James Marshall Ballantyne was born on the Rochsoles Estate in Glenmavis near Airdrie, Scotland, and moved to Clydebank in 1934 when his father was appointed as Head Gardener at the Singer factory.
The Second World War significantly disrupted his secondary education and he started work at the age of 14 with the Forestry Commission as a lumberjack. “I really enjoyed this work except for the winters. Even as a child I hated cold weather. I spent two of the most miserable winters of my life on the banks above Loch Lomond!”
In 1942 the logging ran out and he was sent back to Clydebank to stay with his father. His father also served in the Home Guard as a platoon commander and was awarded the George Medal for tackling a serious fire at the Singer factory caused by incendiary and high explosive bombs in 1941.
Jim became an apprentice machine tool fitter in the factory and joined the Air Training Corps as he was hoping to become a member of the RAF’s aircrew. Unfortunately this was not possible due to partial colour blindness, and he was eventually called up into the Army.
He completed his primary infantry training with the Seaforth Highlanders at Fort George in Inverness between January and April 1946. This was followed by wireless operator training with the Royal Signals at Catterick.
On completion of his training he volunteered for airborne forces and was sent to the Royal Signals Airborne Holding Depot at Thirsk in Yorkshire for a few weeks. During this time he was granted compassionate leave to marry his fiancée, Nancy, and was then sent to The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Depot in Aldershot for selection and training.
“To my surprise 50% of the volunteers were rejected by the psychiatrist in the first two days, the word was that you had to be mad to join the Paras! We were in P Company on acceptance for about 10 weeks and I can honestly tell you it was the most arduous period of my life. I didn’t know I had so many muscles in my body. I passed out from there but there were quite a few who did not."
After passing out from the depot he transferred to No 1 Parachute Training School, then based at RAF Upper Heyford, for parachute course 203, which ran from 18 November to 13 December 1946.
“The discipline relaxed there and the food was to hotel standard, with as much as you wanted. It was nearing Christmas and the weather was not conducive to jumping. However we managed by cramming in 3 jumps in 24 hours one of which was a night jump - very exhausting. During the next week we had a big parade and were presented with our wings. It was the proudest moment of my life.
From there we went back to the Royal Signals Holding Depot at Thirsk to await embarkation orders. We got embarkation leave and I was home for Christmas and New Year. Little did I know then it would be two years before I would see my Nancy again. On return to the holding depot we were told we were posted to Palestine via the Medlock Route. We went via Dover to Calais then to Hyères (near Marseilles) in the south of France to await our troopship. The trip was lovely except for when we went through the Straits of Messina where there was a dreadful storm for two days with the inevitable results.
We arrived in Port Said with wobbly legs after a week and then spent two weeks in a transit camp at a place called Almaza outside Cairo. From there we went by train to Haifa to join the 6th Airborne Division Signal Regiment. After that it was long hours and bloody awful food. I went there at 10 stone 7lbs and came back two years later weighing 8 stone.
I won’t go into our duties because that it is well documented. At that time Paras were paid more than other regular soldiers and I can tell you that we damned well earned it! When the British mandate ended things were a bit of a shambles for a few weeks as the British military presence moved out. The Paras and Royal Marines carried out the rear guard action. I remember watching from the troop ship in Haifa Bay as they were blowing up warehouses on the dock side. We all cheered!
On arrival in the UK we were sent to a camp at Upper Heyford where we were given disembarkation leave and eventually demobbed. I was given demob leave but started work before it ended. I liked the Army life and had I not been married might have signed on. As it was, it took me a long time to re-adjust.”
Jim went to night school to do Technical Engineering Studies and eventually went to work in Brunei as a lecturer at the Jefri Bolkiah Engineering College, retiring to Australia in 1991.
Sadly his wife Nancy died of an embolism in 1958, following pioneering heart surgery two years earlier. Jim later married again, to Leni who predeceased him in 1994.
Jim Ballantyne died in Cairns, Australia, in 2007 aged 80 years.
Compiled from a letter written by Jim Ballantyne to his niece Sandra Mead.Read More