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Many pay respects to a true Norfolk hero

PUBLISHED: 10:22 14 February 2015 | UPDATED: 09:00 16 February 2015

Roy Francis

Roy Francis

Archant

The funeral of Arctic Convoy veteran and railway enthusiast Roy Francis took place yesterday, where he was described as a true Norfolk hero by his family and friends.

A fine career and a passion for railways

Lt Cdr Francis built the Wells and Walsingham Railway in 1982 and since then, the four-mile narrow gauge line has carried more than 500,000 people, operating as a public railway between March and November.

He also built the miniature railway which runs along the flood bank from Wells Harbour to Pinewoods.

During the Second World War, he served on HMS Edinburgh, which on its final voyage in 1942 was loaded with more than four tonnes of gold bullion as payment from Russia to the UK and the USA for the weapons, tanks and aircraft needed to help fight off Nazi attacks.

It was sunk on May 2 1942, after repeated attacks from German ships and U-boats, with the loss of 58 crew.

Lt Cdr Francis also served on board the HMS Manchester and took part in special operations after the war, including mine clearance and the search for a lost American nuclear trigger off Orford Ness.

In 1958, he left the Navy and launched a boat building company on the Broads called Rowancraft. In the 1960s and 70s he took miniature steam trains to fetes and fairs for people to ride on.

After building the Wells Harbour Railway at the request of Norfolk County Council, to see if it would solve congestion problems in the town, he began work on the Wells and Walsingham railway in 1979.

Lt Cdr Francis leaves a wife, Marie; son, Rowan; daughter, Susie, three grand-children and two great grand-children.

Some 200 people gathered to pay their respects to Lt Cdr Francis, who proved his bravery in the Arctic Convoys and was known in Norfolk for building the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway.

Lt Cdr Francis, from the south Norfolk village of Forncett St Mary, died in his sleep on January 27 at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, aged 92.

Warming and funny tributes were paid during the funeral at the parish church of St Peter, Forncett St Peter, between Wymondham and Diss.

Lizzie Champion, who gave a tearful tribute to her grandfather, said: “As his grandchildren, our favourite memory as children is Christmases gathered around his feet where he used to recite The Lion and Albert, by Marriott Edgar. He never forgot a word.

Roy FrancisRoy Francis

“Thank you for believing in our dreams.”

Benedict Cadbury said: “I met Roy after his naval career, on the railways. Roy was charming, independent, pragmatic, tenacious, modest and loyal.

“He hated high visual jackets and loved cash, saying ‘it keeps everything so simple’.

“He treated everyone he met on the trains like his extended family, but he never forgot his comrades and every year visited war friends and families.

Roy FrancisRoy Francis

“Roy was very well known on the railways and was even mentioned in the book, Little Trains of Britain, by John Timpson.”

Lt Cdr Francis’ grandson, Nick Francis, read a poem about life

at sea and his granddaughter,

Eleanor Tatton, recited verses from the Bible.

As a child Lt Cdr Francis told his father he wanted to work on the railways, but his father had other ideas and signed him up for the Naval School at the age of 14,

Nick Champion said: “Very few can tell stories like Roy. He told me once that his life was ‘thrilling and terrifying’.

“Roy was, and will always be known, as a true Norfolk hero.

“Roy always seized the day. He was a loving husband to Marie, father, grandfather and friend.

“On one of his long trips home, Roy escorted the fabric for his fiancée’s wedding dress, giving up his bed for the material to keep it flat and safe and sleeping on a chair himself.

“He was devoted to his wife Marie for 70 years.”

The Rev Simon Douglas Lane, who conducted the funeral service, first met Lt Cdr Francis when he joined the parish 20 years ago.

Mr Douglas said: “When I first met Roy, he said to me ‘right, let’s start planning my funeral’. This became an ongoing laugh between us every time we met.

“Every dream Roy ever had, he fulfilled. He was a unique person, a true inspiration.”

Do you have memories of Lt Cdr Roy Francis? Email michelle.finch@archant.co.uk

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