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Des Reed: memories of a family man and adventurer
Des Reed with his grandson Thomas, in 2005, then aged 10, in the cockpit of the Douglas DC3 Dakota at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, during the events to mark the 60th aniversary of Operation Varsity
TRIBUTES have been paid to one of Malton’s best loved characters.
Des Reed, who wrote a column in the Gazette & Herald for more than 30 years, passed away earlier this month at his home in Malton aged 91.
A service of thanksgiving for his life was held at St Mary’s Priory Church in Old Malton on Wednesday.
Canon John Manchester, who conducted the service, said Des was well-known for his column in the Gazette where he shared his memories, knowledge of local history and instinctive feel for the customs of the area.
“Des was well-known and loved and could often be seen in town sitting on his bike happily chatting to someone or other, conversation being a great pastime of North Yorkshire,” he said.
“Des was also a devoted husband to his late wife Joan, two sons and their families including his four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who were very special to him.”
Canon Manchester said Des had been born in Vine Street, Norton, on April 23, 1922, and was always very proud of the fact that it was both Shakespeare’s birthday and also St George’s Day.
“His pride at being English was only slightly diminished by his pride of being from Malton and Norton, where he has lived, apart from military service, for all of his 91 years,” he said.
“Des was the youngest of the seven children of Charles and Mary Reed. His father had fought in the trenches of the First World War and Des grew up in the austere and traumatic post-war period of the 20s and 30s.”
Canon Manchester said Des had enjoyed a happy childhood with the family moving to Park Cottage – the last house on the Scarborough Road out of Norton.
“In those days the local kids’ summer cricket matches – in the middle of the A64 – were occasionally abandoned to let the odd passing open-air charabanc thunder past, full of holidaymakers to Scarborough, though not very often, thankfully,” he added, “Des was a also chorister at St Peter’s Church for 17 years and he attended Norton School in Commercial Street, replaced now by the library, where he befriended Francis Jackson who was later to become the famous organist of York Minster.
Des and Francis would often tour the local churches, where Francis would play for the services and Des would pump the bellow.”
After leaving school, Des joined Malton Urban District Council as a clerk while taking his first steps into a newspaper career writing football reports.
“As war approached, Des signed up. He really wanted to fly with the RAF but there were no local recruiting points so at the age of 17 he signed up with the Royal Artillery in Scarborough,” Canon Manchester said.
“He was always proud of his seven-figure service number which showed that you had not been “called up” for compulsory service but had volunteered before hostilities commenced.”
Canon Manchester said Des was posted to several anti-aircraft gun and searchlight locations, mainly around the industrial areas in Lancashire and the north west, but as the war progressed he decided to join the elite ‘red devils’ of 6th Airborne Division.
“He participated in several major actions, most notably ‘Operation Varsity’ the Crossing of the Rhine, which was the largest Airborne action of the war.
“For most of the advance into Germany he was with Major Huw Wheldon, who later became a well- known BBC TV broadcaster and eventually the BBC director general,” he added.
“On one occasion Des came across a PoW camp in an isolated area. He pulled down the gates with his Jeep and was suddenly mobbed by GIs thankful for their freedom. He and Huw were “invited” to meet the Russians at the River Elbe, and they ‘feasted’ on raw herring and dark chocolate and he was amazed at how the Russians had got all the way to Germany in 30-year-old vehicles with solid wheels.”
After the war ended, he was immediately posted to Palestine to keep the peace and then back to Britain where he met his wife Joan, who was a young NAAFI girl working on Salisbury Railway Station. They were married in September 1945 and he was de-mobbed the same year, returning to Malton.
Canon Manchester said Des was in the Territorial Army and retained his pre-war job as assistant to the chief clerk, Bill Little, at Malton Urban District Council. He later worked for NE Gas Board and then took on the development of Malton Motors Ltd in York Road.
He went on to become manager for Burgess Feeds at Thornton-le- Dale and then back to the motor industry in York for a short while before retiring in the mid-80s.
“When you think about Des, you think of two things: bicycles and his column in the Gazette & Herald,” he said.
“Des was also a great man who led a remarkable and adventurous life on one hand and created a stable and happy home life for his family on the other.”
Two military standards were paraded at the service, one for the Airborne Forces Association and the Palestine Veterans Association.
A bugler from the Green Howards played the Last Post and the service was followed by committal at York Crematorium. Donations in memory of Des were given for Macmillan Cancer Support and St Mary’s Church.
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