Hugh Benjamin FRANCIS

FRANCIS, Hugh Benjamin

Service Number: 442421
Enlisted: 17 July 1943, Adelaide, SA
Last Rank: Flight Sergeant
Last Unit: No. 203 Squadron (RAF)
Born: Brighton, South Australia, 3 August 1921
Home Town: Brighton, Holdfast Bay, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Shift Chemist
Died: Flying Battle, Sumatra, Sumatra, Netherlands East Indies, 23 July 1945, aged 23 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Singapore Memorial, Singapore
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Brighton St Judes Anglican Church WW2 Honour Board, Brighton St Judes Anglican Church WW2 Roll of Honour, Singapore Memorial Kranji War Cemetery
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World War 2 Service

17 Jul 1943: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Sergeant, 442421, No. 203 Squadron (RAF)
17 Jul 1943: Enlisted Adelaide, SA
17 Jul 1943: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman, 442421, No. 4 Initial Training School Victor Harbor
17 Jul 1943: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Sergeant, 442421
1 Nov 1943: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, 4 Wireless Unit (RAAF)
14 Jul 1944: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, No. 2 Bombing and Air Gunnery School / No. 3 Air Observers School Port Pirie, Qualified as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner.
26 Aug 1944: Transferred Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, Operational Training Units (RAF)
14 Jan 1945: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Sergeant, No. 203 Squadron (RAF)

Help us honour Hugh Benjamin Francis's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by John Baker

Hugh Benjamin Francis was a fit and active member of the Seacliff Amateur Swimming and Life Saving Club. Hugh was a first rate swimmer who actively participated at the club. His highlights included beating all comers in the 200 yard belt race at a season opener against Brighton and Henley. That same season Hugh recorded the fastest time in the Club Mile. A shift chemist up the road at the Portland cement works, Hugh Francis was a son of Seacliff.

During the war years Hugh’s employment was regarded as being part of our nation’s essential services. He did not have to go to war. In 1941 he applied for enlistment only to change his mind using his essential services status as reason to withdraw his application. Two years passed and Hugh re-applied to the Air Force. On the 17th of July 1943 at age 21, Hugh walked out of 7 Illawarra Avenue Brighton and headed to war.

On enlistment Hugh went through a series of tests to qualify as an aircraft wireless operator. His military file records him as being a likeable person and an intermediate scholar whose mathematic skills needed some refreshing. His military physical tests record his ability to push himself during exercise with a good ability to recover quickly.

After qualifying as a wirless operator, Hugh joined the 203 Squadron, a RAF unit flying heavy bombers (B24 Consolidated Liberators) tasked with targeting enemy shipping and submarines in the Bay of Bengal. The squadron was based out of current day Sri Lanka. Hugh flew in multiple missions often under fire from enemy shipping and ground base anti-aircraft fire. His crew was a mixed bunch of Commonwealth air crew.

On July 22nd 1945 Hugh’s crew was allocated a mission to assault enemy shipping off the coast of Sumatra. Multiple enemy “Sugar Dog” cargo vessels with one escort vessel had been seen. A little over two years since Hugh left home at just after 5am on the morning of the 23rd of July Hugh’s aircraft numbered D203 accompanied by another aircraft C203 took off under strict radio silence to attack the enemy. As a Wireless Operator on this type of mission Hugh may have been tasked with taking up a position on one of the aircrafts machine guns. That morning Hugh’s aircraft took to the sky for the last time. With radio silence in place, Hugh’s aircraft was never heard from or seen again.

The crew on C203 whilst over the target spotted a petrol fire on a hill side four miles away from the target. After a search by multiple aircraft the following day it was concluded the petrol fire was Hugh’s plane either shot down by enemy aircraft or shot down by anti-aircraft fire.
Hugh and eight other crew members have never been found. Just two months before the Japanese surrender, Hugh Francis had given his life in the service of his country. Seacliff Surf Life Saving Club had lost another son. The pain after so many years of fighting and three other Seacliff sons already lost to war would have been too much to bear. A telegram was sent to Hugh’s sister (a Matron at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital) advising he was missing. It wasn’t until the middle of 1946 he was declared officially deceased.

Hugh Benjamin Francis is a true Seacliff Surf Life Saving Club hero. A talented swimmer and club man who did not have to go to war. He made a decision to go like many from our club had gone before. He performed many brave deeds and died on a clear sunny day over the coast of Sumatra. His name is recorded on our club Honour Roll.
Hugh Benjamin Francis will forever be part of our club, lest we forget.

Courtesy G Gray: April 2018


Flight Sergeant Hugh Benjamin FRANCIS

Service No: 442421
Born: Brighton SA 3 August 1921
Enlisted in the RAAF: 17 July 1943
Unit: No. 203 Squadron (RAF), Kankesanturai, Sri Lanka
Died: Air Operations (No. 203 Squadron Liberator aircraft KG911), north coast of Sumatra, 23 July 1945, Aged 23 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Albert Stanley and Gladys Madaline Francis, of Brighton, South Australia
Roll of Honour: Brighton SA
Remembered: Column 458, Singapore Memorial, Singapore
Remembered: Panel 122, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: World War II Honour Roll, National War Memorial of SA, North Terrace, Adelaide

Brother of Sergeant Dean Walter Francis (416665)

Liberator KG 911 of No. 203 Squadron took off at 0215Z on 23 July 1945 from Kankesantura on an operational sortie with another Liberator C 203 of the Squadron. Both aircraft staged through China Bay, where they refuelled before proceeding on the mission. KG911 took off from China Bay at 0500Z, followed by C203 at 0510Z. The task was to attack a convoy of fire vessels, “Sugar Dog” type, which were escorted by one vessel, moving in an easterly direction along the northern coast of Sumatra.

C203 made a successful flight to the target area, and sighted the convoy at 1112Z on 23 July which was stationary about 3 kms north of Sigli, attacked it and was met by accurate machine gun fire from all vessels. During his bombing run, the Captain of C203 reported seeing a large fire, which he took to be a petrol fire, on a hill side three to four miles inland from Sigli.

From the time KG203 took off from China Bay, no signals were received from the aircraft, although the Control Station kept calling until approximately two hours past absolute endurance.

C203 and an Air-Sea Rescue (ASR) Catalina, which was covering the track between China Bay and the target area, saw nothing of KG911 to or from the target. Two ASR Liberators carried out a parallel track sweep as far as Sabang on the following day without success. From the evidence available it was considered possible that the petrol fire reported some three to four miles from Sigli was that of the missing aircraft KG911, which had possibly met either anti-aircraft fire from the land or was intercepted by fighter aircraft and had crashed.

The crew members of KG911 were:

Flight Sergeant John Frank Dawes Churchill (1867412) (RAFVR) (Flight Engineer)
Flight Sergeant Keith Thomas Cook (430973) (Wireless Operator/Air)
Flight Lieutenant Charles Robert Henry Elmes (413842) (Pilot)
Flight Sergeant Hugh Benjamin Francis (442421) (Wireless Operator/Air)
Sergeant Raymond Knight Grainger (1250280) (RAFVR) (Air Gunner)
Flight Sergeant Colin Henry Hamilton (435624) (Wireless Operator/Air)
Sergeant Frederick Henry Harold Marchant (1320334) (RAFVR) (Air Gunner)
Warrant Officer Kenneth Charles Pickering (1265423) (RAFVR) (Navigator/Bomb Aimer)
Flying Officer John Vernon Prosser (164532) (RAFVR) (Second Pilot)


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records (RAAF Casualty Information compiled by Alan Storr (409804))
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A705, 166/14/475


Biography contributed by John Baker

Hugh was an intelligent and well-liked man. The Officer Commanding the Gunnery & Bombing School he attended in June 1944 described him as "Likeable, intelligent and keen. Appears older than he is, well balanced."

He achieved above average grades throughout his training in the RAAF.

In a reference written for him by Works Manager of The Brighton Cement Company, where he worked as a chemist, he was described as "reliable, conscientious and efficient. He is popular with the rest of the staff and personally I have found him of likeable disposition."

Hugh was relatively tall measuring 5ft 11 inches. He was described as having a fair complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair.

He had a brother Corporal Kenneth Albert Francis, who served with the 74th Anti-Aircraft Battery Royal Australian Artillery in WW2, and a sister Edith Francis. His parents were Albert Stanley and Gladys Madeline Francis.

The family lived at 7 Illawarra Avenue, Brighton, South Australia.