Growing up in Andover during World War II, my contemporaries had heroes such as movie cowboys, professional athletes and others based on fictional characters from comic books. My uncle Francis grew up on Orchard Street in Andover. He was my real-life hero. I admired his athleticism in baseball. He played several positions with the Boston Industrial Baseball League. He was also one of the top skiers in the east before his military service. Even in his mid-30s, he competed in downhill racing against future Olympians.
He was a pilot for three air forces, something that was really exciting to my youthful imagination. He was part of what is said to be the greatest generation, one full of young men who accepted their duty to serve their country, and did so without complaint. Knowing Francis, you knew there was more than that.
The 1940 air battle of Britain, during which the Royal Air Force beat back a superior air power saving England, was what inspired Francis to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a pilot. Undaunted by being turned down, he left Andover to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in Ottawa, enlisting at the age of 29 in April 1941. He was part of the first American group trained as bomber pilots, leaving for England on Dec. 7, 1941, four days after his 30th birthday.
Together, the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force flew bombing raids to industrial targets. As a pilot of the heavy bomber Wellington, Francis’ targets were Bremen, Essen and Dussendorf, Germany. After months of these night raids, Francis was transferred to fly with the British Eighth Army in Africa. Shortly after, he was able to transfer to the U.S. Air Force, which had previously turned him down for being too old when attempting to enlist at age 29.