James – or “Jimmy”, as he was always known in the family – was born on 24 January 1920. He was the second son born to Charles and Phyllis Banister, with Peter being his eldest brother. The third and youngest son of the family – Robert Banister – presently lives in Kent and has been kind enough to provide information on his two brothers.
Jimmy followed Peter firstly to West Downs Preparatory School and then followed his father to Winchester College. He started writing and drawing at an early age. All of his writing was complemented by sketches, which provided the material for later watercolours. He was a great countryman who loved the New Forest in all its facets. He walked and rode all over it recording dogs, horses, trees and views both for future use and to perfect his art. He went up to Cambridge in 1938 and developed into a polymath expressing himself as a writer, poet and painter – particularly of the forest scenes. As well as being intellectually able he was a keen games player, possessed a great sense of humour and had a wide circle of friends. He lived his life by rigorous standards and his approach was that if there was a job to be done,
“lets get on and get it done”.
In wartime Britain this attitude had imbued the entire Banister family. His mother was the head of the WVS in Brockenhurst from 1942-45 and his elder brother Peter was already a career naval officer – a career that younger brother Robert was to follow in 1943.
Jimmy, therefore, naturally volunteered to join the Army in November 1939 and was called up as a recruit to Canterbury Depot on 15 February 1940. He was commissioned into the Cheshire Regiment and served as a Platoon Commander in 194 1/2 during the Siege of Malta.
The following poem, written at a difficult time in the Malta Siege, evokes both humour and reality.
LINES BY A STAFF OFFICER
WHO SEES NO FUTURE IN IT
1. Oh to be in Malta,
Now that April’s here
And the drowsy hum of Junkers
Falls gently on the ear
The Spring is in the air, boys
And a big plot coming in,
And we’re running short of whisky,
And we’re running short of gin.
2. I feel I’ve got a touch of “Dog”,
They’re getting too b- near:
I think I’ll just lie down,
But forty plus is coming in,
And heading for the town:
So we’ll have to go below again,
And we’re running short of ack-ack,
And we’re running short of beer.
3. In rare moments of elation,
When I think they’ve made for home,
And I dream of all the bomb loads
That will shortly fall on Rome,
There’s always that awakening
That shakes me all to bits,
As we’re running short of Hurries,
And we’re running short of Spits.
4. So there’s very little left to bomb,
So they’ll surely go away:
But there’s nothing like vanity
To keep the ball in play:
So they have a crack at Hospitals,
And bomb the Gozo boats:
And we’re running short of women,
And we’re running short of goats.
5. And were running short of everything
They’ve even rationed bread:
Pray God will help all future chaps
Who are sent to “HQ Med”:
We’ve worn out all the Bofors guns
And every three point seven –
And the most we get for an epitaph
Is: “Posted to HQ Heaven.”
J. F. Banister, April 1942, Valletta.
In October 1942, having volunteered for the RAFVR, he transferred as a Pilot Officer and was sent to Moosejaw in Canada for flying training.
March 1944 saw Jimmy starting the final stages of his flying training as a fighter pilot with No. 7 (P) Advanced Flying Unit, before conversion to either Hurricanes or Spitfires. At this stage of the war the Germans had tasked a night flying unit 11/KG51, equipped with Messerschmitt 410s, to chase returning bombers and shoot them down as they landed at their bases in East Anglia. On 21 April Jimmy took off from RAF WALTON, flying an unarmed Miles Master on a night navigation exercise, during which he was shot down by one of these intruders and killed instantly.
In his final weeks he was fulfilled by the joy of flying.
Three days before he died he wrote his final poem “If I should Go” in the village of Wansford, near Peterborough, where an Elizabethan bridge crosses the River Nene, during what was an exceptionally warm and beneficent April. It reflects not only his talent but also his love of nature and what England meant to him. It is given below.
His younger brother Robert visited the village in November 1999 and reports it as little changed.
After a service in St Nicholas Church Jimmy Banister was buried with full military honours in Brockenhurst Churchyard.
The inscription for Jimmy, taken from Psalm 139, reads:
“If I shall climb up into Heaven thou art there. If I say peradventure the darkness shall cover me then shall my night be turned into day”
The above material was taken from the Brockenhurst Royal British Legion’s Millenium Memorial Book, copyright Royal British Legion 2000, 2001.
If I should Go
You cool grass of England will you remember me?
You April sky bluely through greening elm tops seen –
Will you think again of me great cedar tree
Whose quiet strength all afternoon has been
A shield about me, towering as a Church, and strong
Of root and husk, the reverend guardian of the lawn,
Will you remember me when I am gone?
And you, questing rivulet through gentle reed beds, bare
Beside you all this afternoon I’ve lain, and still
Caressed by cool grass fingers lie, and love the lullaby
Of the waters’ murmuration by the mill:
Half asleep, and lulled there beautifully by
Rooks love talk, now harshly urgent, then
Gentle and beautiful, eloquent of spring.
Next year their nests will ride the elms again
And they’ll be here, but not remembering.
Oh England, England, England you are mine
Locked in my heart, loved dearly
And all this day till stars shine I’ll lie with you, naked on grass, so nearly
Part of you; quiet gray roofs stand guard
Oh larks, sing on and river – who will sing when I have gone;
Sun shine near us daffodilled and daisy-starred
Among the grass; rooks speak your murmurous benison.
Oh England, England in the spring, I love
Your quiet elms, your daffodils,
Your spreading valleys, gentle skies above,
Quiet villages, the way your laughter fills
With lark song, rook and water talk,
And chiming of bells, murmur of bees,
And oh! Lingering May after May to walk
Among snow-blossomed cherry trees
To see the sunlight playing on ripples there,
And little fish jumping from quiet browness,
And ducks happy among the mud; oh eye and ear
And memory are filled loving your loveliness!
Oh England you are in my heart and body – be it so –
You reared me, taught me how to love and to be free.
Oh faithless, heartless England, should I be called to go –
England beloved, beautiful, will you remember me?
James Banister, 18.4.44 – Wansford, near Peterborough.
The above poem, written at Wansford by Jimmy Banister three days before his death, is Copyright Robert Banister.