list quicker than you could with a calculator. In June 1942 Vera joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She was posted to Derby for basic training and then to Gloucester. After basic training she moved to a maintenance unit at Stafford and then RAF Shawbury in Shropshire. At Shawbury she had a narrow escape when a plane crashed onto a hanger where she'd been at a dance a few minutes earlier, killing everyone in the hanger. Her next base was RAF Cardigan in Bedfordshire and whilst there she was nearly suffocated when someone started to fill a barrage balloon with gas while she was still inside it checking for holes. On her way to St Mawgan in Cornwall, she got off a train at Plymouth station in the middle of an air raid and only just missed a bomb blast when an ARP warden pulled her into an entry. Whilst at St Mawgan she fell out of the back of an army truck when the rear tailboard came open and she rolled over the edge of a seventy-foot high cliff, landing twenty feet down on a ledge above Watergate Bay. She was rescued by an American helicopter, one of the first air-sea rescue craft of its type in the UK. She broke most of her fingers but otherwise had a miraculous escape.

In 1944, now discharged from the RAF, Vera gave birth to her first child, David Bernard Baker, after a 'fling' as she called it with an American GI. A friend later told her that he'd been killed on Omaha Beach, France in the D-Day landings, but later she found that it wasn't true and that he had a wife and children back in America. In 1945 a plane crashed onto her sister-in-law's house in Stafford Street, Burton, killing the whole family.

Gordon and Vera as a family.

Gordon and Vera had three children.

  • Teena May Woodward, born 28 September 1946 in Burton.
  • Roger Graham Woodward, born 14 September 1951 in Burton (the author of this site).
  • Zelda Anne Woodward, born 25 April 1955 in Burton.

In 1946, after marrying Gordon, Vera adopted her son David Baker into her married name, Woodward, and Gordon always treated him like his own son. Gordon couldn't adopt him, as he was too young - you had to be 25 years old to adopt children.

After the war Gordon and Vera lived on Eton Road, Burton with his father. Gordon worked as a van driver and then as a milk-man for a short while until he secured a job at Marley Tiles, Branston, as a stores manager and chief buyer. His stores experience gained during the war helped him get the job. It was a well paid job and the family's prosperity improved no end.

Rolleston Road, Burton In 1952 Gordon bought a detached house on Rolleston Road, Burton (left) for £3000 where the family lived until 1957. His mother had been in hospital since the start of the war and when in 1957 she came home the house was deemed too small.

The next three years saw a series of moves to four bedroom houses in Burton, until a spell of ill heath, caused mainly by his war injury, left him jobless and he had to make do with less attractive accommodation. At this time his father and mother moved out and went to look after Horace's sister, May, at his mother's old bungalow in Stretton.

Hazel Hill Cottage, Lenham, Kent

in 1960 Gordon and Vera went to work for Holborn FNF on Wellington Street Extension, Burton, a firm making hosiery machines. The firm was taken over by Holborn Aero Components and relocated to Rochester, Kent and in 1964 the family upped sticks and moved to Kent, renting an Elizabethan cottage (above, right) in Boughton Malherbe, near Lenham. It was a complete change of life and they stayed there for two years.

In late 1965 Holborns closed and Gordon and Vera moved to Nottingham in January 1966 to work as a factory manager and an invoice clerk respectively for Geoffrey E McPherson & Co, a hosiery firm in Raglan Street, St Anne's. The circle was completed when in 1970 they returned to live in Stapenhill, Burton on Trent.

During the last years of their lives they lived apart, but only physically. They were made for each other in many ways and never really parted emotionally. Vera once said that living across the road from Gordon was a perfect arrangement - she said that when she'd had enough of his company she could just tell him to bugger off home! Gordon died on 1 July 2000 at Stapenhill, Burton and Vera died on 29 September 2013 in the Queens Hospital, Burton. They were both cremated at Bretby, Derbyshire.

You can find pictures of Gordon and Vera and other members of the Woodward family at the bottom of Page 7 in the Albums section of my flickr photo website.

Compiled by Graham Woodward, Nottingham, England (UK).