He never regarded himself as a hero. Yet indomitable Jim Sherritt, who died in February, aged 88, twice survived when the tanks he was driving took direct hits killing the crews during World War II.
When it ended, he worked for the War Graves Commission burying the dead, who had paid the supreme sacrifice fighting for freedom against Nazi Germany.
But, on his return home to Marlborough, gentleman Jim, as he became known, hardly ever talked about his exploits to family and friends.
And it was only on Remembrance Sunday, when a bench in his honour was unveiled on Marlborough’s Green, was it revealed how Jim did in fact talk about his remarkable wartime experiences to young Army cadets at Marlborough College.
It was there that Jim, born in Enniskillen, where he joined the Royal Irish Horse Regiment, worked for 18 years in the Armoury, where a room in his honour is now to be named the Jim Sherritt Room.
Former College teacher Martin Evans, secretary of the College’s Malburian Club, told onlookers: “I only came to know Jim when he came to work in the Armoury. He was much loved, as you can imagine, by officers and cadets and many of them regarded him quite rightly as a legend.”
“Jim, as we all know, was an old fashioned gentleman, a great character, and his stories of daring do as a tank driver during World War II in North Africa and Italy held the young pupils spellbound.”
“And he was rumoured to have lied about his age in order to join the Army early — and to have driven the first tank into Turin, all recounted with modest gusto and frequent puffs on his famous pipe.”
“Some years ago, I introduced him to a young Malburian cadet, who is now serving with the Scots Guards in Afghanistan, and who happened to be the great grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.”
“Jim looked the young man up and down, nodded thoughtfully before a few profound words followed. ‘If you do as well as him lad, we can all sleep peacefully’, he said.”
And Mr Evans continued: “Jim always expected high standards from the cadets and was not short of a terse word when necessary.”
“He joined them in military exercises in all weathers and the students loved him for doing so. One of them made a special mug for him which is on show in the Armoury and I am glad to say they are going to name a room in the Armoury the Jim Sherritt Room.”
“How lovely for the Mayor to unveil this bench in his honour in a prime place on the Green. How fitting it is Remembrance Sunday too,” adding poignantly: My father was killed in action on a destroyer in the war. I never knew him.”
“So this day has always been very special to me, as it was to Jim and those others who knew him.”
“I think the act of gathering together here on Nov 11, 2012 to honour him is something he would so have loved.”
The bench was made possible by two friends of Jim, Chris Sparkes and his partner Lisa Barlett, who launched an appeal that raised £526 to pay for it.
At Sunday’s unveiling by Marlborough’s mayor, Edwina Fogg, Chris told the gathering: “Following the end of the war Jim worked for the War Graves Commission recovering and burying bodies of those who had fallen.”
“Like many service personnel of his generation, Jim was reluctant to talk about his war years and would never have considered himself a hero. He was just doing something that was expected of him.”
“We all have our individual memories of Jim. On occasions he could be stubborn, self-facing, humorous, ebullient, but always a gentleman and a person of integrity.”
“Hopefully this bench will be a permanent reminder of the well loved and respected person Jim was in the Marlborough community.”
Then the Mayor, following a prayer of dedication by Marlborough’s rector, the Rev Andrew Stoddart-Kennedy, unveiled the bench from behind a huge Union Jack flag and was the first to sit on it alongside Jim’s daughter Kathleen.”
She was there with Jim’s granddaughter and two of his great children, plus Maisie her greyhound.
“We got Maisie when Jim was ill and used to take her in to see him,” explained Kathleen, who was presented with the Union Jack as a memento of the occasion.
“He loved her. So I think it’s appropriate that she’s here today with us.”
And the moving ceremony ended with guests invited to take a tot of Jim’s favourite Irish whisky in tribute to him, the Mayor declaring: I think it will be wonderful, as people pass this spot every day, to think of Jim and what he gave to all of us and his country.”