|by Bill Bawden, PRO|
13 January 2015
The Woking and District AirCrew Association records with deep regret the death on 7th January 2015 at the age of 92 of its president, Squadron Leader H.G. (‘Jimmy’) James, who was the holder of the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Air Force Cross and bar.
Jimmy volunteered for RAF aircrew duties in World War II and in 1942 joined No 216 Squadron in Egypt as a 19-year old sergeant pilot. In August of that year he had flown his obsolete Bristol Bombay transport to deliver supplies to a forward landing ground near the El Alamein front and had collected wounded soldiers for evacuation to the rear. At the last moment he was given a extra VIP passenger, Lieutenant General William (‘Straffer’) Gott, who was Winston Churchill’s choice to succeed General Auchinleck as commander of the Eighth Army and who had been recalled to Cairo to meet the Prime Minister.
Flying just fifty feet above the ground on the return flight, the lumbering Bombay was intercepted by six Messerschmitt 109s. The fighters’ cannon fire set the Bombay alight, disabled one engine and forced Jimmy to make a desperate, but superbly executed, landing in the desert. Uncharacteristically, two of the German planes returned to fire again at the stranded and fiercely burning Bombay and by the time the fighters had disappeared westwards, eighteen men, including General Gott, were dead and Jimmy and the four other survivors badly wounded. A replacement to command the Eighth Army had to be found quickly and the then little-known Lt Gen Bernard Montgomery was sent out from England to fill the post. The rest, as is said, is history.
The official Army version was that Gen Gott had died in an air accident and that the possible presence of the Luftwaffe was simply a coincidence, but Jimmy always believed that the tactics of the Messerschmitts pointed to something more sinister. His suspicions were confirmed at a meeting in Germany in 2005 with Emile Clade who led the Me 109 flight. Herr Clade told Jimmy that two extra aircraft were added at the last minute to his original four and it was these planes that broke away to carry out the final attack. On return to their base the Luftwaffe pilots were congratulated on killing the British general before Gott’s death was known on the other side of the front line. It now seems certain that the Germans were aware of Gen Gott’s movements and set out deliberately to ambush him. Also in 2005 Jimmy James returned to the scene of his adventure in Western Egypt that brought him the award of the DFM, to visit the graves of General Gott and the other passengers and crew members who died in 1942.
After a prolonged stay in hospital to recover from his wounds, Jimmy returned to active service and had a distinguished career in the RAF.
After the war he flew many well-known political and royal VIPs in Dakota aircraft around Europe, at many times in very challenging weather.
After a tour as a personal staff officer, Jimmy persuaded the RAF to allow him to change over to flying fighter aircraft in which role he commanded No 46 Squadron at RAF Odiham, the first unit to be equipped with the Gloster Javelin. This was followed by an exchange posting with the USAF in Alaska flying the Northrop F89D Scorpion nightfighter.
In later years he was an active member of the AirCrew Association and served in several offices including chairman of the Woking Branch, 2000-2003, and as president from 2012. Only three weeks before his death he was in fine form proposing the toast to “Ladies and Guests” and presenting the raffle prizes at the Association’s Christmas luncheon at the Camberley Heath Golf Club.
Jimmy James will be greatly missed by his ACA colleagues and the Woking and District AirCrew Association extends its deep sympathy to the members of his family and many other friends.
The funeral service will be at St Lawrence Church, Chobham, at 1.45pm on Thursday, 22nd January, followed by burial in the church cemetery.
See also the Daily Telegraph obituary of 15 January HERE and the comments that follow.
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