Jim Atherton: The British grandfather with no military experience fighting Isis in Iraq

The 53-year-old 'white van man' sold his possessions to fund travel and buy weapons

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The Independent Online

A British grandfather has left his family and sold his possessions to travel to Iraq to fight against Isis, despite having no previous military experience.

Self-confessed “white van man” Jim Atherton, 53, from Tyne and Wear, patrols the front-line with Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha – meaning ‘The Sacrificers’ – despite desperate pleas from his "devastated" wife and from British Special Branch for him to return home.

The dad-of-three travelled to the Middle East in April because “no-one seemed to be doing anything” about Isis atrocities. He told the Sun that he is prepared to fight the Islamic extremists to the death.

Professional driver Mr Atherton, who in Britain spent his spare time caring for rescued dachshunds, raised £18,000 for travel and weapons by selling his beloved Ford Sierra Cosworth, two motorbikes, a boat and car parts.

Armed with £3,000 of kit including machine gun, pistol and grenades, Mr Atherton’s task is to protect Christian villagers threatened by Isis with forced conversion to Islam, enslavement or execution.

Mr Atherton – who has come under rocket and mortar attack and has returned fire - told the newspaper: “I’m prepared to die fighting IS [Isis].

“I’m not a young bloke, I had a heart attack in 2007. But it’s something I felt I had to do. I wanted my grandkids to know what I’m really about.”

He added: “My wife is devastated I’ve come out. She said, ‘Please don’t go’. The kids were panicking too.”

But Mr Atherton said he felt he had no choice, adding: “Watching the what IS are doing just beats me up. I couldn’t stand seeing them killing women and children willy-nilly. People are commenting online about IS atrocities then five minutes later it was all forgotten.

“Nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. So I decided I would.”

Mr Atherton, the son of a soldier whose brother died fighting in Afghanistan for the British army, said he decided to join Dwekh Nawsha after reading about them online.

He said: “I’m Christian, though not a churchgoer. I’ve got a good sense of right and wrong. I’m a middle-aged white van man. I thought if I’m ever going to do anything with myself it’s going to be now.”

The 530-year-old's Facebook page betrays a certain homesickness: he has posted pictures of his old Cosworth and motorbikes and of his rescue dogs.

Another post proclaims: "Bacon is going to save the world. I don't know how."

The caption to a picture of bulls' testicles - dinner on the front line - reveals Mr Atherton couldn't bring himself to eat them.

"Looks like boiled eggs for tea," he writes.