The Men

The Men

Sunday, 19 January 2014

* Corporal William James Francis

“ a most willing and thoroughly reliable soldier, especially when acting on his own responsibility.” 
According to Corporal Francis's army service records, he was 21 years old, 5ft 5in, and working as a civil servant when he joined the 36th Ulster Division, Cyclists Company, Bangor, County Down.  He enlisted on 30th December, 1914, in Dublin.  After being vaccinated twice in the left arm, then re-vaccinated four times in the right, he was ready to leave for France, embarking on 3rd October, 1915.  He was almost immediately promoted to the rank of corporal.

At one point, after being hospitalized, he requested to be demoted to private, and briefly returned to the U.K. but was soon back in France and rose through the ranks again.  Six months after he was re-promoted to corporal, he was killed in action, his death officially recorded on the 6th of July, 1917.
He left no widow, nor children; his next of kin was given as his father, Frederick William Francis, to whom the notice of his death was sent, along with the articles that were found in his possession:  Discs, correspondence, purse, testament, pouch, 4 coins, buttons, flag.
He was awarded the British War medal 1914-19, the 1914-15 Star Medal and the Victory Medal (all posthumously).  They too were sent home to his grieving father, at 18 Pembroke Cottages, Merrion, Dublin.
Source: Michelle Burrowes.

William, who was known as Willie, was a Corporal in the Army Cyclist Corps - 10th Battalion.
The lady, Pearl, who took this photo has since passed away.
We are very grateful to her for all her volunteering.
'The primary roles of the cyclists were reconnaissance and communications (message taking). They were armed as infantry and could provide mobile firepower if required. Those units that went overseas continued in these roles but also (one the mobile phase of war had settled down into entrenched warfare) spent much time in trench-holding duties and on manual work.'  Source: The Long Long Trail.   
His unit was attached to X (10th batt.) Corps Cyclist Battalion. 36 Division were part of X Corps for the Battles of the Somme,but not for later Battles at Messines in mid-1917 when the Cyclists were a resource for the Corps Commander.  His gravestone says " Our only one", as presumably requested by his parents at the time, (being as he was an only child). He is buried at Oak Dump Cemetery,Ypres, in Plot H5,which he shares with 682989 Pte.S G Speller of 22 London Regiment,who was killed on the same day.
His Medal Index Card shows his number as 729 and a date into France of 4 Oct 1915.  
Source:  cb

Willie died, 6th July, 1917, at just 23 years of age.  He was the only son of Frederick William and Amelia Jane Francis, of 18, Pembroke Estate Cottages, Merrion, County Dublin. 

The Weekly Irish Times. Ireland’s Roll of Honour. August 11, 1917. 
Corporal William James Francis, Army Cyclist Corps, who was killed by a fragment of a shell on 6th July last whilst on duty near the fornt line, was the only child of Mr and Mrs Francis, Merrion, County Dublin. 
He was born in 1893, and educated at the High School, Harcourt Street. On the outbreak of war he was employed as a clark in the Congested Districts Board, where he was held in high esteem by his colleages. He enlisted in the Ulster Division Cyclist Company in December, 1914, and had been engaged in several actions in different parts of the western front. 
His Company Commander has stated that Corporal Francis was “ a most willing and thoroughly reliable soldier, especially when acting on his own responsibility.” 

The Irish Times, July 6, 1923. Roll of Honour.(1914-1918). 
In Memoriam. Francis-In affectionate remembrance of our beloved only child, William James (Willie) Francis, Corporal, Army Cyclist Corps, killed in action, at Hollebeke, 6th July, 1917…….Francis-Willie, killed in Flanders July 6, 1917. “He loved honour and duty more than he feared death.” Gratefully and affectionately remembered by Aunt Annie, Walter, and George. H. 5. Oak Dump Cemetery in Belgium.
Source:  Tom Burnell, war historian.

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