Jim in 1942 aged 18
Jim McHugh came from a large family of nine children, and served along with both of his two brothers during World War Two. His eldest brother was wounded in North Africa, and was forced out of the war as a result of the large amount of shrapnel remaining in his legs. Jim, a minesweeper, and his other brother John, who was in the Royal Engineers, both fought in the Normandy campaign.
The Normandy Campaign
Although both Jim and John were at Normandy, they had separate roles and were not fighting directly alongside each other. Jim was tasked with minesweeping out at sea, while John and the Royal Engineers were working to clear the beaches of mines.
During an informal lunchtime game of football some days later, Jim was informed that his brother had been the casualty of an explosion. The circumstances of John’s death were explained in detail:
John had landed successfully at Sword Beach in the early morning, supporting the Canadians and alongside the Special Forces. He cleared a particular section of beach of mines, and explained that he had not completed the areas beyond this point. However, the driver of John’s lorry, who it seems likely was suffering from shell shock, did not heed this warning and drove through the unsafe section. John was killed by the explosion that occurred when the lorry struck a mine.
Returning to England, Jim boat had just got into harbour on the Sunday following D-Day when he was expected to take his turn as Quartermaster. This involved taking any signals or communications from base to the Skipper. Usually, this was a relatively mundane task, but on this occasion Jim received two telegrams, one with confirmation of the bad news about his brother, and the other one from his eldest brother asking him to come home.
Jim knew that his Mum and Dad would be highly distressed after what had happened to John. He went to see the Skipper but was refused permission on the grounds that there was a travel ban in operation. Jim resolved that he needed to get home to see his parents, even though he had no way of getting back. At this point, a friend lent Jim the money he needed to get back home. He used this to get the train from Lowestoft to Norwich, then to London, and then up north to home. On his journey home from Euston, he only had enough money to get as far as Rugby, so on leaving the train at Manchester, he had to push through the crowd to avoid the scrutiny of over-zealous ticket inspectors.
He went home to see his family, and then had thought he’d go straight back. However, he didn’t return to his unit right away and instead stayed with a local friend who put him up. The police soon heard about what had happened, and went to Jim’s family home. With no money to get back to base, Jim went to the police station and explained what had happened. It was initially decided that an escort would come to take Jim back for free, but it did not turn out this way. He was kept in the cells for a day and a half, before being referred to a local barracks for a further three days before the escort arrived. After the escorts finally arrived, it emerged that they had actually been up north for two days already, but as southerners they were more preoccupied in having a good time in Manchester than getting to Jim promptly!
As well as his role in Normandy, Jim served for a time in Reykjavik, escorting convoys on the Russian run to Canada and America. As a result of his visit home to his family, Jim spent some time under punishment at Chatham Barracks, but volunteered for further involvement elsewhere. He was therefore sent to help clear up in Australia, packing bell tents and stores, before returning home to Chatham Barracks (the main Royal Navy Barracks) on a trooper. Jim was demobbed in September 1947.