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John Tillett (1919 -2014) Joan Tillett (1920-2020)

John Tillett (1919 -2014) Joan Tillett (1920-2020)

Colonel John Tillett, after a very fine War record and many travels, came in the mid-1960s with Joan to live in Micheldever, first at the Old Post Office, Church Street, and later at Brook View, Northbrook.

John was born on November 4 1919 and brought up in Ipswich. During a hockey tour of Germany in 1936. he saw at first hand something of the Hitler Youth organisation. Convinced that war was coming, he joined the TA, and was commissioned into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

John was closely involved in the glider-borne operations on D-Day. Led by Major John Howard, "D" Company seized the first objectives of the invasion, the vital bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River at Benouville, later renamed Pegasus and Horsa bridges. Despite having broken a bone in his neck and narrowly escaping death in a recent glider crash into the Solent, he flew in with the remainder of the Battalion later on D-Day, among some 400 gliders carrying the 6th Airlanding Brigade, to crash-land in Normandy near Ranville. They had some months of fierce fighting and suffered many casualties before reaching the River Seine and being pulled back to England at the end of September 1944.

During their refitting in the autumn of 1944, Major Howard was seriously injured in a traffic accident. John took over Howard's company and led it for the rest of the war. They were among the reinforcements rushed to the Ardennes during the harsh winter of 1944-1945 to hold the line as the Germans launched their desperate counter offensive – the ‘Battle of the Bulge’. Their next operation, codenamed "Operation Varsity", took them over the Rhine and into Germany. They landed well behind the German front line among the rear gun positions, and got a hot reception.

For the rest of the war they fought on foot. One day they came to the infamous Belsen concentration camp. As the war ended, they were part of the ‘dash to the Baltic’ to cut off the Russians from any idea of taking over north Germany and Denmark. For his service in the North West Europe Campaign, John received a Mention in Despatches. After the war, the 6th Airborne Division went to Palestine to deal with the growing threat of Jewish terrorists.

He then had a desk job at the War Office on military intelligence matters. In 1955, John was a witness at the British atomic weapons tests in Australia. Four years after these tests, he developed asthma and suffered from emphysema for the rest of his life. He received a 75 per cent disability pension.

In 1959, he was appointed second in command of his regiment. The shooting team that he trained were runners-up at Bisley and he won an Army Individual Championship. This was followed by a move to Uganda as the CO of 1st Ugandan Rifles. Idi Amin was an officer under John and succeeded him in command of the Battalion, before going on to his more notorious political career and President. John eventually commanded the whole Ugandan Army, in the rank of Acting Brigadier, but he faced intractable political difficulties and left.

He was then posted to Ottawa, Canada, in charge of the British Defence Liaison Staff. His final appointment was in Fontainebleu, Belgium He retired from active service in 1969.

For the next 11 years he worked at Peninsula Barracks Winchester, as a Retired Officer grade civil servant.  During this time, he set up and managed what came to be widely recognised throughout the Army as the most efficient and successful system for the selection and recruitment of high quality potential officers for his Regiment. He played a key part in the planning and setting up of the new regimental museum in Winchester, and for many years was a member of the Army Sports Control Board, during which time he wrote the official Army rule books on canoeing and free-fall parachuting. He became the administrator of the regimental welfare trust.

He was a regular visitor to D-Day reunions and Benouville in Normandy. He set up a twinning of that town with Micheldever which was greeted with enthusiasm, but tailed off when primary schools were banned from such visits, and it turned out that all their visits here were funded by villagers’ subscriptions and hospitality, while visits to France were funded by the mayor’s public funds.

He and Joan nee Lawson married in 1943. They were well known for their hospitality and contribution to local activities. They had two sons David and Anthony, and a daughter Sally, all of whom became well known in the village and cared for them in recent years. Delia King, who had previously run the shop, looked after Joan in her latter years.

John died on 14 December 2014 and Joan in December 2020. They rest in St Mary’s churchyard.

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