ID: FWS / Tony Millatt

TitleFred Wass - hairdresser and infantryman
AbstractThe article below is from the D-Day Display in Mersea Museum 2024 Summer Exhibition.

Fred Wass - hairdresser and infantryman

Fred Wass was in the 6th Airborne Division, and in a glider which landed near to Caen in Normandy on D-Day. He was in the second wave that landed in the evening of D-Day. The first wave was D Company Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and landed at 16 minutes past midnight on D-Day, well before the seaborne invasion started. They were in 6 Horsa gliders and their objective was to capture the Caen canal and Orne river bridges. Another platoon went to the nearby River Dives bridge. All these bridges were captured.


In this picture, Fred is in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. He is wearing the shoulder badge of the British Airborne Division - the 2nd Bn. Ox. & Bucks was part of 6th Airborne Division when it was formed April 1943.

Fred was in C Company and landed later on D-Day as reinforcments. The German troops fought to recapture the bridges over the following days, and Fred was injured on 9th June. He returned to England.


Fred Wass was born in 1912. He was a hairdresser on the Island. June 1940 he was called up and joined the Essex Regiment. In 1943 he moved to the Ox & Bucks - they were looking for the top infantrymen to train to take part in airborne landings, and were part of the 6th Airborne Division, then being built up.


While Fred was recovering in England from his injury, the 6th Airborne Division was fighting up through France. In early September 1944, having had many casualties, they returned to England to reform. Fred rejoined them.

The 6th Airborne Division was only in England a few months. 16 December 1944 Germany started a new offensive - the Battle of the Bulge. The Division rapidly returned to Belgium to take part in the fight through the Ardennes. By the end of February they were back in England - there were other plans for them.

An Airspeed Horsa glider under tow.
Over 3,700 Horsa gliders were built during WW2, constructed largely of wood. They could carry about 30 fully equipped troops, or a jeep or 6 pounder gun with fewer troops. Some had a hinged nose section for unloading vehicles, and the tail section could be quickly detached on landing to speed unloading.
Photo Crown Copyright.

Operation Varsity was a major airborne operation to support a big push by the British and Americans across the Rhine. The British 6th Airborne Division were transported in 794 aircraft and 420 gliders. The Ox. & Bucks part of the Division came to Birch aerodrome, though some of them then flew from Gosfield. Birch had the sight of 60 aircraft towing mainly Horsa Gliders.

When the gliders reached the dropping zone in Germany, they ran into trouble from German guns. Ground haze had prevented the RAF from dealing with the guns. Fred's glider was shot down and he was wounded for a second time. The report says 'a useful percentage of gliders landed on their chosen objectives'.

Fred worked his way through various Military Hospitals in Belgium before returning to England. By this time, the war in Europe had ended, but Fred remained in the Army until March 1946.


26th January 1944 Fred had married Gwen Hyam from Peldon. She was working at "The Firs" in Mersea and continued to live there until Fred left the Army in 1946.

He returned to hairdressing on the Island. Albert Rash had a grocery shop in Kingsland Road, and during the War, he also cut hair - he was very busy through the War - the Island's other hairdresser Johnny Hart was also away in the Army. But when they returned, Albert gave up cutting hair, saying he was not going to take jobs away from those who had been away fighting.

AuthorTony Millatt
SourceMersea Museum
IDFWS
Related Images:
 Fred Wass. Hairdresser and Tobacconist.
 Fred Wass started work on Saturdays as a lather boy for Bobby Keyes when he was 12. At 14, on leaving school, he went to Beaumonts in Colchester for 3 years as an improver.
 March 1930 with the aid of his parents, he opened his own shop in Mill Road. Hair cut 6d, shaving 3d. He had 6 years in the Army, first in the Essex Regiment, then transferred to the 6th Airborne (Ox & Bucks Gliders) landing on D-Day 6th June on the Caen Canal, now Pegasus Bridge. He was wounded on 9th June but returned to his Regiment in August.
 Saw action in the Ardennes on march over the Rhine. Fred's glider was shot down - he was wounded for the second time. 
 February 1946 he returned to re-open the shop and continued on the same site until December 1976 with hair cuts at 50p.
 From Album 8.  FL08_029_003
ImageID:   FL08_029_003
Title: Fred Wass. Hairdresser and Tobacconist.
Fred Wass started work on Saturdays as a lather boy for Bobby Keyes when he was 12. At 14, on leaving school, he went to "Beaumonts" in Colchester for 3 years as an "improver".
March 1930 with the aid of his parents, he opened his own shop in Mill Road. Hair cut 6d, shaving 3d. He had 6 years in the Army, first in the Essex Regiment, then transferred to the 6th Airborne (Ox & Bucks Gliders) landing on D-Day 6th June on the Caen Canal, now Pegasus Bridge. He was wounded on 9th June but returned to his Regiment in August.
Saw action in the Ardennes on march over the Rhine. Fred's glider was shot down - he was wounded for the second time.
February 1946 he returned to re-open the shop and continued on the same site until December 1976 with hair cuts at 50p.
From Album 8.
Source:Mersea Museum / Owen Fletcher Collection
 Gwen Hyam. She married Fred Wass 26 January 1944.  JFW_002_001
ImageID:   JFW_002_001
Title: Gwen Hyam. She married Fred Wass 26 January 1944.
Source:Mersea Museum / Jeff Wass
 L-R 1. Simon Smith (Abberton Bakery), 2. Mafalda Tapp, 3. Fred Wass 4. Gwen Hyam 5. Jean Wass (Fred's sister), 6. Clement Hyam.
 The bridesmaids in front are not known.
 Marriage of Gwendolen Mary Hyam and Frederick Inward Wass at Peldon Parish Church.  JFW_002_007
ImageID:   JFW_002_007
Title: L-R 1. Simon Smith (Abberton Bakery), 2. Mafalda Tapp, 3. Fred Wass 4. Gwen Hyam 5. Jean Wass (Fred's sister), 6. Clement Hyam.
The bridesmaids in front are not known.
Marriage of Gwendolen Mary Hyam and Frederick Inward Wass at Peldon Parish Church.
Date:26 January 1944
Source:Mersea Museum / Jeff Wass
 Fred Wass. Oxf. & Bucks. Airborne
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He is wearing the shoulder badge of the British Airborne Division, representing the mythological figure of Pegasus. The 2nd Battalion Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry was part of the 6th Airborne Division when it was formed in April 1943.
 Fred was in 22 Platoon, 'C' Company.  JFW_003_005
ImageID:   JFW_003_005
Title: Fred Wass. Oxf. & Bucks. Airborne

He is wearing the shoulder badge of the British Airborne Division, representing the mythological figure of Pegasus. The 2nd Battalion Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry was part of the 6th Airborne Division when it was formed in April 1943.
Fred was in 22 Platoon, 'C' Company.

Source:Mersea Museum / Jeff Wass
 Mill Road - a good fall of snow. Gwen and Jeff Wass ?  JFW_011_001
ImageID:   JFW_011_001
Title: Mill Road - a good fall of snow. Gwen and Jeff Wass ?
Date:1950s
Source:Mersea Museum / Jeff Wass