Friday 27 July 2012
My Uncle Jim - R.I.P.
A Wellington Bomber over the coast - note the four other RAF bomber types in each corner. this was painted when Uncle Jim was a mere 85 years young....;-)
On the Saturday before my return from Turkey (14/07) my Uncle Jim died after a short illness. He was 91 years of age and in full possession of his mental faculties although understandably was 'feeling his years' physically - especially as he was acting in the capacity of a carer to his wife, my Aunt Pearl, during the last year of her life. She passed away last year and obviously my Uncle felt her loss very deeply and the toll it took on him, physically and mentally was immense although he was never one to complain. The funeral was today and was a suitably solemn and moving occasion. His coffin was dressed in an RAF ensign and featured his campaign medals from his service during the second world war. He was very much an influential part of my life during my formative years - especially after my mother and father separated when I was a small boy. I absolutely idolised him as a youngster and this feeling matured as I grew older into one of unstinting respect and reverence.
Uncle Jim was an RAF pilot during the war flying Wellington bombers with Number 9 squadron . In many ways in his appearance he was the epitome of an RAF officer, neat, dapper, fastidious and with a carefully trimmed moustache and lacing his everyday conversation with RAF slang. He was a quiet and thoughtful man, a talented model maker - he loved making kits of fully rigged sailing ships - and painter (the picture at the head of this post was painted by him for me at the age of 85 whilst awaiting a cataract operation!) as well as an accomplished musician playing both the accordion and the piano. He also possessed a great sense of humour and was always ready with a sparkling comment. The only word that springs to mind when describing him is gentleman, in the fullest and most complete sense of the word.
As a young boy, growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s and bought up on a diet of Commando books and Airfix kits he seemed like a living legend - the embodiment of all that excited me about the RAF and the war years. Like most ex servicemen he was very modest about his wartime exploits and one had to coax most information out of him. He would happily talk about amusing incidents and trivia but of his 29 combat flights he was far less forthcoming. At the time a tour was either 30 missions or 6 months on operations. His two daughters (my cousins) have given me permission to copy his log books with the view to researching the missions he took in part in and to get a sense of what, as a young man, he had to endure.. By his own admission (I had seen them on a previous occasion), these were populated with the minimum amount of information he could away with as he jokingly said that paperwork was tedious. I want to cross reference these to the actual operational records to get an understanding of what flights he undertook and why these have been so uncomfortable for him to discuss. My research will form the basis of further posts in due course.
Our last conversations were centred around the then forthcoming unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial - which he fully intended visiting with a suitable entourage. Sadly he will not be able to make that journey now but those that have survived him, myself included, are going to do so in his memory and also for those that were not so fortunate to have been able to live to see the day.
It is a cliché I know but they don't make them like that any more.
God bless Uncle Jim, rest in peace and as was observed today, you now have your second set of wings.