Battle of Monte Cassino veteran who 'always had a smile on his face' dies aged 97
- Credit: Taxi Charity for Military Veterans
An Upminster veteran of the Battle of Monte Cassino who “always had a smile on his face” has died aged 97.
Jim Knox, who was born in West Ham in 1924, died at Queen’s Hospital in Romford on December 29 after coming down with fragility pneumonia three weeks after a fall.
He moved from Canada to Upminster in 1956 with his only daughter Jan Richards, 73, and her mother Joyce Knox, who died 29 years ago in 1992.
She said the "terrible practical joker" will be best remembered for being “very happy, optimistic and a friend to everybody”.
"He was simply my dad and my hero and will be sadly missed," she said.
Jan, who now lives in Buckinghamshire, said her father had a “very loving childhood” in a “very poor family”.
His mother would work two or three jobs to put food on the table, and Jim left school at 14 to do various jobs such as working in a drawing office.
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It was here that he realised a talent for drawing, but at just 16 years old he convinced an army recruiter he was 18 and enlisted in the armed forces.
The World War Two veteran spent a lot of time at war, where he was in the parachute regiment.
Jan said her dad started his army career in Paris, before going to north Africa and then Sicily, where he was in the Battle of Monte Cassino.
He then went to France, where he was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French Republic for his contribution to the liberation of the south of France.
Later he went to Greece and the Middle East.
When he returned from war, he got a job with the drawing company and they trained him to be a structural engineer, a job Jan said he “loved”.
Reflecting on his career in the army, Jan said she is "incredibly proud of him” although he "didn’t like to talk about war too much”.
Back in 2014, Jim shared his memories of the Monte Cassino with this newspaper and said it was “like walking into hell”.
In contrast, his life in Upminster after the war was well enjoyed and Jan said he had “quite a good time”.
He joined the Freemasons in the mid-60s and reached the rank of London grand before his lodge was disbanded.
Jim participated in many groups including the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans – which is run by volunteer black taxi drivers who support veterans.
London cab driver Brian Heffernan said: “Jim was a lovely man who always had a smile on his face.
“He was one of the first veterans that I got to know when I began volunteering for the Taxi Charity and we shared a cabin on my initial trip to Holland.”
The charity’s chairman, Ian Parsons, said the group will greatly miss Jim and is “shocked and saddened” by his death.
He added: “He was 97 but he always remained young at heart.
“In July, we organised a go-kart race day for younger veterans - or so we thought.
“Jim surprised everyone after climbing into a kart and speeding around the track - and in doing so became the oldest person to compete at Capital Karts' 1,000-metre circuit.”
During his spare time Jim was a member at the Upminster Golf Club and had a great fondness of 1940s/50s ballad songs.
If he were ever asked what his last meal would be, Jim would go for roast lamb without a doubt, Jan joked.
Although times have changed dramatically, Jan said Jim never complained about times being better in the past.
She added: “He would often say things that often couldn’t be repeated as he had a wicked sense of humour.”
Jim is survived by his daughter Jan, son-in-law Colin Richards, two granddaughters, three great-granddaughters, one great-grandson and one great-great-grandchild.
His funeral, which is open to the public, will be held on January 24 at 12.40pm at the Upminster Crematorium.
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