Aircraft hangar named after RAF legend

HE was the “Greatest Escaper” of the Second World War who repeatedly refused to be incarcerated by the Nazis.

HE was the “Greatest Escaper” of the Second World War who repeatedly refused to be incarcerated by the Nazis.

And a Suffolk military base ensured that the valiant British airman and prisoner of war would never be forgotten yesterday by renaming an aircraft hangar after him.

A Battle of Britain DC-3 Dakota plane and a modern day Tornado fighter jet flew over RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, to salute the memory of legendary veteran Jimmy James, who died earlier this year.

The pilot and squadron leader, who served at the Suffolk base from the start of the war, became a real life hero of the Great Escape after he was captured by the Germans when his plane was shot down in 1940.

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The airman, who spent five years in prisoner of war camps, attempted an incredible 13 escape attempts from the Nazis and was a member of the infamous breakout that was later immortalised in the film The Great Escape.

Tributes were paid to the veteran yesterday by former prisoners of war and officers from his former squadron and airbase as a renaming and dedication service took place and plaque was unveiled at the former E Hangar at RAF Honington.

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Group Capt Russ La Forte, station commander of RAF Honington, said Mr James was a “quite remarkable” man and his unwavering dedication would be a real example to young gunners taking part in future graduation parades in the Jimmy James Hangar.

“The RAF Regiment's motto is 'per ardua', which means 'through adversity' and I cannot think of a man whose qualities better personify that motto than Jimmy James.”

Sqn Ldr James flew a 9 Squadron Wellington bomber from RAF Honington on the night of June 5, 1940, when he was shot down south of Rotterdam and was subsequently captured.

He was involved in several escape attempts before eventually ending up at Stalag Luft III, in Poland, where he became one of the “Great Escapers” on March 24, 1944. Of the 76 escapees that day, only three successfully made their way to freedom and 50 of the recaptured men were executed by the Germans.

Mr James was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, near Berlin, where he was kept in solitary confinement, but made another escape attempt. He arrived back in England on May 1945 and in 1953 he transferred to the RAF Regiment - now based at RAF Honington - before retiring from the military in 1958.

Mr James was awarded the Military Cross and mentioned in dispatches as a result of his heroism and refusal to accept imprisonment. He died in Ludlow, in Shropshire on January 18, aged 92.

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