Obituary: War veteran James Froud, 97, taught at West Suffolk College
PUBLISHED: 19:27 29 June 2019 | UPDATED: 17:49 01 July 2019
Young plumber Jim became a rear gunner with RAF Bomber Command. Later, he made Bury St Edmunds and then Woodbridge his home
How many of the students, learning plumbing and other construction skills, had an inkling of their tutor's wartime courage? With James Froud of the stiff upper lip generation, prone to holding its emotions in check, the likely answer is "few - if any". He almost certainly never let on that, when perhaps younger than some of his students, he put himself in peril to combat Nazi tyranny.
Norman Clements puts it perfectly in tribute to a man who has died at the age of 97. After Norman left England many years ago for a new life in Australia, his uncle Jim and aunt Mary came to visit him in Canberra.
They went to see the Australian War Memorial, where there's a Lancaster bomber. Jim had been a rear gunner in Lancasters and Wellingtons during the Second World War.
"Jim in his quiet and unassuming way helped out the tour guide, explaining some of the finer points of the aircraft. The tour showed their appreciation of Jim's efforts - particularly as they were made aware of his RAF service, and having been a Lancaster bomber crewman - with a round of applause.
"Jim, with his quiet persona, was a touch embarrassed with this response but nonetheless pleased."
The unenviable roles of airmen such as Jim had been fraught with danger as they dodged anti-aircraft fire and any enemy aircraft trying to shoot them down.
For a rear gunner like Jim, flying over occupied territory was a lonely and exposed experience. With a heavy bomber such as the Lancaster, Jim had to squeeze into a tight goldfish-bowl of an unheated perch at the very tail of the plane. As the bombs fell, the fires burned below and the smoke and flak rose, his view must surely have been like looking into the mouth of Hell.
Son-in-law John Aldous says: "It takes a certain fortitude or courage to crawl to the back of this plane, knowing you're putting yourself in the most vulnerable position possible, with the lowest percentage of survival."
Norman points out that his uncle completed 30 airborne missions - "no mean feat when it should be remembered Bomber Command suffered enormous casualties".
Jim's flying log tells in short handwritten sentences the stories he rarely expressed verbally. July 26, 1944, for instance, over Lyons, France: Engine badly damaged. Petrol tank holed.
Another entry, over Wesserling in north-eastern France: Hit by flak. Seventy holes.
The heavy-bombing squadron with which he served, No. 44, is said to have suffered the third-highest number of casualties within RAF Bomber Command.
Life was always dicey. On one July night in 1944 they had to abort an attack on Stuttgart. The plane had lost an engine. The pilot reported: "Turned back because it was impossible to climb or maintain correct speed on three engines…"
The next night: "We were fired on by another bomber on return route and sustained considerable damage."
Some of the aircraft in which Jim had flown came to sticky ends later. One plane: Flew in it on June 14; on June 24/25 it was lost over northern France. Another: Flew in it in August; a month later, it was lost in a raid on Germany.
Danger was ever-present and life a lottery. No wonder many servicemen tried afterwards to bury their memories in the dark corners of their minds.
Airborne and vulnerable
James George Froud (Jim) was an only child, born in Maidstone, Kent, in 1922. He became a Scout and enjoyed camping with his pals at places such as the Isle of Sheppey. It made such an impact that it was the location of the first family holiday many years later, after he'd married.
Jim began a seven-year apprenticeship in plumbing at the age of 14, helped by a bursary. His mother, Avis, died when he was 17. As soon as Jim finished his apprenticeship, he volunteered for the RAF and joined Bomber Command in 1943.
The September and October saw him on a gunnery course at RAF Stormy Down, west of Bridgend in Wales. He was described as "A young cadet who has worked very hard".
Over the next three months he was with No. 14 Operational Training Unit at RAF Market Harborough, on the Leicestershire/Northamptonshire border (which trained crews for RAF Bomber Command operations), and at nearby RAF Husbands Bosworth (which taught airmen about night missions).
Jim then spent a few months at other airfields in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire before - his log book suggests - joining No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron at RAF Dunholme Lodge, near Lincoln. Lancaster bombers had recently arrived at the airfield.
At the end of August, 1944, Jim began a 14-month spell with No. 83 Squadron at RAF Coningsby, near Boston in Lincolnshire.
It was part of the Pathfinder Force - planes that flew out to the target ahead of the main strike force and laid flares to improve the bombers' accuracy.
Jim's family understands the Pathfinders would often fly round and return to the target area after the raid - taking photographs and assessing the success of the mission. This would have increased the chances of being shot down by Nazi fighters or anti-aircraft fire.
Aviation historian Martyn Chorlton has called the Pathfinders the bravest of the brave.
Jim's luck held. He later became a gunnery instructor and it looked as if he would be off to the Far East, but the war finished. The warrant officer was demobbed in November, 1946, via RAF Lindholme, near Doncaster, and went back to the firm in Maidstone where he'd worked as a plumber.
He met wife-to-be Mary in 1948 - introduced to her by a friend at a dance in the Star Hotel. Mary was staying with a sister. She says she never stood a chance after that initial meeting, as he kept popping up, clearly smitten.
She's also said he was gardening during one of their early encounters - something that gave her the wrong impression, as he actually hated this pastime-cum-chore!
Jim and Mary married in November, 1948. Twins Naomi and John were born about 10 months later.
Jim was determined to make the most of his chances - often studying as well as working full-time. Then, in probably 1956, he spent a year at a college in Bolton, qualifying as a teacher in further education while the family stayed in Kent.
The next move took him to Berkshire, where he became a lecturer at what was to become Reading College of Technology. The family followed six months later, in 1958.
Naomi remembers her father working very hard. Because it was a technical college, he had to teach on some evenings, too. He also continued studying, to boost his knowledge and qualifications.
In 1966 came another move: to Bury St Edmunds. Jim would become deputy head of the department of construction and electrical engineering at what is now West Suffolk College.
A purpose-built college had opened in 1961 on the Gibraltar Barracks site. Engineering and construction training centres were added in the 1970s.
There was tragedy that decade when son John was badly hurt in a road accident, lay in a coma for a week and died at the age of 24. It prompted Naomi and her husband (also called John) to move to Suffolk to be near her parents.
Jim retired at 65. His interests included making wine, using fruits and flowers from the hedgerows. He also ground his own coffee beans.
Mary and Jim enjoyed walking (they completed the entire coastline of Jersey, for instance) and they shared some very good holidays over the years. Destinations included Australia, China and America. To mark their 40th wedding anniversary they embarked upon a cruise of the Mediterranean, on the QEII.
There was DIY, too. Jim was good at it - a perfectionist who took the time to get it right. He loved the outdoors, as well - and clay pigeon shooting.
The couple enjoyed socialising and entertaining, and good food. Jim belonged to a Probus group, serving at one time on the committee and organising theatre trips.
Legacy of the war
Naomi says her father never mentioned his experiences when she and her brother were growing up, though he'd much later say more to grandsons James and Jonathan.
Jim remained angry about the Nazi and Japanese leaders who had waged such a savage war. For many years he wouldn't go to Germany as a tourist, says son-in-law John, though Jim and Mary did go on a Rhine cruise later. "When they went through cities he had bombed, he stayed below decks."
John thinks his father-in-law suppressed his feelings about the war - as many did.
He did, though, keep in touch with former RAF colleagues. For years they and their wives met up for meals. "He was the last survivor of that group," says Naomi.
Generally, Jim was of that "stiff upper lip" era. A quiet man who simply got on with things, without fuss.
That said, John remembers staying in Bury St Edmunds with his in-laws and once going into the college with Jim, "and he lit up, with his colleagues. He was a different sort of person".
He also recalls Jim talking about his reluctance to become close friends with other crews during the war. You never knew when you'd go into breakfast and be met by an empty table.
"He was an atheist from an early age, which was quite unusual for his generation. He said he lost all vestige of any faith when he saw the boys coming back with their faces burnt off and that sort of thing. That was the sort of trauma they had to deal with on a fairly regular basis.
"You could see that any belief in a benevolent god would disappear."
A running sore
John says one of the biggest upsets for Jim was that Winston Churchill effectively turned his back on Bomber Command after the war.
There had been little mention in Churchill's Victory in Europe speech of its achievements and sacrifices. Bomber Command's supporters pointed to the fact the raids shortened the conflict by weakening the Nazi war capability and tying up forces that might otherwise have been sent to do damage elsewhere.
Naomi thinks the controversy was one of the reasons, for many years afterwards, that her father was reluctant to talk about the war.
The planned campaign medal for aircrew like him had also failed to be struck in the aftermath of the conflict.
Six years ago the Government offered a clasp, rather than a medal. Jim was very derogatory about that, as were many veterans and their families.
The Royal Air Force Bomber Command Memorial was unveiled in London's Green Park seven years ago this month.
Jim could have attended the ceremony, but didn't feel well enough to sit through it all. But Naomi and her husband took him the following weekend.
John says his father-in-law thought the memorial appropriate. He chatted to other people there - older folk and also younger visitors who were interested.
'It was astonishing'
Jim and Mary moved to Woodbridge in 2017. It brought them nearer to their family.
Jim's stay in their new home was short, though - about six weeks. He'd already developed dementia, was confused, and suffered some falls. So he went to be cared for at the town's Haughgate House nursing home.
Mary, now nearly 94, visited every day of the 18 months Jim was there.
Last year they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at Haughgate House. Relatives came and there was cake and balloons.
"He was brought in in a wheelchair and he 'came alive'," says John. "He made a little speech. It was astonishing."
Naomi pushed him around, so he could talk to guests. "He could remember some people."
John: "The next day - you know what the disease is like - he closed down again. But for that half an hour… It's incredible what the human spirit, for want of a better word, will do. It was emotional. For that brief period, he came alive."
Dry sense of humour
Jim died peacefully at Haughgate House on June 8. He's described as a very quiet man with a determined nature - a serious person always friendly and helpful, and a true gentleman who lived by traditional values. He was also noted for his very dry sense of humour.
Norman Clements says one of the things for which his uncle will be remembered is "the love and care he showed his family and friends…
"He no doubt would have been a guiding influence with others; in particular the many students that came under his influence. He would have touched many people during his long life."
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