He risked his life many times over for his country, but he still doesn’t think he is a hero.
Now a new book about Armley war veteran Cyril James recounts the extraordinary story of an ordinary working man from Leeds – and how he refused to let the ravages of war change his deeply held beliefs and strong work ethic.
Cyril spent much of his working life as a tailor, but he never thought his own life story would sew up such a rich literary tapestry.
The book, Born At The Wrong Time, is a 12-year labour of love for debutante novelist Dave Foxton, who is friends with Cyril’s son. He said his overall aim was to capture a sense of the lives of ordinary people caught up in the war effort, and an attempt to balance their stories with the mountains of military literature dedicated to generals and officers.
The biography is a no-holds barred, unromanticised account of war, dealing realistically with the chaos young men like Cyril found themselves pitched into - and how they lived to tell the tale.
Speaking of finding himself the subject of a biography, Cyril said: “When I saw the book I thought ‘that can’t be me’.
“It’s very good, and every part of it is true. I was reliving everything as I was talking to Dave and I was sick of it in the end! “I don’t think I have achieved that much. I am quite contented.”
Cyril was born in 1918, at the end of the First World War. Growing on up the streets of Burmantofts, he went on to become a young apprentice tailor with Burton’s, where his Jewish workmates had warned him that war was coming.
He was just weeks from qualifying as a Master Tailor in 1939 when he was called up to military duty.
He went on to become a sergeant who led his men through some of the worst fighting on the front line.
Called up to a Scots regiment with only basic training, Cyril survived a shambolic expedition to France after Dunkirk. His division then spent years in training.
As sergeant and instructor, he turned ordinary men into soldiers who could take on the Nazis.
They proved themselves as Cyril led his platoon across Holland and into Germany, through some of the worst fighting of the war.
Mr Foxton said Cyril’s story was one he felt he “needed to capture”.
“Heroism is a term we don’t all use,” he said. “Cyril just wanted to be good at his job, not to be a hero.
“He admits he didn’t want to be there, he hated the army. But he knew he had to be there to do a job, and he was good at it. It was also about looking after himself and his men while reaching his objective.
“He is fabulous, a strong personality.”
Born at the Wrong Time - The Biography of Cyril James is available now from Amazon.