One of last D-Day veterans 'Gentleman Jim' dies aged 101

Bury St Edmunds' last D-Day veteran James 'Gentleman Jim' Palfrey. Pictured in the Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds' last D-Day veteran James 'Gentleman Jim' Palfrey. Pictured in the rose garden in the Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Malcolm Palfrey

A supportive father believed to be Bury St Edmunds' last D-Day veteran has passed away aged 101.

Tributes have been paid to World War Two hero James William Palfrey, known as Jim or Gentleman Jim, who died peacefully at home in the town on New Year's Day.

Mr Palfrey was part of the contingent that landed on Gold Beach at Normandy, France, with the Suffolk Yeomanry in the huge military operation on June 6, 1944, to liberate north-west Europe from the Nazis.

The great-grandfather-of-five had been a gunner, tasked with taking out German tanks, and by the time he was demobbed in 1946 he had risen to the rank of sergeant.

James Palfrey was a gunner and rose to the rank of sergeant 

James Palfrey was a gunner and rose to the rank of sergeant - Credit: Supplied by family

His son Malcolm, 71, said he had been "really, really lucky" as a bomb that hit his ship going to France for the D-Day invasion failed to explode.

He spoke of his pride for his father, who was described by people as a "true gentleman".

He said: "He's been a great father for me. I live in Peterborough and he would come over and help me. He's always been a big influence on me. He was just such a support really."

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Mr Palfrey, who was a key part of the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Normandy Veterans' Association, appeared at the Remembrance and D-Day events in his town, including last year.

Malcolm said his military connections were a "big part of his life".

"I cannot imagine a war lasting six years," he said. "He joined the TA [Territorial Army] before the war and after the war he was in the TA well into his 50s."

James Palfrey visited France many times to attend the graves of fallen colleagues.

James Palfrey visited France many times to attend the graves of fallen colleagues. Left to right: Jack Orbell, Les Brett, Ken Bassett, Percy Moss and Jim Palfrey - Credit: Supplied by family

He had been working for Bury St Edmunds-based brewer Greene King when the government was calling on companies to sign their employees up to the TA, Malcolm said.

Mr Palfrey trained at King's Road Barracks in the town and was tasked to the 55th Anti-Tank Regiment (Suffolk Yeomanry), Royal Artillery.

"Dad joined in '39, but didn't go over until D-Day. Come D-Day he landed on Gold Beach and the actual division was called the 49th Division."

He added: "Dad went through France, Belgium, Holland and finally into Germany.

"He got demobbed in '46 and went straight back into the TA again and went up to Warrant Officer."

James Palfrey and his wife Olive, who were married for 73 years

James Palfrey and his wife Olive, who were married for 73 years. Pictured in their Bury St Edmunds garden, which was always open to visit for the Bury Hidden Gardens event - Credit: Malcolm Palfrey

Mr Palfrey had lived in a Greene King property in the town centre with his wife Olive, moving in the year Malcolm was born.

They also had a son, Clive, who passed away aged 73 from cancer. 

The couple had a "very good" partnership, Malcolm said, receiving in total six telegrams from the Queen to mark their long marriage of 73 years, plus Mr Palfrey received one for his 100th birthday. Olive passed away in 2015 aged 94.

They both enjoyed bowls, playing until their 80s and then watching in their 90s when they struggled to get down on their knees.

Mr Palfrey had captained Westgate Bowls Club at one time.

Malcolm said: "He used to say 'I have outlived my wife and also son. I don't want to outlive you'. He didn't manage that. He was only a couple of months away from being 102."

Mr Palfrey had worked at Greene King for 50 years, starting at the age of 14 in the office, back in 1934, working his way up to garage foreman and then transport manager, retiring at age 63.

James Palfrey was part of the 55th Anti-Tank Regiment (Suffolk Yeomanry), Royal Artillery

James Palfrey was part of the 55th Anti-Tank Regiment (Suffolk Yeomanry), Royal Artillery - Credit: Supplied by family

Malcolm said his father had had a "wonderful life".

"He's always been a Bury lad. In the last 20 years he's lost so many people. He said at the time of a Normandy veterans' reunion about 15 years ago: 'I don't think many will come to my funeral as so many have gone'."

Mr Palfrey leaves his son Malcolm, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

His funeral will take place at St Peter's Church in Bury St Edmunds on Wednesday, January 26, at 1pm.

Mr Palfrey and his wife were part of the church community at St Peter's for many years.



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