18 January 2008

RIP: Sqn Ldr "Jimmy" James MC, RAF

Sqn Ldr Bertram Arthur James MC, RAF
17 Apr 1915 - 18 Jan 2008

ZUI this article from The Times:
“Jimmy” James was one of 76 officers who escaped from Stalag Luft III on the night of March 24, 1944, and was fortunate not to be among the 50 executed on Hitler’s order on recapture. He was sent instead to Sachsenhausen concentration camp from where he tunnelled his way out, only to be caught again after 14 days on the run.

He was the second pilot of a Wellington bomber shot down south of Rotterdam in June 1940. Initially hopeful that German security would not be too tight, the Netherlands having been overrun only in May, he planned to acquire a boat to sail back to England, or at least get him far enough from the coast to be picked up. A Dutch farmer gave him food and shelter but for one night only as his presence was certain to become known: the local police arrested him before he could move on.


The first 30 [Stalag Luft III escapees] were chosen by the escape committee because they spoke fluent German and so had the best chance of making a “home run”. The next 70 were chosen from those who had worked on the tunnel, and the final 100 were names taken from a hat of 500 volunteers.

James was allocated place number 39. His plan was to join a group of 12 who, with papers indicating they were foreign workers at a local wood mill going home on leave, would travel the first leg of their journey by train, heading for Czechoslovakia where they hoped to make contact with the local resistance. All went well for them until, having made one successful train journey, they attempted another only to be arrested at the station by police alerted by the mass escape. A sentry had stumbled on the mouth of the escape shaft at 5am on March 25, by when 76 officers had got away. At first Hitler ordered all those recaptured to be shot but allegedly due to pressure from Goering, who feared reprisals against Luftwaffe prisoners in Allied hands, the order was changed to “more than half to be shot”.


Bertram Arthur James was born in India where his father was a tea-planter. He was educated at King’s School, Canterbury, and worked in British Columbia from 1934 until volunteering for flying training with the RAF in 1939. He was awarded the MC and mentioned in dispatches for his escape attempts.

Granted a regular commission in the RAF he retired as a squadron leader in 1958. He was the general-secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-sponsored Great Britain-USSR Association, until joining the Diplomatic Service in 1964. He held posts in Africa, Western and Eastern Europe and London. He retired in 1975, when he visited Sachsenhausen with Jack Churchill and other survivors. He served as the British representative on the International Sachsenhausen Committee until shortly before his death.

He is survived by his wife, Madge, whom he married in 1946. Their son predeceased him.

Update 1217 1 Feb: ZUI this article from the MoD Defence News:
Family, friends and members of the RAF gathered in Shropshire yesterday, Thursday 31 January 2008, to honour the memory of retired Squadron Leader 'Jimmy' James MC RAF, famous for his bravery in the WWII 'Great Escape'.

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.

No comments: