Sketch by Jack Chalker

Biographical Notes

Staff Sergeant James O’Toole

Biographical Notes

James O’Toole was born on 17 June 1908 at Aldershot, Hants, the son of Joseph and Gertrude O’Toole. Joseph was a publisher at Gale and Poldens, Military Printers and Publishers of The Aldershot News.  James was educated privately at first but then in 1921 he went to the Salesian College in Farnborough.  He enjoyed his time there and matriculated in 1926.  The following year he started a 4 year engineering apprenticeship with Dennis Brothers in Guildford.  He spent 3 years in the fitting shop and 6 months in the motor cycle shop. He left Dennis in 1932 but rejoined them in 1933 to work in the drawing office.  A number of other jobs followed until 1 May 1936 when James enlisted in the Army. He immediately started an intensive 18 months training at the Royal Military College of Science at Woolwich to qualify as an Armament Artificer in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.  On graduation he was stationed at Tidworth.  By this time James had met his future wife, Christine Fitton, and they were married on 5 June 1937.  On 23 October 1938 they sailed for Hong Kong, arriving just over a month later.  James was stationed at Stonecutters Island, and was first put in charge of all armaments and military equipment on the Island.  Later he was 2i/c the Main General Repair Workshop in Queens Road, Hong Kong.  The O’Tooles were not able to enjoy life together in Hong Kong for long; war broke out and Chris, like a number of other wives, was evacuated to Australia in July 1940. 

James was captured on 20 December 1941 shortly after the Japanese invaded Hong Kong.  After his release from imprisonment he was repatriated via Canada, finally getting back to England on 1 November 1945.  He was posted to the HQ REME Workshop, Crawley.  Chris had also come back to Britain by this time, but the years together they deserved were not to be.  Chris was evidently not in good health and went to a mental hospital in Sussex.  She had an operation on 22 January 1947 and James was given compassionate leave to visit her.  Meanwhile he himself had suffered a series of blackouts from April 1946 onwards, and although he was apparently successful with an application for a commission, he was discharged from the Army on 20 May 1947.

Chris’ illness and James own discharge must have been dreadful body blows on top of his time as a POW, and he never seemed to get himself together again.  He notes in a CV that he was “needing a complete change for private reasons” and went into the hotel industry.  He worked in a succession of hotels in Britain before going to Australia in 1950.  He went into an engineering business with his wartime friend, Bill Nichol, but the arrangement did not work out as James did not shape up to expectations.  Subsequently James never really settled; he needed to hang on to others for support, but nevertheless would do anything to help whenever he could.

By the late 70s James’ mental health had started to deteriorate, and he spent some time in a mental institution.  With the help of medication he stabilised sufficiently to be housed in the Returned Serviceman’s Village in Frankston, Victoria.  He eventually moved to a nearby nursing home and stayed there until he died on 21 January 1994.  He is buried in Cheltenham cemetery, Victoria.



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