James Albert Champkins, better known as Jim, was born in Nottingham on 8th October 1903. On the 1911 census (aged 7) he was living in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. His father was a baker and when he retired he passed the family business down to Jim. In 1925 Jim married Florence Widdison in Nottingham.
In all probability they would have lived off the land and perhaps received shelter from local Italians. From a letter Jim sent to Bill's wife in November 1944 he intriguingly says "if I should get home first I will tell you all about ourselves and what we did and where we went and how near we were to getting home. We never left one another an inch until that day but I cannot tell you in this letter or you may never get it."
Sadly, as I wrote about in my Week 53 blog, they were recaptured on 16th January 1944 and ten days later were being taken to Germany on a train with hundreds of other POWs when the train was bombed by the Americans while stationary on a bridge over a river in Northern Italy. We know that Bill was in a central carriage which was completely destroyed by the bombing and I had initially presumed Jim must have been in an end carriage as he survived. However, a Report was made about the 'incident' by Private Cyril Morris, who knew Bill from their time in Camp, who said Jim Champkins was thought to have been travelling with him at the time :
"Received your letter dated 20th August 1944 and glad to hear that you and family were all well. Am pleased to say I am but I do miss my old Pal so much. He was more than a Brother to me. You will let me know if you receive any news of him at all won’t you. Just the same I will write straight to you now.
We must get together after this is all over. You and your family will be very welcome at our home in Nottingham. I know all your children. We have looked over one another's photo’s many many times. I remember the one of Nancy and her young man (she married Peter Menzies in 1945). When it came Bill did not know if he wanted to laugh or cry, and he was very proud of the one of the three girls together. We have one lad in the Navy too. He is around Italy as far as we know. Pleased to say he is making the best of it.
Please give my love to all the children for I seem to know you all as well as that. Please write whenever you can.
Your friend, Jim."
It is difficult to imagine the friendships which must have evolved between complete strangers in the prisoner of war camps where their very lives possibly depended on each other. From the single surviving letter, and the few words it contained, I feel there must have been a deep friendship between them which only those who have gone through similar experiences could even imagine.