Jim Radford, D-Day Veteran, lifelong peace campaigner and renowned folk singer, dies at 91

BSNews editor Alison Banville writes:

The great Jim Radford has died aged 91. I was privileged to know him through Veterans For Peace UK and spend time with him, like here when he took me to his local pub for a sing with his folk group. Jim was 15 years old and a cabin boy on a boat at D-Day 1944 when the allies landed at Normandy – and if you want an idea of that horror watch the opening of the film Saving Private Ryan. Jim then became a life-long peace campaigner and renowned folk singer.

We heard him sing his own song The Shores of Normandy at VFP gatherings and on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph and then he got the song to Number One in the charts! Below is a link to him performing it at the Royal Albert Hall.

Travelling on the tube with Jim to this pub I honestly couldn’t keep up with him going up the stairs he was so fit and strong! He looked about 30 years younger than he actually was, I thought he would live forever. He invited me to his 90th birthday party but unfortunately I couldn’t attend, but I spent another great evening with him once on Armed Forces Day in York, during which he said to me, ‘oh, Alison, if only you were older’.

He also told me that night that the secret of his youthfulness and vitality was that ‘I never worry’. And that is a lesson for us all, because no-one knew the horrors that humanity can stoop to better than Jim. Even at aged 90, when he talked about what he saw on D-Day his eyes still glazed with emotion, and his life-long campaigning and activism was a testament to someone who faced the truth of the dark side of life head-on.

Yet he didn’t allow it to taint him with bitterness or crush him with despondency. It never broke his spirit. He always hoped for a better world and did what he could to bring it about. I know the lads from VFP UK are mourning him greatly because they all loved him. And so did I. What a man, what a life. Adios Jim.

Below is Veteran For Peace UK founder Ben Griffin‘s tribute to his friend Jim Radford:

Jim Radford with Veterans For Peace UK at the Cenotaph

It is with sadness that we share the news of the death of Jim Radford who died in Lewisham Hospital early this morning after several weeks in intensive care being treated for Covid-19.

Jim leaves behind his family and a huge number of friends, comrades and musicians, all of whom could recall a Jim Radford story. In this brief article I will focus on Jim’s time with Veterans For Peace and leave the other aspects of his life to those who knew him best in those realms.

Jim was born in Hull and recounted to me his experiences of the bombing of that maritime city and his youthful desire to join the fight against Nazi Germany. At the age of 15 he joined the Merchant Navy and sailed to Normandy on the rescue tugboat Empire Larch in direct support of the D-Day landings. After the war Jim went on to serve in the Royal Navy and it was during or shortly after that service that he developed an opposition to nuclear weapons.

I first met Jim in 2011 at an anti-war event hosted by the London Catholic Worker in an old church in Haringey. Later that year I got in touch with him to ask if he would join a new organisation; Veterans For Peace UK. He joined without hesitation and was steadfast from that day onwards.

At our first Remembrance Ceremony outside the Bank of England in November 2011, Jim was one of only three VFP members present. He brought along an old Ex-Services CND banner and not having a VFP banner at the time we marched under that. Jim brought a wealth of experience to our fledgling organisation, offering sound advice based on years of participation within anti-nuclear and peace organistaions.

When the time came in 2014 to form a Steering Group to coordinate the rapidly expanding organisation Jim stepped forward and filled a position for the next two years. Jim was forceful in arguing that we should remain a voluntary organisation with no paid workers. This position became and remains a key characteristic of our organisation.

Jim brought a depth of experience, know-how and common sense to our monthly meetings. He was involved in the planning of our first Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph in 2014 and was one of only a dozen VFP who attended. We marched to The Cenotaph on that Remembrance Sunday without invitation or permission and Jim sang “1916” as crowds of people stood and watched in silence. Jim sang at The Cenotaph every year after that and our numbers grew.

Jim was well known for his singing and regularly contributed with anti-war songs at our actions and meetings. It was as a speaker that Jim impressed me most. His life experience and pragmatic anti-war position was free of complicated narratives or ideological rhetoric. Once in Los Angeles when questioned why he campaigned for peace for so many years without tangible results he replied simply that “it was the right thing to do”.

It would be impossible to mention all of the contributions that Jim made to our organisation in so many different ways over the years. It would be impossible to mention all of the people he has inspired, encouraged, and helped in some way. Below I have shared some pictures and videos of Jim that give an impression of his contribution.

Outside of the meetings, actions and speeches Jim took part heartily at our social gatherings. Always a cheerful, generous and welcoming presence, His capacity for socialising was almost superhuman, able to keep up with members 1/3 his age and still get up early to complete his morning exercises.

It is safe to say that Jim will be missed by members of Veterans For Peace all over the world.

I for one will miss his friendship, his guidance and his comradeship.

Goodnight Jim, you’ve earn’t it mate.

Ben Griffin

Jim Radford singing his chart-topping song The Shores of Normandy at the Albert Hall

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