A BRAVE Second World War hero marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings before he passed away after telling his proud family: “Let me go”.
Hartlepool man Corporal Tommy Reece was in the Green Howards Regiment when it landed on Gold Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
He fought for his country for six years before being discharged when he was injured in battle, and he won medals for his bravery.
The courageous dad-of-four was mentally scarred by what he had seen and suffered nightmares and flashbacks for more than 50 years, yet he still loved to tell his family his wartime tales.
But the brave 97-year-old granddad, of Davison Drive, in West View, fell ill shortly after the D-Day commemorative celebrations on Friday last week.
He told his devastated children on Saturday night, “let me go”, before passing away in the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, on Sunday.
Today his beloved family paid tribute to their “super dad”, who they say will now finally be able to rest after all he did for his country.
His daughter Catherine Reece, 63, held back tears as she told the Mail: “Our dad was very proud of his time in the war. He would say that the war took six years of his life, but those six years helped to shape the way things are today, as well as rubbing shoulders with people he would never have met otherwise.
“He used to have terrible nightmares because he saw so much pain and suffering, and there were some things he wouldn’t talk about after a certain length of time.
“But there were stories he would tell us, and even though we’d heard them so many times, we never got sick of hearing them.”
She added: “He was so proud on the anniversary of D-Day and we’re so glad he got to see it.
“One memory that he took to his grave was from the day he landed on Gold Beach and as all the soldiers were marching, there was this mother and daughter who were handing out flowers to each soldier and they had huge beautiful smiles on their faces, despite what was going on.
“That always stuck in his mind and we believe he will have died with the thoughts of that day with him.”
Tommy – whose full name was John Thomas Reece – grew up on the Headland, in Hartlepool, and always said that the Town Moor was his “playgound”.
He joined the Army aged 22 in February 1940 and was initially based at Ayr, in Scotland, in charge of a unit of 10 men.
Tommy was in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, in 1942 when he heard the laughter of his would-be sweetheart Kathleen, from behind the shutters of an Army canteen.
After his time on Gold beach he went through France and Belgium and was on his way in Germany when shrapnel from enemy fire was peppered into his back.
This marked the end of his fighting days and he was discharged in 1946, spending the next 10 months in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham, having operation after operation to try to remove the metal splinters from his body.
The final piece to be removed was not shrapnel, but was actually a “perfect square of his khaki green uniform which had been fired into his back”.
He and Kathleen were married at St Joseph’s Church, in Barnsley, in 1947, and went on to have four children, Micheal Reece, 66, Catherine, Joan Reece, 61, and Thomas Reece, 56.
The family moved to Davison drive when Catherine was four-years-old, where Tommy, a respected brick-layer, held down jobs for Hartlepool Borough Council, Taylor and Evans, Wimpey and Yuill.
His final job was as a lollipop man for children at St Bega’s Primary School, in Thorpe Street, on the Headland, before he reluctantly retired at 70-years-old.
Catherine said: “He was a lovely man, a loving husband and father, and he will be missed so much.”
Tommy also leaves behind four grandchildren, Deborah Freeman, 39, Helena Reece, 34, Julie-Anne Jimenza, and Anthony Reece, 27, and also eight great-grandchildren.
Details of his funeral have not yet been organised.