Alexander, James Okeden
James Okeden Alexander 1918 - 1941
Born June 3, 1918, at Caterham, Surrey, in England, while his father was fighting in the trenches during World War 1, he was the eldest grandchild of Bishop Lennox W. Williams and Annie (Nan) Rhodes. At age 12, Jimmy went to BCS. He ran in five cross-country races, wrote poetry, became a marksman, and in 1935 won the Greenshields Scholarship to McGill University, which he declined because he entered Royal Military College, Kingston. He graduated from RMC in 1939 with first prize in mechanical and electrical engineering and the Harris-Bigelow trophy for best combination of athletic and academic ability.
Jimmy’s summers were spent in Tadoussac at his grandparent’s house, ‘Brynhyfryd’, with his mother, his sister Jean (Aylan-Parker), and cousins Nan (Leggat) and Jack Wallace. Among his many childhood friends were Ted and Evan Price, Billy and Betty (Evans) Morewood and Phoebe (Skutezky) and Ainslie (Stephen) Evans.
In July of 1935, Jimmy and his friend Teddy Price stood on the wharf as the CSL steamship pulled in and a roadster bumped its way up the gangplank onto the dock. In the back were two beautiful young sisters Bar and Mary Hampson aged 16 and 17. Teddy said to Jimmy; “That one’s mine!” and Jimmy replied; “the other one’s for me!” Four years later as World War 2 began, Jimmy married Bar and Teddy married Mary.
When Jimmy graduated from RMC he had decided on a career in the air force. He trained with the RCAF at Camp Borden and Trenton and was awarded his wings and the Sir John Siddeley trophy for highest marks and qualities as a pilot. As the then, small Canadian force had few career opportunities for flying, he chose a career in the Royal Air Force and on graduation from RMC he was granted a regular commission in the RAF. The dark clouds of World War 2 were approaching and the summer of 1938 was the last time the family was all together in Tadoussac. His father, Major General Ronald Alexander, would assume Pacific Command as the war began. His mother, Gertrude, would also move to Victoria B.C. with his brother Ronnie (aged 7). His sister Jean would marry John Aylan-Parker and go overseas to the war in early 1940. Jimmy sailed to England in March, 1940, to join the RAF permanent force; Bar followed soon after and they were married. In May, Jimmy was in France with the Air Advanced Striking Force. As the Nazi forces drove the allies back to the English Channel and France collapsed, the historic evacuation at Dunkirk and other French ports saved the retreating armies and brought them back to England to fight again. Jimmy’s squadron abandoned their aircraft and he found himself on the liner Lancastria being evacuated with over five thousand others. The ship was bombed and quickly sank. Jimmy went overboard, was rescued, but soon dove in again to save a woman’s life and was later awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for Valour.
During 1940 and 1941, Jimmy and Bar moved with his squadron wherever it was based. They were in Suffolk in December 1940 when their son, Michael, was born, and moved to Belfast in 1941, where their house was bombed. As war raged and England was being bombed, they were able to get together with Ted and Mary Price (Bar’s sister) and John and Jean Aylan-Parker (Jimmy’s sister) who were also stationed in England. Michael, Greville (Price) and Ronnie (Aylan-Parker) were all born within months of each other. Jimmy was now flying almost daily raids over enemy territory with RAF Bomber Command Squadron 88. In the summer of 1941, as Flight Lieutenant and with two crew members, he flew the Bristol Blenheim bomber from their base in Norfolk. Their targets were the factories and shipping in Nazi occupied Rotterdam, Holland. Because the Dutch people were friends and allies, they flew in daylight, as low as possible over the factories, so they could bomb accurately and avoid hurting the civilian population. Winston Churchill described it. “The devotion and gallantry of the attack on Rotterdam is beyond all praise. The charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava is eclipsed in brightness by these daily deeds of fame”. On August 28, 1941, Jimmy and his crew were shot down over Rotterdam. He is buried there in Croswijck Municipal Cemetery beside the graves of his two crew. He was 23 years old. Today, 135 graves of young fliers from Commonwealth countries who were killed over Holland, 1940-44, lie there in rows. They were all under the age of 25.
In his memoirs, his father, Ronald, describes Jimmy’s outlook on life as “such a happy one and he hated seeing anybody unhappy. He loved all games, flying, seeing new places, and his fellow men. His God, his faith and his religion meant a great deal to him and were very real. Poetry appealed to him. In one of his letters to me from RMC he wrote: ‘Sometimes I think I’d like to take up poetry seriously, but it is rather a life for men of mind and not men who have physical abilities. But a poet does so much for mankind’”.
While at BCS, seven years before he was killed, Jimmy wrote a poem titled ‘To Friends’. Its last verse is:
Long after friends have left us,
their memory still will last;
The memory of those happy days,
those days that now are past:
And we will not forget them,
until at last we be
With them once more united,
for all eternity.
Jimmy’s short life was full. However, life goes on in his legacy: his wife, Bar (Campbell) who died in September 2008; his son Michael and wife Judy; his two grandchildren, Nan (Doyal) and Jim Alexander and five great-grandchildren, Alexander and Aidan Doyal and Joe, MaryJane and Rosemarie Alexander. They all spend part of their summers in Tadoussac.