He was the middle of three children, born in London as a new year dawned. From what he said, Jimmy's childhood was not unhappy, but he gave the impression that he didn't get on with his own father particularly well and his mother, although much younger than his father, was largely crippled due to severe rheumatoid arthritis. Little things added up, his story of having to buy his own bike, doing odd jobs, and the fact that his father would not pay for him to take the RAF entrance exam so that he could pursue his dream of being a pilot.
The RAF formed him, made him who he was, educated him, and expanded his horizons through travel. When war broke out in 1939, he was 18 and had just finished his four year apprenticeship at Halton, graduating as an artificer. Years later when I asked him how he felt when war was declared, his answer surprised me as he said that he was excited: this was what he had trained for and now he might be accepted for pilot training. So many young men had that same dream and the the RAF was swamped with applicants. Jimmy was accepted instead on a course to train as a tail gunner and even seventy years later bitterly regretted that he was pulled from the course because the average life expectancy of a tail gunner was a mere six weeks and the RAF had just spent four very expensive years training him.
By June 1940, he was enjoying a summer in France: long periods of boredom interspersed with sudden calls to go and retrieve a downed plane. The weather was glorious, the wine and pernod cheap, and the proprietor of the Cafe des Sports in Boos had two nubile daughters. It all came crashing down when the Germans invaded and Jimmy, a newly promoted sergeant of 19, was left behind with two men to disable the planes that had to be abandoned when the rest of the squadron flew back to England. Villagers who had been friendly now stoned the Englishmen whom they felt were deserting them. Taxed with getting themselves out, Jimmy and his men took a flat bed lorry, loaded it with what they could scavenge - mainly cans of petrol, tins of fruitcake, and cigarettes - and then "beefed" it up by mounting tommy guns on it. Their journey was horrific although in the retelling of it, it was the humorous moments that Jimmy told, a series of narrow escapes, any one of which could have ended in capture or death. It wasn't until he was in his late eighties that he finally unburdened himself of the shame that he still felt all those years later about opening fire over the heads of the refugees packing the roads in France in a vain attempt to clear a path for their lorry. The story of that journey is for another time and telling.
In late 1940, Jimmy was sent to South Africa where he remained for the rest of the war as a gunnery instructor and where he met the love of his life, Pat. She left her family and travelled to England in 1945 to rejoin Jimmy who had gone before. Patrick, their son, was two and Pat was pregnant with Gerald who was born in Brighton a few months after her arrival. I didn't come on the scene until some nine years later.
Jimmy was a brilliant dad for a little girl, treating me like a princess, but expecting me to be tough at the same time and live up to his RAF standards, even going so far as to jokingly make me salute to get my weekly pocket money. If my passions for history, mythology and books sometimes bemused him, he never let it show and would take me to the museums or historical sites I begged to see even if his philosophy was, "Seen one museum, seen them all!" His brusque military persona hid a playful side and I can still see him, dressed in the uniform of the fifties' father- viyella shirt, cavalry twill trousers and tie - crawling in the forest he created out of upturned furniture so that we could play endless games of Big Brown Bear and Little Black Bear on rainy Saturday afternoons.
Although his RAF career prospered, life was not always easy when his beloved Pat suffered many years from depression which slid into a diagnosis of premature senility. Although not always the patient of men, he looked after her, keeping her at home, long after many others would not have done. He became a creditable cook and his steak and kidney pie was legendary. Occasionally, he would wistfully talk about the travelling he had hoped they would do once he retired. If he didn't get to all the places he had dreamed about - Germany where he and Pat had spent their best posting; the Channel Islands which, for some reason, were high on his list, and even South Africa - he was able to manage regular visits to Canada to see us through the benison of respite care for Pat. Once she moved into a care facility these visits were easier and he gained his own coterie of Canadians who were charmed by his gregariousness, humour and relish for life. It was on one of those visits that we had the phone call that Pat had had a stroke. It was Boxing Day lunch time but we managed to get Jimmy a seat on a British Airways flight that night.
Jimmy's last years were happy ones. When his own health gave concern he moved to East Grinstead into a flat near to Patrick and his wife, Geraldine. Here he enjoyed being part of their family, seeing his grandchildren grow up, sitting in the arm chair with a large gin and tonic in his hand at family celebrations. Patrick and Geraldine cherished him. His youngest grandson, my son Theo, coming so many years after the others was another joy and any phone call or e-mail always started with a question about how the "boy" was.
Even as his body betrayed him, and betray him it did with mobility problems, deafness, COPD, Diabetes and Prostate Cancer, he was cheerful and engaged in the world. In his mind, he told me, he was still the young man who could out dig and out march the men in his command, who blew up old bombs for a living, who had once (and it was always this example of his organisational ability that he mentioned) moved a squadron of men with all their dependents to Malta with minimal fuss.
Jimmy would have turned ninety on January the first of this yeat. We had planned to celebrate in style with him, but it was not to be.
I think about him every day at least once, if not many more times. The strangest things can cause a wave of sadness. Last week on the new book shelf in our library there was a book by P. T. Deutermann a writer whom I cannot read at all, but whom Dad loved. I found myself jotting down the title, thinking that I must tell Dad about it and then remembering that I could not.
I chose the photograph for this entry because it seemed to sum up the Jimmy I loved - happy, positive and absolutely present in the moment.
Happy Fathers' Day, Dad.