D-Day veteran James ‘Jim’ Palfrey of Suffolk has died

Published:
8:00 a.m. January 15, 2022



Update:
10:23 am January 15, 2022

A supportive father believed to be Bury St Edmunds’ last D-Day veteran has died aged 101.

Tributes were paid to WWII hero James William Palfrey, known as Jim or Gentleman Jim, who died peacefully at his home in the city on New Year’s Day.

Mr Palfrey was part of the contingent that landed on Gold Beach in Normandy, France, with the Suffolk Yeomanry during the massive June 6, 1944 military operation to liberate North West Europe from the Nazis.

The great-grandfather of five children had been a gunner, tasked with destroying German tanks, and by the time he was demobilized in 1946 he had reached the rank of sergeant.


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

His son Malcolm, 71, said he had been “really, really lucky” because a bomb that hit his ship heading to France for the D-Day invasion did not go off.

He spoke of his pride in his father, who was described by people as a “true gentleman”.

He said: “He was a great dad to me. I live in Peterborough and he used to come and help me. He was always a big influence on me. He was really such a support.”

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

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

“I can’t imagine a six-year war,” he said. “He joined the TA [Territorial Army] before the war and after the war, he was in the TA until he was in his fifties.”


James Palfrey traveled to France on several occasions to attend the graves of deceased colleagues.

James Palfrey traveled to France on several occasions to attend the graves of deceased colleagues. From left to right: Jack Orbell, Les Brett, Ken Bassett, Percy Moss and Jim Palfrey
– Credit: Provided by the family

He was working for Bury St Edmunds-based brewer Greene King when the government was calling on businesses to register their employees with the MT, Malcolm said.

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

“Dad joined in ’39, but didn’t make it until D-Day. On D-Day he landed in Gold Beach and the current division was called the 49th Division.”

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

“He was demobilized in 1946 and went straight back into the TA and rose to the rank of warrant officer.”


James Palfrey and his wife Olive, married for 73 years

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

Mr Palfrey had lived in a Greene King estate in the city center with his wife Olive, moving in the year Malcolm was born.

They also had a son, Clive, who died aged 73 of cancer.

The couple had a “really good” partnership, Malcolm said, receiving a total of six telegrams from the Queen to mark their 73-year long marriage, and Mr Palfrey received one for his 100th anniversary. Olive died in 2015 at the age of 94.

They both enjoyed boules, playing into their 80s and then looking into their 90s when they struggled to kneel.

Mr Palfrey had been captain of the Westgate Bowls Club at one time.

Malcolm said: “He used to say ‘I outlived my wife and my son. I don’t want to outlive you”. He didn’t. He was only a few months away from turning 102.”

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

Malcolm said his father had had a “wonderful life”.

“He’s always been a Bury boy. In the last 20 years he’s lost so many people. He said at a Normandy veterans reunion about 15 years ago: ‘I don’t think that many will come to my funeral, for so many are gone’.”

Mr. Palfrey is survived by his son Malcolm, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

His funeral will be held at St Peter’s Church in Bury St Edmunds on Wednesday January 26 at 1pm.

Mr. Palfrey and his wife have been part of the church community of St Peter for many years.

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