Lives Remembered: Jimmy James
Wednesday 24 September 2008
Richard Austin James, known as Jimmy, was an early volunteer for war service, experienced some of the sharpest trials and setbacks of British forces and won the Military Cross during intense combat in the battle for Leros in November 1943. Harsh treatment as a prisoner of war meant that he returned to Englandin 1945 weighing only six stone.Cambridge was followed by a career in the Home Office, where he rose to Deputy Under Secretary and became Receiver of the Metropolitan Police.
James was mobilised on 1 September 1939 and was in Northern France the following month. Evacuated from Dunkirk on 1 June 1940 in a small boat, James passed through one of the Kent railway stations where, with hundreds of other women, his mother was handing out tea and sandwiches to the exhausted men. Sadly, they missed each other and his parents had to wait for some time to hear of his safe return.
Serving in Malta with the Royal West Kents from July 1941 until June 1943, James experienced the period of most intense privation and bombardment (there were more than 2,000 air-raids) and was twice mentioned in despatches for actions in the Grand Harbour and Luqa airport.
Following the lifting of the Malta siege he took part in the Dodecanese campaign. Initial allied victories were reversed and at the beginning of November 1943 the Germans launched their attack on Leros. For bravery in the resistance James was awarded the Military Cross.
With the allied surrender on 16 November 1943 James became a POW. The Germans believed he had valuable information (probably about his liaison work with partisans on Samos) and in consequence he was harshly treated, with repeated interrogations and punitive spells of solitary confinement.
Moved to Germany, James eventually ended up in Oflag 79, a camp in Brunswick, Northern Germany. There, with his comrades, James joined in a scheme to mark their own survival and to commemorate the fallen. A youth club would be established as a contribution to a better world "which all wished to see emerge from the desolation of war", as the prospectus declared. The Brunswick Club still flourishes in Fulham, West London, having been nurtured by the ex-POWs over the years. James was a founding trustee, eventually becoming president; he was active in the Club's interest until recent years.
Cambridge followed demobilisation and James, securing a top place in the Civil Service Examinations, chose to go to the Home Office. He later recalled how, having been appointed, he waited anxiously, and with dwindling funds, to be told when to start. On making a timid inquiry he was told, somewhat tetchily, "Oh, all right. Start next Monday".
This begrudging welcome could not have been more at odds with a career and an office he came to love. In 1977 he went to Scotland Yard as Receiver of the Metropolitan Police, serving with Sir David McNee, with whom he established close and friendly ties. The two men shared key values and complemented each other in important ways.
James retired in 1980 with the rank of Deputy Under Secretary and was awarded the CB. He became for a spell the Chief Executive Officer of the Distressed Gentlefolks' Aid Association, an organisation that he served in several other capacities when he stepped down from the top post. An interest in supported and sheltered housing involved him in the work of similar bodies.
Richard Austin James, wartime soldier and civil servant: born Sutton Valance School, Kent 26 November 1922 ; married Joan Boorer 1948 (one son, two daughters); died 10 September 2008.
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