Roy Francis, who has died aged 92, served through the Second World War in the Royal Navy, having joined up as midshipman in 1939. He served in the Med and on the Arctic Convoys. He received his Arctic Star medal in June 2013. By the end of 1945 he was given the command of his own ship. He left the Navy in 1956 and settled in Forncett St Mary. A relatively young man, he engaged in several occupations before finding his place in promoting narrow gauge railways.
In 1976 he opened the miniature railway that runs along the bank to Pinewoods at Wells. This was suggested by the County Council to relieve car parking congestion by the sea. Encouraged by the success of this mile long line his next venture was to build a narrow gauge railway from Wells to Walsingham along the trackbed of the standard gauge line that had closed in 1964. The Wells to Walsingham Railway opened at Easter 1982.
It was at this period that I became acquainted with the Francis family for a few years. This was through his wife Marie who he had married in 1942. She and I attended the same music class in Norwich. This was a recorder consort run by Malcolm Ecclestone, and it was at this class that Malcolm met his wife Elizabeth who was one of his pupils along with me and Marie. (Click here to learn more about Malcolm and Elizabeth.) Most of the players had sopranino, descant or treble recorders. My tenor recorder took the bass part as no one had a bass or double bass instrument. We did not do many public performances but we did do a broadcast on Radio Norfolk, then recently on air.
Anyway me and Marie must have hit it off because she invited me to her party held just before Christmas. This was held at their house in Forncett. We had met through our recorder playing but Marie’s musical soirées were strictly singing affairs. She must have been a pianist too because I delighted her by giving her a two-volume set of Mozart’s complete piano sonatas bound in full leather. There were two of these evenings a year, one just before Christmas at which we sung carols and other seasonal music and one in the summer. Of this I remember only the Delius song To be sung of a summer’s night on the River. It was a magical experience to be singing that as the last of the daylight drained from the Norfolk sky.
There were about 20 guests. Roy was there for the winter meeting but during the summer he was off working at Wells. I think it is fair to say that music was not one of his hobbies. There was a lot of talk about the difficulty of getting miles of suitable rails though. Their son Rowan (a doctor at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital) and his pretty young wife were of the party but I do not recall seeing his sister.
With my marriage and a growing family taking up more and more of my time I had to abandon my recorder consort and eventually my string bass as well, I lost contact with many of my musical friends but other activities took care of my available time.
For over thirty years Roy spent the months from March to November sleeping in the signal box at Wells while running the railway by day. He only retired in 2013, handing over the Wells to Walsingham Railway to his granddaughter’s husband.
Click here to read Roy’s obituary in the Eastern Daily Press.
Lt-Commander Roy Francis, July 2 1922 – January 26 2015