D-Day and Dunkirk veteran Jim Pass, 102, dies with Covid after 'amazing life'

One of Yorkshire’s last Dunkirk and D-Day veterans who went to become a Camping and Caravanning Club stalwart has died with Covid at the age of 102.

Jim Pass, who was born in Castleford in August 1918 but spent most of his life in Horsforth on the outskirts of Leeds before moving to Sheffield in the final decades of his life, died on November 4 shortly after being diagnosed with coronavirus.

His step-daughter Kerensa Welsby said Jim had moved into a care home in July following a fall at home. She said it had been a difficult for few months for the family, as Jim, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was unable to have visitors including his wife Rita inside the care home due to the pandemic.

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“The last time my mum gave him a hug was when he went into the care home in July. He couldn’t quite understand why she wouldn’t go into the home,” she said. “It has been quite a traumatic period. But there are blessings. He was 102 and actually died quite peacefully. He didn’t suffer which he could have done with Covid and he lived an amazing life.”

Jim Pass, pictured in 2018 with his war medals. Picture: Scott Merrylees

She said the family have been inundated with tributes to Jim, who was awarded the Légion d’honneur for his service in liberating France and had an extraordinary war time story.

Jim was a motorbike dispatch rider in the Royal Army Service Corps in the early stages of the war where he delivered messages between military lines. During the dramatic retreat to Dunkirk, Jim had been part of an ammunition convoy heading to Dunkirk when they got strafed by German planes, causing huge explosions and leaving him on his own. On his way to the beaches, he ditched his bike in a canal so the Germans couldn’t use it.

Kerensa said: “He came across an abandoned village where he was lucky enough to find a tin of sausages. He scoffed the lot, only to be violently sick as the food was too rich for his starved stomach.”

Jim had to stay on the beach at Dunkirk for seven days but when he eventually got aboard a paddle steamer it was hit by a bomb. He managed to escape and was among those picked up by a naval destroyer but hundreds of troops who had been below decks on the steamer drowned.

Jim Pass on a caravan holiday in Croatia in 2009.

On his return to England, Jim married his girlfriend Molly Dunn and after having his application to become an RAF fighter pilot rejected, was instead trained by the Army to fly Horsa gliders which carried troops.

On D-Day he drove a DUKW amphibious vehicle bringing ammunition onshore to Sword Beach, where almost 30,000 Allied troops made it ashore and nearly 700 British soldiers died as they encountered fierce German resistance.

After D-Day, Jim was tasked with landing his glider in Holland and fought with his comrades across to Germany, passing by the recently-liberated Belsen concentration camp where thousands of people had been kept in terrible conditions.

Kerensa said Jim had many colourful war stories, including selling his cigarette rations to other soldiers as he wasn't a smoker.

Rita and Jim in their caravan in 2018. Picture: Scott Merrylees.

"You got paid but he never touched his money. He came out of the war in credit but they lost the records so while other soldiers had their debts wiped out, he had actually been in credit."

Jim went on to take over his father’s newsagent shop but much of his later years were taken up by his involvement in the Camping and Caravanning Club which he joined on a whim after getting chatting to a group of caravan owners in Pateley Bridge.

He signed up then and there for the club - despite not owning a caravan at the time.

Jim went on to be a member of the club for over 50 years, holding a series of regional and national leadership roles down the years.

Jim in his war years.

During his time as chairman of the national publicity committee, he came up with stunts including sitting the Camping Club Youth Test at the age of 70 - a process that involved proving his camping skills alongside a group of teenagers.

Following Molly’s death in the 1980s, in 1988 Jim went on to marry Rita, herself a member of the club and a widow. The pair travelled far and wide across Europe, with Italy a particular favourite and going everywhere from Turkey to the Arctic Circle.

A spokesperson for The Camping and Caravanning Club said: “Jim was a keen caravanner and a member of the Club for more than 50 years. We were all very proud of his achievements as a veteran of World War Two, and were especially pleased when he was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 2016.

“Jim was a well-known, dedicated and very popular member of The Camping and Caravanning Club who will be sadly missed.”

Jim was interviewed by The Yorkshire Post in June 2018 to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Despite facing increasing challenges with his memory at the time due to Alzheimer’s, he said he was keen to share his wartime stories.

“I think it is important for the simple reason that you hope it never occurs again and that we live in peace with European countries. It is very important people should be told about what conditions were like during the war. A lot of people never came back, people I knew didn’t come back.”

Funeral to be shown online

Jim’s funeral will be webcast due to coronavirus restrictions on numbers attending in person.

Kerensa said: “He was very well loved. We struggled to keep the numbers to the 25 that you are allowed.”

She said the family had received many moving messages from people sharing their memories of Jim.

The service, taking place at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium in Sheffield, will take place at 11am on Friday, November 27.

Kerensa said anyone wishing to watch the ceremony online should contact the funeral director, G & M Lunt. Their number is 0114 274 5508.

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