Army records published after the War suggest that Francis had been born in the Stockport area and the 1901 census only records one person with this name from the area. He was then 19, living at the family home at 27 Osborne Road, Cale Green and working as a grocer’s assistant.
He enlisted in Stockport, probably in 1916, and was assigned to the Fusiliers. By mid October 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres had been under way for about ten weeks. The British had advanced up the Passchendaele ridge, but progress had been slow and very costly in terms of casualties.
After a short period in reserve at Leipzig Camp, Francis and his comrades drew ammunition supplies on 15 October and moved towards the front line, staying overnight at a position called Stray Farm near the village of Boesinghe.
At 5.30pm the next day, they moved off again to relieve the 24th Battalion at Helles House near Poelcapelle. The Battalion’s War Diary records that even though they left 200 yards between each platoon, they had quite a number of casualties from very heavy enemy shellfire as they marched towards the front. The 24th had only been in the front line for a day and the guides who were supposed to have helped the changeover did not know their way around. In consequence, the relief took a very long time and, with the men not able to get into the protection of the dug-outs, casualties continued to mount.
The records published after the War note that Francis “died”. This designation normally indicates a death from natural causes rather than “killed in action” or “died of wounds”. Considering the situation described, it seems more likely that Francis was, in fact, killed in the shelling. However, it couldn’t be entirely discounted that, perhaps, he suffered a heart attack or similar and died. Whatever the nature of his death, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at nearby Zonnebeke.