The coffin of Squadron Leader Jimmy James being borne by RAF Regiment Gunners from RAF Honington Jan 31st 2008
Family, friends and members of the RAF gathered in Shropshire to honour the memory of retired Squadron Leader 'Jimmy' James MC RAF, famous for his bravery in the WWII 'Great Escape'. Yes it was real, no it wasn't just a film. Whilst the media mourns the death of deformed spunk stain Jeremy fucking Beadle, NOT ONE WORD was uttered at the passing of a National Hero.
A funeral service, held at St Peter's Catholic Church in Ludlow, Shropshire, and led by Father Jim Robinson, included participation from Service personnel stationed across the UK. The pallbearer party of RAF Regiment Gunners came from RAF Honington in Suffolk, while the route lining party were from the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering in Cosford.
Fittingly, Squadron Leader James, known as 'Jimmy', left the church for the very last time to the theme tune of the Great Escape before being laid to rest in Ludlow's cemetery. His link to No 9 Squadron was re-affirmed by a four ship GR4 Tornado 'Missing Man' formation flypast, the poignant aerial manoeuvre to symbolise the loss of a comrade.
A good friend of 'Jimmy', Howard Tuck, who accompanied him on many visits back to Germany and Poland, said:
"Quite simply, Jimmy was a legend. In years to come when we think about the war years, we will reflect on men like Jimmy and their deeds. He was very much part of the RAF family and loved nothing more than sharing a beer and a few laughs in the bar."
Jimmy, who died recently aged 92, joined the RAF after seeing an advertisement for aircrew while he was working in Vancouver, Canada. On completing his flying training in April 1940, he was posted to No 9 Squadron operating Wellington Bombers from RAF Honington in Suffolk.
On the night of 5 June 1940, his Wellington was hit by anti-aircraft fire 20 kilometres south of Rotterdam. Following capture and interrogation at the hands of the Luftwaffe, he was imprisoned and wasted no time digging the first RAF escape tunnel of the war.
the funeral of Jimmy James. Opens in a new window.
With a number of brave escape attempts thwarted, he ended up in the new 'model' Prisoner of War (PoW) camp, Stalag Luft III, near Zagan in Poland, in April 1942. It was to become the most notorious PoW camp of WWII and the setting for an escape attempt, later named the 'Great Escape'.
At the centre of the planning team, Jimmy entered the tunnel via hut 104 in March 1944 with his escape partner, a young Greek Spitfire pilot. Battling the bitterly cold weather, their best chance was to get a train to Prague but they were recaptured in the booking hall at Hirschberg. Again, Jimmy's escape attempt was in vain. 76 of his comrades made it through the tunnel, much to the fury of Hitler who demanded that all Allied Officers were to be shot upon recapture. Only three prisoners were successful and made it home.
The brutal murder of 50 of the prisoners followed, sending shock waves across the PoW world. Although Jimmy was incredibly lucky not to have been chosen for execution, he endured some horrific treatment at the hands of his captors in the subsequent months but always maintained that his contribution to the war effort was his 'refusal to accept incarceration'. By the end of WWII, Jimmy had made 13 tunnel escapes. Following the end of the war, Jimmy was awarded the Military Cross, Mentioned in Dispatches and took a regular commission in the RAF until 1958 when he joined the diplomatic service until 1975.
Keen to keep the memory of his comrades alive, he gave talks around the country on his experiences and was also President of 'Project 104'. This charitable venture was established to build a replica of hut 104 as a memorial to all the Allied Service personnel who lost their lives and act as an education centre for the small museum built at the site; the project remains ongoing.
Jimmy's wife of 61 years, Mrs Madge James, was at the service. Summing up her life with him she said:
"We were married for 61 years and he was the finest, most gentle man anybody could know. For everyone else he was Squadron Leader Jimmy James the Great Escaper, but for me he was simply my Jimmy - we will never see a man like him again."