Topic: George Francis - Royal Marine aboard H.M.S Eagle

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In July 2012 Harley Couper interviewed George Francis after an introduction to him by Dorothy Mould. Harley and Dorothy (Dot) met George in his house near Bayfair where he has lived since 1980.

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You can hear George tell his story in full (47 minutes) by click ing here. This page also has a transcript of the interview.

I met George Francis in his Tauranga home on July 19, 2012. He was introduced to me by Dorothy Mould who was with us. At the time he was 92 years of age.

George, one of thirteen children was born in 1919 in Norfolk, England. He didn’t begin school until he was eight years old. George begins by recalling his mother’s death and the pub owned by his grandfather. Seeing the war coming he joined the Royal Marines in 1937 (he says 1938 but corrects himself later), wanting to join a service that trained its men well.

After completing his training for the Marines, approximately 100 marines took a troop ship to Hong Kong to recommission the HMS Eagle. The HMS eagle was already an older ship. It was originally a Chilean Navy Battleship but was bought in 1918 and converted into a carrier. In 1924 its redesign was completed in Portsmouth. After several refits and a career largely fighting pirates as part of the china fleet it was, by the beginning of the Second World War, considered poorly protected, slow and no match against an attack by modern aircraft (Smith, 1995, p.14-15).

George describes the general movements of HMS Eagle after its refit in Singapore. You can read a summary of the Eagles movements by clicking hereHe describes locating and following the Admiral Graf Spee, a German battleship in the South Atlantic,  and its eventual demise. It was scuttled by its own crew just out of Uruguay where it had taken refuge after being tricked with false reports of a superior British naval force fast approaching (1939).  

The crew of U-47 taking the salute from the crew of the Gneisenau-class battleship Scharnhorst on its return from Scapa Flow in October 1939George underwent signalling training in England before rejoining the HMS Eagle in Scapa Flow north of Scotland. By this time he had been made a Corporal. The Eagle had been called there after the German U boat, U47s, entered Scapa Flow (pictured left) and sank the HMS Royal Oak and the Royal Oak, which flooded and quickly capsized. Of the 1,400-man crew, 833 were lost. He describes how for six months he was trained in preparation for D-day. The final month of this preparation was in Portsmouth where he was promoted to Sergeant. He recalls the American troops flooding into the area in preparation for the invasion of France.

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade exiting a landing craft in Sword Area, near where George Francis landed afterward.George recalls taking off in a flotilla of 12 landing craft late at night. His particular landing craft had just two others as the rest of the space was packed with 500 two gallon cans of petrol. George’s flotilla landed at the beach codenamed ‘Sword Beach’. Going ashore they based near Cannes with the Germans just over the river but after scouting around the area, didn’t come across any of them. Instead he was involved in transporting the many captured soldiers aboard for transport back to England. He describes them as been well trained, but either very old or very young. George recalls constantly been bombed by either the RAF or the German side.

The landing craft George was in charge of was the last of the 12 in his flotilla to sink. By the end of their time in France, the other marines were practically begging him to ‘accidently’ drop the door early on a return to the beech so that it would sink. The feeling was that once sunk, the men would be returned to England. Eventually they were returned to England. There, George took a military clerical position in Devin, near Wales. He was delighted to find over a thousand women from the army and air forces stationed nearby and during that year met his wife to be.

 The H.M.S Eagle  was reported sunk by the Evening Post, 13 August 1942 after being torpedoed in the Mediterranean (pictured below) . There were 930 survivors.

 After the war in 1949 George and his new wife followed a brother to Australia, arriving on the former Troop ship that had carried him to Singapore many years earlier.  He helped his brother selling motorcycles and then three or four years later, got a job in a pulp and paper mill nearby before hearing of a job in New Zealand's Tokoroa. He moved there with his wife and two boys, arriving in 1953 by plane (landing on the water).

George moved to Tauranga in 1979 and recalls the places in Mount Maunganui as being ‘little cottages’. He bought a new place near the current Bayfair complex, paying just $38,000 for it. 

Moored in Alexandria, Egypt. 1940

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This page archived at Perma CC in September of 2016:

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Tags: H.M.S. Eagle

George Francis - Royal Marine aboard H.M.S Eagle

Year:c.1939, c.1945, c.1950, and 1979
First Names:George
Last Name:Francis
Date of Birth:1919
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
George Francis - Royal Marine aboard H.M.S Eagle by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License