Obituary - Leslie Hood - 1923-2011

1st July 2011 at 01:00

Leslie Hood's life was one of boys' own adventures: shot down over war-torn France, he was interrogated and hidden by the local resistance.

But his was also a life of small-town normality. As the local teacher, and later curate, he thrived on the simple pleasures of quiet conversation and good books.

Leslie Hood was born in September 1923, in the County Durham town of Seaham. His mother was a deeply religious woman, whose faith her son inherited. His father, a dock worker, had fought in the trenches of the First World War; to his dying day, he regularly woke up in the night screaming "Gas! Gas!"

As a teenager, Leslie worked first as a telegraph boy, then in local mines. His free time, however, was spent climbing to the top of a hill and watching for passing aeroplanes. With the outbreak of the Second World War, therefore, he immediately decided to join the RAF. His mother attempted to bribe her bookish son into a desk job with the gift of a writing bureau. He accepted the gift, but enlisted anyway.

After basic training he returned home to marry a local woman, Olive Shaw. She was already pregnant when her young husband took up his post as navigator on a Lancaster bomber.

They were on a mission over northern France when the plane was shot down. The only crew member to parachute to safety, Mr Hood began to walk through enemy territory. Coming across a farmhouse, he knocked on the door in trepidation. The farmer's family invited him in, only to question him mercilessly.

Finally, they asked where he had hidden his parachute and a boy was dispatched to retrieve it. Mr Hood later discovered that German soldiers were attempting to infiltrate the French resistance by masquerading as British soldiers. Had the boy not been able to find his parachute, a man with a revolver stood in the next room, ready to kill him.

Until the Americans liberated the town, more than half a year later, Mr Hood was hidden by the local mayor. By the time he returned home, he had a son, Keith. Two more children, Alan and Lynne, would follow.

Back in Britain, he returned his service equipment: his map, compass and army watch. Later, he would recount the quartermaster's response: "You've just written off a #163;500,000 plane, and you give me a watch?" This punchline was typical of Mr Hood. He had an irrepressible optimism, a tendency to look for the humour in any situation, however bleak.

Always fond of reading, he now decided to train as a teacher. But it was not just his bookishness that attracted him to the profession. He liked people, he liked talking to people. If a stranger sat down next to him in the park, it would only be a matter of minutes before Mr Hood struck up a conversation.

He found a post at Seaham secondary modern, teaching whichever subject required his services: English, maths, RE. Gradually, he became a respected figure in the local community, renowned for his dedication to the job and for Excalibur, the cane he wielded.

Teaching also provided focus for his linguistic pedantry. He was never known to split an infinitive, and would often expostulate over a piece of written text: "Look at this! Look at the bad grammar here!" At the same time, he took immense pleasure in the English language "as it ought to be used": the language of Dickens and of poetry.

His working life was not over with retirement. Instead, his teaching career had prepared him for his vocation: a call to the priesthood. He was practised at talking to people, at educating them, at helping them through difficult times. Well known at his family church, St John's of Seaham, he also served as curate for two nearby parishes.

His family believe it was Mr Hood's faith that sustained him after Olive's death. And he still had his books. He read widely about the First World War, both fiction and non-fiction. He read about his own war, too: books about Lancaster bombers and missions over northern France.

For decades, he maintained a correspondence with the French villagers who had saved him, latterly embracing the convenience of email. He could converse on almost any subject, however up-to-date. There was very little that did not interest him and he read newspapers cover to cover.

On 27 March, he was sitting up in bed, reading the Book of Common Prayer. He died as he removed his reading glasses to go to sleep.

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