gone but never forgotten...
Friday July 28th 2006
Burma Star Veteran Jim McKittrick fought his last battle at University
Hospital, Walsgrave, on Wednesday.
But this time the old soldier, who
dedicated his life to making sure his comrades in the "Forgotten
Army" were given due credit for their part in winning the Second
World War, lost the fight. He died of pneumonia and septicemia after
developing breathing problems during the recent hot weather.
Jim, aged 82, of Seneschal Road,
Cheylesmore, Coventry, wrote the Evening Telegraph Ex-Service Notes
column for 15 years. As well as serving in Burma and India, where his
unit was surrounded by the Japanese on two occasions, Jim was also a
veteran of Dunkirk. He was plucked from the beaches when he was little
more than 17 - like many lads keen to do their bit as war loomed, Jim
fibbed to the recruiting sergeant about his true age. Born in Ireland,
he enlisted in the 8th Belfast Heavy Artillery on September 8, 1939, and
did some of his basic training during the first blitzes on London.
Soon afterwards he was shipped over
to France and never forgot the wait for evacuation from the
shell-blasted beaches as men fell all around him. Ever since 1972 he
made annual pilgrimages back to the spot and always stooped down to fill
a plastic shopping bag with handfuls of sand. As Chairman of the
Coventry branch of the Royal Artillery Association and marshal of the
Warwickshire Standard Bearers for 35 years, he kept the sand to sprinkle
on the graves of fellow veterans who have died in increasing numbers
over recent years. Hopefully his loving partner, Kath Turnbull, who
shared the last 10 years of his life following the death of three wives,
has saved some sand for Jim.
Kath, aged 76, who met the
father-of-four when they both attended meetings at the Royal Warwicks
Club in the city centre, said; "We were both so moved by the mass
graves in France - especially those unmarked where the inscription
reads: 'Known Only To God.' Back at home Jim has been the marshal at so
many cremations and burials that he used to say there would be nobody
left to attend his funeral. But I don't think that will be the
Jim, who worked for Standard and
GEC in Coventry, also leaves four children, as well as grandchildren and
great-grandchildren. Details of his funeral are still being arranged.
- second from left Jimmy McKittrick
- ? - ?
- Bob Biggerstaff - Jimmy Beggs - Sammy Olphert - Geo. Knowles
on roll of honour for veteran remembered for his singsongs...
Dr. Robert Callow, honourary secretary of the Burma Star Association's
Coventry branch, says Jim McKittrick's name will be the first inscribed
in the new Roll of Honour when the group is officially wound up next
month. Dr. Callow, who lives in Kenilworth Court, overlooking this War
Memorial Park, said; "Fifty years ago there were 97 members of the
association and today there are only about eight still able to walk. Jim
was one of them. We are laying up our standard at St. Margaret's Church,
Ball Hill, on August 15, the 61st anniversary of V.J. Day, and Jim's
name will be first on the roll. He was one of what the army called the
'12 mile snipers' because their guns could hit a target that far
away." He recalled how Jim was involved in the Battle of Arakan,
when the Japanese completely surrounded the hilltop on the
Burmese-Indian border for a month in January, 1944. Only half of the
7,000 men involved survived, withstanding constant shell-fire as well as
heat, disease and mosquitoes.
Dr. Callow added: "Like many
heroes of the 'Forgotten Army', he did it all again in March at the
Battle of Imphal, in India, when a further 3,500 Allied troops lost
their lives. During that time he caught malaria - the only time he was
in hospital up until his death this week. During peacetime he's been our
link with readers in the Evening Telegraph and will be sadly
missed." Sidney Waterson, aged 85, president of the Royal Artillery
Association and friend of 30 years standing, said: "The death of
Jim McKittrick has left a void that is going to take some filling."
Peter Jones, aged 81, who shared the Ex-Service Notes column with Jim
and has been a standard bearer for 50 years, said: "He was a great
chap who served his country and then his community very well indeed. His
death is a great loss."
Former Land Army girl
Margaret Fletcher, now aged 79, and secretary of the Royal Artillery
Association, said: "Jim was a gentleman and a real joker - he was
also one of the kindest men I've ever met." Mrs. Fletcher of
Fernside Avenue, Styvechale, added: "I'll always remember him
rounding off social evenings with a singsong when he'd nearly always
give us a rendering of his favourite Irish song, Patsy Fagan.