Farewell to Sheffield World War II veteran Jimmy

Jimmy and Renee Swift, on their wedding day in Sheffield on June 27, 1942.

Jimmy and Renee Swift, on their wedding day in Sheffield on June 27, 1942.

Tributes have been paid to a man who travelled the globe serving his country in World War II, ran one of Sheffield’s best-loved DIY shops for almost 30 years and was Father Christmas to hundreds of children.

Family and friends are tomorrow due to say their final farewells to former Hobbycraft owner James Swift this afternoon following his death at the age of 93.

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.

Jimmy died from heart failure at home on April 16. His funeral is due to take place tomorrow at St John’s Church, Owlerton, from 1.30pm, the same place he got married on June 27, 1942, while on leave during his war service.

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.

Lynne said: “All their friends and family pooled all their ration books to help pay for it. They had about two days honeymoon and then he was back to Iceland.”

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 the time, meaning he did not see his wife until his return to England after the war ended.

Lynne said: “He 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.

And 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.

Lynne said: “He loved his shop and his customers and he could sell anything. He was the ultimate salesman.”

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.

Lynne said: “He just loved being Father Christmas. He adored it and was so good at it.”

He celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary with Renee in 2002, with his wife dying in June 2005.

Lynne said following the death of her mother, her father began opening up about his wartime memories and starting writing his memoirs.

Jimmy leaves one daughter, two grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and four great grandchildren, with another great grandchild due in September.




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