James Rollo Thompson
Born on the day that the Battle of the Somme began, 8th April 1916. A sickly child, he spent a long time as an in-patient at Great Ormond Street for Children, but they helped to reshape his legs, and enabled him to walk unaided at age 90!
In 1935, Jim Thompson heard that the Earl of Harwood was planning to form an Auxiliary Air Force Squadron near to his home. It was actually 60 miles away, but as he owned a BSA motorbike and sidecar, he was able to attend the recruitment day, 10th February 1936. He was the first airman to sign up, number 809000, although Haslam Wood thought that his number, 809001, made him first. He must have ignored the man standing directly in front of him.
Jim was in the Squadron’s first Remembrance Parade through Leeds in 1936. They marched between two bands that were playing different tunes with different beats. He recalled that their marching was extremely irregular as a result.
Wanting to learn to fly, he found himself unable to do so with 609. So in 1937 he joined the Leeds Aero Club, training pilots on behalf of the Civil Air Guard. They shared Yeadon with 609 (WR) Squadron. It cost Jim 25p and hour, and aged 21 he went solo after 8¼ hours of tuition.
The ex-Adjutant of 609, Squadron Leader the Earl of Lincoln, founded 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron RAuxAF on 1st November 1938, at Doncaster, which was much closer to Jim’s home. The Earl asked Jim to transfer to 616, but when Jim said that was now flying, the Earl told him to stay as he was. Jim did transfer to Doncaster RAFVR, and their Civil Air Guard, and continued to fly Tiger Moths before qualifying in the Fairey Battle. Ironically, 616 on the other side of Doncaster Airfield still had old Hawker Hind biplanes.
At the outbreak of war, Jim, now a 23-year-old Sergeant pilot, did join the RAuxAF when the Civil Air Guard and the RAFVR were combined into the RAF. However, a weak chest caused him to fail the RAF Medical Exam. He left the RAF for 3 months, before re-joining as an LAC on a Link Trainer Course. He regained his stripes when qualifying as an instructor. He continued with this for 2½ years, combining this with Duty Pilot at RAF Finningley.
Now married to Rene, he was offered a Commission if he moved stations. The cost of new accommodation was too much for the young couple, so he declined, and remained at Finningley until after D Day, when he went to France as i/c a Flare Path team at Bomber Command Emergency Airfields. They saved the lives of several bomber crews by talking them down safely. When back in the UK after the war ended, Jim took his 12-man team to a Coventry pub, where they bumped into an all Warrant Officer bomber crew. Realisation dawned that it was Jim’s team who had saved them when their Lancaster G George had to make a forced landing at Juvencourt B68 airfield a year before.
Post war, Jim sold medical equipment to hospitals all over the UK for 25 years. After retirement, Jim became a local Councillor, and a staunch member of his local Methodist Church, as well as being a senior Freemason, and member of the Royal British Legion. He was a great raconteur, and you never needed to worry about a strained silence if Jim was in the room!
Aged 80, he was given a trip in a Cessna 180 by the Sherburn Aero Club, and told me that on reaching 90 he was sure that he could still handle a Tiger Moth.
Jim said at this time how proud he had been to know 609, and the bods in it. They were as good as any Guard’s Unit in his view. He told the guests at a 609 Squadron dinner that “One thing that will happen to all of you. You never retire from the Service. It sticks to you like glue!”
Jim Thompson was buried at his local Church on 1st December 2008, aged 92. He was a gentleman, a patriot, a proud and loving father, a leading member of his community, and an absolutely marvellous man to have known.