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Bury St Edmunds' last surviving D-Day hero James Palfrey - ‘Gentleman Jim’ - dies aged 101



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One of the last surviving D-Day heroes has died aged 101.

World War Two veteran James William Palfrey, known as ‘Gentleman Jim’, landed on Gold Beach at Normandy with the Suffolk Yeomanry in one of the largest military operations ever on June 6, 1944, to liberate north-west Europe from the Nazis.

The great-grandfather died at his Bury St Edmunds home on New Year’s Day as he held his son Malcolm’s hand.

Jim Palfrey.
Jim Palfrey.

Malcolm, 71, said: “Everybody called him ‘Gentleman Jim’. I’ve been opening up all these cards and everybody said what a great person he was. He was a real gentleman, old school having been born in 1920 and a lovely bloke.”

Born in Bury, Mr Palfrey followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps when he joined Greene King after leaving school to begin a near 50 year career with the brewery.

He started in Greene King’s office before becoming an apprentice in the lorry garage where he worked as a vehicle engineer.

Jim Palfrey joined the Territorial Army as a teenager.
Jim Palfrey joined the Territorial Army as a teenager.

In 1936, with Hitler’s power in the ascent and the Government encouraging companies to send their employees to the Territorial Army, Mr Palfrey joined the TA at King’s Road Barracks, where he learnt ‘everything to do with the Army before the war started’.

During the war he was a gunner and was moved into Regimental Headquarters (RHQ) and finished the war as a sergeant.

“Dad could ride a motorbike and he would take a message from one tent to another,” said Malcolm.

“I don’t think he really saw too much live action. He wasn’t right at the front.

Jim Palfrey landed on Gold Beach at Normandy with the Suffolk Yeomanry.
Jim Palfrey landed on Gold Beach at Normandy with the Suffolk Yeomanry.

“Dad has had tanks and things coming at him but he was lucky. He admits he was lucky not to have bullets flying around his head but then he was lucky to live for so long.”

After Normandy, he went into France, Belgium, Holland and Germany until he was demobbed in 1946.

Malcolm remembers: “Dad always used to say ‘everybody thought it (the war) would be over in six months but it was six years.

Jim Palfrey took a leading role in the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Normandy Veterans Association.
Jim Palfrey took a leading role in the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Normandy Veterans Association.

“He went straight back into the TA at King’s Road and I used to go up with him as a nine/10-year-old. He was testing and tweaking radios.”

During his career at Greene King, Mr Palfrey became a foreman and later a transport manager until he retired in 1983 aged 63.

He took a leading role in the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Normandy Veterans Association, serving as secretary, treasurer and chairman.

Jim Palfrey at the D-Day commemorations in June 2021 in Bury St Edmunds where he was a guest of honour.
Jim Palfrey at the D-Day commemorations in June 2021 in Bury St Edmunds where he was a guest of honour.

“Dad used to keep a book of everyone registered and there were 150,” said Malcolm, who served in the RAF for 22 years.

“When there were 20, I thought ‘oh dear, dad’s in his 90s – dad might be next’ but he went on and on and on.”

He said he was ‘very proud’ that his father lived to be one of the last surviving Normandy veterans.

"As far as I know he was the last of the Normandy veterans still alive in Bury," Malcolm added.

Jim Palfrey married his wife Olive in 1941 at St Mary's Church in Bury St Edmunds wearing his military uniform.
Jim Palfrey married his wife Olive in 1941 at St Mary's Church in Bury St Edmunds wearing his military uniform.

During his retirement, Mr Palfrey was captain of the Westgate Bowls Club and was a member of the Risbygate Bowls Club.

His wife Olive, who he married in 1941 at St Mary’s Church, in Bury, wearing his military uniform, died six years ago aged 94.

The couple received six telegrams from The Queen over the years to mark their long marriage and he received another when he turned 100.

Jim Palfrey and his wife Olive.
Jim Palfrey and his wife Olive.

His elder son Clive died aged 73 in 2017.

Mr Palfrey, who attended remembrance services in the town every year, leaves his brother Ken, four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.