Major Jimmy McWilliam

Major Jimmy McWilliam (born Blantyre)

Major Jimmy McWilliam (born Blantyre)

Thanks to Nick Rice who emailed me this brilliant article in January 2015. The article features Jimmy McWilliam, born in Blantyre and great uncle of Nick.

Major Jimmy McWilliam, who died on September 7 aged 93, was wounded three times during the Second World War – in North Africa, France and Belgium – and later was a magistrate in Singapore for more than 20 years.

He suffered a head injury when his tank was hit on the opening night of the second battle of Alamein in October 1943, but led his men to safety on foot, genially telling them to follow his steps until he was blown up. A mention in despatches followed.

At the launch of the Normandy landings on June 6 1944, his tank swam 1,000 yards to reach Gold Beach, where he immediately started putting down covering fire for the infantry following behind. Carrying several footsloggers on the back of the vehicle, he drove up a fishermen’s ramp; then, seeing an enemy gun emplacement doing serious damage to those still landing, he drove over to throw a couple of hand grenades into its trench, persuading the inhabitants to surrender. A French policeman appeared on a bicycle, asking what was happening.

Three weeks later, when the whole regiment was in action together for the only time at Rauray, south-east of Bayeux, McWilliam was wounded by a shell splinter. Returning to the

regiment a month later, he was wounded again on September 10, when the already badly mauled Sherwoods entered the centre of the Belgian village of Gheel, near the Albert Canal.

They realised that the Germans were returning when the flags and bunting were taken down. He had just climbed back into his tank in the square when it received a direct hit from a Panzerfaust anti- tank weapon, killing his driver.

When the only other officer found McWilliam, he was sitting in a doorway, badly burned on one of his hands and legs, joking about his plans for returning to Glasgow.

The son of a farmer and butcher, James Fleming McWilliam was born on January 25 1916 at Blantyre, Lanarkshire. He went to Hamilton College and Glasgow University, then qualified as a Scottish solicitor before joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve. But after being called up, he was found to be colour blind, and transferred to the Army, which posted him to the Middle East with the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry.

When the war ended McWilliam was back with his regiment in Germany, and moved to the legal branch of the military government there; he later served as a member of the prosecution staff of the High Court. On returning home, he was appointed deputy procurator fiscal before joining the colonial legal staff in Singapore in 1950.

After being called to the Scottish Bar he was a magistrate, public prosecutor and district judge, responsible for streamlining court procedure. In 1959 he was asked to chair a tense inquiry into corruption involving a former mayor, who was represented by the future president Lee Kuan Yew. Eventually McWilliam declared that both sides were electioneering and adjourned the hearings indefinitely.

Life in independent Singapore suited McWilliam. He was an enthusiastic participant at Burns Night celebrations, a keen amateur jockey and a member of the Turf Club.

On retiring he found that he could not sell his house, and after six months in Britain returned to join a private law firm for a year before finally selling up and settling at Weybridge, Surrey, where he enjoyed going up to the Oriental Club in London and joining parties to Normandy. A chance to meet Lee Kuan Yew in London was declined.

Jimmy McWilliam’s first marriage, to Olive Wright, ended in divorce after the war ended. He then married Dorothy Turner, a nurse in Singapore, and, after her death, Dorothy Miles, who survives him with a daughter of his first marriage.

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