One of Keswick’s last remaining second world war veterans, who was on active service as a teenage soldier in Germany on VE Day, has died aged 94.
Jim Newstead, who lived at Greta Gardens, was president of the local branch of the Royal British Legion right up to his death last Friday exactly a week before the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
His daughter Rosemary described him as “a special dad, grandad and brother who had a heart of gold”, while Keswick RBL members and friends paid tribute, announcing: “It is with great sadness that with have lost our most senior member. Our thoughts and support go to his family at this difficult time.”
Jim, who’d had a boat on Derwentwater at Nichol End Marine for 50 years, was also familiar to many people in the town as every year he collected donations at Booths supermarket for the annual poppy appeal. He was just 13 when the 1939-45 war broke out but had become a sergeant in the Welch Regiment by the time it concluded, having seen action right across Northern Europe.
Just a few days before he died from a non-coronavirus related condition, Jim, who had been in good health, had spoken to the Keswick Reminder about his recollections of VE Day. He said: “I was driving a 1500 Bedford van loaded with high-explosive mortar bombs right through Germany. We entered Hamburg on 4th May and were told that on 8th May, the whole of the German forces would surrender. We waited in full battle order until then. There was no great rejoicing as it didn’t seem real to us.”
During the interview, Jim had been in good spirits, praising staff at Keswick Co-op for delivering to his home during the current coronavirus lockdown, his final words being: “I am a happy bunny.”
Keswick RBL’s chairman and fellow army veteran Ryan Swindale, 49, paid tribute to his comrade saying: “It is very, very sad news. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. At 94, he had a good innings but it is a sad loss to the community.
“I spoke to him on his birthday (24th April) and we were having a bit of a laugh, talking about our service days. Jim just seemed to bring so much energy to the poppy appeal. It will be quite difficult this year without him. It is going to be quite sad.
“I was always drawn in by his enthusiasm and cheerfulness. He was inspirational and had that never-give-up attitude. He had energy in abundance and he was a unique gentleman, very kind-hearted.”
Norfolk-born Jim, a father-of-five, had moved to Carlisle after the war. He moved to Keswick 18 years ago, also living at Castlehead Close. He is to be cremated at Carlisle and a celebration of his life will be held at St John’s Church in Keswick at a later date after coronavirus lockdown restrictions have been lifted. He leaves five children and grandchildren as well as his twin brother Ted, who also served in the army during the second world war.
Jim was taken ill before the Keswick Reminder could publish his final interview – but here is the article in full as our tribute to him.
Teenage soldier Jim recalls VE Day behind enemy lines
The president of Keswick’s Royal British Legion doesn’t need a history lesson to understand exactly what it was like 75 years ago on VE Day.
Jim Newstead, who lives in the town, was a teenager on active service in Germany with the British Army when Hitler’s forces surrendered on May 8 1945 to signal the end of the second world war.
“There was no great rejoicing as it didn’t seem real to us,” said Jim, now aged 94 and looking forward to the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday May 8, which will be a bank holiday.
“Sometimes it is a dream but I do remember quite a lot of it. At 18, I went through Belgium and Holland then back to the Ardennes at Christmas 1944 to help out the 84th American infantry division.
“I was driving a 1500 Bedford van loaded with high-explosive mortar bombs right through Germany. On May 1 1945, we waited at Hamburg on the opposite side of the Elbe, not knowing what the outcome would be. Would Hamburg surrender or not? At 7am on 3rd May, we were informed that Hamburg had surrendered, thus saving so many lives.
“We entered Hamburg on 4th May and were told that on 8th May, the whole of the German forces would surrender. We waited in full battle order until then. I spent a further three years in Germany (until 1948) and then home,” he recalled.
Sgt Jim Newstead – 14755749 – of the Welch Regiment, is of proud military stock. His twin brother Ted was also in the army and their father had fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, winning a military medal for bravery.
He has been president of the RBL’s Keswick branch for 10 years, moving to the town 18 years ago after having retired. Born in Norfolk, he became a policeman in London after the war but soon relocated to the fresh air of Cumbria as the oldest of his five children – now aged 67 – suffered from asthma and needed to escape the capital’s smog.
Jim settled in Carlisle and went on to become a great-grandfather, having had a boat on Derwentwater at Nichol End Marine for 50 years and living in Keswick at Castlehead Close and Greta Gardens. Along with fellow local WWII veterans, he had been invited as a guest of honour to the town council’s 75th anniversary VE75 street party in Market Square on May 8 to mark the milestone – until coronavirus struck.
Now wheelchair-bound, he said: “It is very disappointing. The British Legion were going to do quite a big thing, with stalls and stands. They do a marvellous job every year, selling poppies, which I still do at Booths.
“In August we are going to have a VJ (Victory in Japan) Day, with something or other in Fitz Park, so we will do something anyway, but it is disappointing as there was going to be a big tea party for VE Day with kids running up and down. That is not on of course.
“I don’t go out at all at the moment. At 94, you are asking for trouble but the Co-op in Keswick have been absolutely wonderful.
They deliver the next morning and I even got a birthday card from them. They are absolutely fabulous. I am well looked after and I get phone calls. I am a happy bunny.”