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15 October 2014
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“Believe Me, ‘Dad’s Army’ Was Not Much Of An Exaggeration!”

by ritsonvaljos

Contributed by 
People in story: 
James Jolly 'Jim', James Jolly (Senior), Edna May Jolly, Peter Jolly, David Jolly, Iris Jolly, Elizabeth Jolly, Mary Jolly (née Spedding), Patrick Kelly 'Pat'.
Location of story: 
Billericay, Essex, London, Egremont, Whitehaven, Cumbria.
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 March 2005

Jim Jolly (left) and Pat Kelly (right), respectively Branch Secretary and Treasurer of the West Cumbria Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association. This photograph was taken at the Commemorative Service at St Nicholas' Church Gardens, Whitehaven, Cumbria, 11 November 2003.


This article is submitted on behalf of Mr Jim Jolly of Cleator Moor, Cumbria who, during World War Two, served firstly in the Home Guard in Billericay, Essex and later as a gunner between 1942 and 1947. Jim kindly agreed to share some of his wartime memories, that I could write about them, that they could be donated to an archive so that others could read it if they wished. The terms of the “People’s War” website have been read and understood.

For many years, Jim has been secretary of Branch No 51 of the Normandy Veterans Association (West Cumbria Branch). Members of this Branch have regularly assisted me with information about the Battle of Normandy for my university research. I would like to acknowledge this assistance. I am also delighted to honour Jim by submitting this article so that others will know and remember some of his wartime experiences.

My early years

“My name is Jim Jolly and I am Secretary of the West Cumbria Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association. Although I have lived in West Cumbria for many years, I am originally from the south of England. I was actually born in the East End of London in October 1923.

My father was also called James Jolly and he was originally a farmer from Montrose in Angus, Scotland, and he also fought in World War One. My mother was called Edna May Jolly and was a housewife after she married. Our family consisted of three brothers and two sisters. As well as me, there was Peter, David, Iris and Elizabeth.

We moved down to Billericay in Essex and we were raised down there until the war came along. All my early life, schooling and my first job, a sort of Office Junior, was down south. I was at De La Rue Printer’s in London, but then when the war started that got bombed and I had to leave London because of the bombing.

The Home Guard

At that time of course I was in the L.D.V., the ‘Local Defence Volunteers’, when that was formed, that later became the Home Guard. I was in that at seventeen years old so I had a rifle and fifty rounds of ammunition at seventeen. However, I also took advantage of that time and learnt the Morse Code. It came in handy later on because I used that knowledge after I got called up.

We’ve all seen “Dad’s Army” on the television, the B.B.C. television comedy series about the Home Guard. Well, believe me, “Dad’s Army” was not much of an exaggeration! It was just like that! It was because you got all sorts of different people and different occupations, you know? You were quite a mixture in the Home Guard. I was in a strange situation, really, because I would be called up later on. Incidentally, I was a ‘Runner’ for the platoon. You had to have a Runner in case communications broke down to keep everyone in touch with each other. Although we never had an invasion and Communications never did break down, but if it had that would have been my role.

Well, I had my pushbike and I was based at the local police station. You see, the courts were there and the police station was there, and that was my position. So, very often when I was on duty, I had to go from work from the police station into London. I had to take the rifle and ammunition home Usually I was on duty in a cell, but there was this one particular night the cells were full with drunks or whatever so they put me in the Courtroom. So there I was in a Courtroom with a couple of blankets and trying to get to sleep.

Anyway, a couple of miles away an aerial mine went off. It was a massive thing. It didn’t do a lot of damage, but they evacuated the little village and brought them all into our local Court in Billericay. All the people started pouring into this Court and of course it woke me up and I asked myself, “What was going on?” It rather shook me with all these people passing by. I heard one of them saying, “Oh look, there’s somebody already dead here laid out in the Court!” They thought I was laid out, dead! It was just a lark really! So that night, they had evacuated the population, put them in the Court, found out what was going on and then they sent them all back the following morning.

The Blitz in and around London

Of course, living in Essex we had problems with the Blitz. When I was little younger, all the bombing raids that were coming from London used to follow either the river Thames or the railway lines, particularly the night raids. They used to follow those on the way to London as an easy navigational aid. So, we used to see bombers by the hundred coming over every night. In fact you could almost set your clock by them sometimes, nine o’clock at night. That was 1940, when we saw all the Battle of Britain.

When they hit the bombers, it was really marvellous! Something that I shall never forget that. We used to go out and watch them. It was like an aerial display really. You could maybe see two or three hundred bombers all in formation. Then you’d see the Spitfires just coming in at the rear picking the bombers off. In fact all the spent bullets were falling all around you. You didn’t realise the danger we were in. It was quite a time, the Blitz! In fact 1940 was quite a time!

That’s what stopped me going to London. I was working at this printing place in London, in the City, and I had to get a train and go up to Liverpool Street Station. On this one particular day, we went up and it went via a different route because the lines had been hit during the night. When I got to the other end, at Liverpool Street, I had to walk this distance to the City and I met a policeman. He said to me, “Where are you going my lad?” So I told him, “Well I’m going to work.” He asked me, “Where do you work, my lad?” I replied, “I work at De La Rue’s.” Then he told me, “You needn’t bother, son. It’s gone!”

There was nothing I could do but turn round and so I went home. The whole factory premises had gone overnight, Blitzed! This was a firm that printed banknotes and I think they still do. They also made credit cards, playing cards and all that sort of thing. Because it had been blitzed, there were all these banknotes of foreign countries flying about all over London. They were absolutely no good to anybody because they weren’t numbered. Anyway, that’s what happened, and it finished the job I had in London.

We had an alternative place to go somewhere in the country. What we had been doing was that for all the documentation that we did, instead of doing three copies we had to make four. This fourth copy went out to the country area as a safeguard that if the premises were hit they still had the records. But it was too far away for me, so I just packed up and got a local job in the local waterworks first of all. Then I finished up with a bus company. In fact, I have a model bus of that company in the green livery of the Eastern National Bus Company So, I was there until 1942.

Signing up to the army

I wrote to the Ministry of Defence and I got my Service Record. It is a really good reminder of what I did after I signed up. I would have been 18½ I suppose when I went off to Bury St. Edmund’s to the Training Regiment there. It was called ‘The 53rd Primary Training Wing’ of the Territorial Army.

I was conscripted into the Forces as almost everyone else was. Of course, you were either conscripted or you volunteered for the RAF or the Navy. In my case, was just conscripted. I wasn’t really bothered which particular service I went into. There was a selection process that took place when we did our training. They had a Selection Board and they tested various things to see what you were best suited for. So, with having already had the experience of a bit of Morse Code, it wasn’t difficult.

My father had been in the army during the First World War, of course. In fact, he was seriously wounded. He lost both legs and he would have been in his late twenties and early thirties then as he was born in 1887. He was out at Arras in northern France and the fighting was very heavy. He was in the Canadian Regiment because although he was not originally a Canadian but he had gone out from Britain to Canada and had farmed there and then worked on the railways. He joined up over there and they had come over to Europe. What he got for his trouble was that he lost both legs.

I don’t know what my mother and father’s thoughts were about us joining up. There were three of us lads and we all went into the forces. The other two lads went into the RAF and I went into the army. I often wondered what my father’s thoughts were, you know, with the lads going off. Luckily we all came back! But, my father was single at the time he was wounded in World War One. He didn’t get married until afterwards. So, we were born after he had this injury and we only knew a father who was legless. But, he still lived sixty years exactly to the day he was wounded, which was quite unusual that! So, he lived a long time afterwards until he was eighty-nine I think.

The MoD record lists all the different Regiments that I went into during the war. We started off training with anti-aircraft guns. That’s BOFOR Guns as they are known, although I wasn’t actually on the guns. My role then was either on the driving side or the radio operating side of things.

What I owe to the YMCA

We trained at all sorts of different places. In fact, for one of the training exercises we moved from Folkestone to Nethertown near Egremont, here in Cumbria. This Nethertown Camp is now more or less a caravan site. All the bases for the modern-day caravans were the bases for Nissan huts during the war.

On this one visit, we had a three-day trip to get here. What we had to do was visualise that we were going to the Front and we had to eat, sleep, and do everything on the road for three days and three nights. This was in 1942 when we came up here and that’s how I met my wife Mary! It really was the basis of meeting the wife up here.

So, I actually met my future wife in Egremont when I was up here. I wasn’t here that many weeks, really. Although I didn’t carve it in stone in the pavement or anything like that, it was just outside the YMCA where I met Mary for the first time. So I owe a lot to the YMCA. The best thing that happened to me in my life was meeting Mary and then raising a family! I have all their photographs on the wall at home.

We then trained at lots of different places, mainly in the south of England. Eventually, we went abroad when we took part in the Normandy Landings. In my case I landed in Normandy on ‘D+20’ so that was 26th June 1944. Although I stayed in the army until 1947 I managed to come back home after the war had ended and got married to Mary on 14th November 1945. After I came out of the army we started married life in Billericay, but we moved to Cumbria in 1950 and that’s where we raised our family.”


Jim has been an active member of the West Cumbria Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association and has always been keen in talking to the post-war generations about World War Two, both the good and the bad. This has included giving talks or answering questions to students of all ages. I have seen Jim many times over the years and every time has been both an education and an honour.

Jim and many of his colleagues in the Normandy Veterans have regularly commemorated the victims of the Two World Wars, either at their own Normandy memorial in St Nicholas Church Gardens, Whitehaven, or at the Whitehaven Cenotaph or at other services throughout Britain. Jim also led a party of Normandy Veterans, family and friends from West Cumbria to Normandy for the 60th Anniversary Commemorations of D-Day in June 2004.

Some years ago, when Jim was helping me with information for one of my university research projects Jim told me: “It is important that one should never forget”. In fact, I used this quote of Jim’s for the title of that particular project I did about the Battle of Normandy. Yet again, it has been a great honour to submit this article on Jim’s behalf so that others too will never forget.

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