July 31 2014 Latest news:
Andrew Hirst & Edmund Crosthwaite
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The family of a highly decorated war hero and honoured firefighter from Ipswich have spoken proudly of their loved one as they mourn his recent death.
Aubrey Francis, 89, fought in the D-Day landings, recaptured Nazi treasures and was invited to meet the Queen during a fascinating life steeped in remarkable achievements.
To his loving family, however, Mr Francis will be remembered fondly as “Dick the Wit”, the gentle giant who could always raise a smile.
Emmie Francis, his wife of more than 65 years, said: “He was such a lovely man, he was always making people laugh – right up until the very end.
“If you searched the Earth you would not find anyone better.”
Raised in Grimwade Street, Mr Francis joined the fire brigade as a 16-year-old boy but was called up two years later to fight for his country in the Second World War.
His campaign in the Royal Scots began with the Normandy Landings and included daring escapes from enemy capture, ferocious battles as well as daring raids to recapture hordes of looted artwork from the Nazis.
Returning to England, he met Emmie, who was working as a land girl in Sutton Hoo, and together they started a family. Mr Francis also returned to the fire service, enjoying a distinguished career of more than 30 years that saw him made guest of honour at the 60th anniversary celebration of the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service in 2008.
Despite his remarkable wartime achievements, which included meetings with Churchill and Eisenhower, Mr Francis rarely spoke of his time in the Army.
“Considering all that he did, he was so humble,” said Becky Keenor, his 28-year-old granddaughter.
“He never boasted about anything, he just came up with all these amazing stories,” added his daughter Valerie Roberts, 60.
“He was such a decent man.”
Over later years, Mr Francis took part in a number of Remembrance pilgrimages to Normandy, where he was greeted with a hero’s welcome.
Jimmy Roberts, 55, his son-in-law, who accompanied Mr Francis on the journeys, said: “I would have been proud if he was my father.”
Carol, another of his daughters, described him as an “amazing man.”
“Everybody loved him, he was a friend to lots of people.”
“He’s left a big hole in our hearts.”
Recently Mr Francis was invited to meet the Queen having been selected as a recipient of the Monarch’s traditional Maundy money in recognition of his amazing achievements.
Mr Francis died peacefully in Ipswich Hospital on March 20, having first fallen ill at Christmas.
His family have thanked the “amazing work” of the nurses on Woodbridge Ward, who “did absolutely everything they could for him”.
The funeral will be held on Friday at St Andrew’s Church in Rushmere.
The family has asked for no flowers but donations to the Fire Fighters’ Charity.