Much-loved former Saddleworth teacher passes away aged 96

A FORMER Saddleworth teacher who settled in Delph after first meeting his wife on the famous ‘Donkey’ has died at the age of 96.

Michael Woods passed away peacefully on December 6 at ShawSide Care Home in Shaw after a life that saw military service around the world.

He is also a familiar figure to many people after teaching at Delph Primary and Denshaw Primary before being headmaster at Friezland Primary for 17 years until retirement in 1986.

Lieutenant Woods (Royal Artillery)

Michael was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1926 and moved to the Oldham area in the early 1930s, where he attended Hulme Grammar with his brother Peter.

The much-feared H.B. Shaw was headmaster at the time and only weeks into his first term, Michael incurred his wrath (and his first detention) for being caught hanging out of a window overlooking the girls’ school hockey pitch. Michael explained that he thought he was safe from detection, as the headmaster’s office bore the sign ‘At Home’ which he took to mean he was not ‘At School!’

With wife Nancy, celebrating their 57th wdding anniversary (2008)

Despite this inauspicious start, H.B. Shaw wrote on his school leaving certificate: “A youth of sound character, keen intelligence and good personality. Has initiative and enterprise and is conscientious and reliable. Can be recommended without reservation.”

Michael was at school during the war years, travelling on the Delph Donkey into Oldham with his gas mask, or if he was lucky, getting a lift from his father who was a sales rep with a company car and more importantly – a petrol ration.

The Delph Donkey had individual compartments and from all accounts was a hotbed of social activity and indeed romance.

Michael later married Nancy Oldham, another passenger on the Delph Donkey, who travelled each day to school along with her friend Alice Shaw.

With the staff at Friezland Primary School (1970s)

Nancy and Alice had their own ‘reserved’ compartment and terrorised anyone who dared enter. Alice’s husband Eddie Felton remembers Nancy throwing his cap out of the train window.

In 1943, Michael left Hulme to join the British Army with World War II in full swing.

He was first sent to Wales to do basic training in surveying and cartography and then passed the Oxford entrance exam and went up to Merton College, joining the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU).

There he spent his mornings studying maths, physics and engineering and his afternoons training in warfare with the other officer cadets.

Michael Woods enjoying coffee and cake at Java Cafe in Uppermill ((2017)

But university life soon came to an end and now a fully-fledged officer in the Royal Artillery, he sailed across the channel to France as part of the British Army of Occupation – a peacekeeping force designed to restore order in Europe after six years of brutal war.

He boarded a train bound for Vienna, where the British officers were housed in a luxury hotel, and was shocked to find that, despite the Austrians having officially lost the war, their food was far better than the English war rations he’d been used to for the past few years.

Next stop was a barracks in Treviso in northern Italy, built by Mussolini.

Retirement from Friezland Primary School (1986)

Michael has always been a charming man, and at 20-years-old was very popular with the Italian girls who tried to entice him with the promise of dance halls and romantic outings to Venice.

Yes, the story about him drinking too much, being sick in the Grand Canal and losing his beret is true.

After his adventures in Italy, Michael’s unit sailed south across the Mediterranean and landed in Port Said in Egypt. A short time later, the soldiers were transferred to Palestine in what is now the Gaza Strip.

By this time, Michael had been promoted to lieutenant but with the luxuries of Venice and Treviso now a fading memory, he drove tanks across the sand dunes and slept in the desert in a large canvas tent shared with other soldiers.

First Teaching Post – Durnford Street Secondary School, Middleton (1951)

He recalled spending his 21st birthday celebrating in the NAAFI and eating bacon and eggs in the desert. He also talked fondly about a trip to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, now a World Heritage site, where instead of wandering round the fabulous rock-cut ruins, he accepted the invitation of a local Arab to join him in his tent for coffee and cake.

In 1948, Lieutenant Woods was demobbed from the army and decided to train to become a teacher at Chester College. Two years later he graduated, proposed to his sweetheart Nancy, and settled down in Delph, where he spent most of the rest of his life.

Michael had a successful career in education, teaching at several schools, including Durnford Street Secondary, Delph Primary and Denshaw Primary. He was the headmaster at Friezland Primary for 17 years until retirement in 1986.

As a keen sportsman, he enjoyed playing football and cricket with the lads right up to age 60.

Boys Cricket Team – Delph Primary School (1950s)

His knowledge of warfare, engineering and physics coupled with a creative mind kept the class entertained during maths lessons, showing them how to besiege a medieval city using the correct angle of elevation and weight of missile. And why a parrot was the perfect example of a cantilever.

Alongside sport, Michael also loved music and was a talented pianist.

He could often be heard whistling and singing with a smile on his face. His mind was quick and agile – he loved puns and jokes, wrote witty poems and parodies and tackled the Telegraph crossword each evening.

He had a happy, kind-hearted, warm and generous nature and always looked on the bright side of life. Over the years he taught more than 1,000 children, many of whom still remember him fondly, saying he was always fair and wanted everyone to do well.

Michael enjoyed a long retirement – loving gardening, photography, music, relaxing with friends, visiting his daughter Stella in Australia and spending time with his wife Nancy, son Simon, daughter in law Jill, and grandchildren, Isabella and Alex.

He passed away peacefully at the grand old age of 96 and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

2 Replies to “Much-loved former Saddleworth teacher passes away aged 96”

  1. Fond memories of Mr Woods at Denshaw CofE School and Mrs Woods as well lovely people. Rest easy sir.

  2. Thank you Neal! Dad loved teaching at Denshaw – it was his first head post and he bought his first car – a Mini so he could actually get to Denshaw. He’d take my brother Simon and I along whenever he was working in his office in the school holidays. We had full run of the gym and school library – wouldn’t be allowed now!

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