The family of a Sheffield man who travelled the globe serving his country in World War II are seeking help to write up the memoirs of his extraordinary life.
James Swift, who also ran one of Sheffield’s best-loved DIY shops for three decades and was Father Christmas to hundreds of children, died in 2014 at the age of 93 – leaving behind a set of handwritten notes in a briefcase about his life.
Now his daughter, Lynne Shaw, from Oughtibridge, is appealing for some expert help in turning the treasure trove of photographs, diaries and memoirs, which are all currently stored in a leather briefcase, into a publishable format.
Mr Swift, known to friends and family as Jimmy, owned Hobbycraft DIY store in Crookes for 27 years with wife Renee after the couple took on the business in the early 1960s.
The entrepreneur was a Morse code expert who served in the RAF Signals in both Iceland and India during the Second World War after volunteering to join the military as a teenager following the Sheffield Blitz.
He was a keen cricketer and in later life played Father Christmas every year at the Corner House Nursery in Hillsborough run by his granddaughter Fay Wagstaff.
Lynne said she hopes there may be someone out there with the knowledge and time to pull together the story of her father’s life.
She said: “Dad had written about his life including many stories of his time spent in Iceland and India during the war.
“Time has passed and I didn’t get round to doing anything about it, but this year I have been diagnosed with cancer and it has brought home to me that life is short and it is my task not to let his memories be lost, if only for his great-grandchildren who never got to know what a wonderful man he was.
“His manuscript is all in longhand at present, although some of it has been typed up by my cousin. We have original diaries from the war years and many photos.”
Lynne added: “He took all the time to write it and I feel I should take the time to do something about it. But I don’t know quite what to do.
“He was in India during the war and he started a diary about his experiences. But when he came home he stopped writing it.
“They got put away and he forgot about them. We all knew they were there in the bottom of the wardrobe.
“He had been together with my mother for well over 60 years and after she died in 2005, he had got time on his hands.
“We suggested ‘Why don’t you write a definitive account of what happened in Iceland and India and in the war?’.
“He wrote it all out in longhand and then started writing about growing up in Hillsborough.
“There are chapters of his life all in longhand. My cousin took some of it to type up so there are some of the notes typed up.
“There is an old leather briefcase filled with all sorts of things – the typed-up notes, photographs and the diaries.
“The information is there but I don’t quite know how to translate it.
“When it is put in the right order, it is the story of his life.
“He writes very well for a young man who left school at 14 and never really had much of an education at the time.
“But he found a talent for it and he was a real storyteller.
“It is an interesting story and it is part of history.”
Jimmy’s first job was as a sales assistant at Hope Bros gents outfitters on Fargate between 1934 and 1939, where he was working during the Sheffield Blitz.
The shop was damaged by fire in the attacks which resulted in Jimmy volunteering to join the RAF aged 19.
He learnt Morse code and how to be a wireless operator and his first overseas posting was in January 1942, when he was sent to RAF Coastal Command at Artunshoft, a remote outpost near Reykjavik in Iceland.
The job involved receiving and transmitting messages from aircraft to military personnel in England about the movement of U-boats.
On a brief period of leave, he married Renee Foster in Sheffield before having to return to Iceland for a further nine months.
His aptitude for Morse code resulted in him being made a training instructor at English RAF stations, before his next overseas posting took him to Baluchistan, India.
Jimmy was there between 1944 and 1946 and was not allowed any home leave during that time, meaning he did not see his wife until his return to England after the war ended.
Lynne said her father used to joke ‘they sent him to Iceland and froze him and sent him to India to thaw him out!’
Jimmy, a keen cricketer and golfer, started his first business, Hillbridge Wholesale Company, from warehouse premises in Abbeydale in the mid-1950s. In 1961 he opened Hobbycraft in Crookes. After running the shop with Renee for 27 years, he retired at the age of 67 but continued to help out the new owners of the shop until he was about 75.
He also took on the role of Father Christmas each year at Corner House Nursery in Wadsley Lane, handing out gifts to hundreds of children from 1993 to 2010.
n Anyone who may be able to help Lynne can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org