December 19 2013 Latest news:
Matt Stott and Ross Crapnell
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
He survived five plane crashes and witnessed the horrors of war while proudly serving his country.
And today Second World War veteran Jim Stafford celebrates his platinum wedding anniversary with his doting wife Betty – the girl he met in church all those years ago.
“She must be fed up with me by now!” Jim joked, taking hold of Betty’s hands as they happily posed for pictures at their Felixstowe care home, overlooking the seafront.
It was on her left hand on which he placed a wedding ring 70 years ago today.
Jim, who was born in 1916, moved from the Wirral in Liverpool to Welling, Kent, to find work as an accounts clerk as a young man.
Religion has played a prominent role in his life. He served as a Methodist local preacher until he was 90 years old.
And so it was only natural for him to visit the local church, Welling Gospel Chapel.
“That was when we saw each other for the first time properly, and I guess we both quite liked what we saw,” Betty sheepishly recalled, prompting giggles, filling their airy room at Westcliff Residential Care Home.
That chance meeting in Betty’s home town took place in 1942. Jim had signed up to the RAF two years prior to that as a warrant officer, chiefly operating as a navigator.
In describing his war experience the 96-year-old revealed he miraculously survived four plane crashes – as well as another one shortly before leaving the air force in 1946.
“Not many people can say they’ve done that in their lives,” he smiled.
A hydraulic fault caused one crash while another three were the result of the wheels failing to deploy. Yet on each occasion, from the Middle East to South Africa, Jim and his crew all survived.
The fifth one he remembers vividly.
“We were in Cumberland and were told to fly to Omagh in Northern Ireland and back again (as part of a training exercise),” he said.
“But when we came back they told us to go back the other way around.
“We were just coming home when we ran out of petrol and had to crash land in the Lake District.”
Again, they all survived in another Houdini-like escape.
But nothing was lucky about Jim and Betty’s whirlwind war romance.
“We wrote to each other a lot, twice a week sometimes,” Jim said.
He persuaded his seniors to allow him a two-week leave in 1943. They were married in the same church, Jim attired in his RAF uniform.
They honeymooned in Rothesay, Scotland.
“It was welcome relief, those two weeks,” the couple reflected.
It would be another two years before they would reunite following the Allies’ victory over Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
“Love got us through,” Betty said. “Just so much relief,” Jim added.
Indeed, since 1945 Jim and Betty have seldom been apart from one another.
They moved to Felixstowe in 1948. Jim, a keen Ipswich Town fan, became a teacher and taught in Felixstowe and Ipswich for 32 years.
Betty, born in 1918, worked for Favor Parker and Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company before supporting Jim’s preaching assignments across Suffolk as a piano soloist.
They have a son, Malcolm, and a daughter Veronica, as well as six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.