AS HE approaches his 100th birthday, a local care-home resident has shared stories of his war-time experiences, and that of a long and happy married life. Jim Rountree states that he ‘had no choice in the matter’, when asked how he felt about turning a 100. Beechvale Nursing home in Killinchy, where Jim has been a resident for over a year, will be holding celebrations for his 100th birthday this weekend.
Unable to join the army as a young man due to a heart complaint, the east Belfast native was frustrated that he would be unable to join his two cousins in the fight. He then volunteered with the Civil Defence, while also in the employ of the Johnson Brothers, a distributing agent. Jim was greatly praised for his courage and quick thinking when he was put in charge of an undetonated bomb in the Castlereagh area, saving half a dozen households. “Most of us tried to join up, I tried to join up, but I was turned down for a heart complaint, which seems a bit strange when I am still here. [I did] voluntary work with the Civil Defence for five years, so I had quite a bit of excitement with them,” said Jim. “I was in the centre of Belfast for the big Blitz atop of the Assembly Buildings. I was put in charge of an unexploded bomb in Castlereagh, I managed to evacuate a half dozen houses between where it came in, and where I thought the explosion would damage. “I had been sent up to check on what had been reported as an incendiary. I saw the way it had come down in under the house next door, it was an unexploded bomb. I had to talk the people into getting out, I wasn’t too comfortable about that, I managed to talk enough of them out. “It went off at 5.30 the following day, just lifted the two houses up and set them down again,” Jim recalled.
With the end of the war, Jim remained with the Johnson brothers for a total of 40 years, having joined the group in 1944. He said Northern Ireland was quick to bounce back in the post-war years. “I am sorry for the younger people coming along, I think they are going to have a very hard life. Things are not looking good. We were reasonably prosperous, once the war was over, Northern Ireland came back to normal very quickly. “Being a small country, a small population, there was very little difference between little and plenty. A few deliveries made all the difference, back selling stuff again,” noted Jim.
Before being employed with the distributor, Jim worked in the drapery industry. There, he met his wife, Joan, who was a junior typist. Of his marriage, Jim said: “I had a very happy life really. A wonderful wife, which I lost eight years ago, Alzheimer’s a horrible thing there is not much you can do about it. Half your life just goes like that, because we did everything together. “She was a very beautiful girl and she was marvellous company. She supported me in everything I did and I supported her in everything she did, she was very well up in the Mothers’ Union [a Church of Ireland organisation]. We worked very well together,” said Jim.
Marrying in 1948, the couple had three children, Paul, Caroline and Karen. Jim opens up about the tragic loss of his son, Paul, when he was in his 50s. “[We had] three children, my son died in his 50s, at the peak of his career he was talking at a business meeting in Leeds, he had a brain haemorrhage. “I have two great daughters, one of them is in Wales and one of them is away over in Norfolk, but we keep in complete touch with each other,” said Jim.
Working with them for 40 years, Jim loved his time with the Johnson Brothers, building a relationship with his bosses and fellow employees. “I was 40 years at the Johnston brothers. I was on the road as a commercial traveller as we were in those days. We started on the ground floor and worked our way up, I finished up as a senior representative,” said Jim. “We were a very happy firm, the directors are all the one family, we just became friends. I was in a job I had enjoyed, I was meeting people and travelling the country, suited me fine. “I wouldn’t take on myself to advise anyone. Everybody has their own life to live, it is either going to be tough or it is going to be easy. “Depends on what happens, whether they get a position they enjoy working in. You need to enjoy your work, or else you will get very little satisfaction,” Jim added.
The celebrations at the care home are raring to go on January 30, with another family celebration taking place on February 1st.