MORE than 600 friends, family and former colleagues from all corners of the globe descended on Chobham on Thursday last week to pay their respects and celebrate the life of the highly valued villager, friend and legendary RAF pilot.
Former Squadron Leader Hugh Glanffrwd James, known as ‘Jimmy’ to all, died peacefully in his native South Wales on January 7, aged 92, with his daughters Sarah and Jenn at his side. RAF veterans nationwide paid tribute to him.
The High Street came to a standstill as Jimmy’s funeral cortege proceeded to Chobham St Lawrence Church for the packed-out service. Afterwards, he was laid to rest in the cemetery with his beloved wife Juliet, who died in 2012.
Moving poems recited by Jimmy’s granddaughters, Rebecca and Isobel James, summed up reflective sentiments, while sons Huw and Robert delivered formidable eulogies to their father’s life.
The touching service was led by Rev Chris Bedford, with prayers and readings delivered by, among others, former Chobham vicar Rev Salmon, Rev Bessant, and Aircrew Association Chaplain Rev Bill Pegg. Jimmy had twice been honoured with the Air Force Cross as well as the Distinguished Flying Medal.
He joined the RAF at 17, having ‘adjusted’ his birthday to say he was 18. At 19, in 1942, as a Sergeant Pilot, he was on a mission to ferry, among others, the newly appointed Army Commander General Gott when his Bombay in a transport aircraft was shot down by Germans in the Western Desert.
James was forced to land, but after he had come to a stop, a third pair of enemy fighters attacked the Bombay, and 17 of his 21 passengers, including Gott, were killed. Despite severe injuries, he went to get help and was subsequently decorated for his bravery.
Montgomery, who orchestrated the subsequent victory over the Afrika Korps, was appointed in Gott’s place as Commander General.
For many years there was intense speculation about the circumstances of Gott’s death. Jimmy was always convinced that he had been assassinated, since the six German fighters had ambushed his Bombay over Allied territory and did not leave the scene until the aircraft had been completely destroyed.
Then in 2005, Jimmy met up with one of the German fighter pilots from the 1942 mission. He confirmed that shortly after returning to base that day, their commander had congratulated them for ‘killing General Gott’.
After the war, Jimmy flew politicians and royals in Dakota before he landed his dream role of becoming a fighter pilot, commanding No46 Squadron at RAF Odiham.
After retiring, he became a pillar of the Chobham community, an active member of the church, Chairman of the local Royal British Legion branch and President of the Woking & District Aircrew Association. Jimmy James will be missed by all who knew him.