TRIBUTES have been paid to skipper and “fantastic raconteur” Jim Williams, one of a dwindling band in Hull’s fishing community to have served during the Second World War, and who has died aged 87.
To many he was “Mr Corsair”, who spent 20 years volunteering aboard the country’s last sidewinder, Arctic Corsair, which is moored in the River Hull as a floating tourist attraction.
He passed his vast knowledge onto younger generations who had no idea what it was like working in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, setting out the mate’s cabin as he knew it - complete with a picture of his late wife Olga and a pair of longjohns hanging on a piece of rope.
Adam Fowler, the former chairman of fishing heritage charity Stand, which saved the ship from the scrap heap, said: “He was the Corsair and in later years he lived for that ship. You can physically save something but it doesn’t mean anything unless you bring meaning through heart and mind and that’s what Jim did.”
In January 1944 a fortnight after his 16th birthday, young Jim entered WW2 on deep sea rescue tugs. His ship was towing Mulberry harbours into Normandy at a desperately slow pace of 8mph during the landings in 1944. He recalled: “As a 16-year-old you are still reading Boy’s Own. Until you actually see bullets and bombs flying about you don’t realise what it’s all about. You grow up rather quickly.”
In 1946, he set sail on the Kelt as a “deckie learner”, gaining his skipper’s ticket in 1961. For over 20 years he was with Boyd Line, the last seven as skipper aboard the Arctic Hunter and Arctic Brigand, a career which took him as far east as Cape Kanin in the Barents Sea and west to the Davis Straits.
In his latter years the father-of-two volunteered on the Corsair, which he continued to visit till very recently, and wrote an autobiography Swinging The Lamp, with a foreward by Hull West MP Alan Johnson, who wrote: “Fishing is no longer the lifeblood of Hull, but it is still its heartbeat; and nobody has a bigger heart than Jimmy Williams.” Simon Green, director of cultural services at Hull Council, said: “Jim acted as an advocate, spokesperson, fundraiser, technical advisor, tour guide and most importantly unofficial skipper of all those involved with the ship, both within the council and Stand.
“He was passionate, fearless, down to earth; never afraid to speak his mind, never afraid to set me straight.” Historian Robb Robinson said: “There was a TV programme and they were talking about the three days fishermen had when they were at home and he said: ‘You know when you arrived back going to church was not an immediate priority.’ He had a dry, understated wit that is so typical of Hessle Road.”