Obituary: Francis James

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The Independent Online
FRANCIS JAMES came over my horizon in October 1942 when he dropped in - you felt from his air of condescension that it was no more than a flying visit and that he would be off again when it suited him - at the prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft 3, writes Michael Adams (further to the obituary by KS Inglis, 28 August).

Physically he was in poor shape, having escaped with difficulty from a blazing Spitfire, but mentally he was fit enough to engage at once in his favourite pastime of 'stirring'. In no time he was the talk of our tight little community, for Francis always affected the style of a latter-day Baron Munchausen. 'Whether the stories about him are true or not,' I wrote in my diary, 'he strikes me as the sort of fellow to whom things do happen.' (How was I to know what an understatement that was?) In any case, I added, 'He sould be a useful acquisition here, for we always need ideas and he's got them.'

He certainly had, then and always. At all times they made him splendid company and in a prison camp he was worth his weight in gold, stimulating, original, combative - and uncomplaining, as he was to be for the next 50 years, about the various disabilities which procured his release after a year or so.

Heading back to his native Australia, he elected instead to stop off in Egypt where he stayed with my parents, who watched with fascination his assault on Cairo's wartime society. He had a white uniform made on which he exhibited no badges of rank but a variety of exotic decorations, some of which may have been genuine for all I know. Letting it be known that he was a Group Captain (or sometimes an Air Vice Marshal), he provoked the same fury among the high-ups and elsewhere the same blend of scepticism and admiration that were to follow him wherever he went in later life. He was a larger than life figure who applied the same energy to his make-believe as to his serious purposes and who invigorated all who came in contact with him.