Having survived his injuries, William was left with terrible scars to his lower face. Despite receiving groundbreaking treatment, plastic surgery was in its infancy and mistakes were made. Having had his upper lip accidentally replaced the wrong way round, a family legend tells how he had whiskers growing inside his mouth.
In 1922, he was awarded a Royal Humane Society certificate for saving the life of a drowning girl. Her grateful parents, a Mr & Mrs Croot from Croxton, sent a pound 'to be presented to Mr James'. In 1925 he entered public life, being elected to a seat on Godmanchester Town Council. Within nine years he was mayor of the town and described as being 'a man of upright character'. His wife of four years, Hilda May, was to be his Mayoress.
Mayor James was to associate himself with many good causes, including the Mayor's Christmas Fund which was established to provide groceries for the needy over Christmas. Click on the image to enlarge it and find out more - including how much they raised!
1935 saw the Silver Jubilee of the reign of King George V and festivities were planned in Godmanchester to mark the event, many of them involving the Mayor. This document is an invitation to Mayor James to attend St James's Palace for an audience with the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) in order to plan the celebrations. With the Royal Family about to enter its most turbulent period in modern times, it was the first of many such duties to be carried out.
November 1936 saw the Mayor unanimously elected for a second term. He was thanked for his part in the Jubilee celebrations and regretted that he could not write personally to all who had helped; 'I did think of sending a letter to every helper, but when I began to count I got frightened of the number of letters I should have to write.' This year also saw him elected Alderman and the culmination of a scheme to 'restore the head of water' to Godmanchester, a scheme which brought much relief to the inhabitants.
1936 saw the death of King George V and the succession of his son, Edward VIII. To mark the event, Alderman James resurrected an old Godmanchester tradition of proclaiming the new King from horseback on school hill.
Telegrams were received from the new King to express appreciation for the 'loyal assurances and good wishes of yourself and the inhabitants of Godmanchester'. The Queen herself wished to express 'her sincere thanks for your kind expression of sympathy in her irreparable loss.'
The year also brought a reunion of the Grenadier Guards with whom Alderman James had been proud to serve in the Great War, the 103rd birthday of Godmanchester's oldest inhabitant, Mrs Emma Roberts and the fiftieth wedding anniversary of the Mayor's parents.
If 1936 had proved a momentous year so far, later events were to prove even more tumultuous. Having found himself central to celebrations proclaiming the new king, Alderman James now found himself holding public office during the abdication of Edward VIII and the subsequent coronation of King George VI in 1937. As he was elected for a third term, it was noted that his 'three years in office were unique in the fact that the period covered the death of a sovereign, the coronation of a sovereign, the proclamation of a sovereign and the silver jubilee of a sovereign.
The coronation was marked with more festivities and Alderman James presented medals to the children of Godmanchester.
1937 brought personal sadness with the death of Alderman James' father, William, aged 76 years. An article in the local paper described the scene; 'The Mayor spent hours in the sick room, and for many nights sat up in attendance. Alderman James' father was Freeman of the Borough and one of that fast receding body of men who, born and bred in the countryside, love nothing better than to be out and about in the fields.'
Later years brought further service, acting as a Captain in the Home Guard during the Second World War. Having served three terms as Mayor of Godmanchester, William Alfred James was elected Justice of the Peace, retiring in 1946 'to make room for a younger man'. He was highly regarded throughout his tenure in office, and spoken highly of by commoners and aristocracy alike.
In later life, William James liked nothing better than fishing (see postcard, below) or frequenting the Comrades Club (of which he was a founder) in Godmanchester. Having bought a plot of land known locally as The Island, he built a hut and retired there alone, following an estrangement from his wife, Hilda. He died in August 1966 aged 74 and was found on The Island by his son, my father William, to whom these few pages are dedicated.
'I feel that I am part and parcel of Godmanchester. I was born here and lived here for the greater part of my life. I say nothing of my war service, except that, with many others from this Borough, I did my little bit. I was fortunate, however, that unlike some of my old comrades from Godmanchester, I was able to come back. It is because I have fought and suffered for my country that I feel a personal pride in the town of my birth, and am willing to give it whatever personal service I can offer.'
William Alfred James, Mayor's Day, 9th November, 1934.
'If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.'
For William John Nicholas James, 1934-2006.