P/O Colin Francis Memorial Stone

Nineteen-year-old Pilot Officer Colin Dunstone Francis of No 253 Squadron disappeared through the clouds over Stansted, Kent, on the 30th of August 1940. It was his first combat mission with the Luftwaffe and he was shot down and reported as ‘Missing’. In August 1981 his Hawker Hurricane L1965 was discovered and excavated, with his remains still in the cockpit. He was subsequently buried with full military honours at Brookwood Military Cemetary. A thanksgiving service and dedication of a memorial stone was held on Friday 22 March 2024 at the War Memorial in Stansted, Kent, organised by the Shoreham Aircraft Museum.

Air Vice Marshall Hobart (left) and Air Commodore Peacock Edwards (right) after the unveiling ceremony

In July 2019, the Society was approached by the Shoreham Aircraft Museum which wished to place a permanent memorial to Colin Francis near to where he died in 1940. The Museum was established in 1978 by renowned aviation artist Geoff Nutkins and his late wife Lesley, together with a group of like-minded enthusiasts whose passion for the Battle of Britain period resulted in the establishment of a permanent display in 1988. The Museum is home to a treasure trove of aircraft artefacts that have been donated or recovered from crash sites around Kent and Sussex. Shoreham village itself lays claim to being the most bombed village in Kent due to the large numbers of German aircraft that jettisoned their bombs when under fighter attack on their way to bomb London docklands.

The memorial stone proposed for Stansted was to be the 12th the Museum had funded to commemorate allied Battle of Britain pilots who had lost their lives within a 10-mile radius of Shoreham. Other nearby memorials had been laid at Sundridge, Heaverham, Plaxtol and Ightham The Society readily supported the project, but unfortunately outbreak of Covid 19 adversely affected the Museum’s plans, and discussions were shelved until 2022 when consideration was given as to where the Stone could be placed.

The crash site at Coldharbour was discounted as being rather too remote to be seen by many people and logistically unsuitable for the numbers of people and cars that might be expected to attend a formal unveiling ceremony. It would have also involved placing the Memorial on private property, which may have caused problems for the future, as although the Museum was prepared to fund the project, it wished to ensure that the stone would be looked after in perpetuity, and Parish Council owned land was the preferred option.

With this in mind, the Stansted War Memorial Green was the logical choice and a joint presentation was made to the newly elected Stansted Parish Council in 2023. Although initially in favour of the proposal, the Parish Council subsequently felt that the Green itself would be problematic, both from an aesthetic point of view and from the perspective that unlike those commemorated on the War Memorial, Colin had no previous connection to the Parish. A counter proposal was made: that the Stone be placed on the adjacent War Memorial bank, and that a new “Lest We Forget” bench be installed alongside to replace the existing one. This was agreed upon, and plans were put in place for the Stone to be formally unveiled to anticipate the Easter opening of the Museum following its winter closure.

A “Parking Possee” was formed to minimise disruption on the day consisting of Phil Chamberlain, John Deacon, Mike Goddings, Moira Green, Barry Melton, Clive Moore, Peter Morris, Will Peat and Yvonne Tisson with walkie-talkies kindly lent by Hilly Withenshaw and minibuses and drivers provided by Grange Park School via the good offices of trustee Cllr. Robin Betts. The day before the ceremony was due to take place, Tom Brooker and Sam O’Leary kindly lowered the stone and bench into place and helped cement the decorative pebbles around its base.

As can be seen from the video and photos taken by local resident Del Brown, the weather wasn’t kind, and unfortunately prevented the planned flypast of a Hawker Hurricane like that flown by P/O Francis. Nonetheless, around 90 people attended the event, and speakers included Mr Edward McManus from the Battle of Britain Historical Society; Air Commodore (retd) Rick Peacock Edwards, himself the son of a fellow Battle of Britain pilot who joined 253 Squadron at Kenley just after Colin was shot down, Air Vice Marshall (retd) David Hobart, and Mr Ian Alexander and Mr Doug Parry from the Museum. Rector of Stansted, Rev. Dr. Chris Noble officiated, and representatives of the Royal British Legion’s West Kingsdown and Kemsing branches provided standard bearers who duly lowered the Standard as the Last Post was played by Cornet player Mr Brian Rance. Following the traditional two minutes silence, the Stone was formally revealed from underneath a Union Jack, and Poppy wreaths were laid by Mr Geoff Allgood (on behalf of the Society in recognition of his tribute at the crash site), a representative from the Museum, and Mr David Rice, Clerk to Stansted Parish Council.

Media Gallery

The Society extends its thanks to Del Brown of delbrown.tv for kindly photographing and filming the event.

Other events commemorating P/O Colin Francis are available on the ‘Events’ page and an article on his life is available in the ‘Casualties’ section under the main menu ‘People’ option.  These can be viewed by selecting one of the following links.

Author: Mike Goddings
Editor: Tony Piper
Acknowledgements: Shoreham Aircraft Museum, www.delbrown.tv 
Last Updated: 24 March 2023