WW2 feature: The story of a war hero

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The story of James (Jimmy) Bunting offers a fascinating snapshot of life in Morley in the 20th century.

Although much of the focus this year has been on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of The Great War, less attention has been paid to the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War Two.

Born in February 1918 towards the end of the First World War, Jimmy joined the 51st Royal Tank Regiment that fought in Italy and North Africa during World War Two, in which he served in its ‘A’ squadron.

He was one of a number of Morley men to join this particular regiment, which had its headquarters based at Drill Hall on Ackroyd Street in the town. A brass plaque now stands outside the town hall commemmorating those who fought in the regiment.

An intriguing chat with Jimmy’s son Melvyn produces a story that brings together a number of elements of what has been described as “the best and worst of centuries.”

It features the terrors of a bloody conflict that brought the entire world and its weapons together for a second time, while also touching on Morley’s proud industrial history as a textile town.

In the autumn of 1944, after advancing north through Italy in partnership with three battalions from the South of England, Jimmy’s regiment was in action against the German Gothic Line in appalling weather conditions.

They had earlier penetrated the formidable Adolf Hitler Line alongside Canadian infantry, for which they were heartily praised for their “courage and determination.”

Fighting for control of Forli Airport on November 1, Jimmy’s tank was hit and and he was seriously wounded - his elbow joint being blown away. It was his second injury in six weeks and signalled the end of his involvement in the war.

“Like many of my generation I regret not speaking to my father more about his wartime experiences,” Melvyn, 68, says.

“He told me some tales, but in retrospect I would have liked to have known much more.

“I remember he had bits of shrapnel that used to move around his body and I remember him describing the incident where he was shot, saying he was bleeding like a stuffed pig and having to get up and walk away from this tank.

“But apart from little anecdotes he never went into great detail.”

In July this year Melvyn, along with his wife, made what he calls a pilgrimage to the spot where his father was wounded in Italy.

He had married up details from contemporary newspaper cuttings, thorough historical research and extracts from Jimmy’s diary to a map of the area and pinpointed what he believes was the exact location of the incident.

With the help of a local woman, who did not speak English but managed to communicate using drawings and a few key words, Melvyn managed to find the place which is now obscured by a “mass of entangled undergrowth”. It stands near where a bridge - one of the battle’s outstanding landmarks - had stood in 1944 over the River Ronco.

“I was very glad I made the trip,” Melvyn reflects from his home in Birstall. “I wouldn’t say I owed it to my dad to go but it was very, very interesting.

“He was one of the lucky ones, because of course many of his friends and brothers-in-arms did not return home.”

But return Jimmy did, and despite the permanent impediment in his arm, returned to his old job in the now demolished Springfield Mill until his retirement in 1981.

Although he had difficulty with tasks such as writing, he was marked out in his workplace in later years for his ability in working some of the textile machinery - a struggle for some of his colleagues. It sometimes resulted in him working 12 hour days across seven day weeks.

“He was very conscientious,” Melvyn recalls. “He was quite a simple chap but very hard-working and quite popular too. He didn’t seem to have any enemies that I know of.”

Jimmy’s broad smile comes through on a number of treasured family photographs, offering a glimpse of the happy post-war life he led with his wife Lucy and their son.

He passed away in 1998, just short of his 80th birthday.

With 70 years having passed since the events of 1944 which did so much in shaping the conclusion of the war, Melvyn says it would be “remiss not to remember that Morley men in ‘doing their bit’ did their town proud during the fight to take Europe back from the grip of Adolf Hitler’s formidable forces.”

It’s a sentiment impossible to disagree with, as one reflects on the lives of Jimmy Bunting and so many other brave Morley folk who preserved our nation’s future and kept our town running afterwards without many of the privileges we enjoy today.