Cyril’s biography published at last !


Born at the wrong time: the biography of Cyril James 

Front Cover

Dave Foxton

War was chaos, mayhem. Yet ordinary people achieved extraordinary things.

“One of the most informative memoirs of working class life that I have read…This book is invaluable for the rich detail of army life as well as the graphic accounts of battle”

“Cyril’s story is an important contribution to understanding the people’s war. Dave Foxton tells it wonderfully well, and everyone with an interest in Britain in the Second World War has cause to be grateful to them both.” Professor Gary Sheffield, Chair of War Studies, University of Birmingham.


E-book version: £3.99 from Kindle store
Paperback: £7.99 plus p&p from or order from all good booksellers £8.99 ISBN: 9781782990291

Cyril James was a young apprentice from the terraced streets of Leeds who would have qualified as a Burton’s master tailor in September 1939. But war came, as his Jewish workmates had warned. Called up into a Scots regiment, he was barely trained before being pitched into the chaos of France in 1940. But family, work and trade union had taught him to think for himself, and do things right. He survived, became a sergeant and instructor, and turned ordinary men into soldiers who could take on the Nazis.

Then, in 1944, he leads his platoon into some of the worst fighting of the war, across Holland and into Germany. Cyril needs all his cunning and skill to keep his men safe and get the job done. In the face of bitter resistance from the enemy and arrogant incompetence from some of their own officers, they press on to final victory.

Dave Foxton weaves Cyril’s sharp memories into a compelling narrative, seasoned with acute observation, frank opinion and a dry Yorkshire humour.

ISBN: 9781782990291 | 328 pp, 26 Illustrations | With Foreword by Professor Gary Sheffield.

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Some new additions to the photos

from the Axarquia, in the mountains above Malaga, Northumberland, and nearer to home.


Plenty more to come, including, when I get round to it, some of our tour of South Africa last year. Amazing people !  Elephants ! Lions !

Cyril and the NHS

When I left the NHS last December I wanted to do some different things. The biggest and most rewarding project to date has been editing, designing and now publishing Born at the wrong time: the biography of Cyril James by Dave Foxton. Cyril was an ordinary young man from Leeds who experienced and achieved extraordinary things in the chaos of World War 2. Now 94, his memories are still sharp and Dave has woven them into a compelling narrative, seasoned with acute observation, frank opinion and a dry Yorkshire humour.

You may think this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.

But in the light of Mid-Staffs and the Francis Report it is a true story of real leadership which has valuable resonances for the NHS.

Cyril blossomed into a front-line infantry sergeant who learned to lead not just his own platoon, but also other NCOs and his officers. His passion to do the job properly, his sense of responsibility for himself and those in his charge, his courage in defying wrong-headed convention and blind hierarchy, and his willingness to trust in his own judgement – are all inspiring.

His story shows how, seventy years ago, the British Army was transformed from a defeated and dysfunctional organisation. Incompetent officers who relied on privilege and patronage were cleared out. A culture of common purpose and service among all ranks was consciously promoted. Good quality training in tested techniques, delivered by front-line practitioners, literally saved lives and won battles.

Lastly, Cyril’s story reminds us of what we take for granted from the NHS.  Pneumonia had nearly killed Cyril as a boy; his own first born son died of meningitis the year before the creation of the NHS. A free National Health Service was one of the most important things Cyril and his comrades were fighting for.

You can order copies of Born at the wrong time in these formats

  • E-book version: £3.99 from Kindle store
  • Paperback: £7.99 plus p&p from or £8.99 to order from all good booksellers (ISBN: 9781782990291).

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I’ve really enjoyed working on this book with Dave and Cyril, and have been really pleased to be able to use my skills to bring Cyril’s story, and Dave’s writing to a wider audience.

I hope you enjoy the final product.